African research fellows return home inspired to implement projects to improve water, sanitation and sustainable production.
Nosakhare Erhunmwunse, an eco-toxicologist from the University of Benin in Nigeria, wants to use his country’s effluent to help meet the growing demand for water, energy and food.
Nosakhare is one of the latest groups of African researchers and entrepreneurs who are completing residences at Lancaster University, developing their ideas and skills as part of the £6.8 million Recirculate programme.
Recirculate, funded by the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund, aims to build capacity within Africa to carry out and translate high quality research into the new products, processes and services needed to create a safe, clean water economy.
“It’s been an eye-opener,” said Nosakhare, who spent a month at Lancaster University as part of the third cohort of Recirculate fellows.
“Waste and energy are both huge problems in Africa. My focus is effluent treatment plants, can we learn from the model in the UK about what is put back into the environment from the system? One of the products are digestates from anaerobic digesters, and we are trying to see if African farmers can use them to boost production.”
The nine fellows all had a chance to meet Lancaster academics with expertise in their fields, as well as meeting local entrepreneurs and visiting relevant businesses and organisation.
Nosakhare spent his first week in the lab with researcher Dr Alfonso Lag Broton, who is researching waste management and bio energy production with a focus on sustainable agrosystems.
“We worked on different soils and digestates. I used some of the machines, and learnt about techniques to monitor digestates.”
He also spent time with environmental chemist Dr Andy Sweetman, an expert in persistent organic pollutants, and with Professor Kirk Semple who is investigating the potential of microorganisms to degrade pharmaceuticals and antibiotics in anaerobic digesters.
On a practical level Nosakhare and the other Recirculate fellows visited two waste water plants with anaerobic digesters, in Manchester and Lancaster.
“The one in Manchester was massive. I learnt about the treatments, the processes of separating waste, how it goes into the digesters. It produces 2.4 mega watts of heat an hour, which they use to heat their buildings.
“I also learnt about the need for strict monitoring and safety, how the reactor needs to be optimised, and about the problems that we could encounter. I was very interested in the economics: the design is simple, the most important thing is access to raw materials which we have in Africa.”
The fellows were given practical training in how to develop and write a proposal and how to apply for funding. They then worked in groups to come up with a safe water pilot project which they could develop and implement back home, facilitated by Dr Manoj Roy from the Lancaster Environment Centre.
“We came from Nigeria, Ghana, Malawi and Zambia and all had different cultural backgrounds and skills including engineers, environmental scientists, social scientists and people from the media. In two days we built a model of a slum community faced with sanitation and waste problems, looking at how we can give them safe water and generate electricity at the same time.
“We never thought we could do it but Manoj told us that if we don’t have the solution to our problems, nobody does. He was superb, he gave us something magical.”
The group then presented their proposal to a panel playing the part of high level funders such as the UN and the World Bank, to give them practice in applying for funding.
“Those of us from Nigeria want to go back and do pilot schemes in some of the most populated parts of Lagos. We will apply for funding. I think we can do it.”
Other fellows also return home with plans to collaborate with each other. Peggy Ama Donkor is a producer/director with the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, who specialises in women and children and the environment.
“I came on board because I wanted to learn how to produce appropriate content for women and children, using docudramas, animations and cartoons,” said Peggy, who has just won a Ghana Journalists Association award for a TV feature on mobile phones.
“Women are at the forefront of sanitation, they go to fetch water, so they can serve as agents of change, and children can also be agents of change by helping to persuade mum and dad.”
At Lancaster Peggy met another Recirculate fellow with a focus on communications. Noimot Abisole Balogun runs her own business, Linka.ng, helping health professional communicate messages about public health, as well as lecturing at a college for public health workers.
“Medical research is delivered at a conference or published in a journal, but researchers don’t disseminate findings to the people it is about. I feel you need to take it back to them in simple language that they will understand,” Noimet said.
They visited Paul Johnson of Explainer HQ, a Cumbria based company producing animated videos and children’s books. They discussed with Lancaster researchers the best way to communicate scientific ideas to the general population, how to design an effective survey, and who might be willing to sponsor their work.
The two women are now planning to collaborate together on a series of projects related to WASH (Water, sanitation and hygiene) a key element of sustainable development goal 6. These include:
• developing laminated simple messages on Wash, based on survey findings, which can be taken to markets, schools and wash houses
• producing a six page illustrated book for children on Wash
• producing short, humorous video documentaries about Wash that target different stakeholders.
Peggy is also hoping to work with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Ghana to produce a half-hour weekly TV series featuring WASH related stories, aimed at changing attitudes and behaviour amongst women and children. Noimot has already produced some short videos about the Recirculate fellows and their hosts.