Thursday 27 October 2016

My CIRCLE Experience to date – Exploring climate change effects on land use management in Ethiopia

By Dr. Wondye Admasu Molla, Wollo University, Ethiopia
Cohort 2 CIRCLE Visiting Fellow

My study aims to investigate land-use management practices and climate change adaptation and mitigation measures being implemented in the three districts of the South Wollo Zone, Amhara Regional State, Ethiopia. From 26, April 2016 to 12 June 2016 I was in the field collecting data in the rural districts of Borena, Sayint and Mehal Sayint. The data collection went well apart from a small challenge when our car got stuck in the mud for one full day due to unexpected heavy rains. It was very difficult for my driver to remove the car, however, thanks to the local community and administrators we were able to get the car out.

I conducted group discussions and interviews with farmers, elderly people, local government sector offices, with the three district administration leaders, community representatives and honey bee farmers. The discussions mainly focused on sustainable land management practices in Borena, Sayint and Mehal Sayint and on the adaptation and mitigation measures by the communities and the local government.

Group discussions with local farmers
What was learnt from the discussions and interviews is that, generally, the farmers are aware of the observed climate variability/change in terms of rainfall and temperature in their locality. Every farmer also remembers every historical year during which critical drought shocks caused severe loss of animals and crops. Farmers also understand that there has been a gradual change in cropping systems following continuous temperature increases (crops like maize which were mainly grown in the lowland encroached upward to the highland which were predominated by barley).

The 1991-1992 land distribution allowed the people to resettle in Borena Sayint National Park which led to severe deforestation. As a result, dramatic land use changes have occurred through violating previous boundaries of the Park particularly from Mehal Saynt district side. The locality is affected seriously by the effects of climate change, which has led to increasing temperatures and a reduction of rainfall, intensified by deforestation for the purpose of agricultural land, firewood and construction.

However, efforts are currently underway to mitigate the effects of climate change. Currently, farmers in the study districts, along with national Sustainable Land Management (SLM) and Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) strategies, have been assigned 30 to 60 days/year free labour for soil and water conservation activities to restore the ecology and adapt to climate change. Large area closures are developing with the aim of restoring the land and biodiversity.

Farmers working on terracing for soil and water conservation
Since returning from the field I have now organized and analysed my data and am currently writing articles for publication in this quarter, based on these observations.

Capacity Building Training

With the recommendation of my supervisors and the Department of Environmental Sciences, I had the privilege to participate in the academic writing training workshop organized by my host institution, the University of South Africa (UNISA). The training was presented by Emerald Publishing Group on “scholarly publishing” from 10-11, March 2016 and by Elsevier on 06 September 2016. The two training workshops were very useful because they targeted how to write publishable articles for academic journals.

I also took 5 days international training on GIS and Remote Sensing for Climate Change Impact Analysis and Adaptation at IRES Training Centre Nairobi, Kenya. I am now using the methods and techniques gained from the training, such as Landsat Imagery to detect the land Use/ Land cover change in Borena Sayint National Park since 1972.

Conference Participation

With the sponsorship of CIRCLE I have participated in the Environmental Education Association of Southern Africa(EEASA) 2016 conference from 3-6 October 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa. I presented some of my research findings and gained much from the workshop. It helped me to create networks with experienced professionals from different countries within and outside Africa to work together in the future. 

Support during CIRCLE

Since the start of the programme the support obtained from the CIRCLE team- ACU, AAS, Wollo University (home institution), UNISA (host institution) has been excellent. As far as my questions have been aligned with the CIRCLE objectives and policies, the support from all the CIRCE team in every aspect of my career development has been great.    

I am also very grateful to my supervisors, Dr Muchaiteyi Togo, and Dr. Munyaradzi Chitakira Senior Lecturers in the Department of Environmental Sciences at UNISA for their warm welcome to my host institution, consistent and stimulating guidance, valuable and constructive discussions and suggestions; and critical reading to reshape my proposal for the submission of ethical clearance. I would also thank my specialist advisor Dr. James Cheshire for his consistent follow-up and critical reading and comments on my proposal.

Thursday 20 October 2016

Blessings in Disguise: Experience of a Cohort 2 Fellow

Dr Catherine V Nnamani, Ebonyi State University Abakaliki, Nigeria
Cohort 2 CIRCLE Visiting Fellow

In the Beginning

When I received the email from Benji Gyampoh congratulating me that I had been selected as a CIRCLE Visiting Fellow, Cohort 2, I was very excited. However, my joy was cut short when my appointed supervisor could not take me and I was reposted. At this juncture, I was disappointed and I was not sure I wanted to take up the award. However, Prof H. O. Oselebe and the Coordinator of CIRCLE in EBSU, Prof J. O. Ogunji, both took it upon themselves to counsel me to take up the fellowship. When I contacted my supervisor he told me that all is set for me and that I should come over. I got to my Host Institution in January 2016. I thank God for His grace in my supervisor Prof S. A. Ajayi, for he took over everything about my welfare immediately. Coincidently, the president of the Botanical Society of Nigeria (BOSON), my affiliate society, Prof A. S. Ishiche is in the Department of Botany in OUA. He was excited to hear I was there and invited me to join him at church. Finally, I got to find my way around OAU and together with other CVFs Dr (Mrs) Daniella Sedegah and Sylvia Ankamah I became more comfortable in my host environment and poised for exploits.

