Exploring climate change and agriculture in Africa: field experiences from CHARM-EU students
Under the One Planet Fellowship initiative, the AWARD-Agropolis internship program provides an opportunity to junior European scientists to explore and contextualize climate change and agricultural research in different African regions. CHARM-EU students taking part in the programme shared their first experiences.
Dedicated to support next-generation research on climate change adaptation in Africa, the One Planet Fellowship Programme (OPFP) is building a strong intergenerational network of African and European researchers by bringing together emerging climate scientists from both continents and strengthening their leadership and scientific research skills. One of the interventions under the OPFP is the internship programme jointly implemented by AWARD and Agropolis Fondation, aiming to broaden the perspectives of junior European scientists on African agriculture and food systems. CHARM-EU students Marina Rovira Puig, Judith Albert, Isa Maathuis and Jill Hoost were among those selected to participate and collaborate with an African mentor (OPFP Laureate) and an African junior scientist.
The internship programme started with a one-week Training and Networking Workshop organized in Nairobi, Kenya, where mentors, mentees and all learning partners joined an intense career and personal development event providing space for networking and preparing participants for the upcoming weeks of scientific visits. Following the kick-off workshop, the European learning partners were placed in one of the selected Africa host research institutions for a 4 weeks visit to work together with their mentors and gain field experience. The in-person internship phase is followed by a 6-month long online co-learning process until December 2023.
Marina Rovira Puig was placed in Morogoro, Tanzania where she was working together with her mentor at the Sokoine University of Agriculture as a research associate. She contributes to a research project titled “The influence of climate changes on environmental flow for ecosystem well-being and preservation: The case of Lower Rufiji River Basin”. She participated in the presentation of the project at the Global Leaders Conference organized in the Philippines, prepared a literature review and learned the use of various data analysis tools, while supporting the department with exam supervision, marking, and digital tools. She has also contributed to several proposals aiming to build a network of scientist on Water-related aspects within AWARD partners. One of them is an EU proposal also including CHARM-EU as a collaborator through the University of Montpellier.
“It has been a great experience! AWARD does an amazing job and this program has been incredibly good for my personal and professional growth. I am also very excited because I have been getting along with my mentor and different professors and we are already considering future collaborations”
Marina Rovira Puig, CHARM-EU graduate
Judith Albert was placed in the Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny located in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire where her mentor works as a lecturer and researcher. Within the programme, she had the opportunity to visit the local farming communities, gain direct insight into their situation and collect data through surveys and focus groups for her master’s thesis on “The Impact of policies about cocoa farming in Côte d’Ivoire on climate resilience”. She believes that beyond the research it facilitates, the programme promotes personal growth and career development as well, while the exchanges between cultures foster reflection on personal internalized ideas and expectations that might differ from reality.
“This experience also makes me more aware again of how interconnected our two continents and the global challenges, we are facing together, are” – emphasized Judith while reflecting on the boycott against the plan of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana to introduce a minimum price for cocoa. “The consequences go beyond the questions of responsibility and morality attached to this topic, and affect the global community, especially when it comes to sustainability issues and climate change” – she explains.
Both Marina and Judith highlighted the support and the invaluable feedbacks they received from their mentors and the experienced researchers in the host universities as well as the personal and professional growth they experienced.
“Throughout the research I discovered a fascinating field and a beautiful country. I enjoyed the research so much that I am now considering to make a professional career in this area.” – explained Marina, who emphasized that the trip has helped her to build trust in herself and her capabilities while discovering a topic that could potentially be her future area of expertise. She is also immensely grateful for the close connections she was able to make that could serve as a strong foundation for future collaborations. “I will always be grateful to Morogoro and their people! This trip exceeded all my expectations, it has been one of the best experiences in my life” – she summarised.
Judith has also gathered a huge amount of insights and honed many skills during her visit. She found the practical research experience especially valuable and highlighted the importance of her cultural learning. Through her observations and exchanges, she has gained a better understanding of the Ivoirian society as well as of herself and her own background. Furthermore, she has also learned how her assumptions, experiences and worldview affect the collection and interpretation of her data. Reflecting on EU-Africa relations and the importance of international communities, she also underlined the importance of intercultural programmes and dialogue.
“I hope there is a future in which we will truly engage in a dialogue at eye level, treat each other with respect and fairness. How will we otherwise solve all the global issues we are facing together? I believe that exchanges like this internship can play a part in a better understanding. As small as this part may be for the bigger picture, for me personally it is of great importance and value. I’m so grateful to have been given this opportunity.”
Judith Albert, CHARM-EU student
 African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) supports African scientists, research institutions, and agribusinesses to contribute to an inclusive, agriculture-driven prosperity for Africa through the production and dissemination of more gender-responsive agricultural research and innovation.
 Agropolis Fondation is a scientific cooperation foundation dedicated to research, training and innovation in agriculture and sustainable development, aiming to promote the agroecological transition through its network and its multi-stakeholder and international partnerships. (Agropolis was also CHARM-EU’s partner for the 2022-2023 Capstone phase.)
The article was prepared in collaboration with Marina Rovira Puig and Judith Albert. The pictures in the article were taken and provided by Judith.