Investing in the next generation of climate and agriculture scientists

This photo was taken at the SAMPLES Annual Workshop June 25-28th, 2013 in Nyando District, western Kenya. Here a student from Maseno University explains a maize experiment currently being carried out by SAMPLES. Photo by K. Foster (ICRAF).
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Eight graduate students from Bangladesh, Colombia, Kenya, Uganda, India, and Argentina recently traveled to Denmark for a workshop of the Climate Food and Farming Network. They returned home with new skills, colleagues, and fresh inspiration to tackle the challenge of climate change.

“No one agricultural practice is going to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” emphasized Andreas de Neergaard at the recent workshop of the Climate Food and Farming Network (CLIFF). “It will take many changes in many places to really have an impact.”

Andreas de Neergaard was at Aarhus University-Foulum from Dec. 2-4 for the workshop, which brought together PhD students from six countries to network with experts in their areas of study, refine their research plans, and share experiences from the field.

 CLIFF Workshop participants
Back row: Jorge Chalco Vera, Jytte Christensen (Aarhus U.), Ibrahim Wanyama, Fredrick Wandera, Syed Faiz-ul Islam, Emma Keller (Unilever), Andreas de Neergaard (U. Copenhagen), Myles Oelofse (U. Copenhagen), Ngoni Chirinda (Aarhus U., CLIFF co-coordinator)
Front row: Todd Rosenstock (ICRAF), Ana Lucía Cadena González, Zipporah Musyimi, Meryl Richards (CCAFS), RD Jat, Brijesh Kumar
Missing: Ayinde Bintu Taiwo. Photo: J. Hansen

The CLIFF Network is a collaborative initiative of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), the University of Copenhagen and Aarhus University.

Founded in 2011, the network supports scientific endeavors related to climate change and agriculture. In addition, the CLIFF Network builds the capacity of young scientists working in developing countries to conduct novel climate change research on smallholder farming systems and facilitate South-South knowledge exchange.

This year, nine students received grants to undertake scientific visits to CGIAR Centres and advanced research institutions for periods of 3-4 months. During the visits, the students will learn new scientific techniques while contributing to ongoing research under the Standard Assessment of Mitigation Potential and Livelihoods in Smallholder Systems (SAMPLES) program.

Want to learn more about the SAMPLES Program? Watch a science seminar with Dr. Todd Rosenstock, livestreamed from Foulum, Arhus University:

Fredrick Wandera, a student from Kenya, is examining how rehabilitation of degraded grazing lands in arid areas can sequester carbon at the CCAFS research site in Wote. Such measures could improve the productivity of these lands while removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Through a collaboration with the International Livestock Research Institute and CCAFS researcher Klaus Butterbach-Bahl, the CLIFF grant will allow Fredrick to spend several months at the Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, in Germany learning advanced soil analysis methods currently not being carried out anywhere in Kenya.  

“Globally, the potential to sequester carbon by improving grassland practices or rehabilitating degraded grasslands is substantial, but there is very little data from the semi-arid tropics. My research will start to fill this gap,” he said during a presentation at Aarhus.

On the other side of Africa, Taiwo Bintu Ayinde is analyzing the economic potential of sustainable intensification in Nigeria as part of her Ph.D. study. In early 2014, she will work with SAMPLES researcher Mariana Rufino at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) to integrate livelihoods assessment into climate change mitigation research in diverse agricultural landscapes in Kenya.

The goals of CLIFF are two-fold: first, to enhance the quality and quantity of scientists addressing climate change and food security challenges in developing countries, and second, to support innovative Ph.D. research on these challenge.

Over a period of 3 years the CLIFF Network has supported a total of 27 students from across the world to work on a diverse range of topics related to adapting agriculture to climate change while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The supported students have so far published at least 9 articles in scientific peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings. The list of recipients and articles can be found on the CLIFF webpage.

CLIFF grants per country 2011-2013.

(Map produced by R. Larsen,  Aarhus University)

The professional support of scientific mentors and other young scientists has also helped members of the network improve the quality of each other’s research and access new resources. For example, previous CLIFF students Cristina Arias-Navarro and Elizabeth Adobi Okwuosa, who first met at the 2012 CLIFF workshop, shared information and contacts that enabled Elizabeth to obtain further funding for her research.

At this year’s workshop, the students learned about model building and statistical methods for greenhouse gas flux calculations, and participated in the above mentioned live-streamed science seminar by Todd Rosenstock, a lead researcher of the SAMPLES project.

They appreciated the chance to reflect critically on their research questions with experts such as Andreas de Neergaard. According to Wandera, “The CLIFF workshop inspired my whole thinking about climate change and agriculture and elevated my aspiration of becoming a great research scientist.”

Just as no single agricultural practice will provide a “silver bullet” for climate change, no one researcher can address the challenges of climate change in isolation. By building a critical mass of skilled researchers in low-income countries, CLIFF is moving us closer to our goal of productive, resilient, low emissions agriculture.