Interview with SFA Co-Director | Career Changes to Fuel your Passions

By Vanessa Duclos, Network’s Research Manager

Do you sometimes have doubts about your career choices? It is never too late to discover new passions, and to follow the necessary steps to make it a new vocation. While visiting the University of Glasgow in September, Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, Co-Director of the SFA Network, was interviewed by Emma Smith from DEVEX about why and how she changed her career from civil engineering to environmental sciences, with a focus on climate change adaptation.

https://www.devex.com/news/q-a-how-this-engineer-began-a-new-career-in-global-development-95576


Population, Health and Environment Nexus: Discussions at Mbando Village

By Bosco Chinkonda, Deepa Pullanikkatil, Helen Todd, Boyson Moyo and Stewart Paul

The environment has been degraded and the population is growing at higher rate. Because of high birthrates leading to high population growth, resources are depleted and people have no option but to go cut trees and burn charcoal up the hill.” These were the words of Chief Mbando at our meeting in Mbando village in April this year.

Chief Mbando had quite simply articulated the links between population growth, competition for resources and their impacts, including environmental degradation. On 9 April 2019, seated under a mango tree, about 35 people from Mbando village talked with visitors from the Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) network about the nexus of “Population, Health and Environment” (PHE) by focusing on a micro level: their village.

Discussion under a tree in Mbando village on the Population, Health and Environment nexus

The discussions were facilitated by Art and Global Health Center Africa (ArtGlo), a non-governmental organization which harnesses the power of the arts to nurture creative leadership and ignite bold conversations and actions in many sectors, including health. Here in Mbando, they used music and drama to provoke conservations. They were introduced to the community of Mbando community by Abundance, a small non-profit that has been working in this village since 2016. Both Abundance and ArtGlo are members of Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA), an international network which believes in a multidisciplinary and integrated approach to development. Abundance has taken and advocated for an integrated approach to development. However, developmental and environmental projects have historically taken a sectoral approach, without integrating key aspects that shape the lives of the communities the projects aim to serve. Through the PHE discussion at Mbando village, many insights were revealed on the deeper relationships between population, health and environment.

The population of Malawi has grown from 4 million in 1964 (when it attained independence from the British) to almost 19 million in 2017. The villagers of Mbando understand that some of the challenges they face stem from high population growth. “We are facing challenges because of high fertility rates. This has contributed to environmental degradation,” says Chief Mbando. When Abundance began working in Mbando in 2016, there were 95 households. “Today, hardly three years later, there are 105 households in the village,” said Moses Phulusa, Abundance’s Community Coordinator in Mbando. Family planning initiatives are present in the community, but there is high resistance to uptake, especially among the men, due to societal expectations and religious beliefs.

With increased population, the available farmland is shrinking, which the community observes is leading to food shortages and nutritional challenges. In addition to increasing pressure on land due to large numbers of people, the village faces extreme weather events. The community mentioned the recent Cyclone Idai and the heavy rains that followed, which caused many rice and maize fields to be flooded. Mbando village is near the shores of Lake Chilwa, Malawi’s second largest lake. “Lake Chilwa has been drying because in the past years we have got less rainfall. But still there is nothing good over there. Even catches of fish are very rare. Only a few species are available,” said a resident. “This is leading to malnutrition. As you know, there are proteins in fish,” said another resident. ArtGlo encouraged Mbando villagers to act out the challenges they face; some of the acts highlighted that Lake Chilwa is silting, a problem the community attributed to poor farming practices and deforestation.

Malawi’s deforestation trends are worrying: a rate of 33,000 hectares of forest lost per year. Chief Mbando pointed towards the Chikala hills, which border Mbando village. Due to unemployment and the lack of livelihood options, residents are resorting to making charcoal to eke out a living. “In the Chikala hills, trees are being depleted due to charcoal burning activities as a livelihood means. Times are so desperate that women are also burning charcoal.

Dramas were then performed to depict what the future might look like. ArtGlo facilitators pointed to a young child and provoked discussions about how the environment and human development status would be when that child is an adult. The participants said that there would be a strain on the public resources such as medicine in the nearby health facilities due to the large population increase. Others said Mbando would be a community without herbal medicine due to high levels of deforestation (many herbal medicines came from forests). They also pointed out that it is always the most vulnerable members of the community who are affected the most, such as the elderly. Some feared they would be abused due to the scramble for land – attributed to deforestation. They predicted high levels of deviance and crime due to increased population and a lack of resources for economic functions, which could cause increased conflicts. “The habitats of animals would be depleted”, said another participant.

