Innovative data services for aquaculture, seismic resilience and drought adaptation in East Africa

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Research and Enterprise Development


In this GCTA we propose three projects to tackle significant environmental challenges; earthquakes, droughts and food security in DAC countries in the East African region.

Project 1 will focus on seismic risk mitigation in Malawi. In DAC countries, the lack of resources hinders effective seismic mitigation strategies and as a result, earthquakes can result in devastating human and school infrastructure loss. Malawi is one of the countries in the East African region that suffer greatly from this challenge. This is because traditional masonry structures are unreinforced and seismically vulnerable, there is rapid population growth and urbanization, and large earthquakes of M7.0 or greater can occur in the East African Rift (EAR). In Malawi Schools are often the only community buildings in a village and are used as refuges post-disaster. In addition to that, Malawi lack the means to predict seismic risk. To tackle this challenge, we will employ a two-pronged approach. First, we will deploy the seismic risk assessment tools developed as part of the PREPARE project in Malawi. This will enable the reliable assessment of seismic hazard (i.e., the probability that an earthquake will occur in a given geographic area, within a given window of time, and with certain ground motion intensity). Second, we will translate and contextualise the simple, low cost, easy to use tool developed as part of the SAFER project in Nepal for the pre-earthquake assessment of school buildings and the informed prioritization of school strengthening in Malawi.

PROJECT 2 will focus on adaptation to droughts in Kenya. Severe water shortage is one of the most pressing development challenges in the East African region, having been struck by 10 droughts since 2000 which led to three severe famines affecting millions of East Africans. As such there is a pressing need for relevant, timely, and practical information about water resources, particularly for rural agro-pastoral populations which are distant from decision-making centres. We propose to develop an App for this purpose. The App will provide users with seasonal forecasts of water scarcity (in the soil and groundwater) with uncertainty estimates at their location, allowing farmers to take appropriate decisions about crop variety for that season for example.

PROJECT 3 will focus on improving aquaculture production in Tanzania. The population of Tanzania is projected to increase from 56 million in 2018 to 129 million by 2050, resulting in unprecedented demand for fish protein. Tilapia aquaculture is proposed as an important solution to meet the increased demand. However, it has not yet expanded in line with demand, with access to appropriate broodstock and education cited as key concerns limiting expansion. A key issue is the widespread contamination of ponds by an invasive small-bodied tilapia species (the blue-spotted tilapia), which is indistinguishable as young fish from large bodied species (e.g. Nile tilapia). Elimination of this contamination has been recognised by the Tanzanian Government as a critical step to improve food production as the industry expands. This project will provide environmental DNA-based surveillance information to focus the developing aquaculture sector on large-bodied, high-yielding species, in addition to providing advice and information on where to obtain pure stock and appropriate feed and rearing conditions for favoured large-bodied species.

Planned Impact

Primary beneficiaries of the seismic risk ranking and retrofit prioritization App are schools, teachers, children and communities in Malawi followed by expanding to any geographical context. Infrastructure and emergency development organisations will also benefit.
- Schools can be prioritised for retrospective strengthening pre-earthquake based on building fragility, seismic hazard and population exposure saving children's and teachers lives and minimising educational disruption. Educational communities outcomes, social mobility and resilience to cope with both physical and mental challenges will be improved.
- The tool and underlying methodology can also be applied to residential and critical facilities such as hospitals, fire stations, power stations, and administrative building quality thereby saving lives and benefiting the economy.
- Science capacity can be increased through training stakeholders in the App promoting sound scientific and engineering approaches aiding understanding of earthquake hazard and vulnerability and expanding and embedding local capacity to deal with disasters.
- Government and international aid agencies can integrate seismic hazard and risk into policies for long-term infrastructure development and short-term emergency management enabling the prioritisation of their investments and value for money.

Project 2: Mobile phone App Development for Drought Adaptation in Drylands (MAD DAD)
Beneficiaries of the Swahili MAD DAD App will initially be remote, rural agro-pastoral drought-affected communities in Kenya's drylands followed by expansion to the rest of the East African countries. The App will also benefit humanitarian organisations.
- Agro-pastoralists can input into and use a free app transforming decision-making on and drought adaptation to the short- and long-term, improving crop yields, livelihoods, economics and resilience. Designing the app with an understanding of gendered behavioural norms will promote equitable access and empower female agro-pastoralists.
- Humanitarian organisations will be better able to respond to drought-related water scarcity and famine crises, as their interventions will be more accepted by the communities that have access to the relevant information.
- Kenyan ICT for development research capability will be increased enabling sustainable technology solutions to pressing development challenges. Community partnering on the App development helps feed in vital local knowledge, the App's acceptability, and capability for future ICT solutions.

Project 3: Environmental DNA Surveillance for Improved Aquaculture Production
Beneficiaries of the new diagnostic tests to increase Tilapia production are small-scale fish farmers in Tanzania (circa 19,000), hatchery workers, the Government, and the whole population of Tanzania.
Tanzanian Fish farmers will receive written, mobile and face to face communication about their stocks species status. This will encourage them to restock contaminated aquaculture ponds with higher quality fingerlings of high-yielding species from certified sources thereby increasing confidence and fish production.
Tanzanian Government environmental policy can be informed about a sustainable alternative to arable farming and livestock farming. In turn, informing agricultural policy with an aim to exploring further funding with donors.
Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute's (TAFIRI) gender-balanced team will be trained creating in-country infrastructure enhancing national capability for tilapia identification and capacity to use robust DNA monitoring methods for detecting the small-bodied invasive species.
The whole population's food supply will benefit as sustainable Aquaculture expansion is central to Tanzania. The population will increase from 53 million in 2015 to 138 million by 2050 (UN 2017), and smallholders restocking aquaculture ponds will supply sustainable fish protein to the growing population.