My CIRCLE Research

Together with Dr Afiukwa, a CIRCLE Cohort 1 Fellow, and Prof H. O. Oselebe I organized a stakeholder’s workshop at Ebonyi State University on the 25th May, with the major aim of disseminating the outcomes of our collaborative project on “Addressing Wastewater Challenges for National Development with an African Bio-resource”. The workshop attracted a range of key stakeholders (e.g. policy makers, farmers, researchers, government agencies, miners, women’s groups, NGOs, CBNs and the private sector). It was an amazing experience because I was able to share my CIRCLE project, get feedback and pick some of the farmers as respondents for my field survey and sample collection.

After some modifications on my proposal and input from farmers during the stakeholder’s forum, I decided to work with five states in South-east, Nigeria. Five hundred (500) respondents were interviewed and 34 accessions of African Yam Bean were collected. My ethnobotanical survey and sample collection was an exciting experience as it gave me the opportunity to interact directly with local communities, particularly the resource poor rural dwellers and farmers. Their responses gave birth to our first CIRCLE paper that is in the pipeline now.

Interviewing a farmer  Eleke Achara community at Ikwo LGA in Ebonyi State

The highest academic platform for Botanists

The highest academic platform for Botanists is the American Society of Botanists. Their conference this year had the theme “Celebrating Our History and Conserving our Future”. It attracted over 1,200 international plant scientists and students. Six researchers attended from Nigeria. My friend Dr C. Asuzu and I officially joined the International Association of Plant Taxonomist (ISPT) and the President welcomed us as members. Future collaboration stemmed out from this event and the president asked us to submit a research proposal for the 2017 year grant award competition, for researchers coming from the developing countries.  I made a presentation on research directly related to my CIRCLE project and the conference gave me the opportunity to interact with other researchers working in the same area.

Participants from Nigeria at Botany2016 at Savannah, Georgia
In the US I made contact with Prof Diuto Esiobu in Florida Atlantic University, who offered me a place in her Lab for two weeks to undergo training in molecular analysis. The training has been thrilling, for the first time I was able to carry out my molecular analysis with ease. Thanks to CIRCLE and Prof Diuto Esiobu for this opportunity.

Training at OAU

OAU is a Center of Excellence, bubbling with so many National and International programs.

The induction workshop for CIRCLE Cohort 2 Fellows made me understand the importance of integrating in our host institution. This spurred me to action and I quickly applied for a two week training course on Geographic Information System (GIS) and Remote Sensing (RS). The training was an eye opener on what a researcher could do and achieve with GIS. Later, I attended a workshop on the application of Biotechnology in medicinal plant research. The training improved my skills in Molecular Analysis and paved the way for future collaborations.
Participants in the training on the Application of Biotechniques
Leading on from the biotechniques workshop I was invited to attend an award winning grant proposal writing workshop, facilitated by Dr Opelo Ojo, which looked at why most of our grant proposals do not see the light of the day and how to overcome these challenges.

My Achievements

I am happy to share that I attracted two grants for my Home Institution during my CIRCLE Fellowship:

a) Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program (CADFP) - a scholar fellowship program for educational projects at African higher education institutions, offered by IIE in partnership with the United States International University-Africa (USIU-Africa).

b)            EBSU-TETfund University Seed Grant for Research - I won funding for a proposal on Bio-Banking on Neglected and Underutilized Crops of Ebonyi State.

I have published 8 peer reviewed research papers and I have also published my long overdue Text Book on Diversity of Traditional Vegetables of   South-east, Nigeria for food security. I have also been invited by the Director of the Genetic Resource Center, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to present my CIRCLE Project to researchers and academics at a symposium on African Yam Bean. I say big THANK YOU to CIRCLE Organizers, ACU, AAS, DfID, Vitae for this wonderful opportunity to me and to Africans.

Friday 7 October 2016

Climate Change Debates: whose report will you believe? A field report from southwestern Nigeria

By Dr. Ayansina Ayanlade, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria
Cohort 2 CIRCLE Visiting Fellow

There are several scientific debates on climate change and its impacts on man and the physical environment. The evidence used in these debates has shown that climate change is a global issue and that one small attempt may not significantly curb its extreme events and their impacts. The majority of the evidence used is, therefore, based on projections from climate change models. However, climate change models and scenarios for West Africa have some challenges. For example, while some models of precipitation suggest increases, some predict decreases and other studies, such as a recent report from IPCC, reveal uncertainty about future rainfall patterns. Another set of debates on climate change are those around adaptation amongst rural people, especially smallholder farmers in Africa. Key issues around climate variability/change impacts, awareness and adaptations are not only restricted to climate scientists, but also a big threat facing rural farmers. Some scientists, however, notice that local farmers’ knowledge of climate change is insufficient for rigorous evaluation of planned adaptation.

