African Mountain Research Times - November 2018
Afromont Nov 2018 1AfroMont is a communication and networking organisation interested in research and policy relating to African mountains. Afromont aims to highlight experiences from research, field projects and innovation and best practice in sustainable mountain development and climate change adaptation in African countries.

Photo: Dolomites in South Tyrol. AfroMont met the Alps by attending an October 2018 EURAC conference in nearby Bolzano, Italy.

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December 11 each year International Mountain Day was designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 2003. 

The General Assembly encouraged the international community to organize events at all levels on that day to highlight the importance of sustainable mountain development.

So, let us celebrate mountains!

Without both mitigation and adaptation, there are looming issues in Africa about climate change and food insecurity

The Food Insecurity and Climate Change Vulnerability map, developed by WFP and the UK Met Office, highlights the importance of urgent action to scale up climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts for the most food insecure people. 

Check out the fabulous (and very frightening!) interactive website on climate change and food insecurity:

For millions of people across Africa, Asia, and Latin America, climate change means more frequent and intense floods, droughts and storms, accounting each year for up to 90 percent of all natural disasters. These can quickly spiral into full-blown food and nutrition crises. In the last decade, almost half of the World Food Programme (WFP)’s emergency and recovery operations have been in response to climate-related disasters, at a cost of US$23 billion, say the WFP. With the vast majority of the world’s hungry exposed to climate shocks, eradicating hunger requires bold efforts to improve people’s ability to prepare, respond and recover. Failing this, it has been estimated that the risk of hunger and malnutrition could increase by up to 20 percent by 2050.

The WFP add that to support vulnerable countries and communities, WFP provides analysis highlighting the links between food security and climate risks, as well as the present and future impact of climate change on food security and nutrition. This helps identify which communities are most at risk and informs national policy and planning, including the development of food assistance programmes that build resilience and reduce hunger. (source:

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Editorial – What African mountain scientists want!

Afromont Nov 2018 4AfroMont research strategy workshops revisited
This editorial revisits a series of three AfroMont African mountain research workshops held between 2012 and 2013 and which provided a window into the issues faced by African mountain researchers, mainly a lack of a research strategy, research funding and research ‘stature’. The lack of research funding mentioned by delegates seems to have at its roots in a lack of a coherent and compelling African mountain research strategy that is attractive to funders, hence the need to workshop a research strategy.

While there is considerable research underway in mountain landscapes around the world, mountainous areas in African countries are generally under-researched compared to mountain regions elsewhere. African scientists are also often working in academically isolated conditions, and are unable to obtain adequate funding for their work because of a lack of a ‘bankable’ research concept or strategy, a lack of ‘research stature’ and an absence of effective research collaboration, both within Africa, and in partnership with developed countries. Research carried out in Africa is often opportunistic and not linked to a long-term research programme, either for each mountain, for each African nation or for regions. Funding can be erratic, and often researchers are working in other sectors like agriculture and work on ‘mountain’ issues in their spare time.

Competition from international research teams
In African mountain research, there are many international researchers and internationally funded research programmes (Prof Bruce Hewitson, University of Cape Town, South Africa; Dr Rob Marchant, York University UK and the KITE project; Drs Andreas and Claudia Hemp, the German funded Mt Kili project, Mt Kilimanjaro and many others). Also, many research conferences may be held in African countries, but are typically organised from outside (e.g. African Great Lakes conference, 2017). Large research projects in Africa’s mountains are typically funded by European donor agencies, the money and research agenda controlled from outside Africa, and conducted by European researchers, although with African partners. It is very challenging for African scientists to compete and access this type of ‘big’ funding.

The research fraternity interested in African landscapes, mountains and lakes is bigger than those researchers based in Africa itself. This is not to say that there is no authentic and good quality African mountain science being conducted by African scientists. It just seems that there are many issues about sustainable development, biodiversity management, new livelihood development, governance, protected area effectiveness that are not being explored, both in an applied sense (coming up with solution) and in a conceptual sense (exploring new ideas, creating new theoretical frameworks for African mountain studies).

