Booming with Confidence – the GOFC 2015 Data Initiative

GOFC satelite 2 cropped

Nine fellows from Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Bulgaria, South Africa, Togo, India, Nepal, and Madagascar attended this year’s GOFC-GOLD Data Initiative Advanced Training from July 20 to August 8, 2015 in the United States.  Each participant has their own unique story of what the training meant to them.  One of the participants, Godfrey Pachavo, reports that “today I boom with confidence due to the knowledge they imparted on me.”  You can read more about Godfrey’s journey below.

The first week of the training took place at the USGS EROS Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota where the participants received advanced training on data management and archiving practices.  They learned how to access, download, and compile pertinent regionalGOFC training class_cropped and country-level data sets on land cover, land use, and fire observations.  Fellows then headed to Boston University to get advanced training on use of relevant software for data processing and application.

Each participant received fully functional and open-source software for processing Earth observations data, which would allow them and (their colleagues back home) to employ recent advancements in remote sensing analyses without spending large amounts of money on proprietary software. Back in their home regions, these GOFC-GOLD fellows will distribute their acquired data, software and skills and provide training to their colleagues.


“Before and After” with Godfrey Pachavo

Godfrey Pachavo gained both his BSc and MPhil degrees from the University of Zimbabwe. His research interests include earth observation science and spatial ecology, where he produced research output on net primary productivity modelling and its distribution patterns in relation to land use/tenure and biomass assessment for thermal power generation. He is a Research Associate in the Geo-information and Remote Sensing Institute (GRSI) of the Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Centre (SIRDC).

Before the training, Godfrey said “I want to understand the USGS EO data server (EarthExplorer) in order to effectively utilise its EO products when back home. I expect to gain capacity especially on Image processing methods for biomass and biodiversity monitoring applications.”

Afterwards, he reportedThe experience I had in Sioux Falls and Boston is one of the best I ever had in my life time. The two sessions were well organised and packaged with quality detail useful to forestry and land use/cover research studies in our countries.

The first session at the USGS EROS Center in Sioux Falls enlightened me so much on the freely available data from the USGS and how to fully access the different datasets using different web sites. This session also gave us an insight on how to manage large data sets and archiving practices even when back at our institutions. The tour of the Centre made us appreciate how other scientists have worked hard to make the world a better place for the scientists of this generation. The hands-on experience of downloading different datasets from different websites with the help of USGS Team was also of great help. All the USGS Team was very welcoming and supportive during our stay in Sioux Falls. Special mention goes to Anya, Charlie, and Dr. Loveland. I really enjoyed every minute of my stay in Sioux Falls and the Barbecue and the excursion too.

The second session at the Department of Earth and Environment, Boston University provided us with great deal of essential skills on the analysis and application of earth observation data for research and management of forest and land cover dynamics. This session was divided into theory and practical sessions for each day. The theory gave us a detailed insight of major remote sensing aspects. Also the presentation of scientific papers published in high impact journals provided us the opportunity to understand some of those applications and concepts, which we deemed complicated and difficult to replicate. The practical sessions in new open source software gave us the hands on experience of applying certain algorithms for our studies. I learnt quite a lot of remote sensing aspects during this session including multi-date change detection and accuracy assessment. For me, I had always thought the Kappa statistic was enough yet it’s very weak for accuracy assessment. I would like to thank the Boston Team for the amazing package they gave us and for organising a Barbecue for us. Special mention goes to Prof. Curtis Woodcock, Prof. Pontus Olofsson, Christopher and Eric. Today I boom with confidence due to the knowledge they imparted on me. Special mention also goes to Senay for making sure all our needs and logistics including the hard drives were met and the USGS and START for the funding.

Sitting at the Table Together

Good meals are better when shared.  Identifying and solving the challenges of urban agriculture requires bringing diverse groups of people to sit down at the table together and “meal plan” for the future.


UPA - IndiaSTART recently partnered with UNEP, the WMO, and organizations from throughout Africa and South Asia to undertake a nine-city assessment of urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA) across Africa and South Asia. The assessment teams examined key environmental and governance dimensions of UPA in order to advance understanding of how increasing urban pressures on land and water resources, and intensifying climate risks, are undermining the resilience of UPA in the face of rapid urban development. The UPA assessments help to advance understanding of how urban planning can better accommodate food production in and around cities.