A local livestock farmer taken during the field work
Based on this assumption, my CIRCLE-funded research set out with the main objective of testing whether farmers’ perceptions of climate change/variability are consistent with scientific analysis. Using ethnographic and meteorological analysis, the study aims to compare the climate change perceptions of both crop and livestock farmers with historical meteorological analysis. The field work is centered on three research questions: (1) has rainfall and temperature varied/changed in the study area over the past three decades?; (2) to what extent do rural farmers in Southwestern Nigeria perceive changes in climate?; and (3) how do rural farmers’ perceptions of climate change compare with the trends from historical climatic data? The field work was conducted in Akeredolu, Alaguntan, Faforiji, Igboho,  Igbope,  Ilora, Iseyin, Odemuyiwa Kisi and Shaki.

Field Research team. L – R: Mercy Idowu  Olamisegbe; Ayansina Ayanlade; Kehinde Alao;
and Foluso Elizabeth Omotoso
What is obvious from observations in the field is the close link between climate and farming activates in the region of study. This is because the majority of farming practices are rain-fed. During in-depth interviews and focus group discussions the majority of farmers claimed that they “observe that rain falls for a short time and the duration is limited compared to the past 30 years”. The majority of the farmers had experienced prolonged dry spells and the recurrence of drought.  Nearly all the farmers perceived that the onset of rainfall is much later recently than over the last 30 years. They had also noticed that rainfall now ceases half way into the end of the normal wet season months. Most of the farmers claimed that the overall impacts of climate change on both crop and livestock are estimated to be highly negative, much more on maize, yam, and rice and unexpectedly high on cattle, chickens, pigs, sheep and goats.

Photograph taken during interviews and focus group discussions
As yet, we have little idea of how farmers’ perception of climate change closely mirrors the climatic trend from the scientific meteorological analysis. The major objective of the next stage is to test whether farmer’s perceptions of climate change/variability are consistent with climatic trend analysis. The rural farmers awareness of climate change, its impacts and their speciļ¬c adaptation measures, will be seen as science-driven assessments for appraising the trend of rainfall and temperature during rainy and dry season;  patterns of onset; and length of rainy season with their seasonal variability.

Monday 26 September 2016

Development of drought tolerant maize hybrids adaptable to climate change: A worthwhile and enriching experience

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

The main focus of my CIRCLE research has been to develop drought tolerant maize varieties adaptable to the effects of climate change.  At the onset of my CIRCLE research fellowship, under the supervision of Dr. Richard Edema, the coordinator of Central and East African Regional M.Sc. (Plant Breeding and Seed Systems) program, of the Department of Agricultural Production, Makerere University, Uganda, we engaged all necessary stakeholders. This included Maize breeders from the Cereal Research Program of National Crop Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI), Namulonge, Kampala, Uganda who helped with the provision and field evaluation of drought tolerant maize parental lines. Developing improved varieties of crops conventionally in the field takes a long time and the improvement is not stable due to the influence of the environment. However, the Cereal Research Program already has an existing maize breeding program under the leadership of the Dr. Godfrey Asea, a maize breeder who is also the Director of the Institute. Dr. Asea willingly directed the farm technicians to provide available drought tolerant maize inbred/parental lines to be used for phenotypic selection and molecular characterization. This meant we were able to develop drought tolerant maize hybrids which will be released to farmers to enhance food security in the face of climate change.

Field evaluation and phenotypic selection

Sixty-eight maize inbred lines were planted for evaluation in four different locations in Uganda and Kenya under different conditions; Optimum and Low-Nitrogen conditions (NaCCRI research field, Namulonge and Serere in Uganda), Drought stress (Kasese, Uganda and Kiboko, Kenya).

Measuring chlorophyll content (a drought tolerant trait) with Photosynq equipment at the NaCRRI experimental field, Namulonge, Uganda

Molecular characterization of the drought tolerant inbred lines 

In addition to evaluation in the field, genomic DNA was extracted from the sixty-eight maize inbred lines. The extracted DNA was then quantified with a NanoDrop Spectrophotometer to ensure that it was pure. Nineteen Simple Sequence Repeats (SSRs) molecular markers already linked to the gene controlling drought tolerance in previous studies were used for the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). An ARKTIK 96 well thermal cycler was used for the PCR amplification of the DNA after which the PCR reaction mixtures undergo GEL Electrophoresis to determine the location of the genes controlling drought on the chromosomes of the maize.  This laboratory work has led to the selection of drought tolerant parental lines which could have taken several seasons of field evaluations before this selection could take place.

Extracting, quantifying and amplifying genomic DNA at the Biotechnology Laboratory

Research Outputs

The identified maize inbred/parental lines will be used to develop drought tolerant maize hybrids in November/December for the agro-ecologies of Uganda. These will later be released to farmers in these areas for better grain yield under drought conditions. The research findings of the phenotypic field evaluations and molecular works have been written up for presentation at the forthcoming 11th International conference of the African Association of Remote Sensing of the Environment (AARSE) and National Agriculture Research Organization-Makerere (NARO-MAK) Joint Agricultural Dissemination Conferences in October and November respectively.

