Flowering plants for the fight against malaria

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Each year, more than 200 million people suffer from malaria around the world and every two minutes, a child dies from the disease. Globally, an estimated 3.4 billion people in 92 countries are at risk of being infected with malaria and developing disease. In conjunction to World Malaria Day, marked each year on 25 April, SLU Global highlights the importance of research by asking Professor Rickard Ignell about his ongoing and novel research to fight malaria.

Professor Rickard Ignell photographing one of the plants that are included in the study of potential sources of nectar at the Ifakara Institute, Tanzania. Photo: Sharon Hill

Please tell us about yourself, Rickard.

I am professor in chemical ecology, and have been working on disease vectors, predominantly on mosquitoes that transmit malaria, dengue and other arboviruses, since 2005. My group has a keen interest in understanding the ecology and evolution of olfactory (editor’s note: the sense of smell) communication in disease vectors, and we use a cross-disciplinary approach to assess how behaviours of these insects are shaped by various factors. Our fundamental research has been a spring board for us to identify novel tools that can be used to complement current integrated vector management methods. In relation to e.g., malaria control, we have expanded our work in sub-Saharan Africa over that last few years in order to increase the impact of our results.

You have recently received a large grant from The Swedish Research Council for research about utilisation of flowering plants for the fight against malaria. That sounds very interesting! What is it about?

Malaria mosquitoes, along with most other species of mosquitoes, require sugar and other nutrients for survival and reproduction, and obtain these through e.g., floral nectar. Mosquitoes prefer to feed on different flowers, and locate these using their sense of smell. Ongoing research has shown that we can harness the properties of attractive plants for the development of odour-bait technology to be used against both males and females of a wide range of mosquito species. We have also shown that toxic metabolites in floral nectar can have damaging effects on the development and survival of malaria parasites. Using a forensic approach, we will now expand our understanding of which plants are fed upon by malaria mosquitoes in the wild to assess if mosquitoes carrying malaria parasites change their floral preference in a way to self-medicate.

Why is this research important and what do you hope to achieve?

Malaria prevention and control strategies have resulted in a remarkable reduction of malaria mortality and morbidity throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa over the past two decades. However, over the last five years this impact has stalled, and we are now witnessing an increase in malaria in part of sub-Saharan Africa. Factors contributing to this include both physiological and behavioural resistance among the malaria mosquitoes, which has led to a need to control mosquitoes outside for which there currently are limited tools available. We have in a recent study shown that we can drastically reduce malaria incidence through mass trapping of mosquitoes by using an attractant that targets a broader spectrum of female mosquitoes. The floral attractant, which we now have available, increases this spectrum to include males, and we thereby have a better way of controlling the entire population of mosquitoes at a local scale. While the work we will do on toxic metabolites is still at an early stage, we hope that this research in the long run could provide leads for the development of drugs for the treatment of malaria.

How does this research differ from other research on combating malaria?

Until now the only viable option for controlling malaria has been to target the mosquito vector, partly due to the rapid development of resistance of the malaria parasites. The novelty of our research is that we embrace the natural ecology of the malaria mosquitoes in our efforts to identify novel tools for their control.

Anything you would like to add?

We are grateful for the support from various funding sources, including e.g. the Swedish Research Council (VR), which continues to support us over the years. This long-term funding has allowed us to generate a much-needed understanding of the ecology of malaria mosquitoes, which we now can use and share with our collaborators. There is, however, a need to increase our efforts, which we hope to achieve through increased collaboration both within SLU and other partners, but within academia and industry.

Thank you Rickard and good luck with your research!

Written by Malin Planting, communication officer, SLU Global.

Tanzanian-Swedish collaboration at the World Urban Forum 2020

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By: Edson Sanga, Happiness Mlula, Lazaro Mngumi, Maglan Sang’enoi and Said Nuhu.
PhD candidates at SLU enrolled in the Capacity Building Research Training Partnership with Ardhi University in Tanzania.

On 8-14 February, the tenth session of the World Urban Forum (WUF 10) was held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE). This year SLU arranged two side events presenting research results in the field of sustainable urban development, and participated with an exhibition stand at the Urban Expo. A group of five SLU PhD candidates, enrolled within the Capacity Building Research Training Partnership with Ardhi University in Tanzania, participated in the forum together with their supervisor Zeinab Tag-Eldeen, researcher at the Department of Urban and Rural Development.

