Thursday, 4 October 2018

My Conference Experience

By Geraldine Ibe, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Nigeria and Cohort 3 CIRCLE Visiting Fellow, University for Development Studies, Ghana

Geraldine Ibe was awarded a CIRCLE Visiting Fellowship to conduct research at the University for Development Studies, focusing on forest food species in the tropics, savannah and mangrove forests. Here, Geraldine presents her inspiring journey to present her CIRCLE research at the University of California, in the United States of America.

I had always wanted to be a lecturer with a difference, especially in the research world! My dream was to travel around the world while still performing my duties as a lecturer. As I look back at my success story through my CIRCLE journey, I cannot help but be filled with gratitude on being able to attend a conference in the United States of America. It was filled with exciting and memorable moments. After my CIRCLE Fellowship at UDS Ghana, I had scaled hurdles to find outstanding conferences, it was not very easy. I sent in my Abstracts to about three different conference organizers at the time and finally my abstract was accepted for “The Tenth International Conference on Climate Change: Impacts and Responses at the University of California, Berkeley, USA April 20 to 21, 2018”. 































After considerable scrutiny, I got an invitation to attend and present at this noble conference, to say that I was not excited would be a shocker right? Guess what? I WAS NOT EXCITED! One would wonder why, in the recent events of predatory journals and conferences, I had developed cold feet towards this one as I thought this could be one of them. But that ‘still small’ voice kept re-assuring me that this was it! I got my invitation letter quite late after a long wait from abstract reviews. This was exactly two months to the conference date. Even at that, I still ignored my mail for another one week. I finally embraced my fears and decided to have a look at my invitation letter and then decided to do a background check on the organizers by verifying the authenticity of the conference programme. Like the saying goes, “success doesn’t just come and find you, you have to go out and get it”. Therefore, I made a lot of international phone calls, I sent out series of mails to institutions in the United States, I did a lot of Google checks; I just needed to ascertain how real these people were before requesting for financial support from my sponsors – CIRCLE.



The CG Network is situated at University Research Park, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA and these organizers are a group of very credible University professionals who have been curating conferences and publishing peer reviewed journals for over 30 years whereby they operate on a hybrid open access model. While 72% of their journals are indexed by Scopus, the remaining 28% are new titles currently under review. I immediately wrote to the ACU for funding request as time was already running out on me, Verity was so helpful and absolutely proactive to my request. As soon as I got approval, even without the immediate arrival of my funds yet, I had to courageously pay for my US visa fees and I began to apply for my USA visa interview with fingers crossed. Alas! Available appointments on the Embassy platform had exceeded the conference date. I took a bold step! I pulled the bull by the horn! How did I do that? I wrote to The US Embassy in Nigeria and requested for an Emergency appointment. Surprisingly, I was responded to within 24 hours and I was given the option to choose my preferred date within one week of the response. Everything happened so fast. I hurriedly left for Lagos for my interview, and I was SUCCESSFUL! I was granted a 2 year Multiple Visa to the United States, all these happened with my persistence, determination and relentless efforts, also great support from ACU, especially Verity Buckley, Mr Ben Prasadam-Halls and other team members behind the scene! I had only 14 days left to finish preparations and leave for the United States; I eventually made it to the USA, successfully passing through the immigration and customs without a hitch. I flew to San Francisco, California via Atlanta Georgia and I arrived at the conference center on the arrival date. 



We had the opportunity to introduce ourselves, I did introduce myself, and all about my CIRCLE research work. I talked about my sponsors, DFID, ACU in collaboration with AAS and VITAE. I enlightened the forum about CIRCLE, and what it stands for - Climate Impacts Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement. I met and networked with other delegates from different parts of the continents and it was a humbling experience. On the second day of the conference, I delivered my findings which were drawn from my CIRCLE research work and my topic was “Anthropogenic Activities and Climate Change: Impacts on Rural Dwellers”. 










At the end of it all, I got my conference certification together with other presenters at the conference. Overall, the conference programme was very insightful, rewarding and educative. Meanwhile, as a result of my brilliant presentation in the last conference, the organizers have been sending me mails to attend again next year for the “Eleventh International Conference on Climate Change: Impacts and Responses at Pryzbyla Center, The Catholic University of America, Washington DC, USA in April 2019”. Unfortunately, this time, I have no sponsorship yet. Nevertheless, I am totally grateful for this huge opportunity given to me by CIRCLE to be exposed academically and to be in forefront of researchers who are passionate about solving problems that pertains to Environmental Management. CIRCLE has also helped me to become a committed, creative and highly motivated individual who has passion for networking and collaborative research with an uncompromising commitment to quality and outstanding research work. In all, I thank everyone who has made it possible for me to have a success story throughout my CIRCLE journey – DFID, ACU, AAS, VITAE, UDS Ghana and MOUAU Nigeria and to George Lakey who encouraged me to share my humble conference experience. Thank God!



