Development research funding is vital to tackle global challenges and needs to stay – in one form or another

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Picture of pastoralists from southwest Uganda. Photo: Erika Chenais, SVA.

There is no doubt that international development cooperation funding has to tend to many different needs, including humanitarian emergencies in Ukraine. However, there are good reasons to look closer at the benefits of the now cut Swedish development research funding, and start considering different possibilities to enable these benefits moving forward.

The precise ramifications of last week’s governmental decision to terminate Development Research funding from the Swedish Research Council, Vetenskapsrådet (VR), remain to be seen. What is already clear, however, it that loss of this vital funding stream for Swedish research comes at a time when other opportunities for international research cooperation have also radically changed.

Since 2022 this has included the pause of Minor Field Studies for Swedish undergraduate students, indefinite suspension of the Linnaeus-Palme programme for teacher-student exchange, and most significantly, the 54% decrease in the research cooperation budget of Sida (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency). Within the latter, the partnerships where Swedish researchers serve as supervisors and partners have contributed significantly to strengthening Swedish researchers’ networks and understanding of global challenges.

Together, this combination of changes has significantly altered the landscape of possibilities for Swedish research to tackle the global challenges the world faces today – and especially so for young Swedish researchers. Past funding from Swedish Development Research (from 2013 through VR, and earlier through Sida/SAREC) has often led to ground breaking knowledge with extensive scientific and policy impact – for instance contributing to knowledge on how trees make soil more fertile and improve ground water levels. Such knowledge has also been widely used, for example by FAO and practitioner agencies.

While on the face of it this decision on VR funding comes as a blow to Swedish research cooperation on poverty reduction and sustainable development in low-income contexts, there are also several long-term impacts – some of which relate to Sweden’s own interests and competitivity – to consider:

1) Development research equips Swedish researchers with skillsets that are otherwise unobtainable. Many, if not most, development researchers in Sweden and at SLU are also active in domestic research in one form or another. Knowledge, skills, and other benefits gained from development research thus tend to flow back to Sweden, and have helped to reinforce Swedish agricultural competitiveness and food security; a little considered side-benefit that is henceforth set to decrease. This is exemplified, for instance, by a series of SLU projects funded by VR Development Research that pioneered new heat-resistant wheat for West Africa. This experience is now being leveraged to breed climate-resilient wheat for Sweden together with industry partners Lantmännen. Similarly, the vital experience gained by SLU and the Swedish National Veterinary Institute (SVA) on control of African Swine Fever, and enabling policies to support this, has also been of direct benefit to Sweden. The risk of introducing this highly contagious and deadly viral disease to Sweden is great, and with support from VR Development Research this team has come to function as an internationally recognised expert group, including for Swedish preparedness planning. Another perspective is that several Swedish world leading experts have been trained through Swedish Development Research funding. An example is PhD training on agricultural water management in dry areas in East Africa that was funded by the Swedish Development Research – evolving into decades of research in dry areas in Africa and Asia – building expertise that is now not only contributing to policies internationally but is crucial in Sweden’s management of our increasingly intensive droughts at home.

2) Development research can stimulate Swedish priorities abroad. Research cooperation with low- and middle-income countries is a form of ‘soft diplomacy’ that is unique, building on scientific relations and fora. An example is the long-term engagement by SLU researchers on global efforts to prevent antimicrobial resistance (AMR); a high priority by the Swedish government. This knowledge (example here) is used extensively by normative agencies such as FAO (example here). Development research at SLU of course extends well beyond only agricultural processes, in which Swedish Development Research funded collaborations on good governance, decent working conditions, human rights and democratic architectures (e.g. of project outputs here, here, here, and here) – amongst others – have served to promote Swedish priorities and core values abroad. We see many cases where SLU development projects have incorporated a strong focus on innovation, technology development, or science-policy engagement with ‘buy-in’ from industry and governmental stakeholders. The ‘Social benefits from carbon forestry’ project is one such example; a Formas funded initiative that built on knowledge generated from Swedish Development Research funding (example here), and produced innovative guidelines on socially-responsible carbon investments for consumers, companies, and public agencies.

