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Contest aims to boost innovation in sustainability research

TWAS-Elsevier Foundation Sustainability Case Studies Competition announces its 2017 winners, who are all from Africa

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Editor’s note: This month, Elsevier Connect is exploring “how science can build a sustainable future.” This competition aims to spark innovative solutions to challenges in the developing world.


How do we empower young female farmers in Ethiopia to be an active part of society? Can we reduce malnutrition by promoting health education and latrine use in Kenya? Could we use native medicinal plants to investigate new anti-cancer compounds in developing countries?

These are some of the questions asked by researchers of the winning projects of the TWAS-Elsevier Foundation Sustainability Case Studies Competition, which aims to stimulate innovative solutions to challenges in the developing world and raise awareness about sustainability issues.

The competition targets PhDs students who are fellows of TWAS – The World Academy of Science and the Organization for Women in Science in the Developing world (OWSD), asking them to reflect on local issues and outline sustainable solutions with a focus on the gender dimension. The five 2017 winning case studies – all in Africa – focus on food security, energy, climate change, water and sanitation, and green chemistry. The winners will receive a $1,000 prize and an all-expenses paid award to participate in the inaugural TWAS Young Affiliates Network Conference, held in conjunction with the Brazilian Academy of Sciences in Rio de Janeiro August 22 to 24.

"The Sustainability Case Studies Competition is part of our larger Elsevier Foundation partnership to boost sustainability research in developing countries," said TWAS Programme Coordinator Max Paoli. " With the competition, our goal was to engage with doctoral students, as we believe that young scientists have a key role in ensuring a better and more sustainable future. Focusing on the global challenges will help drive their scientific research, increasing their impact in support of sustainable development. Working with young people is a requisite for change."

The 2017 winners

Here are the winners of this year’s competition along with their case studies and the universities where they are pursuing their PhDs:

  • Rahiel Abraha (Ethiopia), Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences: A case study on influencing factors and opportunities for empowering young female farmers through innovative fruit and vegetable production
  • Oscar Omondi Donde (Kenya), Institute of Hydrobiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences: A case study on the application of solar-powered technology for drying fish, to support sustainable fisheries and reduce post-harvest fish losses in a drought and famine prone remote villages of Lake Turkana, Kenya
  • Brice Landry Koloko (Cameroon), Centre of Excellence in Molecular Biology, University of the Punjab: A study on the role of biologists in implementing appropriate mitigation strategies against climate change for the benefit of human health and the environment
  • Susan Nyasimi (Kenya), Centre of Excellence for Nutrition, North-West University South Africa: A case study on health education about latrine use, water and hygiene to reduce malnutrition among children aged 6-23 months in Homabay County, Kenya
  • Abiola Ezekiel Taiwo (Nigeria), Department of Chemical Engineering, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, South Africa: A case study of the sustainable bioprocessing focused on supercritical fluid extraction of vanillin

In addition to this competition, the partnership between the Elsevier Foundation and TWAS covers a large number of initiatives that promote scientific collaboration and support the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The PhD Fellowship travel grants, for example, enable students who are working on one or more of the goals to participate in South-South exchanges. Also, the Elsevier Foundation sponsored a symposium titled “Facing Global Epidemics” at last year's TWAS Annual Meeting. Because the meeting was held in Rwanda for the first time, the panel presented an important opportunity to engage with the local scientific community.

Finally, the Elsevier Foundation-TWAS Sustainability Visiting Expert Programme brings sustainability science experts to institutes in the developing world. These grants enable the experts to lecture and supervise students and give workshops, with a focus on knowledge exchange and skills transfer. Contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the program is designed to help bridge the North-South scientific divide, collaborating with local expertise to solve the most pressing local issues. As collaboration with international scientists proves to be an effective way to boost visibility and capacity building, the end goal of the program is to establish long-term links between institutions and individuals.

One success story is of Dr. Yahkat Barshep of  the University of Nigeria, who was hosted by the University of Liberia’s Forestry Department last year. As a result of her visit, she is continuing to work with the Liberian students on sustainability research projects and on analyzing a large amount of data related to monitoring the ecosystem of Liberia’s Sapo National Park.

This year, international sustainability sciences experts will visit institutions in Myanmar, Tanzania, Rwanda, Senegal, Mozambique and Peru. They are focused on topics ranging from environmental biotechnology and science communication to urban planning, environmental sustainability, water and energy.

Elsevier Foundation Director Ylann Schemm noted: “From the beginning, our goal in collaborating with TWAS has been to stimulate the quality and quantity of sustainability science coming from scientists living in countries experiencing the toughest challenges in water, food security and climate change. The more locally relevant research, the more solutions scientists will find that work best for them and their communities.”

How science can build a sustainable future

This month, we are exploring “how science can build a sustainable future.” At Elsevier, we understand the power of bringing different perspectives together to fuel new approaches to global problems. We support a variety sustainability initiatives through the Elsevier Foundation and in our work as an information analytics provider.

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