Day 6 – A time to reflect

Potatos sold in Zomba areaThe workshop finished today and the energy levels were in decline. With such a brilliant team, this did not stop us making important progress but it does show that everyone has their own “tipping point” for productivity. As it is usually the case, loose ends needed addressing and immediate actions identified. Sosten showed us some excellent examples of dissemination of his other projects, and I am bringing one of these, a calendar, home with me for my office! Our team in Malawi has so much to offer and there will be much South-North transfer of knowledge and expertise. Sosten Chiotha told me how he spoke at Chatham house on climate change alongside David Milliband – the secretary of state for the Environment at the time. Its so assuring that the right people are attending such events and contributing the need for evidence based decision and policy making.

The role our project could play in providing the crucial evidence needed for policy and decision-making generated a lively discussion, despite of everyone’s tiredness. Concepts like Theory of Change are not to everyone’s liking, but the potential for our research to make a difference beyond fellow academics captured the teams enthusiasm and I or one, very much hope that we can deliver world class research which will provide the evidence which could help shape policy and inform sustainable behavioral patterns. The ethics session earlier in the week highlighted that knowledge which might be useful to people did make studying people ethical, but my own personal ethical code hopes that our project will go one step further and allow some knowledge to be translated into use.

Carolina Navarrete Frias from Colombia discussing about cassava varitiesDuring the afternoon, people went separate ways to maximize their last few hours in Malawi. A large group went up onto the plateau looking for “A lost village” in the forest – a useful additional site situated right in the forest, but they discovered it was as the Forest Department had said, not an authentic or useful community for our studies as it was very dependent on income from outside the community.  I had some business to complete, including meeting the principal of the college. He has helped the project by creating the very first research fellowship for a lecturer, Dalitso Kafumbata, which means he can do a postdoctoral fellowship at home rather than going overseas for such an opportunity. Not only will Dalitso’s career hopefully really benefit from this opportunity, but the ASSETS project has a high quality multidisciplinary scientist on the ground in Zomba. Hopefully this is important capacity building as it does keep a high quality scientist in Malawi, who can also retain his lectureship at Chancellor College. Always good to meet principals and vice chancellors willing to rewrite the rule book to allow opportunities to be taken.

As I write this blog sitting in the departure lounge at Blantyre, my journey comes to an end. I left Zomba with a huge tract of forest ablaze- deforestation happening in front of my eyes. The arson cannot be controlled by the forestry department as there are no helicopters or other means to put out the fire on the steep slopes. The forest is crucial to all aspects of life in this area, and population increase and climate change are the drivers/pressures our project needs to address – no easy answers and challenging in so many ways. I am excited about this project in a way no previous research has ever made me feel, but I’m also worried – worried its to late for us to potentially make a difference and worried we will not deliver the evidence base which can have impact in so many ways. Rest assured though, ASSSETS will be at the forefront of my mind over the next four years.

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