3) Development research renders Swedish research more internationally competitive. It is well established that internationalisation can improve the quality of research and higher education; a point that is also highlighted within the Swedish Higher Education Act. One widely accepted indicator of scientific quality is the bibliometric “percentile profile”. This is used to identify the percent share of a specific group of scientific publications that are among the most cited. Looking at SLU’s scientific publications jointly published with researchers based in low- or middle income countries, it is clear that more (13%) are among the top 5% most cited publications than SLU publications overall (8%, which is however also excellent). This high standing of SLU development publications in international terms is one major reason why the university has climbed in THE’s Impact Rankings for sustainability. Furthermore, national funding for development research supports Swedish researchers in developing their own capacities and networks, a great benefit when competing for international research funding from for example EU Horizon.

It is thus vital that funding possibilities for Swedish development research remain, from one source or another. In any case, it is important that the funder has the procedures and capacity specifically designed for reviewing development research initiatives with a transdisciplinary perspective, and competence to review the particular challenges of low-income contexts.

Given the above perspectives – that development research creates high-in-demand knowledge and unique skillsets, and furthermore can stimulate Swedish priorities abroad and render Swedish research more internationally competitive – it is clear that we cannot afford to lose the only dedicated funding stream for development research. Both for the sake of Swedish domestic interests, those in partner countries, and for tackling the global challenges that affect us all.

 

Paul Egan and Sara Gräslund – SLU Global

SASUF Research and Innovation Week through a student’s eyes leading towards a sustainable future

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This blog post is written by Ana Reverter Perdiz, Master’s student at the programme Conservation and Management of Fish and Wildlife, Dept. of Wildlife, Fish, and Environmental Studies.

Caption:  South African and Sweden Student Representatives at the entrance of the University of the Western Cape during the second day of the Conference. 

SASUF (South Africa University Forum) is a transformative project uniting 40 universities from Sweden and South Africa. The goal is to bring researchers, teachers, students, university leaders and stakeholders together to develop joint solutions to meet the challenges posed by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Agenda 2030.

Within the SASUF network, there is the SASUF Student Network, a group of student representatives from each partner university. The student network is an innovative, international and multidisciplinary group formed by students from both undergraduate and postgraduate level. The goal of this project is to strengthen the academic relationship between both countries and work towards the SASUF goals of the SDGs and Agenda 2030.

In my role as a student representative from SLU, I travelled to Cape Town in late March to meet my colleagues for the SASUF Research and Innovation Week 2023 as well as the Student Network Summit 2023. During an entire week, researchers and students from across the world linked to Swedish and South African universities assisted in hybrid and in-person side events at the University of Western Cape, the venue for the meeting.

The Student Network hosted two Satellite Events in ‘Decolonising Education – Africanisation of Higher Education Institutions’ and ‘Student Participation in Internationalisation – How Can We Empower Students?’ and a full 3-day Student Summit. During the Student Summit, the representative students hosted their own sessions about Gender Equality, Food Security, Student Empowerment, Decolonisation of Education and Mental Health, attended workshops, held a session for the Vice Chancellors on the topic of Science Diplomacy and Sustainable Student Networks, participated in a discussion hosted by the Swedish Embassy and presented in the closing ceremony.

The Research and Innovation Week 2023 worked as the perfect occasion for the South African and Swedish representatives to meet and strengthen the ties already created during months and years of meetings. The student network was created in 2019, and due to the pandemic, many of them had never had the opportunity to meet in person. The engagement from the students at the conference was proof that they are willing to take the baton from previous generations of researchers and learn and work with them, in an environment where each person’s opinion is respected.

