Jameson Henry Seyani was born in Malawi on 24 October 1948, and completed his Primary School education between 1958 and 1964. Jameson (or ‘James’ as he is known by most of his colleagues) obtained a Junior Certificate with distinction in 1967 during his Secondary School education, and his Cambridge “O” levels “with credit” in 1970. From school, James went on to study for a BSc (Agriculture) degree at the University of Malawi from 1971 to 1974, which he again obtained “with credit”. He obtained an MSc in Pure and Applied Taxonomy from the University of Reading in 1976, and later completed a DPhil in Systematic Botany through the University of Oxford (1976 – 1982). Talk about plants, taxonomy or plant conservation in Malawi to anyone, and the name of Jameson will inevitably be mentioned sometime during the conversation. Jameson is currently the General Manager/Chief Executive of the National Herbarium and Botanic Gardens of Malawi, a position to which he was appointed in 1991. In 1994 James was made Professor of Biology (Botany) at the University of Malawi. His areas of competence include systematic botany, conservation and agriculture.
Jameson has had a long and distinguished botanical career. He was Research Agronomist and Horticulturist for the Ministry of Agriculture in Malawi in 1974, curator of the University Herbarium and Assistant Lecturer in Biology (Botany) between 1974 and 1976. Between 1977 and 1987 Jameson was Curator of the National Herbarium and Botanic Gardens in Malawi. He served as Lecturer in Biology (Botany) from 1977 to 1984, and Senior Lecturer in Biology (Botany) from 1984 to 1990. From 1987 to 1990 James was Keeper of the National Herbarium and Botanic Gardens of Malawi, based in Zomba.
James served as General Secretary for the Association for the Taxonomic Study of the Flora of Tropical Africa (AETFAT) from 1988 to 1991, and was elected Business Meeting manager at the last AETFAT meeting held in Harare, Zimbabwe, in February 1997. James was Editor-in-Chief of the AETFAT Bulletin from 1988 to 1991, and Editor-in-Chief of the XIIIth AETFAT Congress Proceedings (1991-1992), which appeared as two volumes. James has also been very closely involved with other national and international bodies. His various positions of leadership include his election as Chairman of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1995, and Co-chairman in 1996. James has been closely involved with SBSTTA from its inception, and headed the Malawi delegation to the Third Meeting of SBSTTA in Montreal, Canada, in September 1997. James was elected as SBSTTA’s Regional Bureau member for Africa in 1997. Other positions he currently holds include Chairman of the Wildlife Research and Management Board, Chairman of the Malawi National Biodiversity Committee, Chairman of the Management and Administration Services Strategy Area Coordinating Committee (Forestry Research Institute of Malawi), Vice-Chairman of the MAB-UNESCO Africa region and Vice-Chairman of the MAB-UNESCO Malawi National Committee. He has also served as a member of the Malawi delegation to Conferences of the Parties to both the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the CBD. James was elected as the Regional Representative for Africa on the CITES Plant Committee in 1997. He has been involved in organising, raising funds for, and attending (often as an expert participant) many national and international workshops and congresses, and has also served as a resource person on several training courses and workshops in Malawi and other parts of southern Africa. He has been the local expert/advisor for several overseas expeditions to various parts of Malawi, and undertaken several consultancies, including an Environmental Impact Assessment Study of the proposed Mulunguzi Dam on the Zomba Plateau, Malawi (1991). James has served as the Technical Advisor to, and was a member of, the Malawi Ministerial Delegation to the UN Conference in Environment and Development (UNCED)(the “Earth Summit”) held in Rio de Janeiro from 1–14 June 1992.
James also has a strong interest in plant genetic resources, agroforestry and ethnobotany. He is currently a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Plant Genetic Resources Board, member of the SADC Gene Bank Herbarium Sub-Committee, member of the Task Force Committee for the Establishment of the Malawi Gene Bank, Member of the Board of Trustees for the Herbalist Association of Malawi Steering Committee and Malawi’s National Council for the Environment. The list goes on…
James is also involved with the World Conservation Union (IUCN)’s commissions and committees, and is a member of the IUCN-Species Survival Commission (SCC), Plant Sub-Committee as well as a member of both the IUCN-SSC Executive and Steering Committees.
Based on his doctorate studies, James published a 188-page book entitled “The Genus Dombeya (Sterculiaceae) in Continental Africa” in 1991. The book includes, amongst others, major chapters on taxonomic history, morphology, germination and seedling morphology, economic uses, taxonomic relationships and generic descriptions and keys to African species of Dombeya. He has published many scientific papers in both national and international publications, and has presented 33 conference papers around the world. Plant taxa on aspects of which James has published papers include Phaseolus vulgaris, Triumfetta welwitschii complex, Barleria, Plectranthus stenophyllus, Dombeya burgessiae complex, Dombeya and Uapaca kirkiana among others.
James has been a Fellow of the Linnean Society (FLS) and member of the Institute of Biology (M.I. Biol.) since 1984. He is also a member of many other national and international societies and associations, and has supervised and co-supervised several MSc and PhD studies in Malawi.
Despite the time that is involved in preparing for, and attending, both national and international conferences, workshops and meetings, James is still involved in research activities. In addition to several agronomic/agroforestry research projects, his taxonomic/conservation/ethnobotany research projects include the following:
The Flora of Zomba Plateau, Phase II: 1996-2000
The Survey of the Algae of Zomba Water Bodies: 1990-2000
The Inventory and Conservation of the Flora of Lunyangwa Forest Reserve: 1990-2000
The Revision of the Phaseoleae (Leguminosae) of the Flora Zambesiaca region (Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia): 1986-, and
The Biodiversity and Conservation Status of Protected Areas in Malawi: 1992-.
In recognition of his contributions to botany and conservation, Plectranthus seyanii was described by Patten and Brummitt in Kew Bulletin 46(3): 523-527 (1986) as a new species from Malawi and named in his honour. James was also nominated Distinguished Scientist by the Ministry of Research and Environmental Affairs, Malawi, in 1994.
Jameson Seyani is a respected botanist world-wide and a great asset to the botanical community of Malawi and southern African. James has also been very closely involved with the SABONET project since its inception and, together with Prof. Brian Huntley of South Africa’s National Botanical Institute, was a major driving force in its development and approval. James is currently a member of the SABONET Steering Committee and Chairman of the SABONET-Malawi National Working Group. As southern African botanists we are privileged to have someone as experienced and knowledgeable about biodiversity and international relations as Jameson Seyani is, involved with our project.
SABONET News 3.1: 2