Evidence for Development looking forward to working with Walker Institute colleagues

By Celia Petty, Director of Operations at EfD

Celia-Petty-368x297Evidence for Development (EfD) has recently moved from central London to the Walker Institute – many thanks to everyone for your warm welcome.

We are a non-profit research organisation with a small core staff in the UK and associates in Uganda and Malawi. We work on livelihoods analysis, developing practical data collection methods and software modelling tools that are designed to provide policy-relevant information to decision makers. To support this work we also develop teaching and e-learning materials which are currently used for post-graduate training in the UK and overseas.

FormEfDwebsiteEfD’s mission is to facilitate well-informed decision making, based on the best possible evidence. It’s increasingly recognised that in the complex and rapidly changing environment of the 21st century, this requires close collaboration across and between disciplines.  And this is the reason for our move.

It was clear from our first conversations with Prof. Ros Cornforth less than 2 years ago, that there was a close match between the Walker Institute’s mission and our own.  The Institute’s focus on harnessing the knowledge derived from climate science, to better understand the impact of climate change on human society is critically important. We hope to contribute to this work through our deep knowledge of rural economies in Africa, our expertise in livelihoods modelling and our innovative use of information technology.

We are currently working with colleagues in Reading on the DfID/NERC HyCRISTAL project in East Africa. This project aims to reduce the high levels of uncertainty in climate projections in the Lake Victoria basin sufficiently to improve the effectiveness of future development planning. EfD will be leading work to better understand the nature of current livelihood vulnerability in the region, and incorporating this information into models of climate change impacts.   Field work is starting in Uganda, where we will begin to assemble data to populate the models and start the process of tracking change over time.

We are also collaborating with Walker Institute colleagues to develop research and teaching initiatives in health, nutrition and social protection. We will be extending our e-learning tools to support these initiatives, linking wherever possible with other international distance learning programmes.  Another great advantage of being based on campus is the opportunity to integrate with, and share interests and skills with researchers in computer science – initially in manipulating the data sets we’re collecting; subsequently in analytics and data mining of those data sets.

Finally, we have an active intern programme.   The aim is to provide meaningful experience that contributes both to the student’s own career development and to EfD’s objectives as a development organisation. We will be posting information on intern opportunities as these arise.

We look forward to meeting more colleagues across the University as these projects progress.


PICSA climate services for smallholder farmers launches in Francophone West Africa

Farmers at Daga Birame examining historical rainfal (photo by Andree Nenkam)

Farmers at Daga Birame, Senegal examining historical rainfall during PICSA field training. (Photo by Andree Nenkam.)

March 2016 saw an exciting new development for the PICSA Climate Services for Smallholder Farmers as training was delivered in French for the first time at a launch event in Kaolack, Senegal.

PICSA – Participatory Integrated Climate Services for Agriculture – is a step-by-step approach for smallholder farmers, originally developed by Dr Peter Dorward, Dr Graham Clarkson and Prof Roger Stern at the University of Reading in the UK working with colleagues in Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania. It puts smallholder farmers in the driving seat and equips them with the tools and information they need to make their livelihoods more resilient to climate.

Smallholder farmers are key to food security across sub-Saharan Africa where much of the population relies on small-scale, rain-fed farming as their main source of food and income. Critical farming and household decisions depend upon how much rain falls, when the season starts, the length of the season and the likelihood and timing of dry spells; all of which vary considerably from year to year.

PICSA couples climate, crop, livestock and livelihood information with tools that farmers can use to decide the best options for them.  It focusses on practical hands-on methods that can easily be picked up and used. The PICSA approach reaches farmers through extension and NGO field staff who are trained in its use. Then, using additional material prepared by their National Meteorological Agency, these trained staff work with groups of farmers to expand the reach of PICSA climate services.

With over 100 million French speakers spread across 24 countries in Africa, developing training in French is a vital step to bring the benefits of PICSA to many more of Africa’s smallholder farmers.