Click here to download the assessment reports and a summary article.

The assessment teams prioritized engagement with key decision making groups that have a stake in UPA, including the research community, urban planners, city government officials, NGOs and farmers.

UPA - senegalThe engagement process began through city inception meetings that garnered input from diverse stakeholder groups regarding city-specific decision making priorities and knowledge needs, and continued throughout the assessment with periodic stakeholder forums. Engaging stakeholders repeatedly throughout the assessments will allow these reports to have a positive impact on decision making.

Below is the story of Dr. Ibidun Adelekan from the Ibadan, Nigeria Team.  Her personal experience highlights how stakeholder engagement was foundational to the project.




Outreach in Ibadan: Promoting Stakeholder Engagement in Urban Agriculture Assessments


ibidun_adelekanDr. Ibidun Adelekan (photo left) helped lead the Ibadan, Nigeria Team’s assessment effort.  Her team had a strong link into policy that began at the kick-off meeting with a lively exchange of ideas amongst different stakeholder groups including city government officials, the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Environment and Water resources, the Oyo state urban and regional planning board, Oyo state Agricultural Development Programme, local government authorities, research institutions, and farmers representing vegetable, rice, maize, cassava, poultry and small livestock.

The link into city policy was further advanced by including a city government official, Mr. Adedayo Ayorinde from the Ibadan Urban Regional Planning Board, as an author in the assessment. Having a government connection on the team allowed the team to relay recommendations from the assessment to city officials. Mr. Ayorinde’s involvement in the assessment has made him a much more knowledgeable resource person to interface with city officials around agriculture, land-use change, flooding and climate. He is now the project coordinator of the World Bank-funded Ibadan Urban Flood Management Project.

The efforts of the Ibadan Team also helped a young researcher, Ms. Betty Adegebo, who served as a student research assistant for the UPA assessment. Ms. Adegebo was able to parlay her experience in the assessment into a fellowship with the American Association of Geographers under the MyCOE/SERVIR 2013 Initiative in West Africa where she studied the ‘Effect of rainfall variation and extreme rainfall events on cassava production and processing activities in Ibadan, South West Nigeria’. Her work with women processors of cassava identified alternative sources of water for cassava processing so that they don’t have to be situated so close to rivers where they face high risks of floods damaging their business assets and livelihoods. Ms. Adegebo has given city officials better understanding of how to work with women involved in Ibadan’s vibrant urban agriculture sector.

Introducing the regional diagnostic study for West Africa

START is pleased to announce the release of a regional study on climate change in West Africa. This study is in support of the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Region (ASSAR) project funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) through the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA).The study was undertaken through a partnership between START, the Institute for Environment and Sanitation Studies (IESS) at the University of Ghana, and the International Centre for Research in the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Bamako, Mali. It aims to develop a systematic understanding of existing knowledge of climate change trends, impacts, vulnerabilities, and adaptation strategies, as well as to identify important barriers to and enablers of effective adaptation in the West Africa drylands.

This study report represents the initial step in ASSAR West Africa’s efforts to understand and unpack the complexities of vulnerability and adaptation within a dynamic development context that includes population and demographic change, urbanization, land-use change, and advancing communication technologies. The approach taken by the West Africa team in developing this study will set the stage for in-depth research to begin in mid-2015. The study provides:

  • A description of the major socio-economic, governmental and environmental characteristics as they relate to the region’s extensive dryland areas.
  • Regional analysis of climate trends and projections.
  • Exploration of how important development dynamics interact with climate variability and change to amplify vulnerabilities in this region.
  • Examination of key gender and governance dimensions of vulnerability and adaptation.
  • Elaboration of how current risk management practices in agriculture link to climate change adaptation.
  • Synthesis of important barriers and enablers of adaptation and identification of knowledge gaps and needs with respect to adaptation planning.
ASSAR report cover - summary
ASSAR report cover - full report

New microsites are up! Six research teams unveil their work on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in South Asia

We are excited to announce that six research projects supported by START and the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) have been completed and are on display through a series of microsites. Within the sites, you can explore different facets of the projects by clicking on modules to access project reports, policy briefs, academic papers, case studies, workshops and trainings, blog pieces, films, and posters.