From left: Maglan Sang’enoi, Said Nuhu, Zeinab Tag-Eldeen, Lazaro Mngumi, Happiness Mlula and Edson Sanga; Photo: Anna Villaplana Casaponsa

The overriding theme of the WUF10 was Cities of Opportunities: Connecting Culture and Innovations. As part of the global pathways for realising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), UN-Habitat convene this forum for sharing information, best practices, discussing emerging issues and possible options. SLU participated in the forum, by sharing research grounded innovative ideas relating to rural and urban development. SLU participated under the sub-theme Sparking Research into Global Transformation which has a niche on theorising and practicing planning and decision analysis in different national and international contexts.

PhD candidates respond to questions related to their projects during one of the side events. Photo: Anna Villaplana Casaponsa

Side events

The SLU team convened two side events where we presented our research results; Side event 38: Urban-rural nexus: challenges and innovations to govern land, municipal and ecosystem services, on the fringes of resources constrained cities and small town and Side event 36: Beyond informality: informal settlements as contemporaneous urban heritage. The aim was to discuss new and innovative solutions of the dynamic shifts of activities that contribute to the well-being of rural as well as urban survival, particularly in the transforming areas of rural Africa. Topics that came up during the discussions were for example food security matters in relation to rural and urban interactions; informality, land governance and climate change in developing countries context.; and how to take research results and recommendations into practice.

The Urban Expo

The Urban Expo promoted innovative and sustainable solutions to the challenges facing cities and communities, including perspectives from national governments, the private sector, international organisations and academia. SLU’s exhibition stand highlighted how to strengthen social cohesion, exchange cross-disciplinary perspectives and link arts to sustainable development. Our booth received many visitors from both the academia and practice (both national and international organisations) with varying interests related to SLU’s global agenda. Academic matters offered by SLU, in particularly degree programmes, respective teaching language(s), preliminary conditions for enrolment as well as how to get scholarships, were some of the general issues that visitors wanted to know about. More specifically visitors asked about the role of SLU in conducting agriculture in hot climates like desert areas; food security related matters and SLU’s research agenda towards this topic; SLU research collaboration with UAE countries; and opportunities for collaboration with universities from some institutions in low-income countries.

Hon. William Lukuvi, the Minister of Land, Housing and Human Settlements Development of Tanzania visited SLU’s exhibition stand. From left: Zeinab Tag-Eldeen, Happiness Mlula, Hon. William Lukuvi, Said Nuhu. Photo: Anna Villaplana Casaponsa

Hon. William Lukuvi, the Minister of Land, Housing and Human Settlements Development of the United Republic of Tanzania, visited our stand, and got information about our five PhD projects conducted in Tanzania with the collaboration of between SLU and Ardhi University. The minister in his remarks emphasised that it is important to put the research into practices, and in this case this can be achieved through cooperation with the Local Government Authorities (LGAs) in Tanzania. 

Outcomes and take-home messages

By taking part in this conference we have established networks with people from various agencies, universities and organisations from across the globe. As the forum congregated people from all over the world with different exposure and ways of doing things, we have got experience from preparation of world class exhibition materials, art of presentation as well as confidence.

We think that participation in such international forum is imperative for the university’s internationalisation as it exposes the work done at the university and thereby attract new collaboration pathways. Networking and advertising SLU in matter related to land governance, climate change and rural-urban linkage can be done in this kind of forum.  

Background information

The World Urban Forum is organised and convened by UN-Habitat and addresses one of the most pressing issues facing the world today: rapid urbanisation and its impact on communities, cities, economies, climate change and policies. SLU’s participation was supported by SLU Global and led by Zeinab Tag-Eldeen, Researcher at the Department of Urban and Rural Development, and coordinator of the Research Platform Sparking Research into Global Transformation.

Capacity Building Research Training Partnership with Ardhi University in Tanzania
Within this programme, funded by Sida 2015-2020, several research projects are carried out in collaboration between the Urban and Rural Development Department at SLU, and Ardhi University.

Chefs spill the beans, but where are the farmers? Reflections from the EAT Forum 2019 in Stockholm

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By: Aniek Hebinck, Communicator and Researcher at SLU Global & Environmental Change Institute. Aniek holds a Ph.D. in Sustainability Science from the Stockholm Resilience Centre and wrote her thesis on Shaping Sustainable Food Systems.

