Sylvanus S.P. Doe

Sylvanus S.P. Doe

Sylvanus S. P. Doe is a Sustainability Specialist with interest in SD; greenness, urbanism; food systems; carbons; human-environment security; reducing poverty & hunger; and sustainability issues. This website hosts his online engagements. Contact: doesylvan(at) or cel.201xi(at); twitter: @doesylvan

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Triggering research leadership for sustainability

As the world reflects on how the concept of sustainability came into being, I decided to pause on the previous article on ‘Celebrating 30 years (1987-2017): is it too late to learn sustainability?’ Thankfully, new leaves are now blossoming and greenlining have emerged for sustainability conversations. This article is written to re-fresh debates about research leadership in the global South. The call for action is to double funding for research in both public and private sectors towards securing global sustainability.

Adapted with permission

Adapted with permission

Global sustainability is a strong desire, which all nations are vigorously pursuing (Stockholm Memorandum, 2011; United Nations, 2016; Sachs et al., 2017). The nations are rallying around the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to achieve this. Undoubtedly, society is changing towards the realisation of the desired global goals. The change is not of evil but full of prospects, which African countries are not exempted from milking. The path to global sustainability is unpredictable and rough, though. Drifting to prosperity in the near future depends on using researched information to invent new technologies, reproduce accurate facts to enrich decisions, and scheming how the benefits derived from natural resources can  reach everyone.

Scale of the research issue
In the global South, weak research capacity often affects the availability of quality data to frame policy and how the policy can be practised to sustainably manage natural resources to create national wealth (Makinda, 2001) to equitably benefit people.  In 2006, the World Bank found that ‘80% of Africa’s agricultural researchers are concentrated in 13 countries, while the remaining 20 % are dispersed in 35 countries across the continent. This uneven concentration of talents affects research priorities, organisations, and financing.’ Makinda similarly identified the research deficit and suggested that attention should be given to ‘capacity building’. The research gap is considerably caused by the funds to organise institutions, deploy technology and equipment, train people, and to embark on field research itself.

Debt, economy and research budgets
The burden of debt on national economies is well-documented. In sub-Saharan Africa, the UN Brundtland Commission indicated that debt reached 31% of export by 1985 (Brundtland, 1987). The debt was US$218 billion in 1987 (Kwapong, 1990) and, in 2001, ‘twenty-nine of 46 countries in the world’ that spent 80% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or 220% of exports on debt servicing were from Africa (Makinda, 2001). Africa’s debt recently reached US$443 billion representing 22.0% of Gross National Income (UN Conference on Trade and Development, 2016). Servicing the debt reduces national budgets with consequential limitations for what amount of fiscal resources is available to allocate to research. Is this not a reality? The intriguing question that follows is ‘do we need global sustainability?’ The choice to spend money on research must be prioritised because of its multiple links to the SDGs.

SDGs as a research opportunity
Countries in Africa are among those in other continents that are inseparable from seeding global sustainability. As leaders contemplate of how to achieve the ambitious international development agendas, the evaluation of the country level achievements of the SDGs has also began to help fine tune the path to the desired goals. The precaution is that identifying realistic indicators to measure the successes and challenges of the SDGs must be informed by scientific research since the indicators can bring development-environment concerns to light on roundtables for critical sustainability assessment (Garnåsjordet et al., 2012). Building a sustainable society requires utilising appropriate indicators scooped from research to effectively influence public international policy, behaviours, discovering new products and delivering the products to reach where they are needed most.

Africa is economically buoyant – and is rapidly expanding in the face of challenges like youth joblessness and digital violence. The activities of informal stakeholders provide foundations for the economic improvements. The smallholders produce, supply and distribute almost 65% of food and 78% of charcoal. Urban street vendors circulate the biggest volume of ‘sachet drinking water’ and consumable organic goods. Soil nutrient is incomplete. Internet connectivity can go off at any time. GMO continues to baffle civil society. Hunger and gender inequalities are troubling across national and social boundaries. The relevance of investing into research to redress the issue of brain-drain in Swaziland’s health sector was re-echoed by Dlamini (2006). Carbon research is another important theme, which requires sufficient funding not necessarily in Africa but in other parts of the world (Rockström et al., 2017). Nowadays, the rationale to increase research funding is necessitated by the global ambition to meet SDG targets. The contemporary data is lacking in regards to most of the SDGs.  For example, Zehra Sthna (@zahra_sethna) based at the IISD recently twitted: ‘There is no data available in African countries to track #SDG Goal 13—Take urgent action to combat #climatechange and its impacts.  via @BrookingsInst’.

