All posts by mapg0002

Flowering plants for the fight against malaria

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

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

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?

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

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.

SLU student’s impressions from COP24

Two students from SLU went to the 24th Conference of the parties (COP24) in Katowice, Poland. Read their blog posts with impressions and experiences from their stay.

A student at the COP24 – Why I would go again

By: Charlotte Ponzelar, MSc student in Environmental Communication and Management

Overwhelming, massive, colourful. These three words can barely describe all the impressions from my visit at the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) in Katowice, Poland. Since three years I wanted to be part of it and this year I am thrilled that I got my chance. My interest in environmental communication and education for sustainable development guided my journey through the exhibition halls in these four days of my stay. While decision-makers negotiated about detailed guidelines in the ‘rule book‘ for the implementation of the ParisAgreement from 2015, I found myself joining the ECOS (Education, Communication, Outreach Stakeholders) community in their daily meetings, exchanging experiences with environmental communication experts and I listened to different lectures and solution-oriented project presentations. 

The mission of Article 6 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is to improve Climate Change Education and was the topic of one of the round tables, that I had joined. The concept of education does not only provide knowledge about risks and challenges. It is a concept that is embedded in every subject to enable an understanding that everything we do has an impact and is affected by climate change. Climate Change Education can change the discourse to see the opportunities of finding solutions and adopt them for a better future by perceiving its critical components in interdisciplinary, local-action based collaboration. Still, participants of the discussion shared several experienced challenges in implementation. Among other things, they pointed out missing tools for educators and the lack of funding for their education. Climate Change Education provides an understanding that can enhance climate action. Nevertheless, knowing does not necessarily mean doing. It’s a controversial topic because there is a gap between knowledge and action, as in we know what would be right to do but we don’t do it. Which way of communication can lead to the behavioural change that is needed? Some of my course literature argues that connecting the human beings actions to Climate Change will cause the feeling of guilt and resistance within the individual. Sarah-Mae Nelson, a member of the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI), is convinced that  „We can’t be part of the solution if we don’t see ourselves as part of the cause!“

Through my stay in Katowice, I had the chance to experience the power of many nations coming together to work towards a better future as a community. I strengthened my knowledge about the challenges we are facing and saw once more that the connection of Education and Communication is imperative to reach the societal and behavioural change that is needed.

I want to say thank you to SLU and SWEDESD (Sweden’s Academy for Sustainable Development), who enabled this rewarding opportunity and trusted me and my will to report from the COP24 and to get the best out of it.

My COP24 experience

By: Wiebke Homes, MSc student Environmental Sciences (EnvEuro), SLU

This October, in the lead up to this years’ COP24 (Conference of the Parties) in Katowice, Poland, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) published a special report on 1.5°C. The report outlines the impacts of climate change if global warming reaches 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Currently, the world has already warmed approximately 1°C but under current trajectories, and the nationally determined contributions which every country needs to develop under the Paris Agreement, it is estimated that we will reach a shocking warming of 3°C by the end of the century. The differences between 1.5°C and the targeted 2°C are already immense and it is hard to imagine what would happen if global warming exceeds 2°C. This special report showed the urgency of climate action and the need for stronger commitment.

The report made clear that at a 2°C warming, more than 99% of all coral reefs will disappear. Since I am very passionate about our oceans and the marine environment, this fact broke my heart. It was not the only time during the week at COP24 that it got very emotional for me. To get a better understanding I attended many scientific side-events about climate change and oceans, also in the pavilions. The British Pavilion showcased a way to grow corals five times faster than in nature by making use of the energy produced from waves. What was surprising to me as well, were the many partnerships that are already in place. The Commonwealth Blue Charter is one example and the exchange between Norway and the Pacific is another, as the melting of the glacier in the North has a direct effect on Pacific Island States which are threatened by sea-level rise. To withstand the challenges of climate change (sea-level rise as only being one of them), ambition, ambition, ambition, ambition and ambition are UN chief António Guterres five priorities, as stated in his speech about the climate crisis last week. The goal of COP24 was to adopt the rulebook for the implementation of the Paris Agreement and to give more support to developing countries from the developed countries.

