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.

Research: Is climate change making groundwater supplies in Sub-Saharan Africa less reliable?

africa_waterOver 500 million people in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) depend upon groundwater supplies, and this is set to rise dramatically. Safe and reliable access to water for the rural poor is a critical factor when reducing the proportion of people living in extreme poverty. As the majority of poor people in Africa depend upon farming for their livelihoods, developing resilient agricultural water supplies is an essential first step.  Groundwater could provide a solution to this as there is the potential to tap into huge groundwater ‘reservoirs’ under the Sahel to provide water  (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17775211).

Groundwater resources are considered to be more resilient to variations in rainwater levels compared to surface water, and may therefore provide an important water resource to help adapt to changing climate and land use. However growing evidence suggests that extended periods of low rainfall may cause groundwater supplies to fail, dependent on the underlying rocks in the area. It is therefore unclear whether the planned development of groundwater resources to meet increases in demand is feasible in all areas.

It is vital for the survival of rural communities to understand how well levels are being affected by climate change and how extraction of groundwater in one area affects other areas.  Over use of groundwater in one area (e.g., for irrigation) can trigger wide spread well failure in other areas.

The Walker Institute, University of Reading is leading a consortium which is working with practitioners and government in Ghana and Burkina Faso to understand where to drill, how deep and what well failure can be expected.

The BRAVE project will address this by incorporating the most up-to-date scientific knowledge within Earth System models to develop appropriate tools for water resource planning in the Volta River Basin of Burkina Faso and Ghana. These new groundwater planning tools will be piloted in eight communities, and their impact on the livelihoods of some of the poorest communities in the region will be evaluated.

The plan is to deveLorna_Younglop seasonal groundwater status reports which will be linked into the Rainwatch-AfClix Drought Early Warning System in Burkina Faso and Ghana.

Within the project, the Walker Institute is working with the Lorna Young Foundation to communicate early warning of drought/flood through radio broadcasts to reach remote farming communities.