Critical Thinking and Visions of the Future with ASSAR in West Africa

assar-wafricaThe second round of Transformative Scenario Planning (TSP) workshops were held near the end of 2016 in Ghana and Mali as part of the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR) project. These workshops built on a set of scenarios developed through a collaboration of ASSAR researchers and stakeholders from Upper West, Ghana and Koutiala, Mali. These scenarios facilitated participants to think critically about what the future may hold in terms of climate change, agriculture and food so that more legitimate actions can be designed and taken in the present.


In Ghana, the second workshop was held the 2nd and 3rd of November at the Nouyong Empire Hotel in the city of Wa in the Upper West Region. Dinesh Budhram from Reos Partners and Margot Steenbergen from the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre facilitated the workshop. Participants were reacquainted with the scenario stories that had been developed over the preceding months through use of a set of scenarios videos prepared by the ASSAR communications team. The facilitators then led participants through at process of critical thinking and collective visioning that ultimately resulted in a set of prioritized themes or action areas. These included 1) disaster risk management, 2) improved market systems, 3) ecosystem management, 4) sustainable food and livelihoods empowerment, 5) climate smart water resources management, 6) and dissemination of the group’s shared vision for Upper West region, termed “Vision 2035”, to larger audiences and integrating it with national policy documents. Action groups were formed around these key action areas by those participants interested in and committed to shaping these ideas further, and remaining in touch with the ASSAR team to carry forward.


In Mali, the 2nd TSP workshop was held on the 13th and 14th of December in Koutiala, Mali. There, participants from the Sikasso region along with two national level stakeholders worked to develop a common vision: “A l’horizon 2035, faire des investissements dans l’agriculture et la conservation des ressources naturelles afin de garantir la sécurité alimentaire et améliorer le revenu des ménages dans le cercle de Koutiala” – translated as: “By 2035, strategic investments will target agriculture and natural resource conservation to ensure food security and wellbeing in Koutiala Region”. Based on this common vision, the socio-cultural context of the Region was analyzed to identify existing opportunities and barriers. Three groups of stakeholders were formed: public workers; civil society and farmers (farmer organisations). Each group was asked to list relevant strategies for achieving the vision, and for each of those, resources needed; problem to be addressed; actors to engage, and short and long term actions neede. From their lists, participants prioritized the following strategies, 1) management of rainwater on farms, 2) improvement of soil fertility, 3) promotion of improved seeds, 4) promotion of good nutritional practices, 5) secure land tenure, 6) forest resource management, and 7) production and post-harvest management. The Mali team is now working with the stakeholders on ways to put these strategies into action.

New Knowledge Briefs on Disaster Risk Reduction

okta pictureThe Pan-Asia Risk Reduction (PARR) Fellowship Program is pleased to announce the release of three knowledge briefs on urban disaster risk and vulnerability under global environmental change. The knowledge briefs are outputs from competitive grants on topics ranging from the creation and testing of a decision support system in the Philippines, an analysis of the linkage between urbanization and disaster in India, and validation of a framework for school-community collaboration for coastal community resilience. Click below to download the knowledge briefs.


Decision and Framework for Decision Support System for Highly Urbanized Megacities: Case study Metro Manila
Principal Investigator: Gemma T. Narisma


Exploring the Existing School-Community Network and Enabling Environment for Enhancing Community Resilience to Disaster
Principal Investigator: Rina Suryani Oktari


Flood Risk Vulnerability of Peri-urban Communities: The case of Surat
Principal Investigator: Aparna



parr logoThe PARR Fellowship Program offers unique research, training and educational opportunities to Asian researcher, practitioners, and policy makers to enhance their capabilities for advancing and applying knowledge on critical issues of global change and risk in the Asia-Pacific. The PARR Program is pioneered by an international alliance of science-focused, research, education and capacity building organizations that share a common goal and complementary track records for advancing resilience and sustainability in the Asia-Pacific.

We appreciate the financial and administrative support of the Oscar M. Lopez Center (Philippines), Kyoto University (Japan), Manila Observatory (Philippines), National Science & Technonlogy Center for Disaster Reduction (Taiwan), University of Los Baños, Thammasat University (Thailand), and START (USA). Finally, we recognize the financial support of Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research, the United States Global Change Research Program, and the International Centre of Excellence for Integrated Research on Disaster Risk (IRDR-Taiwan).