Three AfroMont regional research workshops 2012 - 2013
To find out more about the needs of African mountain scientists and explore a research agenda for African mountains, AfroMont hosted three mountain research agenda workshops held in Lesotho (2012), Cameroon (2013) and Nairobi (2013). The three African workshops (in Lesotho, Cameroon and Nairobi) were strategically very valuable in getting the delegates to share ideas on what research and research support was a priority for Africa’s mountains, but is not known whether any of the delegates took any of the suggestions forward in their own personal work and collaborations.

The 2012 Lesotho (southern African) workshop was the most profoundly science-based of the Lesotho and Cameroon workshops and attested to the stature of the scientists who attended the workshop. The 2013 Cameroon workshop identified broad needs rather than actual scientific approaches to research these needs, and without providing details (for example on disaster risk reduction and specific cases). The 2013 Nairobi workshop involved the development of a collaborative research programme, which did not materialise, but which is still a good idea to be taken forward at some stage.

Afromont Nov 2018 5Need for an African research network
Delegates at all the AfroMont workshops agreed that the maintenance of an African research network was crucial in order to support African scientists and scholars who may be working in resource- and input-limited situations. Assistance was needed to mainstream knowledge generated by scientists into national decision-making process in African countries. The Lesotho and Cameroon workshops suggested that AfroMont should take on the responsibility of engaging to a more active extent with researchers in African countries, as well as with NGOs such as, inter alia, ICSU, ERuDeF, ADEID, MDTP, Birdlife Africa, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Oxfam, donors and funders and others to promote capacity building in African mountain research. The Cameroon workshop delegates suggested that AfroMont should to this by establishing a West African office. The delegates from the Lesotho and Cameroon workshops also suggested that AfroMont should liaise on behalf of researchers with potential users of research knowledge and generate effective and well-targeted policy briefs.

The delegates to these meetings felt that the value of an organisation like AfroMont could be increased by extending the reach of AfroMont, for example, by setting up a regional office for each of West Africa, East Africa and Southern Africa, and for North Africa. The issue of non-English language use then becomes important factor of being able to engage with local researchers and biodiversity-linked NGOs, and French could be used in the West African office.

A lack of a coherent regional mountain research agenda
A key acknowledgement from the Lesotho and Cameroon workshop delegates was that very few African countries have a credible, well-structured mountain research agenda, and mountain research is undertaken on an ad hoc basis, following individual interests. This lack of a research strategy was one of the aims for the three AfroMont workshops i.e. to come up with a well-though through research strategy, covering basics first.

Delegates mentioned that a national funding agenda with strategic themes would help to channel academic research towards national priorities, including those priorities linked to mountains. Also, it seemed that African mountains have very little research infrastructure like weather stations and climate monitoring systems to give reliable weather data for research. Further investments should emphasise this aspect, so that in the long term the scientific community as well as practitioners can use reliable data. Even South Africa is compromised in this way with few weather stations on mountains.

The Lesotho and Cameroon workshops highlighted that the single most important research intervention for African mountainous regions would be to set up long-term ecosystem monitoring systems in mountains, and create a secure mechanism for data storage and ease of access for current and future scholars. There are smaller data archives, notably SAEON (South Africa), and the biodiversity research repository hosted by ARCOS, but these do not cover all African mountain systems. Further investments should emphasise this aspect, so that in the long term the scientific community as well as practitioners can use reliable data.