2017 SDGIndexFunding research to generate quality results to boost monitoring of the SDGs and measurement of its outcomes ought to be viewed as a chance to expand developmental opportunities rather than an economic cost. The 2017 SDG Index does not profess the view that the level of investment into research will automatically speed or result into a certain level of progress towards achieving the SDGs. Israel invested more into research than Sweden in terms of GDP. Yet, Sweden shows an excellent model of getting closer to achieving the SDG targets. The progress made by Sweden in terms of the SDGs is higher than Israel. The most important thing is that the SDG performance indicators exhibited by Israel are superb as well. Kenya’s investment in research proportionally outstripped that of South Africa but the latter ranked better than the former in the 2017 SDG Index (Sachs et al., 2017). Thus, the link between research investment and the probability that the invested monies can contribute to realising the 2030 Agenda is not linear. What is, however, obvious is that achieving over 90% of the total SDGs in a single country or across the continent by 2030 will depend on the bold decision of leaders to quadruple funding for sustainability research? The current research funding in countries such as Namibia (0.1% of GDP), Botswana (0.3% of GDP), Burkina Faso (0.2% of GDP) and Congo Dem Rep (0.08% of GDP) cannot remain the same (Sachs et al., 2017) till 2030. As at today, the understanding is that cooperation is paramount in putting money, people and other resources together to generate wealth out of research (see Box 1).

Stepping up
How easy is it to get access to research funding from African institutional sources? How much national budget is devoted to applied and advanced sustainability research? Can young researchers easily get post or start research career? How are governments supporting the distribution of new knowledge products derived from research? Is employment statistics on research landscape credible? A combination of factors, including carbon impacts, causing food insecurity are evidenced in Somalia and South Sudan. Population growth has increased millions of hands and mouths around food tables, while the sources of obtaining the food are increasingly threatened by high carbon concentrations. The World Vision says 6.9 million people need food-related assistance in East Africa. Answering the above questions and getting out of the challenges urgently needs new direction in reframing development policy and action-taking, not going the conventional ways. Public policy must encourage funding of research and, in turn, promote utilisation of the research outputs for coming out of the development challenges. Investing adequate finances into sustainability research is about making human lives meaningful. It fulfils the unimaginable aspirations of people beyond complex barriers of territory, gender, faith and cultures. Research investment is not only about generating ‘sustainability books’. It is synonymous with cultivating finest brains to lead and govern society fairly – task research training is capable of doing. The global groundswell of nurturing future young leaders ought to explore research entrepreneurship as one of the areas the expertise of the young leaders can be harnessed to deal with disinterested development challenges. The developmental benefits of research are endless. So, who is to lead the way for research renaissance? Is it the government, business, church or civil society?


  • Brundtland GH. 1987. Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: our common future. WCED, Geneva.
  • Dlamini SV. 2006. Brain drain: can everybody be happy? The case of nurses leaving Swaziland for the United Kingdom. A paper presented at the ‘Governance in the Commonwealth: civic engagement and democratic accountability’ conference. Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London. March 11-13, 2006.
  • Garnåsjordet PA, Aslaksen I, Giampietro M, Funtowicz S, Ericson T. 2012. Sustainable development indicators: from statistics to policy. Env Pol and Gov 22:322–336.
  • Kwapong AA. 1990. The challenge of education. In: Obasanjo O and O’rville H (eds.) Challenges of leadership in African development. Taylor and Francis: New York. pp 136-152.
  • Makinda SM. 2001. From natural resources to national wealth: ethical, national interest and policy issues for Africa in the new millennium. UNU-INRA, Accra.
  • Rockström J, Gaffney O, Rogelj J, Meinshausen M, Nakicenovic N, Schellnhuber HJ. 2017. A roadmap for rapid decarbonisation: emissions inevitably approach zero with a “carbon law”. Science 355 (6331):1269–1271.
  • Sachs J, Schmidt-Traub G, Kroll C, Durand-Delacre D, Teksoz K. 2017. SDG Index and Dashboards Report 2017. Bertelsmann Stiftung and SDSN, New York.
  • Stockholm Memorandum (2011) Tipping the scales towards sustainability. 3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium on ‘global sustainability: transforming the world in an era of global change’. Sweden, 16–19 May 2011.
  • United Nations. 2016. Global sustainable development report 2016. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, New York.
  • UN Conference on Trade and Development. 2016. Economic development in Africa: debt dynamics and development finance in Africa. (Accessed on 22 November 2017).

Collective stewardship: reconnecting sustainability values to restoring coastal landscapes

Compelling evidence reveal that the interaction between humanity and coastscapes is increasingly fragile, unhealthy, and far from sustainable. The overdose of carbons in the atmosphere is powerfully dictating land use choices and how land properties (re)connect to human life. Human diets are inversely shifting in relation to the carbon impacts. Meat is substituted with insects. Most ecological jobs are less green, and are more in deficits for the teeming youth. There is plenty of water in rivers, dams and streams but you cannot drink because it is either polluted or seeped to beneath bedrocks hidden from many people. Coastal resources are particularly being mined, fetched or recycled for tangible reasons such as housing, food, energy and pleasures. In this write up, I succinctly recount two initiatives from coastal savannas to highlight the relevance of collective stewardship, and what it can do to transform landscapes into prosperity for all.

