Some strides to include climate change in curricula

“We call for a comprehensive and systemic response to the incipient debt crisis outside default frameworks to create the fiscal space that all developing countries need to finance development and climate action,” African leaders said in the Nairobi Declaration on Climate Change and Call to Action adopted at the conclusion of the Africa Climate Summit that took place early in September 2023 in Nairobi, Kenya.

The summit focused on driving green growth in Africa and climate finance solutions and, in these efforts, to champion SDGs, academia is crucial.

The Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), in partnership with AICCRA (Accelerating the Impacts of CGIAR Climate Research for Africa), for instance, is driving sustainable climate-smart agriculture and climate information in various universities across Africa.

Climate-smart courses embraced

CGIAR, formerly the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research, is a global research partnership for a food-secure future dedicated to transforming food, land and water systems in a climate crisis. AICCRA works in Senegal, Mali, Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, and Zambia, in conjunction with 60 partners.

RUFORUM, a university partner, has paved the way for universities to mainstream climate information and climate-smart agriculture through the curriculum, research, technologies and innovation.

“RUFORUM is a network of universities that makes it easier for the whole programme to network and for universities to get these processes [through collaboration] moving. Under the AICCRA region, Ethiopia is working with the universities in Ethiopia and, “in West Africa, we are working with the West African Science Service Centre on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use (WASCAL), a university network,” Dr Florence Nakayiwa, deputy executive secretary: planning resources mobilisation and management at RUFORM, told University World News.

Through collaboration, training, research, capacity-building and remotely influencing TVETS [technical and vocational education and training colleges] to embrace climate-smart agriculture courses, climate change online modules to steer action, and capacity enhancement via short courses, universities across Africa are committed to combating climate change while ensuring that a large pool of students leaves with different capacities.

The University of Nairobi in Kenya, for example, through curriculum change, has infused c-smart agriculture into the faculty of agriculture through existing courses in which students are trained and research climate change. Besides that, the campus has a meteorological association that runs its own affairs with the moderation of a patron who comes to speak on identified climate areas within the field to students, and that makes it easier to embed entrepreneurial elements.

Staff must be empowered

“The challenge, however, is that not many young people understand climate-smart agriculture, therefore, there is a need to embrace capacity-building for the academic staff so that knowledge is passed down to others at the institutional level through the courses,” said Oliver Wesonga, associate professor of dryland ecology and climate change adaptation at the University of Nairobi. Wesonga spoke during an open discussion about climate change and education organised by the International Livestock Research Institute, or ILRI, in Nairobi, Kenya, on 8 September 2023.

The Addis Ababa University of Ethiopia, on the other hand, introduced modules that focus on climate change, for example, a module called ‘Climate risk management in agriculture’, by which staff are trained for both graduate and undergraduate courses. The university also introduced a course on animal science, ‘Climate-smart livestock management’, for the benefit of future generations.

According to Nakayiwa, climate change is a topical issue, hence RUFORUM’s focus on climate-smart agriculture for universities to tap into existing resources to facilitate and deliver academic programmes across disciplines.

At Makerere University in Uganda, climate information systems have been infused into the curriculum review, and university staff sensitised. There is also more collaboration in climate-smart agriculture and climate information systems areas and now climate-smart agriculture is a stand-alone course that is available online and to anybody who wishes to learn more about climate-smart agriculture.

“At RUFORUM, we started with the scoping study to find what is available in the universities in terms of climate so that documentation can create awareness. Based on the needs assessment for AICCRA, we developed eight modules that range from climate-smart agriculture basics, climate information system basics, policy renewable energy, soil crystallisation and how climate affects that, agroforestry, and carbon sequestration. By so doing, RUFORUM and AICCRA’s main focus is always to reduce poverty and hunger with education in mind, hence championing SDGs,” Nakayiwa said.

New PhD programme

Dr Dawit Solomon, AICCRA’s programme coordinator, said that climate change education is an important nexus that African education systems should focus on. He emphasised that climate change resilience and adaptation should be at the forefront of education in Africa to produce future climate leaders.

“We push for climate change-related courses in universities, and we have success stories, for example, the effort in southern Ethiopia together with Addis Ababa University. For a long time, there has been an interest in starting a PhD programme on climate change. Together with the university, partners were able to get approval from the university senate for a PhD programme on climate science, and this touches on the early warning systems [climate -change impacts],” he told University World News.

“We were able to integrate climate-smart technologies into much of the coursework in areas of animal science, human science, agriculture and food and nutrition security courses. This is happening in Ethiopian universities. We are in discussions with the University of Nairobi in Kenya and Makerere University in Uganda as well as in talks with some Tanzanian universities,” he added.