Tropentag 2019: Driving new ideas
In Ethiopia and other African countries, the fertility of arable soil is an important subject. If the soil is too acidic, crops can only absorb a limited amount of nutrients. “This is a big problem because this can lead to malnutrition in children and pregnant women in particular,” explains Dr Tesfaye Shiferaw Sida.
The 36-year-old is a researcher at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Center in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. This non-profit institution is dedicated to agricultural research and advocates for the development of improved seed and agricultural practices. At Tropentag 2019 in September, Sida will be presenting preliminary results from a study in which he examined the relationship between acidic soils and poor nutrient uptake. Tropentag is an annual inter-disciplinary conference on agricultural research, natural resource management and rural development in tropical and subtropical regions, which is taking place at the University of Kassel from 18 to 20 September 2019.
Exchanging ideas and networking
“Globally it is one of the most important events for meeting people who work in my field of research, for exchanging ideas with them, and for building cooperative relationships,” says Sida. Researchers, representatives from the fields of politics, business and non-governmental organisations as well as students all come together at the conference.
For several years now, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) has been organising an Alumni Special Project as part of Tropentag. It is aimed at academics and executives from emerging and developing countries who have studied or done research in Germany. Tesfaye Shiferaw Sida, who was a student at TU Dresden from 2008 to 2009, is one such member of this group of alumni who studied in Germany. A total of 50 alumni are taking part in Tropentag.
Multipliers for knowledge transfer
The aim of DAAD special projects is to enhance the skills of alumni with regard to development-relevant issues. By building local, transregional and international networks, the alumni can become multipliers for knowledge transfer. “We want them to be able to share and spread their newly acquired knowledge when they return to their home countries,” explains Eva Seifert from the Alumni Projects team, which, among other things, is responsible for coordinating the Alumni Special Projects at the DAAD.
In preparation of Tropentag, the alumni will attend one-week training seminars at the University of Göttingen or University of Kassel at the campus in Witzenhausen. These seminars will focus in particular on technical and social innovations through which agriculture in rural regions can be developed sustainably.
Ideas to tackle challenges in native country
Experts from the field of science and from private enterprises will be giving lectures and holding workshops on these topics in Witzenhausen. The alumni will take field trips to an agricultural business that processes and markets its own products. In addition, participants will get to know agricultural equipment developed by the universities themselves, such as a solar-powered fruit dryer. “We’re not suggesting that these solutions can be used in the exact same way in the native countries of the participants,” says Franziska Böhm, who is organising the seminar in Witzenhausen. Rather, the organisers want to present ideas to inspire potential new solutions for implementation in these countries. “The aim of the seminar is to be a driver of new ideas.”
Participants from 21 countries
The seminar in Göttingen focuses on plant cultivation, biological plant protection and mixed cultivation. In addition to attending expert lectures on these topics, the participants from 21 countries will also get the chance to visit a manufacturer of biological pesticides and a seed company. They will discuss controversial topics and exchange ideas on good examples and challenges. “We want to motivate the participants to communicate their own topics to the outside world and drive these forward in their own institutions,” says Dr Simone Pfeiffer, who is organising the seminar in Göttingen.
Ein Pool von Wissen
Liza Meza understands how participants can benefit from Tropentag. She attended the conference in 2015 and now works as a project coordinator at Fondo de las Américas del Perú, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to the conservation of forests and woodland, among other things. She liked the fact that the participants came from highly diverse regions and had very different professional backgrounds. For her, therefore, Tropentag was a “great pool of knowledge”. She found the “best-practice” examples that were presented very helpful. For example, this allowed her to learn about a bio-certification system from Uganda. “The conference helps people to think outside the box, to get new ideas, and to use them for their own projects,” explains Meza.
Networking with smart minds
Jared Ochieng will be participating in Tropentag for the first time this year. He is a project officer (value chain officer) at Micro Enterprises Support Programme Trust in Kenya. There he networks, among others, small farmers with microfinance establishments and buyers. After having completed his master’s degree in plant breeding in 2018, he is now aiming to get his PhD. He would like to further develop his PhD project at Tropentag and maybe even find a mentor for it.
“Tropentag gives me the chance to meet some of the greatest minds in plant cultivation and genetics,” says Ochieng. He will also be presenting research results on the cultivation of blackberries in Kenya at the conference. “I’ll have a platform to present my research to international academics. This is the best thing that can happen to a young academic like myself.”
Alumni Special Projects
In the Alumni Special Projects programme professionals from developing countries who have been trained in Germany have the opportunity to come into contact with German representatives from academia and business at important trade fairs and conferences.