Alongside thes scientific events, I was also working for the UNFCCC Secretariat. I am currently doing an internship within the Adaptation team in Bonn. Since I am responsible for supporting the National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) for the PacificIslands States, I met with the Ministers and/or other government officials from different countries in that region, for example Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Samoa and Fiji. Before COP24, I had already examined the progress of these countries with regard to their NAPs and needed to verify my collected data and fill in gaps. This was a great opportunity to meet climate leaders in person, build up trust between institutions and look behind the scenes of how climate politics works. It felt a bit weird and unreal to be surrounded by so many high-level politicians and heads of states and to walk alongside them in the corridors. Fun fact: It seemed like that the Russian and Saudi-Arabian lead negotiators were best friends, I only always saw them in a pair. Another cool fact: on Friday, high school students from Katowice followed Swedish 15-year old Greta Thunberg and did not attend school that day, striking for the climate under the motto of ’12 years left’. I once more noticed how important the voice of youth – future generation – is.

Sleep-deprived but very, very relieved; that is how I felt on Saturday night. After several sleepless nights, hard work on the draft texts, consultations with different groups such as the Least Developed Countries Expert Group (LEG), the Group 77 + China or the High Ambition Coalition, closed meetings from the Green Climate Fund (GCF)and revisions upon revisions, the closing plenary finally started Saturday night after being postponed seven times with a 17.5 hours delay. Thanks to India, who in the spirit of pursuit accepted the rulebook last minute, the COP24 President Michał Kurtyka was able to say: “Hearing no objections, it is so decided.” Cheers and applause followed. This once again showed what multilateralism is capable of: 196 states, all with different intentions, found consensus on one single text (with the exception of Article 6 on carbon markets, which has been postponed to next years’ COP25 in Chile). Although the adopted rulebook is far from perfect, it is a step towards a low-carbon future. If we are to achieve reductions in emissions in half by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050, which would keep global warming well below 2°C, much more needs to be done.

It was an honor for me to go to COP24, as a representative of both SLU and the UNFCCC. I was able to connect to other students from around the world, to meet and have a chat with renowned scientists (e.g. Johan Rockström), and to speak up for climate action, pulling me out of my comfort zones several times. Going to COP was highly rewarding for me, especially because I got to be involved in background work to make the Paris Agreement actually work. As David Attenborough said in the first week of the COP, “every small bit matters”. Just by being in the middle of high climate politics was already fascinating enough.I have learnt so much during COP24 and I am very thankful for SLU for giving me this special opportunity. It was definitely the cherry on the cake of my Master’s degree and I hope to be able to go to next years’ COP25 as well – this time as an ambassador for our oceans!

What are the effects of something that never happened?

By: Dr. Linda Engström, Department of Urban and Rural Development, SLU

It is early morning when we leave a cool, overcast Bagamoyo town and the beaches of the Indian Ocean behind us. We are driving north-west towards Razaba Ranch, the area in eastern Tanzania where the Swedish company Eco Energy is planning to plant thousands of hectares of sugar cane and construct a sugar factory. Over the years, I have visited the area many times. This time, as well, I want to talk to the people living on the land targeted by the project, to understand their perceptions of it and the dynamics on the ground. The rainy season has just started and we expect a muddy, slippery trip. As we approach Razaba Ranch, we round a bend in the road and see that the Ruvu river has burst its banks, covering the bridge in slowly simmering, brown water. Two young men have seen the potential to make some money and are doing the important job of guiding cars through the water in order to avoid invisible rocks and to direct drivers to the shallow waters. Our car cannot pass through with us inside it. We pull off our shoes and start wading through the brown water until we reach across to the muddy road. Over the years, these floods have caused delays in project timelines, since they reduce access to the project site, and they have been repeatedly omitted in new timelines. We stop at one sub-village on the left side of the road, the side that is promised to the investor. We greet the village chair, people appear from nearby houses and some people travelling along the road stop, all gathering under a huge tree to talk to us about the planned investment, sitting on logs and, as the group expands, on yellow plastic containers. I know several of them by now, others are new acquaintances. Outside the nearest house are rows of white plastic rice bags packed with charcoal. In the meeting, we are told, among other things, that due to restrictions on agricultural practices while awaiting resettlement, more people have become dependent on charcoal production for their livelihoods. People are hoping that, after the ongoing rainy season, something will progress as concerns the resettlement as the roads are opened up again.