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Transdisciplinary Research: Science with Society

Reflections and recommendations from two transdisciplinary workshops

Stellenbosch, South Africa. March 2016

stellenbosch thumbnail JPGThe complex challenges facing the world today underline the need for effective transdisciplinary (TD) research specifically orientated to address ‘real-world’ problems that are too complex and multidimensional to be answered by singular research disciplines. START and partners organized two workshops to strengthen capacity in the development, use, and evaluation of TD approaches. The introductory training consisting of two back-to-back workshops was organized as an International Social Sciences Council (ISSC) activity, convened by START and the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition at Stellenbosch University in partnership with the Transdisciplinary Lab at ETH Zurich, Switzerland. Both trainings were made possible due to generous support of the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa and the hosting of the Sustainability Institute in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

The introductory training workshops were designed for a broad audience and included researchers, research managers and funders, civil servants, government departments, and NGOs interested in learning about theories, methods, and examples of TD research. The objective was to transmit the principles of TD research and the various steps to follow; introduce the most frequent methods used; present case studies; include TD site visits, and introduce M&E tools. The curriculum for the introductory training program was developed and tested by researchers and practitioners with strong experience in doing, teaching, and writing about TD research.

The first 3-day national training took place 14-16 March 2016 and brought together 16 South African participants from the Stellenbosch University, NRF officials, representatives from governments, and local NGOs. The national training served as the first opportunity to engage with participants and test the developed curriculum. The training was followed by a day of reflection and evaluation by lead partners and facilitators to assess what worked and what didn’t. As a result, the course was modified wherever possible for the second training workshop that served as an official pilot, based on the experience of the first training and participant feedback. The 3-day regional pilot training program took place 21-23 March 2016 and brought together 16 participants from a variety of countries including: Angola, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. Participants from the national and regional training were selected by the NRF.

More detail on the workshop program and recommendations are included in the full report, which can be downloaded as a PDF here. Please contact Sarah Schweizer at for further information.

TD Stellenbosch 1

Introducing Cheikh Mbow, START’s incoming Executive Director!

cheikh_croppedThe Chairman of the Board of Directors of START International, Inc., Dr. Khotso Mokhele, is pleased to announce, on behalf of the Board, the appointment of Dr. Cheikh Mbow (photo left) as new Executive Director of START International Inc. Dr. Mbow comes to START from a long and illustrious career with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) where he currently serves as the Senior Scientist on climate change and development.  He also is an Adjunct Professor at Michigan State University and on the Science Committee for Future Earth.  In addition to these positions, Dr. Mbow comes with an embedded knowledge of START as both a grantee and as part of a team awarded funding in 2011 to research earth observation methods in Senegal and Ghana.  Dr. Mbow will be replacing outgoing Executive Director, Dr. Hassan Virji.  Dr. Virji has been with START since its inception at Bellagio in 1990. He will join the Board of Directors of START International Inc. as Emeritus Director upon his retirement on 31 July 2016.

Program Highlight: FRACTAL

Future climate change is expected to create an even more challenging environment for development in the sub-Saharan Africa. Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) is a 5-year programme funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). It aims to support world-leading research to enhance scientific understanding and prediction of extreme weather and climate in sub-Saharan Africa, and, working with African stakeholders, bring this science into use in informing adaptation to climate change.

FRACTAL (Future Resilience for African Cities and Lands) was the first of the regional FCFA research consortia to host their kick-off in August 2015. Over the next four years, FRACTAL’s work will be focused around three aims:

  1. To advance scientific knowledge on climate processes driving the southern African climate system’s natural variability and response to global change in historic and climate models;
  2. To improve the distillation of defensible climate information, that are informed by and tailored to urban decision making and risk management contexts; and
  3. To test the use of innovative “co-exploration” methodologies as a means to engage urban partners to integrate climate messages within real-world decisions.

Central to FRACTAL’s collaborative approach is the piloting of Learning Labs in Windhoek, Lusaka and Maputo, to open up a discussion forum through which city officials can explore the implications of climate variability and change for their urban contexts. Alongside the Learning Labs, a full-time embedded researcher will be deployed to each of the local city governments and work alongside researchers from local university partners to offer advisory services to city governments whilst simultaneously developing their understanding of the development contexts of the cities and the interaction between climatic and non-climatic stressors in these contexts.

Read more about FRACTAL on its START program page:

Happy Holidays!

Season’s Greetings from the START Secretariat.  It has been our pleasure to work with you to strengthen developing countries’ climate change resources in the past year.  Have a wonderful holiday season and we’ll see you in 2016!

2015 START holiday card 12-22-15 C

The Face of Fellowship

November is a month to reflect on what makes us thankful, and this month we are excited to share with you some stories of START fellows past and present. We are so thankful for our relationships with these fellows and the unique ways they are helping the world understand and adapt to climate change.

START Fellowships impact real individuals. Through your support, we offer life-changing opportunities and put high quality science into action on a local and global scale. Please help us continue to offer these high-impact fellowships by making a donation to START today.