Thursday, 27 September 2018

CIRCLE Achievements: The CIRCLE Visiting Fellowship Alumni

by The CIRCLE Team

CIRCLE is now halfway through our one-year extension, and we have been busy collecting data from all our CIRCLE Visiting Fellowship (CVF) alumni and institutions involved in the Institutional Strengthening Programme. We thought it would be good to share news on all their achievements reported over the last 6 months, to give you an idea of the impact of our programme!

One of the overarching aims of the CIRCLE Programme is to strengthen the capacity of African scientists to undertake research on climate change and its local impacts on development. The CIRCLE Visiting Fellowship aims to help achieve this aim, by funding 100 Fellowships for African climate change researchers to spend a year at a host institution within Sub-Saharan Africa. To monitor progress, CIRCLE invites all our Fellows to complete follow-up surveys every three months during their fellowship, and every six months after its completion. Between 2015 and 2017, three Cohorts took part in the CVF Programme, with the third and final Cohort settling back into their home institution in December 2017.



In June 2018, CIRCLE invited all our alumni to complete a follow-up survey on progress and achievements over the last 6 months. As such, Cohort 1 were 2.5 years post-fellowship, Cohort 2 1.5 years post-fellowship and Cohort 3 6-months post-fellowship.

Of the 96 Fellows who were invited to complete the survey, 74 Fellows responded. Since returning to their home institution, our CVF Alumni reported improvements in training and development opportunities, opportunities to apply newly developed skills and experiences, and their overall responsibilities and career opportunities. There was however little improvement in their time to conduct their research, with female respondents more likely to respond having a reduction in time. Although, many Fellows have indicated that the increase in time constraints are a result of their involvement in CIRCLE, as the skills and experience gained has resulted in increased responsibilities.
The most commonly reported challenges in applying skills were time, resources and funding, as well as gaining wider-institutional support or recognition of their experience. Those that were able to share their skills were more likely to do so through presentations at conferences/workshops, through mentoring, or by applying their skills in a new role. We had 19 Fellows report that they had been promoted, with 12 of these indicating that this promotion has been influenced by their participation in CIRCLE. 61 Fellows reported that they were mentoring other academics at their institution, which is higher than the number reported 6 months ago.

Now that the Fellowships have been completed, we were interested to see if any of the relationships and research developed through CIRCLE were still ongoing. We found that 84% of CVF alumni were still in contact with or were actively collaborating with their host supervisor and 82% with other CVFs outside of their home institution. We also found that 59% of CVF Alumni were undertaking further research related to their CIRCLE research projects during this reporting period.

An incredible 128 peer-review journal articles have been submitted since January 2018, with 51 being published to date and a further 17 being accepted and awaiting publication. 44 submitted articles were focused on CIRCLE research, with 15 published and 9 currently awaiting publication. Where data was available, 93% of peer-review submissions were to reputable journals, with 53% of these to high-ranking Q1-4 journals. While CIRCLE research fared even better, with 94% of CIRCLE research articles submitted to reputable journals and 56% of these to high-ranking Q1-4 journals. Our Alumni have also been busy attending a range of conferences and events over the last 6 months, with 94 events attended and CVFs presenting research at 56 of these.

In addition to publishing, 54% of our Fellows have been involved in a total of 74 applications for grants and funding since January, with 14 successful applications to date and almost half a million USD being awarded. 65% of our CVF Alumni have also been involved in 107 collaborations with a range of successful outputs including policy briefs, book chapters, events, and community outreach activities.



We are very proud of our alumni and are pleased to see that the training and support delivered by both CIRCLE and their home and host institutions is continuing to have a positive impact on their personal and professional development. We only have another six months left of our programme, but we’re certain that we will see even more reported achievements from our Fellows throughout the remainder of the programme.

If you would like to find out more about our Fellows, you can read their profiles on our website.
A full copy of the January – June 2018 CVF Follow-up Report will soon be available on our website.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Settling home away from my CIRCLE home: Which one is which one?


By Beaven Utete, Senior Lecturer, Chinhoyi University of Technology, Zimbabwe and Cohort 3 CIRCLE Visiting Fellow, University of Ibadan, Nigeria

Beaven Utete was awarded a CIRCLE Visiting Fellowship to conduct research at the University of Ibadan, focusing on fisheries and water resources in peri-urban spaces. Here, Beaven provides a unique insight into his personal and professional development through the CIRCLE journey.


