Tag Archives: SLU student

Survival of indigenous communities and forests amidst the pandemic

This blog post is written by Anudini Wijayarathna, Master’s student in Rural Development & Natural Resource Management at SLU.

Image by cultur668 from Pixabay

‘Impacts of the pandemic on forest communities and forest resource use – what do we know, what do we need to know and how to find out?’ have been one of the most enlightening discussions that I have participated in. It was a dialogue co-arranged by Focali (Forest, Climate and Livelihood research network) and SIANI (Swedish International Agricultural Network Initiative).

It’s been around a year since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged worldwide. Yet, the impacts of it will extend over many years. Currently, there are various entities that are deeply impacted by the pandemic globally as well as nationally.  Forest resources and forest communities can be considered as one of them. Most importantly, the world is still in the process of identifying the extent of these implications. This dialogue has been an instrumental platform in creating awareness on that. However, my attention was grabbed particularly by the discussion on the disruptions that occurred in the livelihoods of indigenous people.

Absence of state and regressive actions of the governments

Having forest-based livelihoods, indigenous communities are affected by the pandemic in different ways. To a certain extent, the pandemic has been a positive cause of livelihoods for some of the indigenous communities. They got the chance to depend more on the forest resources as there are fewer external activities functioning within the forests due to lockdowns. Nevertheless, for some indigenous communities, the pandemic has been a cause of destruction.

In this event, Ricardo Camilo Niño Izquierdo, Technical Secretary of the Indigenous Secretariat of the National Commission for Indigenous Territories, Colombia and Keyla Barrero, Anthropologist, National University of San Marcos, Peru, shared their views on how the pandemic has affected the indigenous communities. According to their experience, the indigenous people are subjected to negligence with insufficient health care and sanitation by the state during the nationwide lockdowns.

The absence of state governing authorities in the forest territories during the lockdowns allowed powerful actors to expand their illicit activities. Those are illegal logging, use of land for illegal plantations, presence of armed groups, drug trafficking etc. These activities aggravated deforestation in 2020 in comparison to the previous years. Moreover, there has been a significant increase in human rights violations of indigenous communities, which sometimes ends up in murdering them.

The situation becomes worse when the governments are trying to overcome the ongoing financial crisis through detrimental policies and actions towards the forest resources. Renewal of mining and excessive extraction of resources by the authorities is such an instance that threatens the sustainability of the livelihoods. In addition to that, indigenous people who are not yet given proper land titles or tenures, get further suppressed when the local governments endorse illegal invaders to occupy the forests. Lack of effective policies and excluding indigenous community representation in the government consultation procedures has also been a stimulating factor for this vulnerable situation.

Ultimately, all these activities cause not only the deterioration of indigenous people’s livelihoods but also many other destructive consequences such as degradation of natural resources and climate and increase of global hunger and poverty. Thus, reaching UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 has become an immense challenge to the whole world.

For a brighter future

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Under such circumstances, it is a dire need to put forward remedial measures to decrease these vulnerabilities. Yet, identifying the needful actions to overcome these issues is the toughest among all. I believe, primarily it is important at this stage to lay a legal framework to ensure indigenous communities’ land tenure and to include them in the government consultation in policy making.

As discussed in the dialogue, it is also crucial to strengthen the local capacity building on merging the voice of indigenous and local communities. I consider this kind of effort will be essential to involve indigenous people and their lay-knowledge in local sustainable development efforts such as smallholder farming and plantations. It will be beneficial to upgrade the livelihoods as well as to promote sustainable use of ecosystems. In order to make the procedure more effective, the researchers and practitioners also need to collaborate in building knowledge and applying it in implementation.

Apart from that, creating public awareness continuously through global partnerships on the challenges and opportunities for indigenous communities is also needful for the long-term survival of indigenous communities as well as the forests. Accordingly, strengthening indigenous communities will not be merely an effort of uplifting indigenous livelihoods but also a part of green recovery. However, in order to see a brighter future, the implementation strategies of these remedial measures might have to be shaped according to the situation while aiming towards sustainable development.

Embracing a better future through school feeding

This blog post is written by Anudini Wijayarathna, intern at SLU Global & Master’s student in Rural Development & Natural Resource Management at SLU. The content is based on her experience in participating in a Committee on World Food Security (CFS) 47 Side Event and thoughts on it.