In addition to attending the conference and getting to know the world of academia, the students valued the opportunity to get to know the life in the city and the context beyond the walls of the university. Knowing the reality of the local population is a key aspect to create projects adapted to the future needs of people in South Africa and Sweden.

The Student Network will continue working towards its goals of increasing and enable student influence in SASUF and research, facilitate students’ empowerment and inspiration and adding social value to the communities by working with cultural sensitivity and international collaborations.

Caption: Traditional African music performance. 

As written in our document ‘Action Points and Highlights – SASUF Student Summit 2023’, on behalf of all the students, we want to extend our gratitude for a great week. But – let us not stop here. Let us continue to jointly create sustainable, prosperous, and equal societies now, as well as in the future. Student influence is vital for a fair and just higher education system, where students work with – and not against – the universities. We hope to continue making this a reality together with all of you.

See you in Sweden next year for the SASUF Research and Innovation Week 2024, co-hosted by SLU! SASUF will continue working every day for a sustainable future.

 

1. Act Local, Think Global; an exchange of ideas with JKUAT Nairobi

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This blog post is written by Professor Emily Wade, Landscape architect Nupur Prothi and Associate Professor Maria Kylin, Department of Landscape Architecture, Planning and Management in Alnarp.

Kenyan teachers visiting Alnarp. Photo: Emily Wade

An ongoing, unique collaboration between Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) Alnarp and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) Nairobi started out as an exploration of student’s innovative ideas related to spatial design/solutions addressing global challenges with local site specific actions.

A collaborative model between the departments of Landscape architecture in Alnarp and Nairobi was created with an aim to contribute to the Student competition set up in affiliation with the World Congress of International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) to be held simultaneously in Stockholm and Nairobi in September 2023. The Swedish part of the course is now well on its way into the final stretch. In this Blog mini-series we want to share some of the insights and highlights of this unique collaboration, as faculty and students of SLU.

How do we understand the scales of “Global” and “Local”?

Our action within our local communities and context eventually impacts resilience at a global scale. For example, the resources we use, and our daily lifestyle ultimately have global consequences. These lifestyles are conditioned by, as well as impacted by landscape design and solutions, which in different ways can enable or constrain ways of living. At the same time, global and transnational political agendas such as Agenda 2030 or the UN Convention of Children’s Rights (CCR) affect the local practice of landscape planning and design. How we empower the young generation, will most likely effect their decisions in the future. The inter-dependencies between the local and global becomes tangible when we collaborate on a sites shrouded in similar challenges. To create a resilient and sustainable future for all life on earth, planning and design of landscapes requires to embed local site-specific knowledge within a larger understanding of their global effects.

How do we concretize this in a course?

To demonstrate this through the course we constructed a possibility for the students to work with and compare two sites, one in Kenya and one in Sweden. Both sites face challenges related to water management but in distinct social, political, and climatological contexts. How do we interact with local context, understand spatial processes and handle local politics? These are a few of the challenges that are addressed in this course preparing the students for working cross-equatorially in their future career.

The sites chosen are Nyhamnen in Malmö and Nairobi dam. Nyhamnen is a former harbour area claimed from the sea with vast areas of hardscape and quays. This has been a place of departure and arrival, still harbouring structures for connecting the land and the ocean. The city of Malmö is now planning to extend the city on to the site, embracing the diversity of Malmö and making space for social and biological processes that will colonize the area.  Nairobi dam, is an artificially constructed reservoir to capture water for the urban elite also offering this strata, recreational opportunities of sailing etc. A few decades later, the expansion of an urban marginalized settlement on one of its banks has transformed Kibera into the second largest slum in Africa. Devoid of water this space today is used for urban agriculture with peripheral areas collecting solid waste and sewage form the informal settlements as well as from other parts of the city conveyed by a network of three rivers.

Kenyan colleagues Caleb Toroitich, Hilda Omuhindi, Victor Odiwa and Caroline Ofafa during their visit to Nyhamnen. Photo: Alexia Moulin

How do we solve the logistics and cooperation in the courses?