Image 1. Do you remember them? If you see any of them call me or beep me!!!!!! Fellow CVF 3 colleagues at AAS in Kenya


Jetting into a hot humid slightly drizzling Lagos International Airport, Nigeria at approximately 1734 hours in March 2017 enroute to University of Ibadan, Oyo State I knew the climate had literally changed for me and I had to adapt or “perish’’. Alas!! The weather changes were not at all the “monster’’ that had invaded my head, life and space. Wait!! I was whisked away into a nice taxi and a very standard hotel for the night. That was the appetiser!! Ooh my gosh I was not prepared for the tasty sting of the sumptuous looking pepper soup with soft nicely cooked cattle skin called ponmo (forgive my bad Yoruba!!!) and dented with delicious okra and a very feisty looking brown Amala which later turned out to be my favourite meal in Nigeria. Let's leave the food please shall we? After one eye opening drive early the next morning I arrived in a nicely preserved “ancient’’ looking cultured city full of hustle and bustle (I mean it!!!)

Image 2. Me in the middle and my fellow CVFs Dr Verdiana Tulimanyiwa and Mr Jackson, all from Tanzania


So you think that’s my story? No my real story began when I met this well-mannered fast talking woman I hardly heard her kkkk most of the time. Remember my British English versus her Nigerian-Yoruba-English accent now you can imagine. She was a God fearing, a prayer warrior as compared to my Anglican background! She introduced herself and I knew immediately the roller coaster ride had begun. From there onwards I was her bodyguard, research assistant, CIRCLE research fellow, student and ooh Bible student no time to settle at all and was busy setting up the research protocols, collecting equipment and setting a pragmatic sampling itinerary. Remember this is my third day in Ibadan, the formalities for her could as well follow after work. I literally knew my places of sampling before formal introductions. Keep in mind that my mind, body, soul and taste buds had lost 2 hours thanks to the different time zones in the West and South of Africa I had to adapt fast and quickly. Nigerians do not walk but they run, we Zimbabweans stroll like it’s an easy Sunday morning, needless to remind you of the language barrier by now I was an accomplished sign reader (yes laugh your lungs out). By the second week I had read more than was necessary to know the water bodies I was sampling. From there the diet was a part of me and was no cry baby (yes I am beating aloud my own drum) and would literally wake up at midnight and work with no hand holding and it’s in my DNA now and forever.

Image 3. The full complement at University of Ibadan after the final CIRCLE presentations!!

Literally, I had to learn collaboration, team work, academic flexibility, plasticity and survival tactics, Nigeria waits for no one especially the lazy man. What I got is a culture shock, an academic bamboozlement, culinary awakening, and time management dexterity. If you think I am saying Ibadan was all work think again, I actually earned a nickname of Mr Sanchez following a departed former Arsenal player at the nearby sports clubs. CIRCLE was all fun and fun for me indeed and let’s do it again if we can shall we? I miss my lifelong friends and collaborators and curious sights in the markets and roads as the motorcycles (my favourite ride) criss-cross Apete Road, Ibadan Polytechnic, Eleyele and stride towards Asejire.

Image 4. Back home doing my CIRCLE Research Uptake stakeholder consultation at Maturi Fishing Cooperative in Zimbabwe

Now I am back home in Zimbabwe behold a new man, independent, fun loving and enjoying my memories of my CIRCLE home (Nigeria), and check my profile online on the strides I have made since my sojourn!!! The timetable for me does not matter I work anytime any day and my body totally lost the 2 hours (make it 4 for the return journey). Back home I now do not know any timetable and I detest targets because they limit you! I literally work anytime and anywhere yes even in the middle of the lake I can begin to write a publication or a framework or a review. I have made strides in my professional career, my family life and social life. For me the Researcher Development Framework is not just some scorecards it's now in my blood to crosscheck my progress every day and set priorities for the next day. The culture shock in Nigeria helped turn around my perspectives and literally my work ethics have shifted a gear up. The biggest lesson I learnt is to respect another person and all that defines them if ever you want to succeed in research and academia. I exit!!! 

My success and fun owes to CIRCLE of course but I never forget Professor Bernadette Tosan Fregene (Aquaculture and Fisheries Management, University of Ibadan, now at The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan Nigeria).

Image 5. Me and Professor Tosan Bernadette Fregene after my final presentation for the CIRCLE component of Nigeria

Let’s do it again!!!
Beaven Utete (CVF Alumni 2017-Zimbabwe-Nigeria)



Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Researcher Open Day/Agriculture Stakeholders Forum/Exhibition of Agricultural Technologies, 29th March 2018, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Nigeria

by Professor Philippa C. Ojimelukwe, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Nigeria
CIRCLE ISP Coordinator

The Michael Okpara University of Agriculture and the CIRCLE Implementation Fund co-funded the university to carry out three activities as part of their institutional strengthening programme. These activities have conducted training in research ethics, scientific writing and communication skills, and provided a forum for researcher-stakeholder collaboration. Here, Professor Philippa C. Ojimelukwe shares with us her thoughts on the Researcher Open Day held in March 2018 which strengthened communication between researchers and research stakeholders. 