Having participated in the CFS 47 Side Event on ‘How COVID-19 affected school feeding programmes and how to strengthen them post-COVID, including through home-grown school meals’, I realised the importance of having a school meal system. Besides, I have been able to contemplate the necessity of prioritising school feeding even amidst a scenario where schools are closed and students are getting adapted to distance learning currently.  

Providing school meals has been one of the main prevailing initiatives to ensure food security for children. Thus, I believe school meal programmes can be considered as a vital step taken by several countries to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal ‘Zero Hunger’.

School meals as a factor beyond food security

In the event, different international professionals with hands-on experience spoke about many positive impacts on the society by school meals, beyond ensuring food security. Ville Skinnari, Minister for Development Cooperation and Global Trade, Finland, said; “Providing nutritious food in schools is among the best investments for the future”. Evidence gathered from Finland indicates that “school meals produce high returns in terms of education results, gender equality, health, social protection and economic and agricultural development”. The minister highlighted that, Finland suffered from poverty after World War II and had low literacy rates. In such a situation, school feeding became a transformative innovation to attract children to schools and to increase their literacy rate.  He also emphasised that, school meals in Finland provide one-third of a person’s daily nutrition requirement.

The discussion among the practitioners further revealed that the school meal is a key factor to initiate especially girls’ education. Indirectly, school feeding programmes have also become significant in reducing female child marriages and teenage pregnancies. Additionally, providing nutritious school meals is also a crucial matter of uplifting the nutrition status among girls.

Furthermore, Samuel Mulinda, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Rwanda stated, “having a meal in the school is a right to every child within the government of Rwanda” and it has been nearly a decade since Rwanda initiated school feeding. Recently, they embraced a new policy to expand the school feeding system in the basic education levels. A new scheme includes a procurement method to give easy access to purchase food from local smallholder farmers. Accordingly, school meals have become a source of stabilising the agricultural market system within the local economy.

Will it still be feasible during the pandemic?

Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

While countries like Rwanda, Brazil, USA, Finland, India, and many others all over the globe are having different school feeding programmes, the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world in 2020. Many governments had to shut down schools completely or partially for the safety of children. Yet, it wasn’t the end of school meals. Even if the schools shifted to distant learning, some countries modified their systems to maintain school feeding. The event unfolded how Finnish municipalities adopted providing in-kind food or food vouchers for children during the pandemic.

Moreover, Bruno Costa e Silva, National School Feeding Programme Analyst, National Fund for the Development of Education, Brazil, stated that Brazil implemented a programme to distribute school meals during the crisis. The involvement of municipalities and civil society organisations is remarkable in executing this programme. He also highlighted the significance of incorporating smallholder farming into the school feeding system. He described how in the state of Amazonas, food production and food supply for school feeding is continuous under family farming during the pandemic. It is also essential that public policy should be in favour of smallholder farming and home-grown school meals. Besides, Paola Barbieri, Project Analyst, Brazilian Cooperation Agency, drew attention to the important role played by South-South Cooperation in continuing school feeding programme in Brazil.

Furthermore, Lindsay Carter, Director, USDA McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program, USA, spoke about the strategies utilised under the McGovern-Dole Program to stabilise school feeding in the needful countries. The programme is actively engaged in providing commodities and technical and financial assistance to school feeding. During the COVID-19 crisis, the McGovern-Dole Program shifted to distribution of take-home rations to children while monitoring the processes. Additionally, the programme upholds collaborating with national governments, local smallholder farmers and communities to safeguard school feeding.

Start, if there isn’t; Continue, if there is

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis followed by the pandemic definitely, providing school meals is a critical task especially, in the most fragile countries. Nevertheless, considering the numerous benefits that can be reached through school meals, I believe countries should consider continuing school feeding. In the countries where there were no school feeding programmes, it would be best to lay a stepping stone to start at least now. Specifically, in the countries where children are suffering from stunting, wasting, anemia and many other health issues due to malnutrition, initiating school feeding will be an extremely positive investment for the future.

When implementing the programmes, strategies may differ from country to country. However, as the experts in the event stressed out, school feeding programmes can be reached through national and global collaborations. I also firmly believe in the benefits of prioritising local smallholder farming and incorporate it into the school meal programme. Moreover, well-coordinated collaborations between intranational institutions are also essential to initiate such a scheme.

