GCRF - Building REearch Capacity for sustainable water and food security In drylands of sub-saharan Africa (BRECcIA)"

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: School of Geography


The overall aim of this proposal is to develop research capacity and strengthen existing research capabilities in three sub-Saharan countries (Kenya, Malawi, and Ghana) in the related areas of water and food security. Climate variability has an enormous impact on livelihoods across much of SSA, where rain-fed agricultural production characterizes local subsistence and is the mainstay of most national economies. Coupled with rising demand from growing populations, urbanization, and rising incomes, climate change is projected to lead to cuts in GDP of up to 6%, setting the stage for migration and conflict. For these reasons, water security is considered one of the top global risks to development. Water security is also fundamental to attaining many of the Sustainable Development Goals, being a constraint on meeting a range of challenges including food security, access to clean water, and resilience to hydrological hazards. At the same time, attaining food security is a priority of national policy in SSA countries and is a key building block of development.

The reasons for insufficient progress in attaining water and food security are complex, but requires fine-scale, locally relevant research and solutions that are best developed and tested by local researchers and practitioners. Although capacity to carry out research in this area in SSA countries is variable, there are a number of fundamental gaps in the required skills and resources. To address these, our project will develop and implement a comprehensive and flexible programme of activities aimed at strengthening research capacity between the UK and SSA countries while addressing the grand challenges around water and food security. We will develop a pipeline of activities that is guided by a set of key research questions and implemented in the context of a collaborative network of researchers and practitioners that can sustain and propagate capacity and knowledge more broadly.

Our focus is on three countries in SSA: Kenya, Malawi, and Ghana. These are representative of different geographical, climate, socio-economic, cultural and institutional settings and challenges that will allow for comparative research and exchange of ideas, and the development of a richer collaborative network. These countries are also where we have complementary, ongoing university-level research projects and collaborations focused on various aspects of water/food security with institutions at different levels of capacity development. The programme of capacity building activities will be tailored to each institution and its goals through a process of co-evaluation of needs, co-development of activities and co-implementation, including south-south capacity building and knowledge exchange.

Planned Impact

BRECcIA will deliver impact through a programme of capacity development, capability enhancement, partnership building and targeted research in sustainable water and food security. It will engage with stakeholders, including community level, national and regional bodies. BRECcIA will target research to the most vulnerable ultimate beneficiaries living under the poverty line. Analysis of these vulnerabilities and risks will focus the research towards the needs of their arid and semi-arid land livelihoods and ecosystem services. It will also assess the governance and institutional support required to understand and integrate complex relationships into adaptation, planning and policy development.

We will carry out a stocktaking and gap analysis with project partners to identify specific requirements and opportunities across a wide group of individuals and institutions. We will directly reach researchers, managers and professional support staff in five academic institutions in three countries and in three regional centres, with programmes to extend this to a broader audience. A programme of capacity development includes research skills across disciplines, and cross-disciplinary and integrative research via research workshops, researcher exchanges, specific skills training, and summer schools. Capacity will be targeted from early career researchers to PI level. Capacity development will also address professional infrastructure through a research development framework that seeks to support individual researchers, institutional research strategy, management and support services. We aim to enhance transfer between organisations via UK-south capacity development activities and through south-south training and knowledge transfer.

Stakeholder organisations at sub-national, national, regional and international levels will be 'co-mapped' and their requirements and ability to make use of research outputs co-assessed within an inception stage during country-specific and regional workshops. National and regional workshops will be held to engage with key stakeholders, to understand the decision making process and to tailor research requirements and outputs to address key challenges. A Theory of Change will be agreed among the research collaborators and in consultation with stakeholders to resource/refine the programme of activities.

A Science Advisory Board will be convened to support research project selection, critical assessment of project outcomes, and monitoring. The project will capitalise on existing relationships with regional networks and intergovernmental organisations across water, agro-ecological and agricultural sectors with remits that match many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We will work with four regional / international Networks to provide a focus for regional transferability across water and agricultural research, and sustainable development challenges.

Project research outputs will be presented to industry via the British Science Festival and other Knowledge Transfer (KTN) events. We will draw from University of Southampton and other innovation and entrepreneurship resources to facilitate development and commercialization of technologies relevant to improving water and food security. An Industry Advisory Board will be appointed and we will carry out "Industry Workshops" to coincide with regional workshops in Africa.

Outreach and Dissemination will be achieved through a set of activities showcasing planned project developments and new partnerships and opportunities (particularly in the UK) to further develop and transfer knowledge created, and for stakeholders to provide feedback and context. We will provide a legacy of cross-disciplinary and cross-organisation capacity building which will provide a self-sustaining network of north-south researchers and a framework that enables international collaborative partnerships.


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