Have you ever wondered why so much research work is carried out in universities and other tertiary institutions? Research projects are undertaken by undergraduate students, postgraduate students and the researchers/lecturers themselves. Imagine the number of research projects found in the libraries of universities and other higher institutions - a lot of information “sitting comfortably” on the shelves. Journal articles, conference proceedings and books are written in highly technical language which although they are very important to the academic community, means very little to the general populace. 


In many higher institutions found in developing countries, there is no relationship between the institution, the public, and the private sector; while information and innovations required to move society forwards sits on the shelves, communities and private sector grope in darkness for the same information; the missing link is a communication gap between the researchers and end users of research. The CIRCLE Institutional Strengthening Programme (ISP) drew our attention to this essential component of relating with the public by extending research results to end users in a practical manner. We realized that the research cycle is incomplete unless research results and innovations are extended to end users. The beauty of research is better appreciated when the products of research are used to solve societal problems and end users are benefitting from research endeavours. Much of our research information never gets to the end user. Innovation and development should be guided by the outcomes of research in order to achieve sustainability.



























Through generous support from the CIRCLE Implementation Fund and the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike organized a researcher Open Day Forum on the 29th of March, 2018. The major objectives of the workshop were:

  • To create an enabling environment for interaction between stakeholders in agriculture, the private sector and the MOUAU research team.
  • To acquaint farmers and other stakeholders with relevant improved agricultural technologies available in the university. 
  • To develop participatory strategies and intervention measures that will enhance the capability of farmers for improved agricultural production and income generation. 





























Researchers were invited to discuss their research activities with potential end users and show case products of their research. Products of agricultural research were exhibited. Farmers also came with their own products for exhibition.




  

The turnout for this event was impressive. People from all walks of life were there for the Open Day Forum. Traditional rulers, farmers, civil servants, private enterprises and entrepreneurs were amply represented. After the opening ceremonies, there was a very interesting interactive session between research end users and the researchers themselves. Leading researchers in the university had a lot of questions to answer; a lot of clarifications to make and a lot of lessons to learn from the general public. The exhibition proper took place after the discussion session. Colleges and units in the university showcased the products of their research activities and interacted freely with the public. The keynote address was delivered by retired Professor C.C. Chinaka. At the end of the forum, non-university stakeholders received a “certificate of participation”.



























It was an opportunity for researchers to prove their worth. It also sensitized researchers about the expectations of the society from them. It offered an opportunity for researchers to re-orient their research endeavours to tangible societal problems based on felt needs. On the part of stakeholders and research product end users, many of them were amazed at the technologies, products and innovations that were available at Michael Okpara University of Agriculture Umudike, Abia State, Nigeria. Many stakeholders from the public sector admitted that their perception of universities had never gone beyond an institution where you can send your ward to obtain a degree and qualify for “a white collar job”. Many of the stakeholders indicated willingness to collaborate with the university on different areas of research based on interest. Collaborations and linkages were established. It was clear that a symbiotic relationship between researchers in the university and the public was needed to drive sustainable development. The need for a structural platform for University-private sector mutual interaction has been established by this workshop and cannot be over-emphasized.

For more inquiries please contact:
Prof. P.C. Ojimelukwe (CIRCLE ISP Coordinator) ojimelukwe.philippa@mouau.edu.ng

Monday, 25 June 2018

Distribution of drought tolerant maize seeds for evaluation and adoption by maize farmers of the southwestern Nigeria in the face of climate change

by Dr. Abimbola  Oluwaranti, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria
Cohort 2 CIRCLE Visiting Fellow

Dr Oluwaranti was awarded funding to carry out activities as part of the CIRCLE Research Uptake Fund. She successfully distributed drought tolerant maize seeds to farmers in South-Western Nigeria, and delivered training on how to plant and maintain the crops for optimum yield. Here, she shares her thoughts on the activity.




Background information and Meeting with maize farmers
The main focus of my CIRCLE research was to develop drought tolerant maize varieties adaptable to the effects of climate change. On returning to my Home Institution after the CIRCLE Fellowship in 2017, I met with maize farmers in four locations of the South-Western Nigeria to determine accessibility to drought tolerant maize seeds. My research group subsequently delivered training for five farmers in each location on how to carry out their maize planting and other agronomic practices for optimum yield of the drought tolerant maize seeds. 


Purchase and Distribution of Drought Tolerant Maize Seeds, Herbicides and Fertilizers.
Based on the twenty trained maize farmers, 3kg of drought tolerant maize seeds were purchased for each of the maize farmers for planting in the later part of the late season (3rd week of September of 2017), which is usually characterized by terminal drought in these locations. For optimum performance of these drought tolerant maize seeds, the twenty maize farmers were also given 1 litre each of pre-emergence herbicide to prevent weed growth at the seedling and vegetative growth stages. After planting, the maize farms were visited by me and my program assistant of the Research Uptake Plan before distributing one 50kg of NPK fertilizer to each of the twenty maize farmers. Some of the pictures taken during the purchase and distribution of the seeds, herbicides and fertilizers are as shown below.