The same community that listed the challenges were asked to create solutions and act them out in drama performances. Solutions included sensitizing the youth about these issues, starting in primary school. Two people who were part of this meeting were from a local drama group and took the lead to create dramatic performances to create awareness amongst the youth. “The adults in the community, they have experienced the better times and could be an inspiration for the younger ones to take initiative. Chiefs hold the authority over the community and can lead some of the initiatives,” said participants. They recognized the need for various sectors and players to work together to achieve greater synergy and be able to address the interconnections between the sectors. They also said that there is need for frequent community gatherings, as engaging the community to come up with solutions is the way forward. “Coming together regularly to discuss issues such as deforestation, drought and population growth would help the village recognize the urgency of solutions as simple as tree planting”, said one participant. “Even in terms of family planning, you could see that men were opposing it. So if men took part in family planning initiatives, population growth could be put in check”, said another participant. Ultimately, the key message that came out of this meeting was that Population, Health and Environment have many links and that all stakeholders need to engage in discussions and cooperate in an integrated manner.

The meeting ended with a brainstorming exercise, where the villagers listed NGOs that implement projects in their village. They included Safe, an NGO which built the Community Based Child Care Centre and engages the Chief and elderly on projects; the Family Planning Association of Malawi, which works with youth clubs on family planning and Sexual and Reproductive Health; the One Acre Fund, which works on reforestation; Goal Malawi, which works on reforestation and family planning; and Abundance, which works in a variety of areas including education, literacy, trainings, skills development, support for health services and environmental conservation. It was agreed that these institutions need to work together so as not to duplicate efforts and to facilitate greater synergy. This is the essence of the SFA network too: greater engagement with and within communities, working together for the greater good and locally driven solutions for a greater understanding of the complex nature of community development and sustainability.

To view Chanco TV – Malawi on the Rise coverage of the event, click here.


Photo Essays – Public Spaces in Malawi

By Elson Kambalu, Deepa Pullanikkatil, Boyson Moyo and Stewart Paul

Are you curious about public spaces, what secrets they hold, how they are used in Africa? During Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil’s visit to Malawi hub in April 2019, the team visited public spaces to create these 4 photo essays showing the different “layers” behind use of public space.

ZOMBA BOTANICAL GARDEN

LIZULU

LUPASA

MEETING UNDER A TREE


Personal Reflections on SFA Co-Director's Visit to Malawi

by Stewart Paul

The SFA Malawi hub was honored to be accorded a visit by the Network’s co-director, Dr. Deepa Pullanikkatil in April this year (2019). From Lilongwe to Mzuzu, back to Lilongwe and then Zomba and finally Machinga. It was a fulfilling and exciting journey. This visit couldn’t possibly come at a more opportune time, as our hub was named to host the next SFA Symposium in 2020. Aside from facilitating development of several grant proposals, Dr. Pullanikkatil substantially led the development of a photo essay on public spaces as well as the introduction of the SFA Network to diverse key and potential new partners and members. This piece reflects on the fruitfulness of this visit by highlighting the major achievements accomplished. You can watch a short documentary of our journey here.

Lilongwe

Deepa’s engagement with us started with our visit to UNICEF Malawi head offices in Lilongwe. This meeting was set up to brief UNICEF about our Network, both local and international, among others. In the end we made new connections with 8 UNICEF staff members working in various disciplines. Further e-mail communications led to SFA Malawi hub linking up with the Drone head at UNICEF which we hope will engender a collaboration on SFA Malawi hub’s upcoming Drone Project entitled Placing Communities at the Heart of Humanitarian and Environmental Drone Use: Issues, Challenges and Opportunities”. Funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), the project has many collaborator institutions and organizations such as Abundance Worldwide (NGO), the University of Glasgow (UK), UNICEF’s GIS and Remote Sensing Center, Malawi Civil Aviation Authority and Malawi Department of Surveys.

Next was a 2-day workshop on grant proposal writing which was held at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), where the Hub is based. During the activity, three proposals were developed, to be submitted shortly. This was followed by a presentation on a recent paper (about the tree Faidherbia albida)written by Deepa and the Hub director Dr Boyson Moyo. Students and staff from LUANAR attended the seminar.