Potential future role for AfroMont
The three AfroMont workshops were revealing in the way they suggested that there was a need for a small organisation like AfroMont to assist African mountain researchers to overcome the challenges that would enable them to do good quality research. Especially at the 2013 Cameroon workshop, delegates articulated that they often felt disempowered, did not have resources or research technology and equipment, and did not get exposure to the latest technology advances, concepts and thinking. Delegates did not seem to have their own research strategies to increase their chances of doing international quality research, and appeared to be desperately looking for an organisation that can play a role in facilitating their work for them. The Cameroon workshop was weak in that it did not facilitate the development of solutions from the delegates, although the formation of a West Africa ‘AfroMont’ could count as a solution, and rather just resulted in a wish list. The lack of empowerment in West Africa science may be creating the situation where much basic mountain research remains to be done in these African mountains (climate, livelihoods, biodiversity).

Workshop delegates also felt that AfroMont should play a greater science-diplomacy role to ensure that the findings of African mountain scientists (and their European counterparts and co-collaborators) are incorporated into policy and practice, and that African mountain issues are mainstreamed into national government agendas. To be active at a policy level, AfroMont would have to mobilise politically to be able to play a greater role in setting research agendas in African countries, and arguably could only do this through the establishment of regional offices (West Africa, East Africa, Southern Africa, North Africa) and with a much more strategic approach to its mandate.

More visible Science Academies
Most African countries do have science academies, although they were not mentioned at the three AfroMont workshops. The workshop delegates at both the Lesotho and Cameroon workshops suggested that another potential role for AfroMont would be to play the role of a ‘science academy’. This role would involve extensive liaison with government agencies, funders and research practitioners to obtain ‘big research funding’ and ultimately manage large research programmes, share information and ultimately provide endogenous science-based solutions for sustainable mountain development in Africa in the long term. This role would require a considerable upscaling of AfroMont’s activities, perhaps setting AfroMont on a path towards becoming an African ICIMOD. ICIMOD is the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development and is a regional intergovernmental learning and knowledge sharing centre serving the eight regional member countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayas.

The African Science Academies
African Academy of Sciences
Cameroon Academy of Sciences
Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences
Kenya National Academy of Sciences
Madagascar's National Academy of Arts, Letters and Sciences
Nigerian Academy of Science
l'Académie des Sciences et Techniques du Sénégal
Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSA)
Sudan Academy of Sciences
Tanzania Academy of Sciences
Uganda National Academy of Sciences
Zambia Academy of Sciences and the Zimbabwe Academy of Sciences

A feasibility study, additional resources, a management structure that included a science advisory panel and a very well researched and sound business plan would be needed for such an endeavour. Details would need to be worked out with African stakeholders at a high level, perhaps using CONDESAN and ICIMOD as examples.

Afromont Nov 2018 6Summary Report of the World Mountain Forum 2018

23-26 October 2018 | Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

The fourth World Mountain Forum (WMF 2018) took place from 23-26 October 2018, in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz Republic. Approximately 300 participants attended the meeting, which addressed the overarching theme, ‘Mountains in a Changing World: Strengthening Partnerships and Pathways Towards a Thriving Mountain Future.’ WMF 2018 was co-organized by the University of Central Asia (UCA) and the government of the Kyrgyz Republic, under the auspices of the Sustainable Mountain Development for Global Change Programme of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

With the overall objective of advancing the sustainable mountain development (SMD) agenda, discussions over the three days were organized around plenary sessions, parallel thematic tracks, poster presentations and featured focus events. The thematic discussions on the first two days addressed three overarching topics: current trends and dynamics; pathways towards a sustainable mountain future; and partnerships and alliances to advance SMD. On the final day, participants reviewed and consolidated messages for inclusion in the conference outcome document titled ‘A Call for Mountains,’ and convened in sessions exploring innovative partnerships and best practices in mobilization and financing for SMD.

The Forum was preceded by the Youth Mountain Forum, held on 22 October 2018, that brought together students and young professionals interested in climate change and SMD to serve as Youth Ambassadors during WMF 2018.

IISD warns us that the biodiversity conservation crisis needs to reach a new committed public – or we face a biodiversity disaster

Afromont Nov 2018 7The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) tells us that the impacts of climate change are palpable and widespread. We are all aware of the occurrence of ever more frequent extreme climate events, the shrinking of glaciers, the recurring droughts and heat-waves – all providing evidence that climate patterns are changing, but when we look out of our windows, the same birds and vegetation we knew as children still seems to be there. We know that tropical forests are disappearing, that coral reefs are dying, but it seems too distant.