This way, we still can prepare to embrace the post-pandemic world with a healthy and educated generation. Nonetheless, it is up to us to decide how we are going to embrace the future. Are we going to give the future of the world to a weaker generation or to a stronger generation? I’m sure you’ll find it as food for thought.

Navigation towards food security and nutrition through a rice-based agri-food system

This blog post is written by Anudini Wijayarathna, intern at SLU Global & Master’s student in Rural Development & Natural Resource Management at SLU. The content is based on her experience in participating a GOBESHONA (7th) Global Conference Session.

Image by Nandalal Sarkar from Pixabay 

I would not argue with the fact that life is not the same amidst this global pandemic affecting almost all the global citizens. Yet, I believe that acquiring knowledge should not be hindered by that. For me, it has been a great experience having the chance to participate in GOBESHONA Global Conference session on ‘Innovations in the Rice-based Agri-food Systems to improve Food Security and Nutrition’.

GOBESHONA (7th) Global Conference on ‘Locally Led Adaptation’ was hosted by the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) online from 18 to 24January 2021. This particular conference session listed under the category of Food Security & Agriculture lead by Mahjabeen Rahman, programme coordinator, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) consisted of three presentations, out of which two drew my interest the most.

Ensuring food security while combating nutrition deficiency

The presentation; ‘Healthier rice for healthier future’ was presented by the affiliated personalities at the IRRI and Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI); Ibrahim Saiyed, Bangladesh Country Manager of Healthier Rice Program, Ahamed Salahuddin, Consultant and Syada Munia Hoque, Senior Specialist of Nutrition. They brought up the discussion on introducing ‘Golden Rice’ and ‘High Iron & Zinc Rice’ by IRRI to Bangladesh not only as a stimulating factor of food security, sustainable rural livelihoods, and economic development, but also as a solution to country’s prevailing micronutrient deficiency.

Golden Rice is developed by adding Beta carotene gene from yellow maize into ‘BRRI dhan29’, which is a high yielding rice variety already cultivating in Bangladesh. The Beta carotene gene in Golden Rice which converts into vitamin A in human body specifically addresses the substantial issue of vitamin A deficiency. The High Iron & Zinc Rice is formed through adding Ferritin-1 genes from apple, kidney bean and soybean into rice variety ‘BRRI dhan28’. The composition of High Iron & Zinc Rice results in high concentration of iron and zinc, which helps to tackle the iron and zinc deficiency amongst people in the country.

As a result of existing significant level of poverty or extreme poverty in Bangladesh where vulnerable people cannot afford a proper nutritious diet, subsequently the general public suffers from malnourishment. Since rice is a staple food in Bangladesh, the presentation upheld promoting Golden Rice and High Iron & Zinc Rice as it would be an ideal solution to combat so-called issues. Even though, a deployment strategy for these varieties of rice is arranged, dissemination of them among the agricultural sector is still under process of receiving regulatory approval.

The content was appreciated, as it is a constructive solution to fulfil the dire need of the country. Nevertheless, the question raised from the audience was, why this administration procedure in Bangladesh is still lagging behind in a context where, international actors like Australia and New Zealand (2017), USA and Canada (2018) and Philippine (2019) have already approved Golden Rice? It was even suggested that the IRRI should communicate and collaborate with the authorities to expedite the approval process. Besides, it was proposed to have more advocacy through scientific, research and policy education in promoting these varieties. Moreover, the requirement for an awareness discussion on the nutrition level of these rice varieties even after processing (polishing) and cooking was also depicted.

Acquiring food security through machine-sown Direct Seeded Rice

The next presentation; ‘Directly-sown rice to address labour and energy constraints to precision rice establishment’ was delivered by M. Murshedul Alam, Scientist, Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA)-III project, IRRI. He highlighted the ‘machine-sown Direct Seeded Rice (DSR) in Aus technique’ in rice cultivation as a possible solution to address the issues such as labour shortage, water scarcity etc, in Bangladesh. ‘Machine-sown DSR in Aus technique’ is a method of planting rice directly in the field by spreading seeds using machinery instead of transplanting. Transplanting is the traditional method, where the seeds are sown in a different place first and once the seedlings are ready, they will be planted in the puddled field manually or mechanically.