My experience in the biotechnology laboratory has been a worthwhile and enriching one and I have acquired new molecular laboratory skills. These skills will lead to further training on “Molecular laboratory techniques” at the University of Cambridge, UK. My appreciation goes to my Supervisor on this program and the CIRCLE management team for supporting my attendance at the training. Indeed my molecular laboratory skills and capacity on Climate Change impacts research has improved tremendously through this program, kudos to the CIRCLE fellowship!!!

Tuesday 13 September 2016

Supporting the research leaders of the future at the ACU Conference of University Leaders, 2016

In partnership with Vice-Chancellors' Ghana, The ACU Conference of University Leaders 2016 was hosted by the ACU in July this year. The main focus of the event was to bring together senior university staff to ‘debate key issues in higher education and explore shared solutions with a diverse range of international colleagues’. While the majority of attendees at the event were therefore high ranking university officials, one of the key themes under debate was how the next generation of university leaders could best be supported. I was privileged to attend the event and to jointly present, together with Professor Graham Furniss, the recently published ACU-British Academy report, ‘The next generation: ideas and experience in African researcher support’. We shared the panel with two early career researchers - Herine Otieno-Menya and Dr Olawale Olayide - also presenting their ideas and experience on support for early career researchers. Andrea Johnson from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, USA, provided the response to our presentations.

It was interesting to consider different forms of support for early career researchers and how this could be maximised to be most effective. There was also useful feedback from Ms Johnson on The Next Generation report, some of which we have already been considering for further development of the research and some of which could also be useful cross-cutting themes for much work with universities. For example, thinking of universities as systems (systems thinking is a topic currently – and rightly –hugely popular in the international development sector at the moment) and how support for early career researchers sits in that system. A topic touched upon in the report was whether it is more effective to approach change within this system from the faculty level, then involve institutional leadership, or vice versa. Perhaps this is best determined based on the type of institution, its culture and the particular entry point for the programme of support.

Again, reflecting the need to understand institutional context, the varying needs and objectives of researchers in different disciplines was highlighted (for example, in some disciplines the quantity of publications may be more important, for some it may be the use of cutting edge technology and in others ensuring the impact of research on policy may be more important). There were further questions around where support should be directed (also a topic we touched upon in researching the report). Should we be targeting just the most promising research or raising standards more broadly? What about teacher training as opposed to researcher training? The report made reference to the use of online learning, but perhaps there is the potential to also consider other modes of learning, such as split-site PhDs or PhDs by distance. Many of these points relate back to a key concept emphasised in the report: it is vital that early career researcher support is shaped by, and embedded in, the priorities of the academics (junior and senior), faculties and broader institutional and societal objectives. However, higher education institutes are, indeed, complex systems with complex needs so to do this effectively will need careful consideration and reflection.
Tawakalitu Bola Onifade, Caroline Moss, Victoria Tanimonure, Eunice Thomas and other delegates
In addition to sharing the panel with Dr Olayide, I was also very pleased to catch up with a number of early career researchers from the CIRCLE programme. Funding was very gratefully received from the National Research Foundation, South Africa, for several CIRCLE fellows to attend the event. The fellows made full use of the opportunity to join various sessions of interest and to broaden their networks. Several sent their gratitude and shared some of their highlights and reflections, some excerpts of which are captured below:

Dr Amos Apraku shared his appreciation of the measure of support for early career researchers and higher education in Africa:

It was gratifying to note governments, university leaderships and the Commonwealth as a political entity continue to place education and research at the centre of development in less-developed countries, particularly in Africa. Similarly, various funding institutions and scholarship awarding bodies are committed to this gesture (prioritisation of research and development) by continually making funding available to emerging  academics from poor countries with special focus on women. To whom much is given, much is expected; beneficiaries of various scholarships and research funding and their institutions are therefore expected to give back to society in the form of using research and technology to develop societies.
Amos Apraku, Caroline Moss and Benson Iweriebor
Dr Benson Iweriebor reflected on a number of the sessions of the conference as well as his first experience visiting Ghana and the opportunity to engage with different groups at the event:

The trip to Ghana was very eventful as it was my first time visiting that country. The conference was well organised and attended by eminent scholars from across Commonwealth nations from the Caribbean, to Asia, to Canada, Australia, Fiji, and Africa. I was privileged to meet many erudite scholars who were university administrators… I was also able to attend concurrent sessions throughout the conference: ‘Funding trends and opportunities’ and ‘Developing the new generation’ on the first day which culminated in a welcome party organised by the Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Legon. It was an opportunity to unwind and meet fellow attendees and we were entertained by the university’s cultural group where people danced to the rhythm of drums. Oh, I loved the way the delegates from Sri Lanka danced enthusiastically to the beating of the drums.

The second day of the conference… ended with a plenary entitled ‘Addressing historical injustice: from Rhodes to reparations’ with Profs Sir Hilary Beckles (VC, University of the West Indies) and Prof Adam Habib (VC, University of the Witwatersrand). Both talked about their experiences as university administrators on the issues of the slave trade and need for reparation following student protests to have the Rhodes statue in South Africa removed. To cap the day’s events, a gala dinner was held for delegates at the State House with The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC being the guest speaker. Delegates were treated to good music and a sumptuous dinner. It just felt like being home in Nigeria with my colleagues Dr Eunice Thomas, Apraku Amos, Bola Onifade and Victoria Tanimonure. I miss these great and amazing souls and thank CIRCLE and the NRF for giving me the possibility to meet them all.