Due to the different university terms, the JKUAT course started in January ending in April, where the students began with the Swedish site of Nyhamnen. The SLU course began in March and ends in June. During the courses, zoom lectures and reviews between the two universities has been held frequently. These digital meetings was complemented with IRL tutoring when two teachers from Sweden, Emily Wade and Nupur Prothi visited Kenya in March. They were able to meet the students at JKUAT and discuss their inspiring work on the Swedish site. This was also an opportunity to connect with JKUAT faculty and visit the site and meet Landscape Architects who were working within Kibera.

The Swedish part of the Master’s course started in the middle of March with a week’s visit from two Kenyan faculty members Caleb Toroitich and Caroline Ofafa, and two students Hilda Omuhindi and Victors Odiwa. In an extremely intense week we got to know the Kenyan site through lectures and movies from the site delivered by our Kenyan colleagues. We were able to take them to visit the Nyhamnen site in Malmö. Our Swedish students got to discuss and give feedback to the visiting Kenyan students on their proposals for Nyhamnen. Most importantly, the conversations and discussions strengthened mutual respect, laying the foundation for future collaborations.

What are the insights so far?

One of the important insights is that the education system in both countries have many similarities with a similar manner of teaching, design and practice of the landscape architecture profession. Early in our digital interactions, where we as SLU tutors reviewed the JKUAT students’ work in progress, we discovered that their analysis, sketches and proposals follow similar methodology and focus as our students. Our educational systems are also structured similarly at bachelor’s level even though the Kenyan education is younger than the Swedish program, which recently celebrated 50 years.

We do talk about the same global challenges, but site specific tangible problems are mostly very different. Multiplicity of cultures, dense urban populations, economic divides and a vibrant equatorial culture contrast somewhat with a Nordic population in a temperate and arctic landscape with low population pressure, abundance of open public space and ample natural resources.

This blog post is the first one in a series of four blog posts from the Master’s course Act Local, Think Global given by SLU and JKUAT Nairobi.

2. How can Nairobi Dam give insight into the future of Nyhamnen in Malmö?

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This blog post is written by Alex Weisend, Alexia Moulin and Sara Saleh, students at the MSc course Act Local, Think Global. 

Nairobi Dam. Photo: Emily Wade

What new perspectives on water access, use and design can be explored when collaborating with students from a country with vastly different challenges?

If there is an antithesis to a post-industrial harbour in a northern European, medium-sized town, it could, at first glance, be that of an overgrown dam in Nairobi, Kenya. It is in this economic, social, environmental, and not the least spatial contradiction that our team has approached the question of water access, use and design.

Visit in Nyhamnen, Malmö. Photo: Alexia Moulin

Nyhamnen is a constructed landfill, developed in order to expand in a growing, global industry. Nairobi dam of today reminds of a landfill, but is a consequence of political and economic circumstances with adverse environmental and social effects. Nyhamnen is an area that has been used to a limited extent by the city’s inhabitants, whilst Nairobi dam borders to, and is to a large extent integrated in, Kibera, the second largest informal settlement in Kenya. Although both sites face challenges of pollution, Nairobi dam is subject to an accumulation of urban runoff, inadequate sewage systems and the outcomes of poor sanitation facilities carried by rivers and tributaries with a final outlet in the dam. Nyhamnen is subject to a preceding industrial pollution, and in periods of extensive rainfall, to urban runoff.

Working together with students from Nairobi has – this far – had several effects on our design thinking. Seeing the possibilities of “our” site through the eyes of the Nairobi students – and specifically through their design analyses and concepts, has challenged us in our interpretation of the site. Mitigating rising sea levels by sculpting the land into dramatic hills and valleys, as suggested by one Kenyan student, inspired us to explore unconventional design solutions. It also emphasized the urgency of the global climatic conditions and how these require critical measures. We are not only theoretically aware of this. Being prompted by students with a first-hand experience of the consequences of climate change as well as of political and economic conditions in interplay with these, reinforces our incentive to practicing it.