Growth and harvesting of the drought tolerant maize 
As predicted, the rain stopped as from the 3rd week of September in all of these farms’ locations, due to the ability of the drought tolerant maize seeds to tolerate the marginal rainfall conditions, the maize plants were able to withstand the water stress. The maize ears were also well filled compared to the susceptible drought maize seeds that the farmers used to plant despite the water stress on them as shown in the pictures below:




Adoption of the drought tolerant maize seeds by the maize farmers.
The maize farmers were convinced with the good performance of the maize seeds, hence the easy adoption of the maize seeds by the maize farmers for subsequent planting in the different locations of Southwestern Nigeria to enhance food security in the Sub-region of the country.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Dr. Afiukwa's Research Uptake Activity

by Dr Celestine Afiukwa, Ebonyi State University, Nigeria
Cohort 1 CIRCLE Visiting Fellow

Dr Afiukwa was awarded funding to carry out activities as part of the CIRCLE Research Uptake Fund. He successfully organised a meeting with major stakeholders in rice production in Ebonyi State, including rural rice farmers and members of the Ebonyi State Ministry of Agriculture. Dr Afiukwa shares details of the event below.


Dr Afiukwa posing with the Commissioner for Agric, VC's Rep, CIRCLE Coordinator in EBSU (Prof Ogunji) and others

Introduction
The event was a huge success and a very interesting one. I, Dr. Afiukwa Celestine Azubuike of the Department of Biotechnology in Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki Nigeria and a Cohort 1 CVF, worked on the topic “Screening rice varieties and landraces cultivated in Nigeria for SSR markers uniquely linked to drought resistant traits for accelerated rice breeding for drought resistance in Nigeria” at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. I was awarded a grant by the CIRCLE programme to share the research findings with relevant stakeholders in Ebonyi State for possible uptake. The uptake activity was designed to bring stakeholders in Ebonyi State Ministry of Agriculture, rice farmers from at least ten (10) Local Government Areas (LGAs) of the State, rice researchers/breeders and the Management/relevant members of staff of the University.

The Activity
The event was held between 22nd - 23rd May 2018 in Ebonyi State University and was well attended. Four staff members of Ebonyi State Ministry of Agriculture took part in the meeting, including the Commissioner for Agriculture himself, Hon. Ikechukwu Nwobo, the Permanent Secretary and Heads of Department in the Ministry.

A total of fifty (50) rice farmers were originally selected and invited from ten LGAs of the state for the event, but sixty-two (62) educated farmers attended including a Catholic Priest (Rev. Fr. Peter Azi) and a traditional ruler (HRH Eze Akam Alo) who was my school principal during my secondary school years. Two rice researchers and many members of the Ebonyi State University community also attended. The event was declared open by the Vice Chancellor of the University represented by the University’s Director of academic Planning, Prof. P. E. Nwakpu who disclosed the Vice Chancellors appreciation of CIRCLE and ACU’s supports for EBSU. The CIRCLE Coordinator in EBSU, Prof. Dr. Johnny Ogunji, did the welcome remarks and gave an overview of the event. The program featured;
  1. A keynote speech by the Commissioner for Agriculture on the topic “The prospect of Rice production in Nigeria’s food security: the case of Ebonyi State” during which he highlighted the State Government’s efforts at enhancing rice production in the State and to become a leading exporter of rice in Nigeria. The Commissioner appreciated the programme and expressed the Government’s willingness to support researches that could impact positively on rice production.

  2. A presentation by the Guest Speaker and my CVF Supervisor, Prof. Julius O. Faluyi of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, on the topic “Drought stress as a major constraint to rice production"

  3. A second presentation by the Dean of Faculty of Agriculture and Natural Resources Management in Ebonyi State University and the LOC Chairperson, Prof. Happiness O. Oselebe, who spoke on the topic “Drought Stress in Ebonyi State: Is it Real?”

  4. A third presentation by me, the CVF and CIRCLE Research Uptake Grantee, Dr. Celestine A. Afiukwa, who presented the findings of my CIRCLE research titled “Drought Tolerant Rice Accessions and Landraces Cultivated in Nigeria and Molecular Markers for its Identification - Towards Molecular Breeding”.

