Personal Profile of Ben-Erik Van Wyk

I am a plant taxonomist with broadened research horizons that include ethnobotany and economic botany. Currently I am a Research Professor of Indigenous Plant Use, based at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa. I am author or co-author (with talented collaborators and post-graduate students) of 19 books and 300 scientific papers. Over the last 30 years I have contributed to new crop and product development and served as chairman or member on various national forums, companies, editorial boards and academic committees.

The focus of my research has broadened from highly specialised plant taxonomy and chemosystematics/molecular systematics (mainly Fabaceae and Apiaceae) to more generalised and interdisciplinary research into useful plants and economic botany. My aim has always been to generate practical and useful research publications in plant taxonomy and economic botany. In 2013, I was awarded the NRF/SARChI National Research Chair in Indigenous Plant Use (based at the University of Johannesburg) and was elected as a fellow of the African Academy of Sciences. The South African Association of Botanists (SAAB) honoured me with the prestigious SAAB Gold Medal in 2015.

Much of my success is due to excellent and dedicated post-graduate students, inspiring collaborators, insights from research visits to 23 countries, publicity from national and international radio and television appearances, participation in conferences (ca. 300 contributions) and sustained research productivity, with 300 peer-reviewed research papers, 19 books (not counting expanded and updated editions and translations), including seven international titles (some translated into German, Polish and Korean and co-produced in Germany by Medpharm/WVG, in the UK by Kew Publishing/Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and in the USA by Timber Press and the University of Chicago Press). I am the author or co-author of nearly 40 formal taxonomic revisions of genera and several new plant taxa, e.g. 85 new species and 10 new genera.

I have supervised 20 MSc students (15 cum laude), 14 PhD students (six of whom are now professors) and five international postdoctoral students. Awards to students include the national "SAAB Best Young Scientist Award" [A.L. Schutte 1990, A.M. Viljoen 1995, D. Moshe 1997, M.M. Le Roux 2010)] and the SAAAS Medal and SAAB Bronze Medal (A. Magee 2007, 2009). I am happy about the role I have played in the transformation of science in South Africa, mainly as Chairman of the Indigenous Plant Use Forum (one of few science forums in South Africa dominated by young black academics). Credit is also due to many collaborators from a range of institutions such as Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia), Heidelberg University (Germany) and the Komarov Botanical Institute (Russia).

I was (or still am) involved in various research-related activities, including THRIP-funded collaboration with SA Druggists (now Aspen Pharmacare) (1993-1999) to develop the first branded, modern African Traditional Medicines, the "Healer's Choice" range; founding director of Phyto Nova (Pty) Ltd (1999-2004), developing new crops and new medicinal products, notably Sutherlandia (taken further by Thebe Pharmaceuticals in 2004); member of Briza Publications (CK 90/11690/23), publisher of botanical books; annual negotiations with publishers at Frankfurt Book Fair (2000-2013); founding director and chairman of the "Aloe Council of South Africa" (Pty) Ltd, developing a first National Standard for Aloe raw materials (SA Bureau of Standards, published in 2007); board member of the pan-African "Herbal Monographs Project" and the Association for African Medicinal Plant Standards Ltd (2005-2008); leader of the "African tonic project" at UJ (2004-2006), with a R3 000 000 budget from the Innovation Fund of the Department of Trade and Industry; served on a four-member Presidential Task Team (appointed by the Minister of Health) to develop a policy framework for African Traditional Medicine in South Africa and was the anonymous main author of the policy document, published in the Government Gazette (Vol. 517, No. 31271 of 25 July 2008).

I am a member of the Editorial Board of the South African Journal of Botany (Elsevier) and the guest editor of Special Editions on Economic Botany (2011) and on Legumes (2013), the latter published as Advances in Legume Systematic 12. I regularly act as reviewer for international journals and as assessor for theses and grants. I have served on several NRF committees, e.g. as Convenor of the NRF Evaluation Assessment Committee for Plant Sciences (1997-1999) and is still Chairman of the Indigenous Plant Use Forum (re-elected annually since 1996). I have hosted 17 conferences of this national ethnobotany forum (attended annually by 100-200 academics, traditional healers and business people, usually with noteworthy international participation). I am also the organiser of three international conferences - the 4th International Apiales Conference in 2003, the 6th International Legume Conference in 2013 and a combined annual conference of Indigenous Plant Use Forum and the USA-based Society of Economic Botany (2015).