The Face of Fellowship: Aparna

Aparna is a PhD student in her final year of studies on ‘flood risk vulnerability in peri-urban areas’ at CEPT University, Ahmedabad in India. She first learned about START’s Pan-Asia Risk Reduction (PARR) Fellowship program from her PhD advisor.

During her PARR fellowship in 2014, Aparna worked on a project exploring flood risk vulnerability in Surat city of Gujarat. Her PARR experience helped round out her research by incorporating disaster risk elements in urbanization processes. Aparna describes her PARR fellowship as “a very valuable experience because of the kinds of people it brought together from academics, policy and practice.”

The most beneficial part of the fellowship was her interaction with other PARR fellows and new institutions. She realized the benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration and how important it is to integrate disaster risk reduction into development. She notes, “The culmination meeting was so important to keep fellows connected. I now know people in Asian countries such as Japan, Indonesia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Taiwan as well as from within India at different institutions who are working on disaster risk reduction.”

Fund-a-Fellow FB postAfter she returned home from the fellowship, Aparna was grateful to receive a follow-on grant to continue her research with a new focus on flood risk vulnerability. Looking toward the future, Aparna knows she has a whole new network of colleagues and connections with institutions across Asia thanks to PARR.

Aparna is not only a START fellow, but also a START donor. When asked why she donated to START, Aparna explained that she wants to support organizations like START that build networks between different communities, disciplines and countries. She says, “There is a lot of value in PARR and START. START brings science to the people.”

Please help us continue to offer high-impact fellowships by making a donation to START today.


The Face of Fellowship: James Oladipo Adejuwon

Prof. James Oladipo Adejuwon has a distinguished career in the field of climate change that’s taken him all over the world and back home again to the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ife, Nigeria. He began as a professor there in the 1970’s studying rural energy and agriculture and advanced to Deputy Vice Chancellor by the 1980’s. His career path has intersected with START several times over the years, beginning in 1998 when he received a Visiting Scientist Fellowship from START to travel to the US and work with scientists at Penn State University to improve African cereal crop yields by developing a system to link seasonal climate forecasts to agricultural management practices. That work led him to collaborate just a few years later on START’s Climate Prediction and Agriculture (CLIMAG) interdisciplinary projects in Africa. About this time, Prof. Adejuwon was invited to participate in the 2001 report on climate change from the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and he has been very involved with IPCC and other global initiatives ever since.

Fund-a-Fellow FB postProf. Adejuwon has participated in numerous programs with START, lending his climate change expertise to the very successful 2004 Assessments of Impacts and Adaptation to Climate Change (AIACC) Program, 2010 Nigeria Science-Policy Dialogue, and our 2011 Urban Agriculture Assessment in the city of Ibadan. Over the years he has also received prestigious research grants and worked with organizations around the world such as: FAO, Rockefeller Foundation, NOAA, IDRC, and SEI.

Prof. Adejuwon has a foot in the past and an eye on the future, and we are proud to call him a START Fellow.


The Face of Fellowship: Mzime Ndebele-Murisa

Mzime Ndebele-Murisa first heard and learned of START when she attended the 2007 Advanced Institute on water resources in Africa that START co-sponsored at the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education. Participants were invited to submit follow-on research proposals to the International Foundation of Science (IFS). Mzime’s proposal was funded, which helped her complete her field research for her PhD in aquatic ecology.

In 2009, Mzime received an African Climate Change Fellowship Program (ACCFP) fellowship that allowed her to travel from her home institution, the University of Zimbabwe to the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa that specialized in climate data analysis in support of her PhD dissertation research. Working with START, Mzime was introduced to a more collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to science through interactions with other fellows and networking at relevant workshops and conferences. She was researching dynamics of climate and Kapenta fish production in Lake Kariba (Zimbabwe) but she began to consider how her work affected the fishermen’s livelihoods and the broader economic and environmental impacts of climate change on the entire lake system. (You can read more about Mzime’s research in the ACCFP magazine.) START encouraged her to think beyond basic scientific methodologies to a broader research approach that included integration of climate modeling. “With ACCFP I had to think outside the box to other sectors since climate change is such a cross-cutting issue.”

In 2011, Mzime re-engaged with another START program, the CO-ordinated Regional Downscaling Experiment (CORDEX Africa), led by the Climate System Analysis Group at the University of Cape Town. The CORDEX group has a lot of experience in climate modeling but was seeking input from those outside of climate modeling to provide more relevant and useable data to end-users. Thus, Mzime was brought in to help understand how projected climatic changes impact ecosystems. Her climate change expertise was further recognized when she was invited to contribute to the IPCC Working Group 2 as a contributing author on the Africa chapter of the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report.

