ASSET Research Directors

James Blignaut

James Blignaut is currently member of the scientific panel of the World Farmers’ Organisation, professor extraordinaire attached to the SPL of the Stellenbosch University and honorary research associate of SAEON.  He is also director of ASSET Research, Restore Africa Fund manager, and is the originator of ReStory.

James started his career in 1991 at the South African Reserve Bank as a statistical economist. In 1994 he joined a community-based NGO as general manager and after obtaining his doctoral degree in 1995 with a thesis entitled Environmental accounting in South Africa, he joined the Department of Economics, University of Pretoria on 1 January 1996 as an environmental resource economist until 2004. As from 2005 James operates as a self-employed researcher focussing on the economics of restoration. This includes the economics of conservation and regenerative agriculture, the control of invasive alien plant species and other forms of degradation.  As a result he also has a keen interest in natural resource accounting and payments for ecosystem goods and services and other financial instruments that can contribute towards society-wide healing. The economics of restoration seeks to rectify two societal ills linked with degradation, namely an institutional and moral failure indicative of the fact that the rules of economic engagement are wrong, and wrong price signals in the markets which distorts resource allocation. He has published more than 120 peer-reviewed papers in local and international accredited journals, authored or co-authored 35 chapters in books, and presented more than 120 papers at local and international conferences as well as seminars and invited lectures. Between 2008 and 2020 he has been invited on more than 35 occasions to provide keynote addresses at both local and international conferences on the topics of food, water and energy security as well as the restoration of natural capital and economic development.

Len Dekker

Len Dekker is the managing director of Dekker Biotech and specialises in industrial wastewater treatment, water reuse, algal biotechnology and soil bioremediation. He initiated his consulting career in 2000 and in 2003 obtained a PhD in Biotechnology from Rhodes University (entitled Development of integrated algal ponding systems in the treatment of wine distillery wastewaters). From 2002–2006, he was the lead biotechnologist responsible for the design and operation of a commercial spirulina (algal) production facility in South Africa. Len has since consulted on numerous commercial wastewater projects in South Africa for clients in the food processing and abattoir industries, with the implementation of low-energy natural biological treatment systems suited to climatic conditions. The focus has been on closing the loop between wastewater treatment and implementation of reuse technologies towards effective potable water production to address the client’s water supply risks. Rehabilitation of polluted terrains forms an integral part of his work, due to past prolonged wastewater irrigation practices or accidental chemical spillages. Len is a member of both the Water Institute of Southern Africa (WISA) and the International Water Association (IWA). He has also assisted on steering committees for water research projects of the South African Water Research Commission (WRC).

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James Aronson is a co-founder and co-coordinator of the Restoring Natural Capital Alliance, and more recently, EcoHealth Network  while working closely with ASSET Research in Africa. He has participated in and consulted on numerous restoration and rehabilitation projects and programs in Latin America, Africa, Madagascar,  and the Mediterranean region, and published many books and articles over the past 30 years. From 1992 until 2016, he was part of the Restoration Ecology Group at the Center of Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (CNRS), Montpellier, France and from 2016-2020 was senior scientist in the Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development, Missouri Botanical Garden, USA (where is now emeritus scientist). Currently, he devotes most of his time to the EcoHealth Network, which focuses its efforts at the interface between ecological restoration and human health.  He also served two terms on the board of directors of the Society of Ecological Restoration (SER) and since 2002 has been editor of the Science and Practice of Ecological Restoration book series published by Island Press in collaboration with SER.

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Leandri van der Elst is a freelance editor and typesetter and partnered with ASSET regarding the general administration of projects, publishing stakeholder and client communications (such as the project reports).