  5. A final session for questions, answers and discussion.
Group photograph with the VC's Rep, the Commissioner & the participants

Dr Afiukwa making his presentation
Dr. C.V. Nnamani (Cohort 2 CVF) reading the guest speaker's citation (Prof. Faluyi)


In the presentations, Prof. Faluyi carefully educated the farmers and the participants on the meaning and implications of this soil water shortage stress (drought) on rice growth and productivity at various stages of the plant life. Having been made to appreciate the meaning and implications of drought stress, Prof. Oselebe in her presentation engaged the farmers in an interactive discussion during which many of them testified that drought stress is real in Ebonyi State and narrated their experiences and losses already recorded. Thereafter, I presented the findings of my CIRCLE research which further clarified the farmers on the effects of drought stress on rice and introduced the identified drought tolerant accessions to the farmers (IJ02, IJ09, IK-FS and IK-PS). My presentation also introduced to the rice researchers/breeders five molecular markers that suggested that these four rice accessions are identical to FARO 11 which is a known drought tolerant rice variety and explained to them how this technology (molecular marker-assisted selection) works to enhance breeding success.

A cross section of the participants
Communiqué Raised
The farmers were very appreciative of the program and together we made the following suggestions to government and the University;
  1. This kind of training/program that brought relevant stakeholders in agriculture (the policy makers or Government, researchers and farmers) is helpful and should be continued.
  2. Ebonyi State Government and the University should endeavor to establish a rice research institute to foster collaboration among the Government, rice researchers and rice farmers in solving problems affecting rice production in the area. The farmers lamented on the losses they suffer as a result of challenges from erratic climate and insect pests and diseases attacks.

A rice researcher, Dr Ogah, making a contribution

Monday, 11 June 2018

My experience on the CIRCLE programme

Dr Sandra Ofori, University of Port Harcourt Nigeria
Cohort 3 CIRCLE Visiting Fellow

Dr Sandra Ofori spent her fellowship year at the University of Ghana. After settling back into her home institution, she reflects on her time on the CIRCLE Programme.


How I felt about getting the fellowship
When I got the offer for the fellowship, I was excited. A little apprehensive but still excited. One year away from home to work with and learn from experts in the field of climate change while getting funds to do your own research felt almost too good to be true. Naturally I worried about some things. What the new working environment will be like? What I would do with my small children at home? What I would do about the on-going projects I had at work etc. Anyway, I decided to keep an open mind and soak-in the totality of the experience.

Introductory visit to one of the community chiefs where we went “empty handed” with just our ethical approval letter. From far left- community liaison, Chief, myself, research assistant.


My study
My background is in preventive cardiology. My interest lies in evaluating the underlying risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD). One of the factors that influence a person’s risk for developing CVD is the environment and air pollution. The fellowship stipulated that one’s area of research should focus on climate change, so it was interesting for me to formulate a study that would meet that brief. After consultation with my mentor, I came up with a study titled “Indoor air pollution and its relationship to CVD and its risk factors in a rural community in Southern Nigeria”. The rationale behind this was that sometimes when we talk about climate change, the lay person might not be able to relate to it. But if we can show that some human practices such as indiscriminate wood harvesting for domestic purposes not only degrades the environment by contributing to deforestation, but its improper combustion contributes to air pollution and more importantly negatively affects human health, maybe we can get people to sit up and take notice! Therefore, by studying the effects on cardiovascular health, preventive health physicians can work with climate change scientists towards our common goal of protecting health and the climate.

Conducting the study
One important thing I learnt during the induction workshop that was held in Nairobi in February 2017, was the importance of research uptake. The research one does has to translate to actual change in the community therefore, it is vital to identify early on who the relevant stakeholders are and carry them along throughout the study period. 

Me scanning carotid arteries of participants using a portable ultrasound machine.

After the intended study was approved by my supervisor at my host institution, I travelled back to Nigeria to get the relevant equipment, constitute a research team, train them and head into the field. We held sensitization meetings with the various heads of the communities we planned to carry out the research in. We also had to collaborate with the local health authorities and staff of the primary health facilities in the communities. I learnt some valuable lessons during this period one of which was that you do not head into a village to see the chief empty handed! Anyway, we were able to carry out the research as planned with only a few modifications along the way.

Outputs
Preliminary analysis of the research data showed that the use of biomass fuels compared to cleaner fuel sources was associated with increased levels of air pollutants and markers of increased CVD risk (increased blood pressure and carotid intima media thickness). We organized a research uptake activity in one of the communities where all the stakeholders in all three communities were in attendance. We discussed the implications of our findings. The participants were engaged and asked important questions. For instance, a woman asked me about what I now expected them to do, having come into their community to tell them that an age-old practice (cooking with firewood) is not only harming their environment but also their health. This was even more relevant especially as the cost of cleaner fuels was so high. Before I could answer, another participant responded by saying that at least they could educate their women to cook in better ventilated kitchens or in completely outdoor areas as that would reduce the amounts of pollutants they inhale. That response was met with wide acceptance. In addition, the head of the women’s group asked that the result of the study be shared with government authorities as it may make them more likely to fund the acquisition of more efficient stoves which they can use to more efficiently burn wood for cooking. 