Victoria Tanimonure shared how several sessions at the conference highlighted the importance of research uptake as part of the research process:

The concurrent session that benefitted me most was on the research uptake ‘Ensuring that research benefits society’. There are many research outputs wasting away on the shelf without transferring them to appropriate stakeholders that could benefit from them, thereby bringing university research into use. This has been my concern over the years. Sometimes I asked myself the usefulness of all this research work - are they just for our promotion and CVs? I think it is high time we did things differently in this regard. One of the speakers who shared her experience on research uptake from her university’s perspective mentioned that they have put in place in her institution an opportunity for research uptake starting from the departmental level, then to the faculty and institutional levels. I felt strongly in my heart that I can pioneer that from my department and faculty as soon as I return to my institution. To achieve this, I found the handbook by DRUSSA very helpful.

Also, the conference debate was really an interesting one and, to me, it still boiled down to the issue of research uptake: how society can benefit immensely from universities as they rise up to the task of social responsibilities. I am sure we still have a long way to go in Africa, and Nigeria in particular, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with a step. We will get there. 

Dr Eunice Thomas shared how she had benefited from attending various sessions at the conference:

On the first day of the Programme, after the opening session and the keynote address by Kofi Annan, I attended a concurrent session where speakers shared with us on funding trends and opportunities in the UK, Sweden and USA. This was an eye-opener to various funding bodies and how to access them… In the afternoon, speakers talked about various aspects of development for upcoming researchers and the knowledge I garnered will be of a great benefit to me in my career.

The second day of the conference witnessed many sections.  Prof Crispus Kiamba talked about the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP) taskforce. He highlighted the current goals of CSFP, their operations and the endowment fund set up.  That same day, in the afternoon barriers and opportunities in Africa were discussed by 3 speakers.  Later, Accessibility and the various norms in selected universities were discussed.  I now have a better understanding of the operations of the Commonwealth Scholarship. I am most grateful to the NRF for sponsoring me for this conference. I must say that you have equipped me with long term tools that will contribute immensely to my success in making a change in Africa in my career. It is a great privilege you have given me to interact with contacts from various fields all over the world.  Thank you once again. 

Thursday 1 September 2016

Experience with CIRCLE so far

By Dr Oluwole Johnson Akintonde, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Nigeria
Cohort 2 CIRCLE Visiting Fellow

Dr Akintonde spent his fellowship year at Makerere University, Ethiopia. He reflects on the CIRCLE Programme in the final weeks of his Fellowship.

To start with, my thanks go to God, the CIRCLE team, my home institution (LAUTECH, Nigeria) and host institution (Makerere, Uganda) for this rare opportunity which enables me to have a different exposure in terms of academic environment and additional knowledge of research approaches. I considered the offer as a rare one, because it came into view weeks after the final defence of my Ph.D programme. When my name was shortlisted I was so happy, but thereafter I was downcast when I read that my participation in the programme is subject to the readiness of an assigned supervisor at the host institution. “Johnson, the most favoured man”, of course thumbs-up for the CIRCLE programme when I heard that my supervisor had been assigned.

Coordinator and Supervisor relationship
We had a warm reception from the host institution especially from Dr. Bamutaze, who is the CIRCLE Coordinator here in Makerere. Always attentive and responsive when need arises. I am also under the supervision of a lively, friendly, understanding and approachable supervisor- Prof. Shuaib Lwasa. A versatile man in research approaches, especially on research in climate change issues.

Research focus and progress
I have observed that crop farmers are not novices on changes in climatic conditions and how these affect crop production. Several strategies have been introduced, adopted and used to mitigate different effects of climate change. It is on this note my research work was designed to assess the level of use of climate change adaptation strategies among arable crop farmers of Oyo and Ekiti Sates, Nigeria. So far this work is progressing as expected. I engaged the services of two Village Extension Agents (VEAs) each from the two States (part of the stakeholders) and two research assistants. The data collection exercise was smooth and convenient. It was another opportunity which enabled me to meet rural farmers in their real state and have wonderful interactions about their knowledge on climate change, how it affects arable crop production in the area and what they are doing to combat its effects. Farmers cited different climate change associated risks/hazards experienced with arable crop production, which include; rainfall fluctuation, drought, heat, diseases infestation, soil erosion, stunted crop growth, depletion of soil fertility among others. All of these have affected both the quality and quantity of arable crop yield.