The EAT Forum carnival is back in town and it’s as ambitious as ever! This year’s edition is themed ‘The Science is Clear: It’s time to Act’.

During two days in June Stockholm becomes the temporary hive for many ‘foodies’ coming from business, policy, academia and civil society. The forum kicked off with messages bouncing from hopeful, thanks to the environmental movement created by the youth, to fearful of the current social and ecological challenges. Gunhild Stordalen, founder and executive chair of EAT, set the tone for the 2019 edition of the Forum by calling on all of us to be a bit more like Greta Thunberg.

‘Academic rock stars’ Jessica Fanzo and Johan Rockström emphasized that “the science is clear”. By this, they mainly refer to the EAT-Lancet report, which argues for a drastic protein shift to plant-based foods, particularly in high-income societies. After having set out the main points of the dense EAT-Lancet report, they urged governments and business to embrace science-based evidence and use it for setting the targets for sustainable diets.  

Fanzo and Rockström also highlighted some of the aspects that this report has not covered. These include translation of what the ‘planetary health diet’ means for a national setting or the analysis of trade-offs between the potential winners and losers of the transition. It’s here where EAT invites the forum’ attendees to fill in those gaps, invoking higher participation from the civil society, contrary to earlier years.

One group that is keen to contribute to solving this puzzle are the chefs. The ‘planetary health diet’ may have been scrutinized by academics for its overgeneralization and the lack of adaptation to national contexts, but the chefs happily tackle this challenge. Lorna Maseko, a celebrity chef from South Africa, and a Nigerian chef Michael Elegbede emphasized that it is crucial to increase the diversity of what we eat and what we grow for the intake of micronutrients and biodiversity in general, but also to learn from other cultures through their food. 

Photo: Aniek Hebinck

This message echoes through as a collective of chefs, united behind the ‘Chefs Manifesto’, enters the Kitchen Stage. Doing what they do best – cooking. The audience eagerly munched on the ‘turtle bean’ dish that the Kenyan Instagram celebrity Chef Ali Mandhry was handing out. Meanwhile, Chef Chantelle Nicholson from New Zealand stressed that chefs could inspire both professional and home cooks to prepare meals based on the ‘planetary health diet’. Indeed, this merry bunch has clearly demonstrated how Lancet’ scientific targets can be translated into recipes for sustainable, healthy and tasty daily home cooking.

While their importance is frequently mentioned, a group that hasn’t been very visible at the forum, are farmers. Early on in the day, Wiebe Draijer (Rabobank) urged to make farmers the heroes of change. After all, they are crucial in making a transition to a ‘planetary health diet’. However, this has proven to be easier said than done.

The last panel of the first day titled ‘Transforming Agriculture: restoring hope”, represented by international institutions and large businesses, made an attempt to capture the voice of farmers as it was. Assan N’gombe (AGRA) underscored the crucial role of small-scale farmers, highlighting the challenges farmers face when adopting climate-smart agriculture and that there is a need to engage with farmers directly and to build trust. Mariana Vasconcelos (Agrosmart and farmer’s daughter) continued by stressing that being a farmer is not an easy job and requires, daily decision-making and risk management. Lastly, Eric Souberain (Danone) acknowledged that food has become a commodity and that farmers are not fairly rewarded for what they bring to the table. At the end of this session, very little was said about the implications of a shift to a ‘planetary health diet’ for the many small-scale farmers worldwide.

Day one of the forum highlighted many insights regarding technological innovations and uptake of science, but also underscored the continued challenge to establish an inclusive dialogue and action to foster food system change.

This blog post was originally published at SIANI.

Who pays the price for cheap seafood?

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By: Dr. Alin Kadfak, Gothenburg University

Thanks to globalisation we can enjoy a great variety of seafood from all over the world at a fairly affordable price. But with less fish in the sea to catch, someone has to pay for the misdeeds of unsustainable fishing.

As much as one fifth of fish caught worldwide is Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated. IUU fishing is a great threat to the already exploited marine ecosystem and vulnerable people who depend on fishing for their livelihoods and food security. Furthermore, illegal or pirate fishing is not just about the fish, these practices also often involve changing the vessels’ name or identity to avoid fees, using the flag from states that have less monitoring, bribing authorities to fish in a “no-take” zone and stealing fish from small-scale fishers in the near-shore zone.