Our South Asia grants program provides the means for scientists from different backgrounds and levels of career development to come together to engage in collaborative, transdisciplinary research. Together the scientists can thoroughly investigate the intstitutions and stakeholders of disaster-prone regions across South Asia in order to identify the policies that are needed for resilient development. The six teams that participated in this program come from environmental and social development organizations in Nepal, Pakistan, and India. Their projects range from developing disaster risk management plans to identifying infrastructural needs and investigating ways to strengthen regional institutions.


Click on a link below to go to the microsite.

The Catalyst Of Change

Mainstreaming DRR & CCA Into Development Planning In Gorakhpur

Getting Climate Smart For Disasters

Koshi At The Face Of A Changing Climate

Mainstreaming DRR & CCA In The Indus Ecoregion

Linking DRR, CCA & Sustainable Landscape Development Goals in the Eastern Himalayas

We will miss you, Skip!

Skip Kauffman, long time START Staff member, retired at the end of January. Skip began working at START in 2006 and has been integral to the implementation of the GEC Grants in Africa Program and the GOFC-GOLD Training program. Skip enjoyed working on the Calls for Proposals, the review panels and as the main grants administrator for the Primary Investigators, following through on the contract process, finances and the technical reporting.

Here are what a few START Alumni and Staff shared about working with Skip:

Dear Skip: My profound regards for your great service to the START and GOFC community. Working with you is one of the best professional experiences in my career. I learned a lot from you. Your absence will be felt; I will miss you. May you fare well. Regards, Krishna Vadrevu, USA I got this joke from Skip in May 2008 and a few others from “assumed” conversation with an auditor when he was about to wire my grant: “Well, you send money to such dreadful places. Who knows. They might just run off to the casino as soon as they get the check.” I wish him a happy retirement after many years of service to researchers. – Dr. Stephen RUCINA, Kenya
I consider my personal interaction with Skip Kauffman as a rare privilege. Meeting him in person in Ghana in November 2012 was the height of it all. Skip exudes compassion, generosity and humility. He is an individual who’s always quick to recognize and praise excellence. I’m sure the START family will miss him! May you walk and never stumble at the gate of success, Skip! – Oluwatoyin Dare Kolawole, Botswana My submission towards Skip can be summarized by comments from Mr. Mubarak, the START de facto taxi driver. The first time Mr. Mubarak picked me from the airport, he regaled me with his deep knowledge of START. His comment on Skip was “… as for Skip, he is a gentleman, he is a very nice man.” Of course I could have misheard and he meant ” a gentle man” either way I think this sums Skip up completely. All the best to Skip on his retirement. – Chris Gordon, Ghana
Dear Skip: It is amazing that you should be retiring so soon after knowing you for only a short (six years) time. I do remember your huge support for the African Oceanographic Community when we floated the idea of doing some research with START sponsorship. Among colleagues and friends in Africa, you have a special place in our heart and we are going to miss you. Remember that even if you are retiring, that doesn’t mean that we have to stop enquiring about the best ways of interacting with START and other programs. I am hoping to still meet you at a meeting, seminar or a conference in the very near future. See you at the next coffee break! Congratulations! – Regina Folorunsho, Nigeria Skip will be dearly missed in the START family and climate professional world. His genuine concern, wit and humour were second to none. I remember an incident in Dakar, Senegal one evening when about 30 of us (ACCFPers) went into town to buy souvenirs and artifacts. We had just disembarked from the bus when the electricity went out throughout the city; must have been load shedding. So there we were standing in the dark wondering what to do and starting to fumble our way around. Throughout the ordeal Skip repeatedly called out Chipo, Madaka and I’s names and wanted to know where we were and if we were ok until we got to the bus. We all (including Skip) were of course in stitches by the time we got onto the bus and back to the hotel. The three of us ALWAYS remind each other of that story because Skip CARED/S.” – Mzime Ndebele-Murisa, Zimbabwe
Working with you has been very fun and educational to me – THANK YOU! Thank you also for showing me how to breathe properly … and for teaching me many cool words: Gobbledygook, Schadenfreude, La-di-da … and a couple of other words that I’d rather not repeat here. Best wishes on your new chapter. Farewell – I will really miss you. Senay Habtezion, Fellow STARTer I remember Skip very well with his brown khaki bag! Whenever you see him holding the bag close to himself, you are reassured that your DSA is safe. But more importantly Skip almost turned everyone to accountant. You just must balance your books!! – Felix Olorunfemi, Nigeria

Skip has great plans for his retirement: Two new grandsons came into our family during 2014! Frank was born in May and Henry was born in November. After retirement, I look forward to being there for them. My wife and I bought a house in Durham, North Carolina, which is a small city and a college town in a warmer climate. I look forward to developing a garden and adding new landscape around the house. Even though Washington is a wonderful city, and has been my home for much of my adult life, I am looking forward to living in a place with a slower pace of living.

