Science for Sustainability in Kenya

Posted by cf143 at Sep 05, 2013 09:40 AM |
A field course run by the Centre for Interdisciplinary Science leaves a lasting impact for rural communities in Kenya (05/09/2013).

The ‘Sustainable Livelihoods’ field course, led by David Harper, a Professor in the Department of Biology, is run each year by the Centre for Interdisciplinary Science. Students who take part in the field course travel to Lake Bogoria in Kenya and work with members of the local community on sustainability themed projects, such as ‘overgrazing’, ‘invasive species’ and ‘solar power’. The students apply skills learnt during their degree in Leicester to solving real life problems.

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The 2013 field trip has been particularly positive because, as well as the success of this year’s projects, there was clear evidence that the work carried out by last year’s students has had a lasting impact. The rainwater harvesting scheme started at Lake Bogoria Primary School has been completed and is now being used to provide safe drinking water to pupils. The Moringa trees planted at the school have been nurtured to maturity and protected from goats, and the school are now using the seeds to purify water from the river during the dry season, when the rainwater harvesting tanks are empty.

This year’s students also visited Loboi Self Help Group who use a small solar panel, donated by University of Leicester students last year, for their chicken farming project. The light allows the chickens to continue feeding after dark so that they produce more eggs which the group can then sell. The members also use the solar panel to charge their mobile phones. This saves them money because they would have to pay 10 shillings each (roughly 8p) to charge their phones in the village.

Emma Tebbs, Graduate Teaching Assistant for the Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, who supervises students on the field trip, said: “It was great to see that the ideas put forward by last year’s students have been taken on board by the community and are having a real benefit. This also makes it a more rewarding experience for students taking part in the course because they can see that their projects have the potential to make a genuine difference to people’s lives. ”

During the field course, Lake Bogoria Primary School invited the University of Leicester team to a celebration to officially open the solar panels donated by the Interdisciplinary Science society.  Students from the society had raised money for buying and installing the solar panels by holding a cake sale at the University of Leicester. The school will use the solar panels to power lights so that they can run revision classes in the evenings. The primary school will also contribute to the project by buying an inverter so that they can also use the solar panels to charge mobile phones and other electronic devices.

The projects selected by this year’s students tackled the issues of ‘nutrition’, ‘climate change’ and ‘overgrazing’. One group assessed whether the nutritional needs of the community are being met by their diets. They analysed food diaries provided by the community and found that people in Lake Bogoria have very low vitamin E intake. The students suggested that local community members could supplement vitamin E in their diets by growing vegetables in their own small plots or ‘kitchen gardens’. An additional project investigated the feasibility of the community using ‘Spirulina’, a blue-green bacterium, which is very abundant in the nearby lake and is the food of the lesser flamingos that sometimes congregate at the lake in flocks of a million strong. In other parts of the world ‘Spirulina’ is used as a health food due to its high nutritional value, it grows naturally in high concentrations in Lake Bogoria and could be harvested by the community as a nutritional supplement.

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Another project investigated the effect of climate change and overgrazing. David McDonagh, an Interdisciplinary Science student who carried out this project,  said, “My project, along with two other students, involved assessing the climate, hydrological and human factors affecting soil erosion at a swamp heavily used by a nearby village. We did this through interviewing the community on their perceptions of climate change and comparing their views with climate models, analysing soil samples, and investigating why past solutions to managing the soil erosion had failed.”

David went on the say, “Our results showed that while rain intensity was increasing year on year, this still was not enough to account for the level of degradation, and the main factors accelerating soil erosion were intensive grazing and an increase in farming on the swamp. Based on this, our solutions included focusing on a diversity of trades such as bee keeping and fish ponds, and a plan for grass plots using a species that has shown success in repairing overgrazed areas in Ethiopia.”

Students who take part in the course find it a very worthwhile experience.  David McDonagh commented that, “What was most interesting about this project was the fact it dealt with a real problem affecting the community, and working with those being directly affected by the issue made it a truly rewarding experience. Simply being in Kenya also felt like a once in a lifetime experience, and the diversity of wildlife, incredible scenery and all the great people involved made it something I'm not likely to forget!”

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