Outdoor kitchen with the logs of wood to be used for cooking

Women and little children most exposed to pollutants released during combustion of biomass



Support from CIRCLE
The support from CIRCLE was fantastic. Not only were emails and queries answered promptly, the funds were released on time and I had the opportunity to attend a workshop organized by CIRCLE at the University of Lagos. That workshop was invaluable especially because some of the talks were given by members of previous cohorts who shared their first-hand experience in all aspects of the fellowship.

A cross-section of the participants (representatives of the three rural communities) during one of the research uptake activities. Sitting in the front row with me are the community chiefs.
 
Overall feedback
The training and experience I gained during my fellowship year is invaluable. I have taken back positive attributes I observed in my host institution back to my home institution. One of the more notable ones centres around the open-door policy that is practiced by my supervisor Professor Julius Fobil in his department. It made it easier for his research fellows to get guidance and I observed how many mistakes were averted at an early stage and just how overall more pleasant the work environment was. Prof Fobil was amazing during my stay in Ghana and I owe a lot of gratitude to him for helping me complete my work within the stipulated time.

One thing I would advise anyone taking up research would be to take time during the planning stage. Do not rush into the field to collect data. If I could do it all again that is the one thing I would change.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

CIRCLE programme granted one-year extension

The ACU's work supporting early career researchers specialising in climate change in sub-Saharan Africa has been boosted, with a one-year extension for the CIRCLE – or Climate Impacts Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement – programmeThis funding will enhance professional development support for emerging researchers in universities across Africa.

Success to date
Since 2014 the ACU and African Academy of Sciences (AAS) have been working in partnership to develop the skills of early career African researchers, increase their research output and boost the impact of their research within their communities and beyond.
To date, 97 early career researchers from 10 countries across sub-Saharan Africa have benefited from supervised research fellowships to study the impacts of climate change. These Fellows carried out crucial multi-disciplinary research on strategic approaches to coping with the effects of climate change in fields such as water, energy, agriculture, political economy and health and livelihoods.
Beyond support for individuals, the institutional strengthening programme (ISP) element of the CIRCLE programme has successfully supported participating universities to develop a coordinated and strategic approach to supporting their early career researchers. Through the ISP, successful universities were awarded funding to run strategic events and training programmes, focusing on embedding good practice in their institutions.
More information
An independent review of CIRCLE (undertaken in 2017) praised the programme, but noted that more time and extra funding would enable the ISP to become embedded within participating institutions, allowing CIRCLE to demonstrate measurable and sustainable change.
Over the next 12 months, the CIRCLE programme will focus on building upon the successes to date within the institutional strengthening programme (ISP) and implementing a comprehensive monitoring framework to measure the impact of related activities within each institution. This will in turn support all our returning CIRCLE Visiting Fellows (CVFs), as well as their peers, by ensuring that their institutions offer an increasingly supportive environment in which to build successful and high-impact research careers.
Visit www.acu.ac.uk/CIRCLE for further information about the programme.
Please contact verity.buckley@acu.ac.uk for further information on the programme extension. For any further queries, please contact press@acu.ac.uk 
This post was originally published on the ACU website. Click here to view the original article.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Kenyan Policy Makers Dialogue on Gender and Social Inclusion in the Climate-Smart Agriculture Strategy: Linking International and National Policy

By Catherine Mungai and Caroline Bosire, from the International Livestock Research Institute, Kenya
Cohort 1 and Cohort 3 (resp.) CIRCLE Visiting Fellows

Kenya has made great headway in developing policies and strategies to respond to climate change across different sectors; most notably in agriculture. The agricultural sector is the driving force of Kenya’s economy and is also one of the sectors most sensitive to the impacts of climate change. The agricultural sector has been identified as a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, therefore necessitating the identification of measures through which the sector can mitigate climate change. Introduced by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is one such approach which aims to sustainably improve agricultural productivity, increase farmers’ resilience, reduce and/or remove greenhouse gas emissions, and support the achievement of food-security and development goals. To this end, through the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Kenya has developed a CSA Strategy which will guide the implementation of the country's Nationally Determined Contribution for the agriculture sector.  

Catherine Mungai (CIRCLE Cohort 1 fellow) presents her results to policy makers for their input and feedback

Having received Research Uptake funding from CIRCLE, CIRCLE Cohort 1 Fellow Catherine Mungai organised an informative session where she shared findings from her CIRCLE funded research: ‘Uptake of Climate-Smart Agriculture Through a Gendered Intersectionality Lens: Experiences from Western Kenya. The meeting was held at the National Climate Change Resource Centre (NCCRC) and was organized together with the National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) and the Climate Change Directorate in the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MENR). Having NGEC on board was essential as the mission of the commission is to effectively and efficiently promote gender equality and freedom from discrimination of all persons in Kenya. The commission also spearheads the development of the gender submissions for Kenya to the UNFCCC and ensures that gender is mainstreamed from national to county level. Thirty participants including policy makers from the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, researchers from the CGIAR and NGO representatives participated in the meeting.