Everyone will miss his friendship, attention to detail, excellence in program management, and wry sense of humor.

Understanding the Lima Outcome

farrukh-headshotFarrukh Zaman is the Policy Officer at WWF-Pakistan, where he is part of the Climate Change team. Farrukh was a Co-PI under a CDKN-START sponsored grant on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in South Asia. At COP20, Farrukh was assisting Pakistan delegation on climate finance and adaptation issues

The general atmosphere leading up to the Lima climate talks was positively favourable. The political momentum created by the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit earlier this year, the initial resource mobilization of the Green Climate Fund, and bilateral agreements between countries like USA and China for greater domestic actions to cut down their GHG emissions made many pundits anticipate an ambitious outcome at COP20 in Lima.

As these positive developments were taking place, the scientific community also issued its warnings to the leaders about the impeding climatic catastrophes if they failed to keep the world below a 2 degrees trajectory; also, urging the negotiators to find an urgent solution to the climate problem in Lima. In this respect, two reports, the UNEP Emissions Gap report and the World Bank Turn Down the Heat report, highlighted how current efforts to limit greenhouse emissions had already fallen short of what the science demanded and why urgent action was needed.

However, these instances failed to inspire negotiators to bring forth an ambitious deal in Lima that would form the basis for a global agreement to be signed in Paris next year. After 33 hours of additional negotiations (almost a norm now at these talks), a deal was finally reached with many important decisions left for countries to pick up next year in Paris, leaving the impression that the prospects of reaching an agreement in Paris would be even more difficult, if not impossible.

On many fronts, decisions at COP20 or the Lima Call to Climate Action, as it is called, failed to meet the expectations of many countries and observers. For example, despite being recognized as a necessary mechanism for the most vulnerable countries to cope with climate related disasters, COP20 could not deliver a successful decision on loss and damage. While the possibility to resume talks on this issue is kept open in the final decision text, however, many see this as backtracking by developed countries on their previous commitments and widening the trust deficit between developed and developing world further. Similarly, despite a successful initial resource mobilization phase of the Green Climate Fund (mobilizing a total of USD 10 billion), countries were unable to agree on a clear strategy on how to scale up climate finance and meet the annual target of mobilizing USD 100 billion by 2020.

Yet, the most disappointing outcome of the Lima talks was perhaps the uncertainty that was reflected in the final decision relating countries’ intended nationally determined contributions or INDCs. In Warsaw, during COP19, all countries agreed to put forward their pledges by March 2015 that would be reviewed by UNFCCC and shape the 2015 agreement. What could have been a robust process to make countries commit to ambitious mitigation targets has now been downgraded to such a low level that whatever countries will put up front next year will be entirely voluntary and may not be ambitious at all. Also, considering that there are only few, if any, rules relating INDCs, it is likely that a diverse range of information will be presented with little common elements. A lack of clarity on the content of INDCs will have implications for their complete implementation and compliance.

Critics called it a “half-baked plan to cut emissions” with many expressing their resentment towards the inability of UNFCCC of producing a fair, ambitious agreement so far. Many even questioned if UNFCCC is the right forum to address climate change issues for it is inherently a political process that has failed to act according to what the science demands. This was apparent in the discussions that happened in a side event on “Building a common resilience approach through 2015 and beyond” organized by Climate & Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) that I took part in. Planned as an informal dialogue between government officials, development practitioners, donors, and UN agencies on resilience in context of climate change, it discussed the possibility of solving climate crisis through parallel UN processes such as the sustainable development goals and post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction.

As another COP comes to end with no major breakthroughs on limiting global climate change, let’s remind ourselves about the impacts climate change continue to pose upon millions of people around the world. In South Asia, for example, climate change is responsible for affecting the lives and livelihoods of communities dependent on ecosystems through increased frequency of natural hazards and disasters. A global agreement on controlling dangerous climate change, therefore, becomes even more important for millions of poor people around the world. And as we enter 2015, when major international agreements on climate change will be finalized, let’s remember that it would require unprecedented global efforts to avert the climate crises through to the Paris conference and beyond.

