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Aluwani Nemukula, South Africa: The earth is what we have in common as a human race

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Aluwani Nemukula

The 29-year-old Aluwani Nemukula is a 2009 winner of the International Green Talents Competition , funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) and supported by the United Nations University. The award is given to outstanding young scientists from around the world, selected for their achievements in the field of sustainability research. Aluwani holds a Master's degree in Biochemistry from Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa, and is currently pursuing his PhD in Biotechnology at Durban University of Technology.

What motivates you to do your research?
I wake up every morning being excited that the work I am doing in the laboratory will have a global impact, and that is where my motivation comes from.
How does your research contribute to sustainability?
Due to diminishing reserves of fossil fuels and global warming concerns, there is a need for alternative energy sources that are not only environmental friendly but also sustainable. Algae cells contain high levels of natural oils, which could be used to power buses, trains and other machinery. Apart from providing a renewable alternative to burning fossil fuels, the technology could be used in many domestic applications and to reduce the global levels of carbon.
What motivated you to participate in the Green Talents competition?
I was extremely delighted at the fact that I would have the opportunity to interact with great scientists at such a prestigious global forum. But I also knew that this was not going to be just about me getting new information and exposure - it was the urgency and the need to understand the impacts of our activities and the consequences of our choices based on what we know about the world we live in, especially for the next generation.
What are the biggest challenges that science can help solve in your country, South Africa?
Water and energy crises, as well as pushing back the frontiers of poverty and unemployment.
What are the opportunities for young scientists in your country?
The opportunities are there but there is also a big problem concerning the access to information. If only information was easily and to all young people accessible  without the stereotypes of race, gender, and other historical divides, much could be achieved to boost our emerging knowledge economy.
Do you feel that scientific results are properly taken into account by decision makers?
Well, in most cases they are not - but that is largely due to the fact that there is a huge gap between scientists, policymakers and other stakeholders of society. This needs to change.
What needs to be done?
Any "master plan" for transforming society must be drafted by all members of society, including scientists, sociologists, business fraternity and democratic structures.
What role does international cooperation play?
The earth is what we all have in common as a human race, so taking care of it and reducing our carbon footprint should be an international endeavor.
What conditions are essential for international research cooperation?
Mutual understanding and mutual respect for each other´s democracy, human freedom and free markets. These concepts have made today´s human prosperity and long lifespans a reality for humans, wherever and whenever they are given the chance to work.

Read the full interview and share your thoughts in the comments section.

Interview: Oksana Buranbaeva, UNU-ViE

Jessica Rosenfeld, UNU-ViE, contributed to this article.

22 April - International Mother Earth Day

"Mother Earth – our only home – is under pressure. ... Without a sustainable environmental base, we will have little hope of attaining our objectives for reducing poverty and hunger and improving health and human well-being."

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Message for International Mother Earth Day, 22 April 2010