The Swedish sugar-cane project in Bagamoyo was initiated in 2006 through a Memorandum of Understanding between the company, then called SEKAB, and the Government of Tanzania. Since then, the original idea to produce ethanol for the European market has, for various reasons, changed into mainly producing sugar for the Tanzanian market. The plan has been to launch a 450 million USD project with a 300 million USD loan from the African Development Bank and a credit guarantee from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida. The project, based on a 99-year lease of the land, was marketed by the Swedish company executives with great promises. For instance, the project was to produce 130,000 tons sugar and 10 million litres ethanol annually, produce reliable electricity supply to 100,000 rural households. It would employ 2000 people and 10,000–12,000 jobs as spin-off effects, provide  13–18 million USD in annual revenue for outgrower farmers and provide the state with 30 million USD in yearly tax revenues. In all, it would reduce poverty and bring rural development.

However, when we visit the area this time, ten years have passed since project initiation, and there is still not a single sugar cane in sight. Timelines have been repeatedly postponed; conflicts over land have arisen, negotiations over compensations, floods and issues of resettlement have interfered with the process, bureaucratic procedures and unexpected external events have grinded down the expected simple, linear project implementation process – it encountered reality. All the while, major proponents of the project, such as Sida, the African Development Bank and the Tanzanian President at the time, Kikwete (2005-2015), maintained their support of the project. Sida even supported the project with 54 million SEK from the Swedish development budget. One could assume that the transaction costs for the Tanzanian government must have been severe. And all the while, the approximately 1400 people living on the land and using it for their livelihoods have been regularly informed to be ready for an upcoming resettlement. They have been encouraged not to invest in their land, nor any other assets; they should not plant perennial crops such as trees, since they will not be compensated for such investment upon resettlement. Some people were lucky to get training in construction or driving, as part of the international best practice that was pursued for the resettlement process. Some farmer men decided to send away their wives and children to relatives, where the future seemed more predictable, or quit farming and took jobs with the company for minimum salaries. Many farmers we talk to have stopped investing in their land and houses, and postponed development plans. As indicated above, charcoal production became an interesting alternative way of earning an income, with subsequent environmental consequences. Most of all, the uncertainty, the lack of complete information about what was happening, when and why, are factors that caused great mental stress and frustration. I often received questions about what was actually happening. For instance they repeatedly asked me if I knew whether the inflation rate was going to be considered for their compensation payments, since many years had passed since the evaluation of their assets had been performed. As a matter of fact, they did not even have the information about how much their assets were valued at in the initial evaluation.

Thus, while many of the project proponents referred to the project as “nothing has happened”, there was a myriad of events, processes, negotiations and impacts going on, both on the project site and outside it. Most notable is the profound livelihood effects the non-implemented project had on the people living in Razaba Ranch. Moreover, when the newly elected President Magufuli in 2016 decided to withdraw the land-rights of the company, Eco Energy decided to sue the Tanzanian government at an international center for dispute settlement in Washington to get the allegedly invested 52 million USD back. In all, these processes have impacted on relations of all kinds, between and within different involved groups of actors.

While unintended outcomes of failed development projects have been rather frequently discussed in development studies (see, for instance David Mosse’s “Ethography of Aid” from 2005 or Tania Li’s “Will to Improve” from 2007), to my experience, it is rarely being reflected in development policy debates. Rather, delayed or non-implemented projects risk ending up “under the radar”, where impacts are irrelevant to monitor or mitigate. Moreover, it seems sparsely reflected in sustainability criteria, such as the IFC (International Finance Cooperation) standards applied in this case. Therefore, risks of failure and its effects should be paid more attention in policy debates, especially since projects that never happened apparently can have profound, and even negative, impacts on all involved actors, not least the people assumed to benefit from them.

Engström, L.(2018). Development Delayed – Exploring the failure of a large-scale agricultural investment in Tanzania to deliver promised outcomes. (Doctoral Degree), Swedish University for Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden.  

Pushing back against disease with participatory epidemiology

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

A herd of animals can be the only source of income for many families in areas like northern Uganda or southern Africa. Farmers with poor access to infrastructure and capital struggle to address and manage disease outbreaks, which can wipe out a household’s economy. Worldwide 750 million low-income livestock farmers depend on healthy animals for their productivity and livelihood. So, yes! Animal health matters.

But so far, we know very little about how perceptive farmers are and what their response to disease outbreaks is. A seminar ‘Exploring the Whys and the Hows of epidemiology: Integrating social sciences with veterinary research for better understanding and action towards improved animal health in the Global South’  held at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SLU on the 20th of November, 2018 explored a broader picture of how scientists  across disciplines see  the way local farmers understand the diseases and prevention mechanisms.

Why epidemiology is important?