From the START family to yours, have your self-ie a happy new year!


Top Ten START Highlights of 2014

10. START built Human Resource capacity as Clark Seipt's family added baby #3 (Hannah) and Skip Kauffman's family welcomed two grandchildren (Frank and Henry).
9. START and partners launched the new Pan-Asia Risk Reduction (PARR) Fellowship Program with 13 Fellows from seven countries representing policy, practice, and science.
8. Sarah Schweizer defended her dissertation proposal and became a doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado.
7. START started building new bridges between science and policy/governance communities with its workshop on "The Role of Earth Observations in Environmental Policy Support – Africa”
6. START welcomed Shayne Piltz as the newest START staff member and Ghassem Asrar and A.H. Zakri as its newest Board members.
5. START organized and facilitated a culminating Learning Forum for six South Asia research grants and has produced a manuscript resulting from a synthesis of the project.
4. Katie Dietrich taught MSc classes on climate change and sustainable development and helped train over 40 young faculty in academic writing during her visit to University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania). 
3. START is teaming up with West African partners to initiate the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR) project under the IDRC-DFID supported CARIAA initiative.
2. START collaborated with the ACCFP Secretariat at University of Dar Es Salaam to announce 30 new Fellowships under the African Climate Change Fellowship Program (ACCFP).  (This Call is still open!)
1. START organized, facilitated or presented at 32 research and learning events in 18 different countries during 2014!

‘Out of my box’: Reflections of an ASSAR Fellow

ASSAR Fellow Edmond Totin, scientist at ICRISAT-Mali, shares his excitement for new experiences and ways of thinking in the first year of the ASSAR (Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions) project. START is a partner in the project and the regional coordinator for the West Africa team.

edmond_1As a young scientist in the fields of rural sociology and climate change, I came across the ASSAR project, almost accidentally. I was working on the ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute in Semi-Arid Tropics) CCAFS (Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security) Flagship 4 project that aims at capacity building of stakeholders and creating spaces for interaction and knowledge sharing to enact equitable food system policies. It happened that the leader of the CCAFS/FS4 is also part of ASSAR (Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions) project and he introduced me to the club! I can say today that was a good accident for me, a very good one!

I found many linkages between the CCAFS/FS4 and ASSAR project, which core research objective is to develop robust evidence on the factors that will enable sustained and widespread climate adaptation that improves the well-being of the most vulnerable in Semi-Arid Regions. I found that ASSAR can make life easier for the CCAFS team by providing irrefutable and strong evidences to convince policy-makers that we cannot deny the reality of climate change, and there is a need to take quick and effective actions. Clearly, ASSAR will offer arguments to make my job easier.


Edmond (in green) working with ASSAR team members during project meeting in Bangalore, October 2014

Another linkage point between the two projects relates to the use of the ‘scenario visioning’ or the ‘transformative scenarios planning (TSP)’ to explore suitable adaptation options with the community, at the local levels. For me, the use of such a tool will give the opportunity to people, at the local scale, those who the most exposed to climate change manifestation, to be heard and participate in the planning and the design of climate vulnerability and adaptation policies.

One of the main critics of the policies is that they are often designed by actors sitting at a higher level, without sufficient concentration or any connection with the local community who is the most experiencing the climate change effects. Often, these policies are not applicable because they are out-of the reality that exists in the ground. The new fashion introduced by ASSAR will certainly help to bridge the gaps between the designed policy and the reality that people are dealing with, but also help to reduce the gaps between the scales.

As far as I am concerned, the ASSAR project will offer to me the opportunity the work ‘out-of my box’, interacting with researchers from different backgrounds and expertise. I will have the chance to learn from their experiences, and see how non-social scientists also see the world! I wish to have an enjoyable trip on the ASSAR train, for the coming four exciting years!

Giving Thanks by Giving Back: The Story of Mayowa Fasona

 Here in the United States, November is a time for thankful reflection. Next week the START Secretariat staff will gather with our families to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. And this week we’d like to celebrate with you, our START family. Each day this week, we’ll feature a different START program participant to say thank you for what START alumni are doing to help our planet thrive.

During this season of giving, we invite you to join your START colleagues and friends and give a donation during “Giving Back 2014” to enable our work at START to continue.