For policy makers, the results of the study demonstrate the need to consider gender and social inclusion in the development and implementation of CSA policies and programmes in order to ensure equitable development. The study provides evidence on why policy development and implementation agencies need to ensure that gender issues are addressed from conception of policies through to implementation. The presentation was timely and instrumental in supporting the development of action plans for the implementation of CSA at national and county level. Mungai’s research findings emphasize the need for context specific CSA technologies and practices which take into consideration social and cultural factors. The presentation was also tailored to generate feedback to be used in developing a policy brief.


Participants at the policy round table held at the National Climate Change Resource Center, Nairobi, Kenya 

There was great interest in the work and very valuable feedback from the various participants. One important message that came across was the need to clearly target the policy brief recommendations to either the policy makers at the national level or the implementers at the lower levels, which would include the county government and other institutions. The meeting also included discussions on preparation of a national gender position statement for the upcoming 23rd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 23) to be held in Bonn from 6 to 17 November. The presentation therefore served as a case study to demonstrate the scope of policy development from global, regional, national and local levels. The case study also demonstrated how research can be integrated into the policy process.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

CIRCLE at the ACU Developing the Next Generation of Researchers workshop

By Verity Buckley - CIRCLE Programme Officer

In July 2017, I attended the ACUs Developing the Next Generation of Researchers workshop. Hosted by the University of Lagos, the workshop explored innovative approaches to academic mentoring and career development for emerging researchers. I was not only looking forward to the content of the event, but also the opportunity to meet with some of the CIRCLE Visiting Fellows (CVFs) who were helping to facilitate the programme. Eight CVFs were scheduled to deliver sessions on areas such as mentoring, research cooperation, professional development and the role of the researcher in a global research environment. The CVFs were well suited to deliver these sessions, having made substantial achievements and progress in their careers since completing their CIRCLE fellowship, despite facing a number of challenges.

The CIRCLE Fellows and NextGen Organising Committee

Researchers face a range of obstacles throughout their careers, particularly during the early stages. The importance of immediately taking responsibility for one’s own development was highlighted throughout the workshop – solely relying on an institution to provide opportunities can be risky and participants were encouraged to look for other ways of building their experience. Their contribution to the wider “research effort” was discussed, as well as the importance of considering the impact that research can have on local and global issues. It was stressed that researchers must view themselves as part of a wider international research movement.

The establishment of a Professional Development Plan (PDP) can be a critical step in continuous professional development. Commitment to an action plan helps the researcher to progress, and the creation of milestones and goals can help them to keep track of their progress. As well as advice on attitudes and personal development, the use of constructive tools and approaches to the PDP were explored, including the importance of writing SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timebound) objectives and finding ways of providing evidence to demonstrate progress.

Prof. Ogundipe, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academics & Research) addressing participants

Many academics ultimately strive to become effective researchers and global leaders in their field. During the workshop, participants proposed and discussed various tactics that would help the researcher towards professional leadership. These included research uptake, mobile research and utilisation of technology and communication for networking and dissemination, as well as the importance of learning from role models within the workplace and wider academic fields. Role models can come in many forms, but within the academic research environment these are most likely to appear in the form of mentors. Researchers may find that they take on the role as mentor, as well as mentee. During the workshop, the CVFs offered personal anecdotes on their experiences as mentors, as well as professional tips and advice. Utilising the experiences of mentors could be critical in planning career development within an institution. Senior members of staff and personal managers could potentially give advice and support to their mentees, providing important guidance in seeking promotion or research opportunities.

CIRCLE Fellow Catherine Nnamani delivers a session

Nevertheless, finding time for development opportunities amidst a heavy workload within a research department can be difficult, especially for those who take on more administrative and teaching responsibilities at growing or overstretched institutions. The CVFs had ample experience as both mentees and mentors, and facilitated excellent discussions. The various debates that arose during the workshops were very thought provoking, but specific issues were highlighted as being particularly acute in Nigeria such as the lack of international networks and opportunities for collaboration and the growth of younger institutions struggling to build the capacity of their overstretched members of staff. Each participant had their own unique experience to contribute, and their innovative ways of overcoming their obstacles were inspirational for all that attended.

After an intensive 3 days, the workshop drew to a close. Not only had the participants developed tools to further establish their academic careers, but they had managed to create networks and potential routes through to future collaboration. As the participants filed out of the lecture hall, the atmosphere was bubbling over with anticipation (and not only due to the tea and biscuits that were waiting outside).

It was a pleasure to attend the workshop, and a wonderful opportunity to meet the CVFs and workshop participants. Make sure you keep an eye on the blog as we will be featuring CVFs profiles in the following posts.