Dr Akintonde with community members
The above risks/hazards accounted for the use of a number of adaptation strategies in the area. For instance, cultivation of improved seed varieties, mixed cropping, construction of ridges, application of fertilizer and compost include other strategies used against climatic risks/hazards such as depletion of soil fertility, stunted plant growth, undesirable crop yield quality and quantity. In the same vein, construction of ridges across the slope, planting of cover crops, mulching were among other strategies used against soil erosion and water loss. Again, planting of improved seed varieties (drought resistant), irrigation, altering of crop planting date strategies were also used against drought, late/early rainfall, etc. It was observed that most of the arable crop farmers used combinations of adaptation strategies and some of these strategies were on used more frequently (eg. fertilizer application, mixed cropping, mulching, etc). Constraints associated with the use of various climate change adaptation strategies in the area include capital unavailability; irregularity of extension service; inadequate information on climate variability, inadequate required production inputs (eg. land, seeds, chemicals, etc); no subsidies of planting materials; poor access to information on climate change, etc.

Conducting focus group discussions in the community
So far, I am done with the data collection and focus group discussions (FGDs), including part of the analysis, and seriously working hard on the interpretation of the research results. I am working faster so as to have some publications during this quarter with the guidance and encouragement of my supervisor. Hopefully, he’s also going to put me through for training in a particular package/analysis software, which I intended to apply to this work. It would be part of my take home innovation that can be applied to my future research work and shared with colleagues after returning from the programme.
Of course my supervisor is ever ready to receive the complete research write-up in order to make necessary corrections and inputs, with additional support from my specialist adviser so as to come up with possible publishable manuscripts. This would be my joy and of course the joy of my supervisor and CIRCLE, being part of their objectives.

Some challenges
My initial challenge was inability to access my cash from the Ugandan bank (ATM-machine), but the CIRCLE organization is so perfect that I was not the only CVF in Uganda. When this occurred to me, I stood up and contacted my colleagues and I was relieved of the mess I found myself until the situation was resolved. The second is, there are foods but Uganda’s people don’t eat pepper, and their common food includes matooke, posho, rice, sweet potato and to round it up, no solid food. All these are prepared without pepper, just with onion and tomatoes. Our coordinator tried to encourage me to eat some of these foods but I have found it a bit difficult.

Appreciation so far
My appreciations go to CIRCLE team for this programme, my supervisor for his attention, CIRCLE programme coordinator for being there and the entire staff members of the Department of Geography Geo-informatics and Climatic Sciences, Makerere University (Host institution) for their cooperation and LAUTECH (Home institution) for releasing me to participate and enjoy various packages embedded in the CIRCLE programme.

To colleagues (CVFs)
Just a quarter to go! Let’s buckle up and bring out the best out of the CIRCLE programme. Please let’s consider it as a bird at hand…

Tuesday 30 August 2016

Feeling the Heat: Investigating Gas Flaring Activities in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria

By Dr Omosivie Maduka, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria
Cohort 2 CIRCLE Visiting Fellow

Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of crude oil and the 6th largest producer in the world, with a capacity to produce approximately 2.5 million barrels/day. Oil and natural gas extraction currently account for up to 97% of the country’s revenue from foreign exchange, 20% of the country’s GrossDomestic Product (GDP) and 65% of budgetary revenue.  Nigeria is also blessed with vast deposits of natural gas located mainly in the Niger Delta region of the country. In spite of this apparent wealth, Nigeria ranks among the poorest countries in the world with over half of its population living on less than two dollars a day.

Gas flaring, which is the controlled burning of gases in the course of oil production, is routinely carried out by oil exploration companies in Nigeria, even though it was formally banned in 1984 and declared "unconstitutional" by the Nigerian Supreme Court in 2005. However, despite government bans, the federal and state authorities have been unable to force companies to stop, even in the face of significant hazards to the health of populations exposed to it. It pollutes the air, heats up the atmosphere and releases greenhouse gases.  Although Nigeria pledged to stop gas flaring and has imposed fines on oil exploration companies that are still flaring gas in the country, the practice of gas flaring has not ended. Nigeria ranks as the 5th highest contributor to the flaring of natural gas worldwide with flares of up to 428 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas in 2013, representing 10% of gas flaring.

Horizontal gas flaring at Etelebu flow station in Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State
My CIRCLE-funded research titled ‘Gas flaring and climate change: an analysis of the impact on the health and well-being of communities in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria’, explores the health effects of gas flaring on oil-bearing communities of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. My research team and I conducted field visits to six communities in the Niger Delta region of the country, three of which are host to flow stations that have been flaring gas for the past ten years. We gathered data from these communities including those host to flow stations namely: Mbodo-Aluu in Ikwerre Local Government Area (LGA) of Rivers State, Nedugo in Yenagoa LGA of Bayelsa State and Oton in Sapele LGA of Delta State. One of the things we were eager to do was to get as close to gas flaring locations as possible in these three communities and conduct air quality analysis. We hoped to experience for a few minutes what the residents of these communities have been exposed to for a decade or more. This would be the first time I would be ‘up close and personal’ with gas flares.

