climapAfrica: Transformation through science

By promoting research projects by African postdoc and doctoral candidates and enabling them to network with experts in specialist working groups, the DAAD has been making an important contribution towards climate protection and the promotion of academic research in Africa since mid-2019. The project is financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The first – virtual – symposium for climapAfrica (climate change research Alumni and Postdocs in Africa) will take place at the end of October.

Lake Chad is an ecological miracle. It stretches out like a giant oasis on the southern edge of the Sahara across an area spanning up to 24,000 square kilometres. This is approximately the size of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. At the time of the lake’s greatest expanse, in the 1960s, the most important trade centres of the Sahel zone were located on its banks. However, the volume of water is subject to strong fluctuations. Up to the 1990s, the area covered by water shrank to 2,000 square kilometres – with serious consequences for the approx. 20 million people in its catchment area, for whom Lake Chad and its connected system of rivers forms the basis for existence. The drought starved the population and fuelled violent conflicts in the four-country corner between Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon, partly incited by the terrorist organisation Boko Haram.

Although, despite global warming, the lake has expanded again in the last few years to 14,000 square kilometres, the political tensions have remained just as present as the poverty of the population: around five million people currently need humanitarian aid. All the problems are exacerbated by the climate crisis. Although there is currently more water, rainfall is becoming increasingly irregular. It is no longer possible to rely on the monsoon rain between June and August, which previously secured the inflow of the lake. Instead, spontaneous heavy rainfall poses enormous challenges to planned agriculture. 

Local research with climapAfrica

Dr. Oluwafemi Adeyeri from Nigeria aims to contribute to preparing people in this region for the climatic changes of the next few years with his research project. Adeyeri received his doctorate in the field of “Climate Change and Water Resources at the West African Science Center on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use” (WASCAL) at the University of Abomey-Calavi in Benin. He is currently investigating the “Effects of climate change and extreme weather conditions on the hydrological characteristics and future water availability of the Lake Chad basin in Africa”. Specialist discussion of his topic is enabled by the climapAfrica working group “Climate change and meteorology”, which is composed of alumni experts from German funding organisations as well as “climapAfrica Postdoc Fellows”.

DAAD climapAfrica – “Climate change research Alumni and Postdocs in Africa” – is a new programme for alumni experts from German funding organisations, as well as postdoc and doctoral candidates in the field of climate research. It is directed at future leaders in Africa and aims to promote application-oriented research to fight climate change in Southern and Western Africa. In this endeavour, climapAfrica is cooperating with two climate competence centres funded by the BMBF: SASSCAL (Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management) in southern Africa, and WASCAL in Western Africa. The programme takes up the strategic objectives of the DAAD in Africa, such as digitalisation and climate research. In doing so, the DAAD underscores its responsibility as a funding organisation in an age increasingly described as Anthropocene, in which human beings are changing the conditions of life on earth to a greater extent than ever before. 

“Our aim is to open up good prospects for the next step in their academic career for junior researchers from all over Africa through the climapAfrica working groups, which provide practical advice, networking and access to specialist and methodological expertise”, says Niels Böhm, Senior Desk Officer in the DAAD’s climapAfrica programme. He explains that African junior academics, in particular, often leave their home countries after completing their doctorates, since they lack career prospects at home. For this reason, the programme puts particular emphasis on the professional profiling of climapAfrica postdocs at the interface between research and politics. “In order to build a bridge between academic research results and policy, we are organising capacity-building formats in which African trainers explain to the sponsored researchers and alumni how they can best present their specialist findings to political decision-makers in order to increase the reach of their research”, says Simone Kolz, who is also a Senior Desk Officer in the climapAfrica programme. 

Networking with experts

climapAfrica is initially running until 2023 and has received 4.5 million Euros in funding from the BMBF. The programmes core consists of seven working groups on topics related to climate change: agriculture, land use, indigenous knowledge, meteorology, animal and plant research, climatology, and biodiversity. These groups serve as a platform on which the “climapAfrica Postdoc Fellows” can come into contact with specialist colleagues, regional and international experts, as well as with practitioners from ministries, international organisations and NGOs, and build up a growing professional network all over Africa. “This could be, for example, a professor who was a guest lecturer in Germany and is now back teaching on a topic in Cairo. He can contribute his expertise and also serve as a role model for a career path”, Böhm explains.

The climapAfrica working groups are coordinated by the DAAD and are self-organised at the operational level. The DAAD provides the necessary tools and platforms for this, including closed groups on LinkedIn, and provides specialist networking with German researchers, advisory and training services. The future scholars supplement existing groups, or further groups are created for new research projects. This ensures a dynamic flow of knowledge.

The next, fourth application phase will start in mid-December 2020. A differentiated selection process, involving professors with in-depth experience of Africa, guarantees the strong potential of the “climapAfrica Postdoc Fellows”. Currently, 39 persons from two selection rounds are being funded; they are exchanging views with over 100 experts in the working groups. The third selection round is currently ongoing. 

Outlook for virtual exchange

All the participants from all the working groups will meet up at the end of October for the first climapAfrica conference. “The event was to have taken place in Cape Town. Now, unfortunately, we will only be able to host it virtually on 29 and 30 October because of the pandemic”, says Simone Kolz. “The good thing is that our ‘climapAfrica community’ is used to virtual networking; digitally, we have a greater reach and a lower threshold to win over international climate researchers for the programme.”

On the first day of the conference, the groups will introduce themselves and the results they have achieved so far. In addition, there will be the possibility of expanding individual and specialist networks in different formats. On day two, international experts and professors will talk about the topics of the respective working groups and will share their knowledge in a number of sessions – including, for example, Rattan Lal, a Pakistani-American luminary in the field of sustainable soil management. Dr. Oluwafemi Adeyeri will also be at the climapAfrica conference and will present his findings about rainfall at Lake Chad for discussion as part of a poster presentation of his climapAfrica working group. Ideally, the speakers will reach an audience who can link this information to their own knowledge of soil conditions and agriculture so that enough food can be ensured in the coming years for the inhabitants of the Sahel.

Author: Oliver Knoch


This article was originally published in DAAD Aktuell of the German Academic Exchange Service

November 2020

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