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.