My research team and I braving the heat and rain to conduct air quality analysis
At Mbodo-Aluu in Rivers State, we drove as close as we could to the flow station, hoping production activities were in full gear with the resultant flaring of gas. We were disappointed as operations had not commenced that day. We however hit jackpot (imagine being excited about such a health hazard) at Nedugo in Bayelsa State and Oton in Delta state, where we were able to get within 500 metres of horizontal flares from the Etelebu and Sapele flow stations. We felt the heat and smelt the smoke as we conducted the air quality analysis, observing the horizontal flares while we took our measurements.  The analysis included carbon monoxide (CO), Carbon dioxide (CO2), Nitrogen oxide (NO2), Ozone (O3), Sulphur dioxide S02), Hydrogen sulphide (H2S), methane (CH4) and ammonia (NH3). Other gases measured were volatile organic compounds (VOC). Needless to say, most of the readings exceeded the threshold for many of the atmospheric gases. Data analysis is now underway along with work on a manuscript that describes the air quality in gas flaring host communities in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.

Tuesday 23 August 2016

Report from the 5th Climate Change and Population Conference on Africa

By Dr Eunice Thomas, University of Ibadan, Nigeria
Cohort 2 CIRCLE Visiting Fellow
The 5th climate change and population conference on Africa was held in Ghana from the 19th of July to 21st of July, 2016. The theme for the conference was “Building Bridges and Research –into – use.” Among the invited Guests were:  the ambassador of the royal kingdom of Morocco, her excellency Madam Nezha AlaouiM, Hammdi; Special UN Secretary General Envoy on climate change, His excellency John Agyekum Kufour; and Prof Ebenezer Oduro Owusu,  the provost of the college of Basic and Applied Sciences and the Vice chancellor of the University of Ghana, Prof. Ernest Aryeetey.
In the welcome address, the Vice Chancellor and chairman of the day emphasized the need to live in a sound environment and develop a legacy for the future generation. As such, there is a need for vigorous discussion of issues at conferences of this sort. Passion and commitment should be divorced from any differences, including academic warfare, with the focus instead on society and development. The third day of the conference was heralded by a plenary session, titled Gender based flood early warning systems, by Dr Delali B. Dovie (the 2016 Global Innovation Gold award) from Legon and Dr Raymond Kasei from the University for Development studies, Ghana. They talked about how haphazard development and global population growth had paved the way for increased demand for housing and industries, which in turn had exposed several lands to increasing flood risk. They showcased how the drone that came with the award will be used to monitor early flood warning so that adequate preparation can be made to avert it.
Dr  Eunice  Thomas  presenting her research paper
The oral presentations kicked off after the plenary sessions and I had my presentation in the afternoon, titled “Soil Organic Carbon Variations and Soil Chemical Properties in Rubber Plantations and Other Land Use Types in Benin (South-Southern Nigeria).”  The paper was borne out of the recent concern about greenhouse gases and their damage to the ozone layer, which had increased the need for studies on the inputs, outputs and carbon storage in different terrestrial systems.  As the largest C pool in the terrestrial biosphere, even a minor change in soil carbon stocks could result in a significant alteration of atmospheric CO2 concentration (Davidson and Janssens, 2006; Trumbore and Czimczik, 2008). The study therefore aimed at quantifying soil organic carbon and some selected soil properties in order to predict their changes in response to different land use (rubber plantation versus fallow/forest and arable farming land).  The study recommends that farmers should engage in practices that will sequester carbon in soils, using methods such as crop rotation, leaving the land to fallow and adding organic manure at a specific ratio to the soil.  This will also help to mitigate climate change.
CVFs from cohort 1 and 2 at the conference; from the left is Olga Laiza Kupika, Sandra Akugpoka Atindana, Sylvia Ankamah, Catherine Mungai, Daniella Sedegah and Eunice Thomas
Other CIRCLE fellows had oral presentations, such as Olga Kupika (from cohort 1), Catherine Mungai and Sandra Atindana (also cohort 2 members). Daniella, D Seddgah and Syvia Ankamah and Dr Zahor  Zahor  were also in attendance. Sandra Atindana’s paper titled “Gender – Disaggregated Perceptions of Smallholder Crop Farmers on Climate change Adaptation Strategies in the Kintampo North Municipal District of Ghana”, discussed a district which is a transitional forest zone that is being gradually converted to a savannah zone and so is more prone to the adverse effects of climate change factors, hence the need to take steps to mitigate it.
Dr Eunice Thomas  receiving the certificate of participation
At the end of the conference I felt better equipped with different methods to communicate my findings to different policy makers, including proper and adequate communication approaches and ways to involve them from the onset of the research work.
Latest developments at Regional Institute for Population Studies (RIPS), University of Ghana
Among a few remarkable steps being taken by climate change ambassadors, such as CIRCLE and many others, RIPS have taken a step ahead of national efforts to develop a drone that is being put in place to monitor and signal future occurrence of floods to help save lives. A representation from the Ministry of health, Ghana in collaboration with RIPS are developing a drone  (called Dr. One) to enhance the transport and distribution of drugs  and other logistics to remote health care centers in Ghana.

Tuesday 2 August 2016

My CIRCLE Adventure So Far

Dr Phyllis Bernice Opare, University of Energy and Natural Resources, Ghana
Cohort 2 CIRCLE Visiting Fellow

Dr Opare spent her fellowship year at Makerere University, Uganda. Here, she reflects on her time on the CIRCLE Programme.