The first initiative concerns mangroves. The mangrove trees were previously cut for firewood, livelihood or cash purposes without planned replanting. Nowadays, changing landscapes motivated the integration of sustainability values, thus acknowledging the need to balance economic, social and environmental ethics into everyday consumption of the mangrove ecosystem resources. One such recognition happened during a bright morning when 15 mangrove growers overwhelmingly decided to restore their landscapes. Their noble decision led to the protection and increase of mangrove trees from 12,200 to as high as 2.4 million, thus 0.16 million trees per an individual in less than 720 days. With this, almost 90% of the solution came from within the community, which entailed harnessing human values and fair recognition of socio-cultural norms, skills and interests of the people living nearer to the mangroves. Recognising the values helped to facilitate human cooperation. At the centre of the cooperation is trust, which strengthens relationships among the people. In areas where land is genuinely limited, trust helps to defeat gender inequality by offering women a chance to negotiate for shares in the mangrove assets for the first time. Gender breakthrough has emerged because trust aids bonding of the people to appreciate the rationale that goes with collective management of land resources. Indeed, the existing goodwill, belongingness and practical leadership served as enormous ingredients in turning the mangrove landscapes into productive assets.

The second initiative relates to oysters. Globally, scientists are discovering evidences from Maryland in the US through the New Zealand to the west coast of Africa to demonstrate that oysters and their ecosystems are not sustainable. The oyster ecosystems are severely threatened by climate change. There are fears that oysters are going extinct. Through our own field engagements at the grassroots, we have heard and seen similar proofs that oysters are rapidly declining. The oysters have completely disappeared from some coastal communities and, in other locations, migrated from shallow waters to deeper hydrospheres. Meanwhile, processing 0.82 tonnes of fresh oysters and 2.10 tonnes of oyster shells requires a processer to burn 120kg of charcoal to obtain 1,134.8kwh of energy. A typical processer earns a net profit of US$ 0.64 per day instead of generating US$ 5.2 a day. High consumption of charcoal encourages wood-cutting. This allows deforestation and degraded biomes to set in. And, in the process, deforestation kills soil microbes, forces birds to migrate, and speeds undesirable rise of the atmospheric temperature towards the 20C.

Can the people at the grassroots restore oyster ecosystems alone? Your guess is as good as others. Adequate incentives in the form of capital and enabling policy are essential for empowering people to keep coastal landscapes in sustainable conditions. As a result, we together with some partners, for example, are piloting a project called the Green Oyster Initiative through the Switch-Africa Green Programme to conserve and restore oyster ecosystems in the estuary of the Volta River – a basin responsible for nourishing approximately 120 million people in West Africa. Initially, our imaginations clearly tell us it was not possible. Soon after, we confidently moved our idea from a prototyping table into a practical action. Since then the preliminary outcomes have been incredibly impressive, considering what our meagre finances could afford and impact. We witnessed big solutions from a small budget. We learned that one oyster producer could potentially restore 12 million oysters within 5 years. With a total of 1,500 producers, they could co-restore 22.5 billion oysters. This translates into substantial benefits beyond organically enriching the oyster ecosystems. The restoration would improve incomes and add 30% decent jobs to expand green economic growth locally. Hundreds of children would be gradually pedaled out of hazardous labour and poverty. Investment capital amounting to over US$28 million could be attracted by 2035 as against US$5,000.00 presently. The repaired ecosystem also provides huge soft solutions such as generational hopes and heritage treasures, which must not be undervalued. Achieving all these results favour the 2030 Agenda. Moreover, oysters are zero-emitters of carbons. Thus, they are vital for realising the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement. So, in the end, the restoration does not just benefit oysters but also the people, climate and water systems. These benefits and more necessitate the notion to reconnect sustainability values to the ways people use and manage coastal resources.

Human values often resonate from how people behave or interact among themselves and their environments. Conversely, sustainability values are bigger than human values in terms of conceptual and behavioural scope and signify how markets, environments and humans interact to build a sustainable society in which landscapes are flourishing and furnishing sufficient needs. The meaning of reconnecting sustainability values to landscapes is simply encapsulated in this: adopt ecologically sound approaches to maximise profit, sustain the source of the profit, and let people equitably benefit from the profit. In all, individual efforts must be encouraged in safeguarding the landscapes. However, with a growing demand to wisely utilise coastal resources to expand development opportunities to overcome urbanisation and carbon threats, I emphasise that collective stewardship from everyone is increasingly important in matters of landscape restoration.

This article is adapted from the Global Landscapes Forum at :



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