The European Union is becoming a major actor in the fight against IUU by using its economic power to pressure other countries to improve the fishing standards, traceability and transparency. However, the fact that many fishing boats with illegal status often recruit unregistered or illegal workers has appeared on the sustainable fish agenda only recently.

Modern slavery exists!

Thailand moved from self-sufficient food production via small-scale fishing in the 1960s, and became the world’s third largest seafood exporter by value. The swiftly growing fishing industry has been constantly in need of labour, and with high physical demand, low pay and long periods out at sea, these jobs are less attractive to Thai. So, migrant fish workers have become a solution for the industry.

The 6.5 billion USD Thai fishing industry came under the spotlight in 2014 when a series of stories by the Guardian exposed how fish workers on Thai fishing boats have been trafficked, abused and had to work in bad working conditions with irregular or no pay at all.

Why are migrant fishworkers being exploited?

In the last few decades the spread of effective fishing technologies and demand for fish has led to an overexploitation of fish stocks globally. So much that there isn’t enough fish near shores and we have to build ever bigger boats to fish out further in the ocean and for longer periods of time. These conditions combined with the race to optimize the costs and benefits combined with creates a possibility of exploiting the fishworkers on board.

Migrant fishworkers come to Thailand from the neighbouring countries, like Myanmar and Cambodia. First, they illegally get into Thailand with the help of informal brokers who provide loans as a means for travelling to Thai ports. Then migrants have to work on fishing boats to pay-off their loan with high interest. Once they are on board, they have little protection from abusive or unjust practices of boat owners due to their illegal status, for the same reasons many of the migrant workers can’t leave the boats, falling into poverty traps.

Those who come to Thailand legally only have two years working permit per entry. Even though, there are more than 300,000 registered migrant workers working in seafood industry, Thai law does not allow migrant workers to form union. Hence, they have less negotiating power with their employers. In many cases, boat owners keep their documents, like passports and work permit books to eliminate the possibility for workers to change jobs.

It gets worse before it gets better

Thailand’s fishing industry has been infamous for its poor treatment of migrant workers. But numerous reports of human rights abuse didn’t go unheard and a new approach initiated by the EU in collaboration with the Government of Thailand is an attempt to curb this behaviour. In 2015 the EU issued a yellow card warning indicating possible economic sanctions unless IUU fishing practices are eliminated. This led to several responses by Thai government including radical amendment of fisheries law in 2015.

Currently, the Government of Thailand is closely working with the EU delegation team to improve the situation through regular meetings and joint fieldwork in various ports. And for the first time, Thai government has not only involved the Fisheries Department, but also Ministry of labour, Navy and Ministry of Foreign Affair to look into the issue.

The yellow card warning with economic implications from the EU was a powerful incentive to change. This warning is part of a mechanism to fight against IUU fishing practices developed by the EU over the past decade. Apart from the traceability of where fish is caught, the European Union has included labour rights to bilateral discussions with the Thai government.

Along with the government reforms, a wide range of activities, initiatives and partnerships among environmental organisations and human rights actors was initiated. For instance, the Thai Civil Society’s Coalition for Sustainable and Ethical Seafood (the Thai CSO Coalition) combines the interests of the Association of Thai Fisherfolk Federations with local migrant rights NGOs.

Local and international NGOs started to demand transparency and monitoring of labour rights from Thai seafood companies as well as promote migrant labour welfare. Apart from this initiative, a group of seafood processors, feed producers, buyers, retailers joined hands and formed ‘Seafood Task Force’ to focus on labour and illegal fishing in seafood supply in Thailand.

On 8 January 2019, EU has lifted the yellow card for Thailand. With less international pressure, local and international NGOs continue to ask Thai government to carry on strict implementations to eradicate trafficking practices on Thai fishing boats.

With Thailand being a test case, it remains to be seen whether labour rights will become a formal part of EU’s global approach to sustainable fishing in the future.

What can consumers do?

Not all migrant fish workers are trafficked in Thailand but the framing of the industry as ‘modern slavery’ operation has clearly gained significant attention from governments and consumers alike.

About 70% of fish consumed within EU are fish outside European waters. Sustainable labels tool exists to help consumers know whether the fish they are about to buy comes from a sustainable source. However, a good ethical practice certificate for seafood is yet to be developed.