Several comparative evaluations were presented between different rice planting methods such as ‘machine sown DSR’, ‘hand broadcasted DSR’ and ‘manual transplantation’ in relation to the quantity of yields, landscape positions, labour use for land preparation etc. Accordingly, except in the lower landscape, ‘machine sown DSR in Aus technique’ was projected as the most probable alternative in both higher and medium landscapes in Bangladesh. This technique optimises the profit with a higher yield together with a lower requirement of water and labour.

Apart from that, CSISA-III is also involved in awareness raising programmes among the community regarding ‘DSR in Aus technique’ such as providing subsidy and conducting training on machinery usage etc. Thus, the usage of this technique was mostly acknowledged by the audience while highlighting the necessity of development in technology to cater sustainable agriculture and food security.

Manual transplanting on puddled soil. Image by Nandalal Sarkar from Pixabay 

Seeing a better future or not?

As a final remark, I view these attempts presented in these presentations as very much constructive propositions in dealing with food security and nutrition amongst all the challenges Bangladesh is currently undergoing. Especially, I also consider that, promoting Golden Rice and High Iron & Zinc Rice together with machine sown DSR in Aus technique within the agricultural sector are frugal and credible initiatives in expansion of a rice-based agri-food system in Bangladesh.

On the other hand, as I am having roots in Sri Lanka, I believe introducing Golden Rice and High Iron & Zinc Rice even to the rice cultivation and national diet in Sri Lanka, will be a healthier option to strengthen the country’s food security and nutrition more. Particularly because, Sri Lanka being located in the South Asian region same as Bangladesh, having similar tropical climate conditions, having almost the same monsoon rain-based rice cultivation seasons and with rice being a staple food in both countries I see the possibility of paving the way towards this alternative in Sri Lanka.

At the same time, I believe, these tasks will not be simple, especially because, adopting and adapting to these innovations among the general public seems time consuming. Thus, in order to realise them and to make them sustainable, a lot of stable groundwork have to be laid. Apart from that, health and food can be considered as interdependent entities. In order to be healthy one needs to have nutritious food whereas one who is not in good health has difficulties in accessing and utilising nutritious food. Therefore, accomplishment of all these initiatives will also depend on the success of the country in controlling Covid-19 pandemic as currently, it managed to destabilise the ordinary livelihoods of people, not only in Bangladesh but also in the whole world.

What the pandemic taught us about the future of academic exchange

This blogpost is written by SLU students Emma Bergeling, Hanna Smidvik, Emil Planting Mollaoglu and Felicia Olsson. It was first published by SIANI.

As a result of the corona pandemic, the embedded practices of international travel in academia drastically changed. It suddenly became customary to replace business trips with digital alternatives whenever possible. Four students at SLU decided to study the implications. The results show a great untapped potential to reduce emissions from academic travel by conducting a larger share of academic activities digitally – without compromising the quality of research. 

In the turmoil that arose due to the travel restrictions put in place in March 2020, academics suddenly had to find solutions to continue their work in ways that did not include longer business trips. As students actively involved in discussions on universities’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, we have for long been discussing the question of how academic business trips can be replaced by digital alternatives while maintaining the quality of work and research. 2020 presented an unexpected window of opportunity to seek an answer to that question and to gather academics’ experiences of the new reality without travels.

Academia in a burning climate crisis

The topic of GHG emissions from academia in general and academics’ air travel in particular has over the past decade been the focus of a growing number of publications in scientific journals and in mainstream media. This should be understood against a backdrop of factors such as i) the climate crisis itself,  ii) the notion of aviation as one of the fastest-growing sources of GHG emissions – characterised by a slow technological development unlikely to compensate for the estimated growth in demand, and iii) the recognition of academic researchers as among the highest emitters when it comes to international air travel, but also as potential leaders in a transition to a society within the planetary boundaries, if combining advocacy with changes in their own emission habits. This debate has resulted in various commitments, initiatives and responsibilities for higher education institutions (HEIs) around the world. With air travel being one of universities’ largest sources of GHG emissions, the need to critically scrutinise the norms and practices of academic travel is apparent. 

Prior to the pandemic, one could mainly speculate about the consequences of a drastic and large-scale reduction of travel in academia. University employees’ recently gained experiences of an increased use of digital solutions replacing longer business trips are therefore valuable in the search for new norms and practices of academic travel. In our study, we wanted to collect these experiences before they fell into oblivion. Through 25 semi-structured interviews and a survey with approximately 220 respondents, we sought to answer how employees at SLU experienced the cancellation of business trips and increased use of digital solutions. What trips worked well or not so well to replace? How was the quality of various academic activities (seminars, thesis defences, conferences, project meetings etc.) affected by being held digitally? 

