Moretloa Polaki was born on 9 June 1966 in Mokema, Lesotho. He is the last-born of a family of eight children. He grew up in Mokema and attended Mokema Primary School and thereafter St Joseph’s Primary School (Koro-Koro). He completed his secondary education at Mabathoana High School in 1984. Thereafter he worked as a Work Study Observer at Libanon Gold Mines in South Africa. He was admitted to the National University of Lesotho (NUL) in 1986, where he enrolled for a BSc Degree in Biology (Botany Option) and Physical Geography. It is here that his keen interest in plants developed, largely sparked by the dedication and enthusiasm shown by his botany lecturer, Dr Bruce Hargreaves—“parasitologist-turned-botanist”. Moretloa completed his degree in 1990. His final-year dissertation was on “Distribution of bryophytes and pteridophytes at Roma Valley”.
After completing his degree, Moretloa worked as a District Land Use Planner in the Ministry of Agriculture. In 1991 he was appointed Teaching Assistant in the Biology Department at NUL, where, under the Staff Development Programme, the only option available to him was to pursue plant physiology, given the shortage of staff in that field. In September 1991, Moretloa undertook a Masters Degree in Plant Physiology at the University of Reading, United Kingdom, which he received in 1992. His thesis was titled “Changes in proline levels in maize varieties under cool night temperatures”, under supervision of Prof. Philip John. His post-graduate studies covered some aspects of Agricultural Botany, Plant Biochemistry, Applied Environmental Science, Fresh Water Studies, as well as Biological Diversity, Conservation and Utilization Studies. He took additional courses in Research Methodology and Experimental Techniques in Plant Sciences. In 1993, Moretloa was promoted to the position of Lecturer at NUL, teaching Plant Physiology, Plant Anatomy, and Biochemistry.
During 1995, Moretloa was attached to the School of Biological Sciences at Queen Mary & Westfield College (QMWC), University of London, under the QMWC-NUL link. Here he acquainted himself with techniques in freshwater biology, specifically aquatic weed infestations and their impact on standing water bodies.
Moretloa has been fully engaged in teaching and research since his return from the United Kingdom. His research interests cover general plant physiology with emphasis on metabolic stress physiology in crop plants. He supervises final-year undergraduate projects, particularly those in Applied Environmental Sciences.
Although trained as a plant physiologist, Moretloa is now a “physiologist-turned-systematist”, the legacy of his undergraduate lecturer. He has participated in several plant rescue missions and their documentation around the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) area before inundation. He was also involved in the Biological Resource Monitoring in the same area, in order to assess the subsequent inundation impact on the vegetation. He is currently working on a research project on conservation and mapping of Thamnocalamus tessalatus (Berg Bamboo) in Lesotho.
Moretloa has participated actively in promoting the necessity of indigenous knowledge systems in Lesotho. He has also been involved in setting up national and international strategies to implement the Convention on Biological Diversity. He is involved in the establishment and upgrading of the Botanical Sanctuaries in the country, namely Katse Afro-Alpine Botanical Garden, Lesotho National Botanical Garden, and the NUL Botanical Garden. Moretloa has been involved in the overall coordination, and physical and scientific curation of the collections of Lesotho’s three herbaria—ROML (National University of Lesotho Herbarium), MASE (Agricultural Research Herbarium) and SNPH (Sehlabathebe National Park Herbarium).
Moretloa has also been involved in the implementation of the SABONET Project policies and facilitation of its smooth running in the country. Since the inception of the Project, Moretloa has contributed to the tremendous growth of the herbarium collection by participating in several plant collection trips. Moretloa and his team of devoted colleagues and SABONET staff intend to make a mammoth contribution to the understanding of the local flora and cultivate botanical interest in the Basotho nation at large.
Apart from his consistent interest in general botanical issues, Moretloa enjoys the outdoor scenic beauty of, and botanising in, the “Kingdom of the Sky”.
SABONET News 7.2: 91