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Description Project 1- SAFER prepared
We have not yet reached the stage to deliver outcomes, however, we have completed the inventory of structural typologies of schools in Malawi in collaboration with the World Bank which has a similar initiative in this country. The next stage is to develop seismic hazard maps and assess the vulnerability of school buildings in Malawi to be integrated in the Mobile App for quick visual inspection of structural health. We have also initiated our work for assessing the resilience of educational communities in Malawi and the East African region, which will then further inform the database.

Project 2- Mobile App development for drought adaptation in drylands (MAD DAD)
The project has only just got underway, so there are no findings yet. We are in the planning and development phase of the community-based questionnaires, and in the development phase of background data for the mobile app. The community-based research in Kenya will inform the team of the user information needs with respect to climate adaptation and of the potential design of an app that meets user needs.

Project 3- Environmental DNA surveillance for improved aquaculture production
The project is in the early stages. The methods for detecting the invasive tilapia have been optimised, which has been challenging because of the genomic similarity between tilapia species. We have provided training in sampling and analytical methods. The next stages of the project are to sample aquaculture ponds, assay those samples, and quantify actions resulting from feedback provided to farmers.
Exploitation Route See text above.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Construction,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Environment

Title Testing for the presence of harmful species in aquaculture using environmental DNA methods 
Description We have developed methods for the identification of tilapia species in aquaculture ponds in East Africa. The method involves the collection and extraction of DNA, removal of PCR inhibitors, and the amplification of species-specific mitochondrial DNA fragments. We are now able to confirm the presence of the three main species found in Eastern Tanzania, namely Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), Wami tilapia (Oreochromis urolepis) and blue-lipped tilapia (Oreochromis leucostictus). 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The project will implement the method during 2020 to screen aquaculture ponds in Tanzania. 
Description Bristol University and Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute 
Organisation Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute
Country Tanzania, United Republic of 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Bristol University is collaborating with the Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute (TAFIRI) to share methodological developments in the diagnosis of the species composition of aquaculture ponds in Tanzania. We are providing training in sampling environmental DNA from aquaculture ponds, the extraction of the DNA and the testing of the species composition. This enables the identification of small-bodied species that compromise aquaculture production.
Collaborator Contribution Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute (TAFIRI) bring core knowledge of the aquaculture industry in Tanzania, and the specific locations of aquaculture ponds. They have the necessary permits and contacts to enable testing of the ponds, and the required infrastructure needed for field sampling and laboratory analyses. They also provide the leadership required to manage technical staff and disseminate results to farmers and governmental policy markers.
Impact Although Bristol and TAFIRI have collaborated since 2011, this project is an extension of the collaboration. We have a track record of publication with TAFIRI, currently standing at over 15 scientific papers.
Start Year 2011
Description Link with The World Bank 
Organisation World Bank Group
Department World Bank Institute
Country United States 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We have extended our collaboration with the World Bank and our aim is now to: (a) make use of data collected by the WB in terms of school typologies and earthquake damage worldwide, (b) process WB data to produce obesrvational fragilities for schools in Nepal (Project SAFER) and Malawi (Project SAFER-PREPARED) and (c) create links to our research findings in the World Bank Global Database for Schools (GLOSI).
Collaborator Contribution The World Bank provide data which can be analysed and used to further the project aims.
Impact ongoing
Start Year 2019
Description MAD DAD collaborations 
Organisation University of Nairobi
Country Kenya 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We are collaborating with colleagues in the School of Computing and Informatics at the University of Nairobi to co-design and develop a mobile phone app that aids in climate adaptation in rural, dryland agro-pastoral communities in Kenya. We contribute expertise in human-computer interactions (HCI), dryland hydro-climatology and app development. We are collaborating to work together in rural communities to better understand user information needs in the context of climate adaptation.
Collaborator Contribution Our partners at the University of Nairobi are contributing expertise in ICT for development and community-based research. They have carried out prior research on the use of technology in climate adaptation within rural Kenyan communities and have experience with local contexts and user information needs.
Impact The project only commenced (officially) in October, but it has taken several months to get contracts in place and commence the work. The project is just getting underway, therefore, we have no outputs or outcomes yet. This is a multi-disciplinary collaboration between computer scientists and dryland hydro-climatologists.
Start Year 2019
Description PREPARE project 
Organisation University of Bristol
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Organised meetings with the EPSRC funded GCRF project PREPARE, which is lead by colleagues at the University of Bristol. Shared knowledge, informed and updated about research outcomes at various points. Collaborated together to prepare the Translational Award to increase impact of the web app developed through the SAFER project.
Collaborator Contribution Shared knowledge, informed and updated about research outcomes at various points. Collaborated together to prepare the Translational Award to increase impact of the web app developed through the SAFER project.
Impact Successful application for Translational award which will allow for further development of the SAFER app with the aim for it to rolled out in an alternative context in this case, Malawi.
Start Year 2018
Title IP Agreement with the World Bank 
Description This is a Memorandum of Understanding covering legal issues of Intelectual Property in terms of using data provided by the World Bank or produced by the University of Bristol by using these data. 
IP Reference  
Protection Copyrighted (e.g. software)
Year Protection Granted 2018
Licensed No
Impact This has facilitated the collaboration between the University of Bristol and the World Bank and has seamlessly led to joint publications, papers, presentations and report.
Description Joint workshop between PREPARE and SAFER 21 January 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Joint workshop between two EPSRC GCRF projects lead at University of Bristol. Members form the SAFER team met with the PREPARE project Advisory Board.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020