The role of epidemiology in animal health is to identify the risk factors and the causes of disease outbreak. This knowledge provides a base for interventions which can ultimately prevent an outbreak or an epidemic. With that, epidemiology is crucial for poverty reduction and plays a vital role in increasing resilience toward risks of epidemics in low-income countries.

Even though our scientific knowledge about animal diseases has stepped forward, disease control leaves much to be desired. For instance, African swine fever continues to spread from Africa to Europe and Asia, harming many pig farms.

Karl Ståhl, Swedish National Veterinary Institute (SVA), traced an African swine fever outbreak through a trade route in Northern Uganda. He found that local pig farmers knew very well the clinical signs of the disease and how it spreads. They could even identify the potential control mechanisms. But as soon as they noticed sick pigs, they sold them to secure their income.

It became clear for Karl and his team that what they were facing in Northern Uganda is not the lack of knowledge by the farmers, but rather the lack of information on specific needs and circumstances of pig producers and supply chain actors during the outbreak. To solve the problem, Karl suggests it is necessary to bring in societal aspect into the equation. In his opinion this will help to find solutions that fit with local socio-economic and cultural context.

Is interdisciplinarity the way forward?

Social science still remains on the periphery of disease outbreak management – social sciences are rarely integrated into epidemiology. However, it is becoming apparent that quality disease prevention isn’t possible without considering socio-cultural, economic and political dimensions. This engagement can be done through an interdisciplinary approach.

Learning from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Paul Richards (Wageningen University) suggests to look beyond the classic idea of epidemiological and biomedical approaches and take into account human emotions.

During the early phase of the Ebola outbreak, epidemiologists built Ebola treatment centres to bring in patients, or suspected patients, hoping to isolate the patients’ from the outside world. But this created anxiety among patients and their families. The disease continued to spread.

By 2013, Paul together with locally trained field assistants used anthropological approach to collect information through real-time action-research. Human emotion appeared to be the missing link to the treatment – families needed to be able to talk to each other and have meals together. As a result, Paul’s team recommended to build more community quarantines so that families could be close the patients. Through watchful care and close communication between patients and their communities, the epidemic was eventually brought under control.

Participatory epidemiology

Participatory epidemiology has been influenced by Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA), an approach that puts local participation at the heart of the process. However, participatory epidemiology has been adopted largely by natural scientists, who usually focus on m research quantitative methods. Meanwhile, from the experience of social scientists, statistics do not always reflect the reality of local communities. So, well-tailored solutions require real participation form the local people.

Klara Fischer and Erika Chenais’s work in Uganda is an attempt to engage a local participation in an epidemiology study. Instead of using a top-down approach, Klara and Erika let local perspectives guide their study. They used several participatory methods, such as participatory wealth-ranking and focus group discussion to understand how a community can prioritise, understand and deal with cattle diseases.

Susanna Sternberg Lewerin confirmed the value of a participatory approach in disease prevention practices. For her, it was important to create a relaxed atmosphere during participatory discussions and recruit local facilitators who could facilitate in the local language.

So, how can diseases control benefit from cross-pollination between veterinary epidemiology and social sciences? There are at least three ways:

  1. Veterinary epidemiology and social science can cooperate and increase understanding of contextualised knowledge that affects decisions relating to disease control.
  2. Using participatory methods to engage indigenous perspectives can improve disease prevention and control mechanisms.
  3. It is key to remember that there are no ‘fixed-tools’ in epidemiology. Tools need to be adapted and adjusted to the local context, addressing local heterogeneity, power dynamics and conflicts.

This article was originally published at SIANI.

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This blog is about global development contributing to Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SLU with its mission, to develop knowledge and capacity for sustainable management and use of natural resources has an important role to play in the implementation of Agenda 2030.

SLU’s global collaboration is broad and diverse and focuses on knowledge and capacity that contribute to achieving the SDGs. Capacity development efforts play a specific role in low-income countries, where the advancement of local universities of high quality has a fundamental impact on increasing the relevance and sustainability of the development agenda in the society at large. Researchers and staff at the departments and units at our university are actively engaged in these collaborations, from broad institutional partnerships to research collaborations at the individual level.

SLU’s research covers food security, production systems and natural resources on land and in water as well as rural development and biobased materials that can replace fossil fuels and materials. We conduct research on climate change mitigation and adaptation, the interaction between urban and rural environments, ecosystems and biodiversity, animals in the service of humans, zonooses and antibiotic resistance; and sustainable urban development. We are proud of the fact that more than 20% of the publications at SLU are joint works with partners in low- and middle income countries.

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