Nairobi dam has been subject to a range of programs and measures taken to improve the conditions of the reservoir. The obstacles that have hindered a long term and extensive development of the past waterscape are described in literature on the development of the Nairobi dam, that we have taken part of. Despite the difference in severity and scale between Nyhamnen and Nairobi dam, there are lessons to be learnt in implementing improvement measures in the case of the urban transformation of Nyhamnen too. In terms of water access, use and design, one of the obstacles of the Nairobi dam experience has been that the extent of the defined extent of the project and the site has been too small-scale. Without engaging the local community, taking into consideration climate change, pollutants along the watercourse and economic circumstances affecting the use and misuse of the water, programs for treating the water risk being carried out in vain. The fluid character of water imposes on us a global perspective, in Nairobi dam as well as in Nyhamnen.

Act local, think global is as much the name of this class and a subtheme in the IFLA of 2023 as it is a method for learning from dramatically contrasting circumstances and applying them to our local conditions. An antithesis can also be a design tool that reveals a global parallel.

This blog post is the second one in a series of four blog posts from the Master’s course Act Local, Think Global given by SLU and JKUAT Nairobi.

3. Community driven processes in Kibera – inspiring visions of Nyhamnen

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This blog post is written by Brianna Bergström & Joel Talje, students at the MSc course Act Local, Think Global. 

Nyhamnen, Malmö. Photo: Alexia Moulin 

Student project of Nyhamnen

The repurposing of the former industrial harbour district Nyhamnen in Malmö will give space for and enable many purposes for the city. The coastal line and water will be accessible for the general public, enabling spaces for recreation and leisure. The amount of available space is also important regarding the demand on housing and Malmö City’s goal of densification. Access to the area and remnants of the harbour industry is also an important part of the city’s heritage and identity. There are also challenges with these possibilities. Envisioning how the new city district will function and be shaped by social life can be difficult. It therefore becomes necessary to think of how to activate a space rather than only imagining a static vision of what the new district should be. A big part of this challenge is to understand what qualities the space currently contains and designing with undiscovered potentials in mind.

SLU and Architects Sweden visits JKUAT. Photo: Emily Wade

Kibera public space project

The situations and projects of Kibera are vastly different from any situation in Nyhamnen, though the underlying ideas of community driven processes are inspiring for the urban development and activation of public spaces in Nyhamnen. It is not only the commonality that is relevant, but the differences in approaches which can be thought provoking in a necessary way. In KDI’s public space projects, multi functionality has been a big focus. Combined use of public space to work with sanitation, management of crime and availability of drinking water. Also engaging with social and economical challenges when working with climate related issues is helpful in creating solutions that are sustainable on more than one level. Even though much might be different from Nyhamnen, the question of multifunctionality in an increasingly dense environment is just as relevant in Malmö and many other cities.

Kibera is mentioned to have a strong social fabric and sense of community activism, giving community driven processes much potential. This strength in community and enabling of bottom up movements is something that sometimes is missing in large developments such as Nyhamnen. Bottom up movements aren’t unique to Kibera, but the demanding environment of Kibera also requires community structures and engagement. Highlighting the importance of the people being able to have their voices heard. This can also function as a reminder of core values that if not valued and protected could be overlooked in a seemingly well thought out and well functioning system.

Act local, Think global

The completely different preconditions of Nairobi and more specifically Kibera, demands a different approach to solving issues than what is praxis in Malmö. This highlights the value of acting local and thinking global, as different local contexts allow or even demand different approaches. As issues relate to human and ecological themes always are a common denominator for people and cities. The local perspective can help influence new ways of thinking, understanding complexities and to come up with new solutions.

This blog post is the third one in a series of four blog posts from the Master’s course Act Local, Think Global given by SLU and JKUAT Nairobi.