Our final alumni story below features Dr. Mayowa Fasona, who has been an active START alumnus for the past decade. Mayowa is currently a climate researcher and professor, teaching courses in Remote Sensing and GIS applications, Natural Resource Management and Environmental Change. In his own words, Mayowa describes his experience with START and what makes START unique:

FasonaMy first engagement with START came in 2004 when I received a travel grant from the Pan-African START Secretariat (PASS), then based at the University of Nairobi, to attend the Pan-Africa PAGES/START/INQUA workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. That marks a turning point because it was my first meeting attendance outside Nigeria. Again in 2006, I was invited to the START sponsored meeting on ecosystems changes and implications on livelihoods of rural communities, hosted by the Institute for Resource Assessment (IRA) of the University of Dar es Salaam. Again this meeting turned out to be very relevant and topical for me because I was at a crucial stage on my PhD thesis on land degradation and environmental change in a densely settled coastal rural landscape.

In 2009 I was selected as one of the pioneer postdoctoral fellows for the African Climate Change Fellowship Program (ACCFP). I carried out my research at the Climate Systems Analysis Group (CSAG), a START center of excellence in climate research, based in the University of Cape Town in South Africa. There I began to cut my own niche through interactions with climate scientists which are rated among some of the best around the world. I also learned the art of working with scientists from varied disciplines.

Since then I have had more engagements with START. I was the principal investigator of a research team that was awarded one of the GEC Research in Africa Projects in 2011-2013. I was also a co-investigator on another team that was awarded one of the GEC Research in Africa projects in 2012-2013. Now I have research partners that spread across the physical and social sciences and across a number of major research institutions in Nigeria and beyond.

FasonaI became engaged with START at the very right time, at the formative stage of my career. So the various experiences substantially influenced my career and research focus. For example, one of the core areas of my research is climate-ecosystems interactions. Experiences learnt from physical and social scientists across different backgrounds through START organized gatherings enabled me to develop greater confidence in the area of integrating the biophysical and social components. I have also developed stronger ability for teamwork. A number of my local research team members are START alumni who are united by the common goal to advance socio-ecological research.

One of the unique assets of START is the ability to engage in follow-up. It is good to ask a young scientist to work with a more experienced researcher so that he could be mentored. But to continue to check-up on the young scientist even after the engagement with the mentor has stopped is unique. To continue to ask a young scientist how he is faring long after a project or training has finished is unique. This personal touch makes the young scientist to develop more confidence in himself and believe in what he is doing. This has meant much to me.

I would like to keep the interaction with START going through both formal and informal channels—participate in organized meetings and key-in into the network. START alumni are everywhere now. So I look forward to a time when we will begin to have START alumni gatherings at regional and national clusters like other organizations such as the Fulbright Fellows and Ford and Rockefeller Foundations Fellows. This will surely strengthen the START network.

We are thankful for Mayowa Fasona’s career growth and contribution to GEC research in Africa, and most especially for his help and friendship with START staff and alumni throughout the years.

The Story of Lucie Cervana

Lucie Cervena (left) with a fellow researcher gathering forest data in the Czech Republic.

Lucie Cervena is an early-career climate scientist in the Czech Republic and one of our newest START alumni, having just participated in the 2014 Global Observation of Forest Cover and Land Dynamics (GOFC-GOLD) data initiative. She and seven other fellows traveled to the United States for three weeks to receive training on remote sensing analysis. Then they traveled back to their home countries with new skills, knowledge, and large sets of satellite data to help aid in their work.

Lucie is a Lecturer and Researcher at Charles University in Prague. In her research, she uses remote sensing of land cover and vegetation to determine the health status of grasslands and spruce stands in the Krkonose Mountains National Park. She was familiar with most of the computer software used at the GOFC-GOLD training, but reported that, “still there was new information for me – like the possibility of bulk download or existence of Climate Data Records (including surface reflectance product). Also the overview of the free digital elevation models was helpful for me.” Upon completion of the training, Lucie had planned to use the new knowledge in her research and teaching. Here’s what she had to say on the last day of training…

My first activities when I return to Charles University will be to give a short course to my fellow faculty members about Landsat and Land Cover Change Detection. Then I will develop a course for students with a focus on Landsat data characteristics, as well as the process for obtaining and interpreting the freely-available USGS/ EROS maps that document changes in land cover. I will update the curriculum of an undergraduate academic course on Remote Sensing based on the information that I learned at the Data Initiative Workshops.

