June 30, 2019
A Kenyan PhD Fellow is working to help small-scale farmers find ecosystem-friendly solutions in response to climate change.
Faith Muniale, a 2016 fellow from Kenya, is based at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST) in Kenya, and is currently completing a sandwich fellowship at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania in order to complete her PhD research in ecosystem services and climate change. Learn about how she is working to dispel common misconceptions about conservation agriculture practices, and how she hopes to help small-scale farmers respond to climate change, below.
How did you learn about the OWSD fellowship, and what difference has it made to your career?
I learned about the OWSD fellowship three years before I applied for it, from an email shared by a colleague with a list of available fellowships. I was not ready to apply then but I was attracted to OWSD because of the sandwich program. OWSD has opened my world by offering me a great opportunity to study in two great universities. Completing my PhD would not have been possible within the allowed time without this fellowship. OWSD also supported me to attend an international conference, where I was able to network with people who are now mentoring me in my research field.
What are you researching? What first made you interested in this subject?
My research is on ecosystem services [benefits to humans from healthy ecosystems] that accrue from conservation agriculture, including increases in yield, biodiversity conservation, soil health improvement and moisture conservation. My research has the potential to help reduce the vulnerability of rural farming communities to climate change impacts.
When I worked with rural communities in managing their natural resources, as an environmentalist my focus was on achieving sustainable management of environmental resources. Then I realized that agroecosystems are an important component to livelihoods. I started asking myself how we can help the farming communities improve their livelihoods and at the same time conserve natural resources -- and thus I stumbled into conservation agriculture, which I felt would address the two issues at the same time.
Has anything surprised you about your research experience?
Yes -- it surprised me that it is the small things that make a difference between high and low yield in food production, for instance the timing of planting and weeding, or the accuracy in application of insecticides, particularly in this era with the emergence of the American fall armyworm [a crop pest] in sub-Saharan countries. A slight delay in decision-making could mean the loss of a whole crop. Small-scale farmers, who make up about 80% of Kenyan farmers, are always under pressure of losing their crop given a slight variation from the norm. But what surprised me even more is the fact that farmers are aware of conservation agriculture practices but have not adopted them because of misconceptions. Therefore education, and access to proper and full information, will play a major role if we are to achieve sustainability.
What are your plans for the future? What will you do after you complete your PhD?
I will continue mentoring young women in science, and particularly agricultural science. This will be a continuous goal for me, having seen the gap between the significant role women play in food security - and development in general - and the capacity and needs that they have. A teaching position in the university will support this goal.
Additionally, I would like to continue with research in the agriculture–environment-climate change nexus, as well as to venture into policy development in order to promote innovations and technologies that small-scale farmers could adopt to increase food production and to reduce their vulnerabilities to climate change.
THANK YOU, FAITH!