Mzuzu

We had a different programme for the Northern part of Malawi. First, we held meetings with Mzuzu University and University of Livingstonia (UNILIA). At UNILIA we met with the Vice Chancellor, and they showed interest to join the SFA network. We also met with Moses Mkandawire, director of Church and Society which is a governance desk for the Synod of Livingstonia of the CCAP Church. The goal of these meetings revolved around introducing the Network to these institutions and personally inviting them to join the Network. Our engagements in the “green city” of Mzuzu further involved one of our Hub members, Elson Kambalu, of Art House Africa. His project was to take photos for an essay on Public Spaces, which together with outcomes from discussions with users of such spaces will soon be published.

A final activity was a visit to Chintheche on the beautiful sandy shores of Lake Malawi. More documentation of public spaces was done. Most importantly, Dr Pullanikkatil and Dr Moyo made final edits on the Faidherbia albida paper which was submitted for publication later that day.

Meeting with University of Livingstonia top Management (Vice Chancellor, Registrar)
Group photo after SFA Malawi hub’s meeting with Mzuzu University

Zomba

Upon arrival in Zomba we headed to Sunbird Kuchawe for a dinner meeting with the mission director for USAID in Malawi. This happened to be a very successful encounter as we held discussions on a wide range of topics. We found a contact for a staff member of USAID working on drones and hopefully should be very valuable in our future endeavours. Dr Moyo agreed to have an audience or give a talk to the head of USAID Agriculture section and his team. Our Public spaces photo sessions extended to Zomba Botanic Garden which was created to promote agricultural enterprise by displaying an experimental area for newly introduced plants. Since the DC for Zomba was engaged with other pressing matters, we delivered our letter of introduction to his office. The final engagement in Zomba was a meeting with LEAD who explained their projects, including one with University of Southampton on drones.

SFA Malawi team visiting ArtGlo’s offices in Zomba

Machinga

The climax of our journey across Malawi was our visit to Mbando village to explore the Population Health and Environment (PHE) nexus within the community. Using role plays and facilitated discussions, we were able to capture informative feedback from the community and ArtGlo has produced a report on this. Chanco TV covered the event and two documentaries were later beamed on their TV station.

SFA members later visited the E-Learning centre that was established by Abundance with funds raised through Global Giving. Relying entirely on solar energy, the centre has 8 laptop computers that are connected to the offline learning resources through a device called Rachel. A video link to a documentary about the centre is available here. We also met with Machinga District commissioner. At the end of our fruitful meeting, an opportunity arose to extend the drone project to the human-wildlife interactions at Liwonde National Park and surrounding communities. Consequently, the DC invited SFA to present their projects and updates at the District Executive Committee (DEC) meeting.


Transforming International Development

By Dr Mia Perry and Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil

A great article written by our Co-Directors and entitled “Transforming international development” was recently published in the Impact publication (IMPACT Volume 2019, Numero 1 – February).

This piece was produced by Science Impact to help the SFA network communicate the objectives and work of the project in a more easily understandable and accessible language to a wider audience of stakeholders, enabling widespread dissemination.

You can access it by following this link:
https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/sil/impact/2019/00002019/00000001/art00010#

** The article can be downloaded in a pdf format.

ABSTRACT

THE SUSTAINABLE FUTURES IN AFRICA (SFA) NETWORK The Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) Network is an interdisciplinary collective that brings together researchers, educators, and communities of practice that acknowledge the situated and complex nature of practices and conceptions of sustainability. The Network aims to build understanding, research, and practice in socio-ecological sustainability in Africa. Specifically, the Network includes the participation of researchers (from geography and earth sciences, community and adult education, applied social arts, health sciences, and engineering); third-sector organisations (working with environmental and social sustainability, with arts and cultural practice, and with community engagement in African contexts); and community stake-holders (living and working in areas of focus). Participants currently span the Uganda, Botswana, Nigeria, Malawi, and the UK, and the reach of the network continues to expand. THE NETWORK’S AIMS ARE: To address the relationship between social, cultural, and ecological factors in sustainability in Africa through interdisciplinary research initiatives To discover opportunities in the disparities between ontologies of the global north and the global south inherent in international collaborations and global endeavours To shape and support new opportunities for impact and inquiry that address locally-articulated, socio-ecological challenges The Network’s current infrastructure includes a website (https://sustainablefuturesinafrica.com/) and social media platforms; a growing base of research, funding to support knowledge sharing and capacity strengthening (ESRC, EPSRC & SFC); and a core group of scholars, practitioners, and support staff who are providing the leadership and administration of this initiative.