I will also use the data and knowledge to prepare suggestions for new topics for Bachelor’s theses, which will be focused on nature protection in cooperation with Czech National Park Administration.

Lucie_2Since returning home to the Czech Republic, Lucie is happy to report that she and her colleagues have met these goals and are also working on the following two articles: (1) laboratory spectroscopy and the Norway spruce needles, and (2) different grassland species classifications based on different types of data in a model that includes the “new” accuracy assessment and area estimations which she learned at the GOFC-GOLD training.

Lucie had the following insights about her START experience after returning home:

The stay at Boston University made me understand more of all the problems and advanced techniques joined with Landsat data classifications and performance of change detection maps. The training gave me a lot of ideas how to improve the teaching of remote sensing class and knowledge which I can use in the projects related to my dissertation thesis.

We are delighted to help early-career teachers and researchers like Lucie Cervena gain the skills and data they need to be effective in their careers and advance the next generation of climate science.

Meen Chhetri tackles disaster preparedness in Nepal and beyond

Dr. Meen Chhetri was already a distinguished researcher and practitioner when he first encountered START at the 2010 Nepal Science-Policy Dialogue. He continued his interactions with START at the 2012 Advanced Institute on Forensic Investigation of Disasters (FORIN) held in Taiwan. He described that event as “a wonderful opportunity for me to learn FORIN approach which I applied in my research work here in Nepal and I have been successful.” He says, “I do hope that the knowledge and experience gained at the FORIN will be helpful for me in my whole life time. I also hope that I will have future opportunities to collaborate with START.

MeenJust last month, Dr. Chhetri was awarded the “DPNet-Nepal Award 2014” from the Government of Nepal in recognition of his significant contribution in the field of Disaster Risk Reduction. This award was part of an International Disaster Risk Reduction Day Celebration organized by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Government of Nepal and Disaster Preparedness Network-Nepal. At present, Meen is also working as the consultant and resource person in a number of disaster management projects and programs in Nepal.

Meen is a decorated researcher, professor, public figure, and author on the topic of disaster risk management. He is currently the President of the Nepal Center for Disaster Management (NCDM), Chairman of Paper Review Committee of The International Emergency Management Society (TIEMS), Vice-Chairman of Himalaya Conservation Group-Nepal and Vice-Chairman of Nepal Association of Humphrey Fellows. He has also been an adjunct professor at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Brisbane, Australia and former Director of the Department of Disaster Management of the Government of Nepal. He has authored two books on agriculture and flood management in Nepal, as well as a number of articles in various national and international journals.

Meet Madaka Tumbo

madaka2In 2007, Madaka Tumbo was finishing her Master’s Degree at the Institute of Resource Assessment at the University of Dar Es Salaam (IRA-UDSM) in Tanzania when a friend suggested that she apply for an upcoming START Advanced Institute on the Vulnerability of Water. Madaka was accepted as one of 19 program scholars – and so began a fruitful engagement with START that continues to this day.

After completion of the Advanced Institute, Madaka competed for follow-on research funding from the International Foundation of Science (IFS). She was also selected to receive that funding and used it to build on research completed during her MS degree. Her path quickly intersected with START again when she was hired by IRA-UDSM in 2008 as the Program Officer for the newly initiated African Climate Change Fellowship Program (ACCFP). “It was through ACCFP that my engagement with START was most influential,” says Madaka, whose leadership role in ACCFP marked her first experience in managing international programs. As the ACCFP gained traction, Madaka became a full-time staff member of the Pan-African START Secretariat (PASS) where she took on responsibilities in more than 10 START programs from 2008 -2012.

madaka1Madaka’s network of START, and especially ACCFP, contacts continues to strengthen over time and has been very useful in her professional growth and development. Through ACCFP network member Babatunde Abiodun at the Climate System Analysis Group at the University of Cape Town (CSAG-UCT), Madaka was able to gain access to CORDEX data needed for her PhD research. “START connections are unique,” says Madaka. “Connections with START and fellow START alumni last much longer than any one engagement in a program or project. A fellowship or research grant might end, but that is not the end of your relationship with START. Being part of START is like being part of a family – and you meet START family members all over the world!”