When the email came announcing that I had been selected as a CIRCLE Visiting Fellow, cohort 2, I was ecstatic. I knew this year would be a life changing year for me, and so far it has been phenomenal. I worked like a maniac to get all my scripts graded, scored and upgraded before the end of 2015. This in addition to a full Christmas calendar of services and other events was scary, but I was able to get everything done by the 28th. I left my home, Sunyani, to travel to Accra on Sunday 3rd December 2015 to begin the first leg of my CIRCLE journey.

Experiences at the Host Institution

I left Accra on 9th January and arrived at Entebbe on January 10th, 2016. My time in Uganda has been very nice and peaceful. The CIRCLE Coordinator at Makerere arranged a taxi and place of residence for me before I got to Entebbe, which made things very easy for me. With Kampala being on a much higher altitude than Sunyani, plus the fact that Uganda is three hours ahead of Ghana, I had one of the worst cases of jet lag when I first arrived. Every little effort had me huffing and puffing. I slept a lot, mostly in the daytime. The room I got in the student hostel was near to their TV room and since some international soccer tournament was going on in January I was kept awake most nights and of course I slept in the day (a vampire in the making if I had stayed).

In spite of all that, I got to find my way around Makerere campus, and together with CVF Abimbola Oluwaranti form OAU, Nigeria, we managed to find new accommodation on the compound of Makerere University’s Agricultural Research Institute at Kambanyolo, about 35 minutes’ drive from the main campus (that’s on a good day with no traffic, we have actually spent 2 hours en route at one time). During this time, with the help of staff from the Coordinator’s office, we also managed to find our way around Kampala city, discovering most of the major shopping malls.

Culturally, there are many similarities between the people of Uganda and Ghana, but most importantly, there is the warm sense of welcome wherever I go. The people are very nice and welcoming, very eager to extend assistance when needed. I find that we have most of the same foods so eating has not been a problem – though I have to add a little bit more pepper to mine for some pizazz. I am doubly happy that fruits and vegetables are in abundance and fairly cheap. The meat and dairy products are more affordable here than in Ghana. Most fresh milk in Ghana is imported, so it is made shelf stable, hardly fresh, but in Uganda fresh milk is everywhere.

We also had access to the university library when we were living in town. At Kambanyolo, where we now live, the Continuing Agriculture Extension Education Center Staff has opened their kitchen to us so we can fix whatever we like. We also have access to internet here, and just recently I was given a key to a small computer lab with internet access so I can work in a place other than my room. In all, my stay in Uganda so far has been a positive experience.

Research and Data Gathering

I decided to work with small holder farmers in Ghana since they are among the groups most affected by climate variability.  After much consultation with my supervisor, specialist advisor, mentor and officials from the ministry of food and agriculture in Ghana I decided to work with three villages within the Sunyani east Municipality. These communities are Atronie, Nwowasu, and Benue Nkwanta (I will also be talking with my supervisor about replicating this research in at least one farming community in Uganda for comparative analysis). In all about 150 farmers took part in the study and they have been encouraged and challenged to begin Climate-smart farms that can be used as model farms for other farmers.

A section of Nwowasu Village
The timing of this research can only be considered propitious since Ghana experienced one of the worst dry seasons in recent history during the last harmatan. This coupled with some significant bush fires and other farming practices has resulted in significant food shortages, particularly in local staples like cassava, cocoyam and plantain. As a result, the farmers were very interested in finding out why the climate is changing and what they can do to adapt in the face of variability.

Initial meeting at Atronie, sharing the overview and objectives of the research with farmers
I employed several CCFAS Gender and Climate change research tools, with some of the tools modified for this study. The tools employed included:

I. Climate analogue tools:

  • The village resource map
  • The seasonal calendar
  • Daily activity clocks
  • Capacity and vulnerability analysis matrix

II. Weather forecast tools:

  • Seasonal food security calendar

III. Tools for understanding and catalysing gender sensitive climate-smart agriculture initiatives:
  • Changing farm practices
Young women at Nwowasu busily participating in developing a seasonal calender for their village
Key observations:

  • Farmers in the Sunyani East Municipality are very aware of climate change and climate variability
  • Farmers tend to adopt certain technologies very quickly, especially when it is considered to ease labour, without adequate understanding of the long term implications.
  • Farmers are very concerned with making a livelihood in agriculture in the face of climate variability
  • Farmers lacked the capacity to make proper commercial decisions that will help them maximise profits on their produce. Many of them barely break even.
  • Many farmers were willing to adopt climate-smart agricultural practices. However, those farmers who were only renting or working the land for others felt powerless to initiate too many changes without the land owners’ permission/cooperation.

Detailed reports and videos will be disseminated in due course. It should be placed on record that an agricultural extension officer was part of the research team and he has indicated his willingness to continue to work with the individual farmers in adopting CSA practices. Additionally, some financial institutions have been contacted on behalf of the farmers to bring banking services to these communities and to organise entrepreneurship capacity building training for the farmers and others in the communities to help improve their livelihoods.

Overall, the time spent with the farmers was very fruitful and it is anticipated that there will be continuous collaboration to ensure widespread climate-smart agriculture adoption in the district that will spread to other parts of the country.

Now I am back at Makerere, ready to get down to writing.