Consumers’ voices against malpractices in the international seafood industry may at the very least continue to put pressure on governments, NGOs, and inter-governmental forums to carry on with a long-term engagement to cooperate and monitor IUU fishing in seafood exporting countries. One successful example is the “Skippa scampi” campaign by the Swedish NGO Naturskyddsföreningen.

What’s next?

The Thai case provides a blueprint to rethink the way our globalising seafood supply chain operate. Fish and seafood is maybe an international commodity, labour of people is not, as expressed in the preamble of the International Labour Organisation’s founding documents. According to this principle people should not be treated as means of production and, therefore, fish workers, migrant or not deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Therefore, there is an urgent need to explore further how all the actors involved in the fish industry can cooperate to ensure safe and fair working conditions for the people brining the fish to our tables.

Dr. Alin Kadfak (Gothenburg University), Assoc. Prof. Sebastian Link, (Gothenburg University) and Prof. Than Pale (University of Yangon) will start a new project titled ‘Sustaining fish and fishworkers? Human rights for migrant Burmese fishworkers in the EU-initiated sustainable fisheries reform in Thailand’ in March 2019. This project is funded by Vetenskapsrådet. The team will do fieldwork in Thailand and Myanmar, and conduct interviews in Brussel to try to understand how EU’s fishing policy, as a global governance mechanism, addresses both sustainable fisheries and human rights issues in the case of Thailand.

This blog post was originally published at SIANI.

Report from the SIANI Annual Meeting 2019

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By: Dr. Alin Kadfak, Department of Urban and Rural Development, SLU

Did you know that about half of migrants are women? And more migrants migrate within developing countries than crossing North-South borders? Migration does not refer only border crossing, but moving from rural to urban as well as rural to rural within the same country. There are many misperceptions about migration and the root causes of the phenomenon, which bring us to this year SIANI Annual Meeting’s agenda!

Every year the SIANI secretariat organises a meeting in Stockholm so our members have a chance to interact with each other and to provide input for the work plan of the year ahead. This year’s theme ‘Migration, Agriculture and Rural Development’, held on 23 January, is in the spotlight as we explore different dimensions of migration and its connections with food and agriculture. Together the members can reflect on this vital topic. And this year, the meeting is well attended from academic, NGOs, government agencies and civil society.

Starting off with welcoming speech by Annika Åhnberg, Chair of the SIANI Steering Committee, who reminds us that forced and voluntary migrations are parted of the human history, and we need to understand the phenomenon in the holistic way. Our first speaker, Sigrun Rawet, SIPRI, brings to the meeting the discussing around recent UN Security Council Resolution on hunger and conflict. No doubt that conflict brings hunger, but what if ‘ending hunger can reduce conflict!’. UN World Food Programme is now doing pilot projects in four countries, hoping to reduce famine, the main cause of conflict.

Ingela Winter-Norberg, Sida, raises an important point that often refugees and immigrants are being excluded from development policy. The key question we need to ask is ‘How can we increase economic self-reliance activities for migrants?’ to ensure that they can support themselves economically in countries of destination. 

Our next speaker Jesper Bjarnesen, Nordic Africa Institute, conveys a strong message that ‘migration is by far the most positive than negative, but it has been hindered by regulations’. And the challenge to migrant problem is when the government sees migrants as threat instead of source of labour. The way forward, he suggests, is to shift the narrative from ‘migrant rights’ to ‘labour rights’.

Aster Asgedom, County board Västra Götaland, shares how she continues supporting rural development back home in Ethiopia, by connecting the supports from Swedish NGOs, civil societies and academic. Being migrant herself, she reflects on how nature is very important for integration process. For instance, Aster together with other organisations in Gothenburg organised outdoor activities to welcome new refugees into the country.

Round Table Dialogue is the highlight of the day. This interactive platform asks members to join and help answer ‘How can you together with other SIANI members help to minimise non-voluntary migration and address its root causes?’. Each group has one and half hour to brainstorm, discuss and agree on the main statement to help directing SIANI’s work plan for 2019. Please stay connected to see the results from Round TableDialogue at SIANI.se, with more activities to continue the migration and rural development dialogue.

Link to SIANI’s webpage with videos and documentation from the meeting.