Digital solutions replacing academic travel – what have we learnt? 

Our study shows that there is a great, untapped potential to reduce emissions from academic travel without compromising the general quality of the research and work. By adopting a more thought-through mix of digital and physical meetings, where a larger share of activities are conducted digitally, academia can reduce GHG emissions while keeping the quality as well as opening up for greater accessibility and participation.

A majority of the respondents were surprised by how well it had worked to replace longer business trips with digital alternatives, surprisingly well or beyond expectation were common formulations. An overwhelming majority (83%) of the survey respondents reported that their work in general had been mainly positively affected, equal parts positively and negatively affected, or not affected at all by the travel restrictions. 

Effects on work in general.

The academic activities that were experienced as most difficult to perform digitally were certain types of fieldwork and data collection, as well as activities that require spontaneous discussions and networking. We also found that meetings had become more efficient, but often at the expense of social interactions. On the other hand, well-structured meetings with a clear agenda between people that had previously met in person, as well as activities such as administrative meetings, project meetings and seminars, were perceived as most suited to perform digitally. These experiences were also mirrored in the survey respondents’ answers to what academic activities they thought could be held digitally – and to what extent – in the future. 

What type of activities the respondents believed could be replaced with digital solutions after the corona crisis and to what extent.

Furthermore, our results show how digital activities have enabled greater accessibility and equality within the academic community. Researchers that would not have had the time, resources or possibilities to travel to various meetings could now participate in digital events on more equal terms. On the other hand, lack of access to stable internet connection and issues of time differences made certain meetings less inclusive and/or equal. A key takeaway is therefore that digital events have the potential to be more inclusive than physical events but that it is important to actively consider equality and accessibility aspects in planning.

Another eye-opener following the increased use of digital solutions is how these were used to reach a wider audience with research and education. Instead of having farmers or beekeepers travel to SLU to listen to a seminar or to take part in a course, the material was recorded and made publicly available digitally. In a research project reference group consisting of farmers, more had been able to join the meetings now that they were held digitally, as opposed to before when the group had to travel to SLU for each meeting.

Our study also found that there seems to be a need to improve how we use digital solutions and start thinking beyond the mere translation of a physical event or meeting into a digital one. The informants had a lot of useful insights concerning this and we have summarised some of these insights in the figure below. 

Six hacks for successfull digital meetings.

Lastly, most informants lacked experiences of networking in digital events as this part had been neglected when events were digitised and they stressed a need for new and inventive ways of networking digitally, moving forward.

New ways forward for academia post-corona

The participants clearly did not want to continue travelling to the extent they had before the pandemic. However, no one wanted to completely move from physical meetings to only digital solutions. It is time we find a golden middle way. Many expressed that they had begun to think in new ways about what makes it important to meet in person and what makes a business trip necessary or not.

“I’m sure you can reduce the amount of physical meetings quite considerably, and that the [physical] meetings you do have you can spend some more quality and preparations at them so they are well motivated and so that you get the most out of them. ‘Which are the good conditions and perks of meeting in person?’ And then make sure to optimise them.” – Professor

Although the pandemic has closed countless doors, it should in some respects be seen as a window of opportunity to make new decisions and do things in new ways. An opportunity to address and rethink what is actually possible in terms of reducing academia’s GHG emissions.

“There are surely plenty of ways to do this that we have never tried, that might be better than what we are doing right now.”Professor

Interesting questions remain: what will university managements as well as researchers make of this opening, what insights and new learnings will they bring with them into the future? Which new practices will stay on to become embedded within the culture of academia in a post-corona context?  We argue that the answers to these questions should lead to emission reductions in line with climate science. That decisions about what business trips actually are necessary are based on thorough evaluations of experiences from this pandemic, and that digital solutions are used strategically to replace longer business trips. The urgent climate crisis, combined with this unexpected window of opportunity, makes it crystal clear that the time for academia to change embedded practices, rapidly reduce emissions and take on a leadership role is now. Our study has shown that all of this can be done without compromising the quality of research. So what are we waiting for?