There can be few people who are not exposed to the daily stream of messages of fear and of hope about climate change; most have a settled opinion about the threat that it represents or tactics for addressing it. Yet biodiversity conservation, representing an equal (and, indeed, closely linked) threat to life on the planet, flies mostly well below the radar. Despite the rapidly developing base of knowledge on the threat that loss of biodiversity represents, despite the stream of reports that track the bleak trends, public debate has flat-lined over the past three decades as the situation continues to accelerate towards the abyss.

The IISD graph below, which contrasts media coverage of Climate Change (CC) with that of Biodiversity (BD) over the past 30 years, lays out at a glance one of the central paradoxes of sustainable development. Climate change has captured the public imagination.

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Graph Source: Legagneux , P., N. Casajus, K. Cazelles, C. Chevallier, M. Chevrinais, L. Guéry, C. Jacquet, M. Jaffré, M. Naud, F. Noisette, P. Ropars, S. Vissault, P. Archambault, J. Bêty, D. Berteaux, and D. Gravel. 2018. Our House Is Burning: Discrepancy in Climate Change vs. Biodiversity Coverage in the Media as Compared to Scientific Literature . Front. Ecol. Evol.

Since the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was adopted in 1992, endless strategies, action plans, roadmaps, goals and targets have been adopted, but action to deliver on what has been promised has consistently fallen short. We are again approaching a watershed – the end of the period in which the Aichi Biodiversity Targets were to be implemented and a global summit to map out a strategy for the coming ten years and beyond. While many earnestly hope that this will be a new “Paris moment” when the stakeholder communities came together and a global climate agreement was adopted, it increasingly looks as if this could be wishful thinking.

Afromont Nov 2018 9None of the signs of what created the magic formula in Paris in December 2015 appears to be present. The trick, says IISD, is to mobilize a wide range of key stakeholders concerned with the future of nature and natural resources, but not currently connected to conservation action. They are in the technology community, in the finance community, in the social movements, in the universities and in religious groups. They care but so far do not see how they can connect. Mobilization of these interests must necessarily build around a new narrative for conservation – a narrative that, against the sober background of our present predicament, is up-beat, inspiring, and shows how to connect concern with action.

New Publications

Bentley, Robertson, Barker (2018). Range contraction to a higher elevation: the likely future of the montane vegetation in South Africa and Lesotho. Biodiversity and Conservation. ISSN 0960-3115. Biodivers Conserv. DOI 10.1007/s10531-018-1643-6

Global climate change is a major challenge for the future with serious potential impacts on biodiversity. Biodiversity in mountains is particularly vulnerable as many montane species are adapted to narrow microhabitats, making them less able to adjust to a climatic change. It is considered important to investigate range changes in the South African Great Escarpment because of the high levels of biodiversity in these mountains, as well as their importance for water provision in South Africa. The current and future ranges of 46 montane plant species in South Africa and Lesotho were therefore modelled using biomod in R, using presence points and predictor variables which included rainfall and temperature worldclim layers. The performance of distribution models produced was evaluated using the Area Under the receiver operating Curve (AUC), True Skill Statistic (TSS), Sensitivity and Specificity. We calculated beta diversity and species richness changes between current and future climates for the group of 46 species, as well as shifts of the predicted presence region boundaries and centroids. We also analysed shifts in minimum, median and maximum elevations. Results show a contraction in species’ ranges towards higher elevation as
has been documented from other mountain regions around the world. These results are a cause for concern as a warming climate is decreasing the potential regions of occurrence of montane species in South Africa and Lesotho’s mountainous regions of high biodiversity. This region is under a diverse range of conservation and land use management practises, and our results suggest a coordinated response to climate change is needed.