In less than a decade, Fund-a-Fellow FB postMzime has advanced through the ranks of PhD student to regional climate change expert at Chinhoyi University of Technology, and graciously credits the key role that START’s opportunities played in her success. Mzime has chosen to give a monthly donation to START for the past year. In her words, “My experience with START beyond the programs has enriched me as a researcher. I’ve seen great capacity built within myself and I would love to see many more young researchers have that opportunity… I give to START at a level I’m comfortable with. Instead of a one time significant gift, I prefer to partner consistently with START at a level I can afford.”


The Face of Fellowship: Suryakant A. Sawant

Suryakant is a PhD research scholar at the Centre of Studies in Resources Engineering within the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (India), working on a PhD thesis entitled “Sensor Web Enablement for Water and Pest Management in Horticulture (Citrus).”

Suryakant is one of our newest START Fellows having just completed remote sensing training in July-August 2015 through START’s Global Observation of Forest Cover and Land Dynamics (GOFC-GOLD) program. GOFC-GOLD Fellows completed a one-week data download training course at a US Geological Survey facility and then a two-week data analysis course at Boston University where they refined their techniques in data collection, classification and accuracy assessment. He notes the relevance of the event, “when we initiate any project related to land water resources monitoring and management the remote sensing data availability is always a major issue.”

By participating in the GOFC-GOLD Fellowship, Suryakant was able to: (1) advance his skills in satellite data processing for vegetation monitoring, (2) use more advanced data analysis techniques in his research of Citrus crop management and (3) establish a regional community in India to share data and provide continuing education opportunities. Of his Fellowship experience, Suryakant says, Fund-a-Fellow FB post“I am ready to facilitate a similar training in my regional GOFC South Asia network. This training has helped me to improve land use land cover classification and change detection module in an Image Interpretation Laboratory class at Centre of Studies in Resources Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay.
Thank you organizers (START, USGS-EROS, Boston University and others) and sponsor agencies for starting this initiative and supporting this training program. In my opinion the investment made by you both in terms of finance and time is really well utilized. Overall this training has facilitated to expand my research ideas over larger spatio-temporal scale.”



Engaging Stakeholders and Initiating Fieldwork in West Africa: ASSAR Update

Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR) is one of START’s newest programs. In the last several months, ASSAR regional teams in West, East, and Southern Africa as well as in India have been busy disseminating the findings of the Regional Diagnostic Studies (RDS). This diagnostic research is aimed at understanding what people in semi-arid regions currently know about climate change, and what they’re doing to adapt to these changes.

In West Africa, district level RDS dialogue events have been held with stakeholders from Lawra and Nandom districts in Ghana and from Koutiala in Mali. National level events have also taken place in Accra and Bamako. These events provided opportunities for stakeholders to learn about RDS findings and to give feedback to inform the second phase of the ASSAR project, the Regional Research Phase. More information is available here.

ASSAR stakeholder RDS dialog in MaliStakeholder RDS dialogue participants in Koutiala, Mali in July, 2015.

START has been working closely with graduate student researchers and others from the West Africa team to prepare for the fieldwork of the Regional Research Phase. This work has already gotten underway with a preparatory field visit to research sites in northwestern Ghana and will continue to roll out from October through January. This work will be focusing on ASSAR’s three research streams of social differentiation, governance, and ecosystem services along with two crosscutting themes of gender and knowledge resources. In order to generate creative and novel thinking about adaptation futures in the region and to inform our ongoing research, a Transformative Scenario Planning exercise will also be undertaken as part of the West Africa team’s Regional Research Phase. For more information on ASSAR, theTransformative Scenario Planning and the work of the regional teams please visit START’s ASSAR web page or the global ASSAR website.

ASSAR TSP training in Accra

West Africa student researchers participating in a Transformative Scenario Planning (TSP) training exercise in Accra, Ghana in September 2015. Photo Credit: Lucia Scodanibbio  

Pack Your Bags and Join the Journey

Our 2015 Fund a Fellow campaign is an epic journey, starring you!  START Fellow, Jessica Dator-­Bercilla (photo below), compared her fellowship experience to the movie “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring” and we think she’s onto something.

Jessica is a Science-Policy Research Specialist at the Manila Observatory in the Philippines. As a Pan-Asian Risk Reduction (PARR) fellow, she traveled to the National Science and Technology Center for Disaster Reduction in Taiwan to study integrated risk analysis. Of the experience, Jessica said:

“What sets this [START Fellowship] apart is having the privilege of time to study, witness the practice, engage in discussions in the spirit of solidarity and genuine intent to complement each others’ work from a range of perspectives. This is Fellowship. While we learned, we were treated as having the potential to share knowledge and experience and also enrich … the other fellows. This reminds me of the movie The Fellowship of the Ring — where each force was recognized as having equal power and valuable contribution to make significant change that matters to humanity.”

We hope you’ll join us on this journey by funding the next generation of START fellows. Please consider making a donation to START today.