Malawi Stories: Mapping an Art-Science Collaborative Process

Three SFA partners – Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil (Co-Director), Dr Boyson Moyo (Malawi hub Director) and Dr Brian Barrett (Glasgow hub Director) co-authored this open access article as part of SFA (published in the Journal of Maps in March 2019).

ABSTRACT

This paper outlines a project drawing together an artist working on creative GIS, a geomatics scholar, an NGO leader, a rural geographer and soil scientist, an environmental geochemist, and a political geographer. With a shared interest in the social and physical processes affecting people’s lives in Malawi, and the possibilities for interdisciplinary collaboration, the team engaged in practice-based mapping of our data sources and respective methodologies. The project relates to two sites in Malawi: Tikondwe Freedom Gardens and the Likangala River. The paper details our practices as we shared, debated, and repurposed our data as a means of situating these practices and data. Using paper and pen, whiteboard, PowerPoint, and web-design software, we note here our effort to map a ‘space of experimentation’ highlighting, and reflecting on, our diverse disciplinary orientations, training, instrumentation, recording, and reporting procedures, as well as bodily practices that enable and give animation to these factors.

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17445647.2019.1582440


Scots Join The Worldwide Effort to Help Africans Find New Ways to Rebuild Their Communities Shattered by Brutal Civil War

Article written by Maggie Ritchie – free-lance journalist who joined the Glasgow delegation traveling to Lira, Uganda in February 2019 for the 3rd SFA Annual Symposium. While in Uganda, she had the opportunity to meet with the communities involved in SFA activities through two partners: Apala Widows and Orphanage Centre (AWOC) and ECOaction.

https://www.sundaypost.com/fp/scots-join-the-worldwide-effort-to-help-africans-find-new-ways-to-rebuild-their-communities-shattered-by-brutal-civil-war-and-desperate-povertylife-was-very-difficult-it-is-better-now/


Dr Mia Perry | TedX Interview

Dr Mia Perry, SFA Co-Director, is interviewed at  TedX Glasgow about the Sustainable Futures in Africa Network.

At TedX Glasgow the SFA Network brought a snapshot of its work to the event; this includes a public poll which questioned the approach that we take on research sustainability, engaging with the binary choice of ‘Giving v.s. changing your own practice?’ In this interview, Mia discusses the SFA’s work on collaboration across knowledge systems, exemplifying our work as ‘a community member working with an academic’. As SFA is a network focusing on ‘methodologies’, Mia shares how it is important to be able to share what that means in ‘real life terms’ which is at the heart of TedX – world changing ideas made accessible; she described the event as giving her a sense of ‘enthusiasm, motivation, passion and integrity’.

“More and more we realize that if we made good decisions about sustainability here in Glasgow, our colleagues in Africa would have half as many problems to deal with.”


Publication: Modelling of Extension and Dyking-Induced Collapse Faults and Fissures in Rifts

This publication is an output of the research conducted by SFA researchers in Uganda on ‘Understanding the structure, permeability and activity of faults in and around the Rwenzori mountains, Albertine rift system’

Koehn, D., Steiner, A. and Aanyu, K. (2018). Modelling of extension and dyking-induced collapse faults and fissures in rifts. Journal of Structural Geology, 118, pp.21-31.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • This contribution presents modelling of fissures and faults in rifts induced by extension and dyking.
  • Faults nucleate as hybrid shear surfaces and migrate upwards as fissures and downwards as shear fractures.
  • Dyking tends to localize faults on top of dykes and produces narrow vertical collapse structures.
  • Collapse structures are rhomboid blocks that form along conjugate fault sets and move down with normal and reverse sense.
  • The most localized collapse structures develop on top of thin and shallowly intruding dykes.

For more information, you can find the publication by using the DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsg.2018.09.017


Botswana Hub - Publication

The SFA Botswana Hub conducted a trial study titled Unearthing the Dynamics of Human and Wildlife Interactions: The Case of Mmadinare Community in the Central Region of Botswana. From this study a journal paper was extracted and submitted to Wildlife Interactions Journal. It is exciting to announce that finally the paper entitled “Toward Sustainable Conservation and Management of Human-Wildlife Interactions in the Mmadinare Region of Botswana: Villagers’ Perceptions on Challenges and Prospects” has been published and can be accessed from the below link:

HTTPS://DIGITALCOMMONS.USU.EDU/HWI/VOL12/ISS2/8