Climate change research in Africa for Africa

In July, the Council of Ministers of the West African WASCAL countries met in Berlin. It was agreed that the member states will finance and operate WASCAL themselves in the future. The initiative is supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research

The West African Science Service Center on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use (WASCAL), established in 2012, is an international and interdisciplinary research initiative whose aim is to build resilience to climate change and safeguard land use for food security. Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), WASCAL is implemented by numerous institutions from ten African countries. The initiative’s highest decision-making body, the Council of Ministers, convened in Berlin, Germany, in July. It was agreed that the member states will finance and operate the Center themselves in the future. The Center will therefore be integrated into the structures of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Johanna Wanka, German Federal Minister of Education and Research, emphasised that WASCAL does not mean research for or with Africa; it means research in Africa. Based on equality, it aims to halt the brain drain, which is a matter of great concern. WASCAL’s research will, above all, serve the interests of the countries themselves and provide advice to policy-makers working in the field of climate change. WASCAL comprises a Competence Center, a research programme and a graduate programme. More than 200 students have now completed the graduate programme, as Ghana’s Environment Minister Mahama Ayariga explained.

The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research is currently providing 50 million euros for WASCAL for a five-year period to 2017. A similar project in southern Africa (SASSCAL), involving five partner countries, receives the same amount. Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo are currently participating in the WASCAL initiative. Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Sierra Leone and Liberia, which are also members of ECOWAS, plan to join at a later date.

Climate change confronts the entire region with major challenges and worsens the existing problems of water availability, food security and poverty reduction. Consistent and high-quality data, e.g. on the hydrological cycle, land-use changes, biodiversity and vegetation, are essential as the basis for reliable forecasting of future trends. The aim is to develop practical adaptation measures that are tailored precisely to local conditions. For example, via WASCAL, a high-tech satellite-based surveillance system is being developed to monitor rainfall and changes in agricultural land use. In future, rainfall data will also be collected and evaluated in cooperation with mobile service providers. Since April this year, WASCAL has been participating in the Invest in Water project, which offers recommendations for decision-making on water and land use in the Volta-Niger focal region. Researchers are also studying conditions in the savanna in order to protect as many pollinators – e.g. insects and bats – as possible for key crops such as cotton and sesame.

Roland Krieg, journalist, Berlin/Germany

More information: WASCAL website