Madaka is currently an Assistant Lecturer at IRA-UDSM, awaiting final committee approval of her PhD dissertation in Science (Hydrology) at the Institute for Water Research, Rhodes University in South Africa. We give thanks that Madaka is part of our START family – and for the many others out there who remained connected to us and each other.

The Story of Rodel Lasco

Dr. Rodel Lasco is a climate scientist who has pioneered research in the Philippines on climate change adaptation in the natural resources sector, the role of tropical forests in climate change, and the policy implications of the Kyoto Protocol. Rodel has a decade-long relationship with START, which he credits with some of his project leadership experience.


My first involvement with START was through the 2004 Assessments of Impacts and Adaptation to Climate Change (AIACC) research grant competition on climate change adaptation. We were blessed to be selected and I served as the Principal Investigator (PI) of that project which covered a number of countries in Southeast Asia. Our START project jump started my career in climate change adaptation research. Through that project, I developed my skills and knowledge on climate research. I also expanded my network with fellow scientists around the world. The success I am reaping as a climate scientist is therefore largely due to that START project.

My fellow researchers in the project also benefited immensely. Four of us eventually became authors of IPCC assessment reports largely because of the project. That project was one of the first on adaptation in the Philippines.


Rodel remains a integral part of the START family in his current position as the Scientific Director of the Oscar M. Lopez Center for Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Management in the Philippines. The OML Center, under Rodel’s leadership, is a vital implementing partner in the Pan-Asia Risk Reduction (PARR) Fellowship Program.

Rodel Lasco has over 30 years of experience in natural resources and environmental research, conservation, education and development at the national and international level. He is an author of the IPCC and has over 80 technical publications in national and international journals dealing with the various aspects of natural resources conservation and environmental management.

We are thankful for START alumni like Dr. Lasco and proud to help scientists like him expand their in-country expertise across regions and the international science community.

On the Move: Hassan Virji in Temporary Residence at Kyoto University

Update blog from START Executive Director Hassan Virji

hassan-presenting-2During October and part of November, I have the honor of being a Visiting Professor in Kyoto University’s Graduate School of Global Environmental Studies. Within the graduate school, I am hosted by the Graduate School of Sustainability and Survivability Studies. Physically, I am located in the International Environment and Disaster Management (IEDM) Laboratory. This lab is START’s partner in the PARR Alliance, a network of institutions from academia, public and private sectors, that collaborates on the Pan Asia Risk Reduction (PARR) Fellowship program. The lab, under the able leadership of Professor Rajib Shaw, conducts research and engages graduate students from across Asia. The lab has developed a highly regarded framework for assessing “Disaster Resilience Index”, that has been applied at urban to regional and socio-economic sectoral scales. Prolific research and publications output from the lab has set a high bar in academia at Kyoto University.

The IEDM lab is also a host institution for the inaugural round of the PARR program. During my stay here, four PARR fellows are in residence, three of who are shown in the photo that accompanies this post – Ms. Aparna, Ms. Rina Suryani Oktari, and Ms. Thinn Hlaing Oo, seated with their Fellowship supervisor Professor Rajib Shaw and myself. The Fellows had just presented their work to IEDM staff and graduate students. Their work focuses on (1) role of school-community collaborative networks in building disaster resilience in coastal region of Myanmar and Bandar Aceh in Sumarta island of Indonesia, respectively, and (2) understanding the role of regulatory frameworks in managing flood risk and vulnerability in Surat, India.


I currently share an office with these PARR Fellows, which allows me to interact with them on a daily basis. Their diligence, commitment, and scholarship are exemplary. They have actively interacted with IEDM’s academic staff and graduate students. For them, rewards of the PARR experience, so far, have been that their research work has become more focused, resulting in working papers that will later be available on the START website and may be refined and submitted for publication. During their time together at IEDM, Thinn, Okta, and Aparna have also become friends. This is indeed a basic ingredient for fostering a network of collaborating Fellows.

Besides interacting with PARR fellows and graduate students, and giving seminars, I have also been involved in developing other collaborations, for example with the Future Earth Regional Hub based in Kyoto at the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, and with the Asian University Network for Environment and Disaster Management.

Being in the heart of academic setting in Kyoto is an uplifting experience. I firmly believe that START and IEDM will have a sustained and highly productive relationship for years to come.

– Hassan