Through the use of spatial data in the development of new policies, Ethiopia can tackle food security, climate change and water management more efficiently. However, this requires the knowledge network to be reinforced. And it is here that the Faculty of Geo-Information Science & Earth Observation (ITC) at the University of Twente in the Netherlands steps in to collaborate with its Ethiopian partners for the coming few years.
The ITC recently signed an agreement with the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the public higher-learning institutions located in Bahir Dar, Addis Abeba, and Meqelle. The Dutch organisation primarily funds the four-year programme for internationalisation in education, a.k.a Nuffic, through their Innovative Capacity Building programme, together with the Ministry and ITC also contributing. The programme conforms with the government’s Growth & Transformation Plan (GTP) and the Multi-Annual Strategic Plan of the Dutch Embassy in Ethiopia.
Complex themes that are related to issues that constitute modern-day challenges to Ethiopia such as food security, water management and climate change were picked. And the use of spatial data can contribute significantly to these issues. The topics serve as the prime point of departure for the activities within the network, but attention was likewise paid to other relevant subjects such as spatial issues relating to risk management and land ownership in the field of disaster relief.
The programme strives to boost the nation’s capacity to capitalise on spatial data when planning and to monitor regional and local development. To do this, technology such as Geo-Information Science (GIS) and earth observation was used. Other more innovative applications using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones, mobile technology and crowdsourcing were incorporated.
In the education domain, support is provided to enhance the level of relevant curricula through the introduction of the latest knowledge, techniques and practices. Attention is given to curriculum review; improved governance and management of education; quality assessment and control; and linkage and support to Technical & Vocational Education & Training (TVET).
Other elements to be introduced are distance based education and blended training. All are supported by appropriate IT infrastructure and audio-video recording capabilities to enhance the quality of training materials and for other outreach purposes. Additional staff development activities are foreseen for new elements within the curricula. Also, support to maintain the infrastructure is incorporated in the project design. During the curricula review process, next to quality, competencies required by and relevant to the labour market needs will be guiding elements.
TVETs are supported through a cascade approach to enhance the quality of the technical and vocational education and training. Educational materials developed within the project will be redesigned to support and strengthen the quality of instructors at the TVET institutions affiliated with the university partners.
Support can be provided onsite, through distance education, but also through other means of outreach and networking. Each partner university has selected a TVET and typical departments at TVETs to be supported, like the Natural Resources Management, Surveying & Land Administration Departments. The requirements, for example, natural resource management at TVET level, should go beyond the more traditional water engineering and should include forestry management, land use planning and apply techniques such as geographic information systems (GIS).
To strengthen the research capacity, a coherent research program is under development which is addressing the needs of the three partners, is in line with the GTP objectives and which has a number of PhDs, MScs and (co) supervisors working together and supporting each other. The three universities are geographically spread across the area, and each partner has its research mandate related to their neighbouring geography.
This posed a challenge to identify a common study area, and therefore three watersheds have been selected as research locations (upper Beshilo, Tana and Tekeze catchments). Each partner university will have its main activities in the most adjacent basin, and validation studies will be conducted in the other ones.
Quantitative and qualitative applied MSc and PhD studies will be conducted in the fields of agriculture, natural resources, surveying, geo-information technology, natural and computational sciences which all have relevance to the demands of the labour market. MSc and PhD students are encouraged to take up study topics within the domains of agriculture, food security and sustainable natural resource management.
Instrumentation will be installed such as automated weather stations, as well as other supporting equipment to quantitatively analyse the water and energy balances and cycles as well as equipment to examine plant spectral response(s). This will be supported by low-cost ground reception stations to acquire near real-time satellite-based observations and derived products relevant to atmosphere, land, water and climate research applications. UAVs will be used for detailed image acquisition.
PhDs will be recruited from existing staff at the partner universities through an openly announced application procedure, following the procedures applicable at the partner universities. MSc research topics will be selected so that they support and contribute to the overall PhD topics. There will be a feedback loop to incorporate results obtained from the research programme into the education so that local case studies can be further developed and integrated into the primary curricula.
Various outreach activities and events have been defined. These activities should enhance the sustainable collaboration within the network and between the network and public and private sector stakeholders. The outreach activities should, next to dissemination of research findings, provide relevant extension services to key stakeholders like development agents, assist in the identification of research and education profiles, stimulate spin-off and entrepreneurship opportunities through valorisation of research output, new product and services creation and other forms of collaboration with the private sector.
The activities should lead to a gradual expansion of the network, incorporating more educational institutes but should also engage other public and private stakeholders. Evolvement of the system will be monitored throughout the project.
And the wheels to realise all of this were put in motion during the programme’s kick-off in Addis Abeba last October. Likewise, various stakeholders from a wide range of sectors attended the official kick-off, mainly to discuss and give advice on what has been dubbed the Ethiopian Educational Network to Support Agricultural Transformation (EENSAT) programme.