At the end of March approximately 35 staff from government and non-government organisations in Senegal, national research institutes of Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Senegal, gathered in Kaolack for a week’s training in PICSA. The aim was to train front line field staff and their managers so that they can use PICSA with farmers in the communities that they work with in Kaolack, Kaffrine and Fatick regions of Senegal. The new French manual was put to good use and will continue to be as participants roll out the use of PICSA in the coming months. The training was facilitated by staff from the University of Reading, ICRAF and ICRISAT as part of the CASCAID flagship 2 project funded by CCAFS. Also at the training were staff from the Meteorological Organisations of Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger in preparation for CASCAID to introduce PICSA as part of its work in these countries.

As part of the training, the team spent a day with about 60 farmers in Daga Birame in Kaffrine using the PICSA tools and overall approach. Farmers responded very positively.

Dr Jules Bayala, co-leader of CASCAID at the World Agroforestry Centre, says: The level of enthusiasm and engagement of the rural community of Daga Birame is a strong indication that climate information is considered a key input for improved productivity in this climate risk prone environment of West Africa.

Translation of the PICSA manual into French was by Rachel Stern of Incisive Services Group, Andree Nenkam of ICRISAT and Catherine Ky-Demebele and Djibril Dayamba of ICRAF.

Watch the launch of the English version of the training manual>>

Download the training manual (French)>>

Download the training manual (English)>>

The PICSA Climate Services approach for smallholder farmers has been developed with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and is working closely with  the UN World Food Programme (WFP) as well as NGOs including CARE International and Oxfam.

News: Creating a smart and sustainable city – a look at Reading, Berkshire

Professor Tim Dixon, Chair in Sustainable Futures in the Built Environment, School of the Built Environment, University of Reading

Reading Berkshire

Reading town centre from the Abbey Ruins with a view of the Blade, Reading’s tallest building. Source: David Merrett: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Blade_from_Reading_Abbey.jpg

The world’s growing urban population

We live in an urban world. Today a majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and this is set to grow to nearly 70% by 2050. In the UK we are already heavily urbanised with about 80% of the population living in cities. In England much of the future growth will come from existing smaller and medium sized urban areas like Reading.

So rapid urbanisation, changing demographics and climate change will all impact on the way that people live, work and play in cities. This means we need to plan for the future to try and overcome the current disconnection between short term planning horizons and longer term environmental change to 2050.

City visions

Many cities around the world have therefore developed visions (or shared expectations) about the future. In the UK, for example, Bristol’s 2020 vision, and its smart city vision, is based on ‘people, place and prosperity’, a desire to be a ‘Global Green Capital’, and an aspiration to be a centre for smart city thinking. In Canada, Vancouver aims to be the world’s greenest city by 2020, with tough targets set for greenhouse gas emissions and a desire to create a city which is resilient to climate change. In Denmark, Copenhagen’s vision is based on a target to be carbon-neutral by 2025, underpinned by a highly successful walking/cycling policy agenda and a strong focus on renewable energy.

These cities are planning to be both ‘smart’ and ‘sustainable’. This means using new technology (such as smart metering, environmental sensors, and smart traffic management systems) to help create a more sustainable future for people living in cities which is also economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. Creating a smart and sustainable city isn’t easy. It requires a clear strategic vision, a strong link with climate change strategy, active planning, inclusive participation with key stakeholders, and a sense of political viability.

So what about Reading?

Reading’s success is based on its physical and virtual connectivity nationally and internationally, but a big challenge is how to balance the amount of skilled employment required in Reading with the size of its direct labour force. Reading is a net importer of labour, which also creates pressures on housing, transport and longer commuting distances. A rich heritage and historic built environment also makes it difficult to re-engineer or retrofit an urban area like Reading, and adapt and mitigate for the growing effects of climate change. Reading also suffers from poor air quality, and, if accompanied by an increasing frequency of extreme weather events, this could affect people’s health and safety, the continuity of business, and the resilience of energy and water supplies.

So to help us think more strategically about these important issues in Reading the University has been working with Barton Willmore and Reading UK CIC to help create a smart and sustainable vision for Reading, looking ahead to 2050. Through a series of workshops and other related activities we have started to develop a vision for what Reading will look and feel like in 2050. Our thinking has covered urban design scenarios which encompass ‘rivers and parks’, ‘green technology’, and ‘festivals and cultures’ themes. By helping Reading continue to develop as a centre not only for green thinking and research, but also for digital technologies, Reading could also ultimately become an ‘urban living lab’ to help other cities become both smart and sustainable.