Africa Day – celebrating partnerships across the continent

As the world marks Africa Day, the University celebrates its existing partnerships across the continent and looks forward to further collaboration as a key strategic aim for the future.

Africa Day is the annual commemoration of the foundation of the Organisation of African Unity on 25 May 1963. It is celebrated in various countries on the African continent, as well as around the world.

The University benefits from many collaborations with colleagues and organisations in Africa.

Professor Simone Buitendijk, Vice-Chancellor, University of Leeds said: “Our new strategy emphasises the need for universities and nations to collaborate more fully than ever before if we are to reduce inequality and reach the targets set out in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

“As a global university, Leeds partners with organisations and institutions across the world, and it is absolutely essential that we continue to broaden our reach if we are to learn, evolve and make a positive difference.

“In addition, we are engaged in partnership research projects that bring change to communities where it is needed, including in the Global South.”

Connecting Voices

Despite its low contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, Africa is the most vulnerable continent to climate change.

Key climate change research, policy and innovation in Africa was highlighted as part of a series of Connecting Voices for Climate Action events organised by the Priestley International Centre for Climate.

Speakers included Ambassador Seyni Nafo – High Representative of the President of the Republic of Mali for Climate, and spokesperson for the African Climate Negotiators Group.

He said: “Africa is disproportionately impacted by climate change. The continent only emits 3.8-4% of greenhouse gasses, but suffers the most on terms of GDP loss, between 5-9%.”

Africa had huge potential in sectors ranging from energy and industry to agriculture and financial innovation, he said, but research and innovation was the key.

“There’s an opportunity to have a systemic approach and ensure that research and innovation is really translated from science into policy, into action on the ground.”

Among those also presenting at the online event, Research to innovation: Solutions to the climate crisis in Africa, was Barbara Evans, Professor of Public Health Engineering, and chair in Public Health Engineering in Leeds’ School of Civil Engineering, and Sir Nick Kay, former British Ambassador to Afghanistan, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Food and environment

There is a core focus on these areas in research related to countries in Africa of which the following examples are a small selection.

A Farmer runs his hand along crops in a field.

Protecting soil

The potential for farmers to protect their soils and make smarter, region-specific agricultural management choices is being advanced in Malawi.

Agricultural systems with the potential to capture and store carbon are being investigated by Dr Marcelo Galdos, a Met Office Academic Fellow at the School of Earth and Environment.

African farmers have multiple and sometimes conflicting uses for crop residues, which can be used for cooking, building materials or feeding animals.

Removing the straw reduces the potential for carbon sequestration and exposes the soil to erosion. As such, it is a challenge, especially in the dry season, to nourish the livestock while also protecting the soil.

Dr Galdos helps to identify where soils are most vulnerable to extreme weather events and how to protect them by working with the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) in Malawi to assess soil health in conventional and conservation systems.

We apply models that can paint a picture of land cover and its dynamics and estimate how crops could be affected by future climate scenarios.


Dr Galdos said: “We apply models that can paint a picture of land cover and its dynamics and estimate how crops could be affected by future climate scenarios.

“The results can be used to both reframe how agricultural systems are managed by farmers and to give incentives that encourage more sustainable farming methods.”

The work is part of an AFRICAP project, with fieldwork in Northern Malawi.

Food insecurity and malnutrition

Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet-Africa) is using interdisciplinary research to develop a new understanding of the African food system, tackling food insecurity and malnutrition from the ground up.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the most food-insecure region in the world. Despite challenges of poverty and malnutrition, in many countries, people rely on agriculture not only for food – but also for their livelihoods.

The project is one of four aimed at tackling global challenges of disease, poverty, climate change, and food insecurity.

Led by the University of Pretoria in partnership with the University of Leeds and FANRPAN, the £2 million, three-year programme operates in six sub-Saharan African countries: Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia.

One in four people in sub-Saharan Africa face food insecurity, and Africa will need to produce 80 per cent more food by 2050.


Professor Frans Swanepoel of the University of Pretoria is Principal Investigator for FSNet-Africa. He said overcoming Africa’s development challenges cannot be separated from the need to transform the continent’s food systems.

“One in four people in sub-Saharan Africa face food insecurity, and Africa will need to produce 80% more food by 2050.

“The challenge is not only to ensure that adequate food is accessible, but to provide safe and nutritious food as African countries are confronted by the triple burden of malnutrition.”

Nutrition programmes

Working with partners in Africa, Leeds researchers are helping African scientists working in the agriculture and food production sectors.

Professor Caroline Orfila, Chair in Plant Biochemistry and Nutrition and Associate Director of the Global Food and Environment Institute, with colleagues Dr Hannah Ensaff from the School of Food Science and Nutrition and Dr Effie Papargyropoulou from the School of Earth and Environment, have devised the programme.

It is really important that nutrition is put back on the research and policy agendas.


Professor Orfila said: “For so long in the region the emphasis has been on producing sufficient food for everyone, hence the mass production of calorie-dense cereals, oils and seeds. It is really important that nutrition is put back on the research and policy agendas. 

"For this purpose, people involved in the food system need to understand the nutritional impact of agricultural and food system interventions.”

The researchers have worked in close collaboration with Professor Hettie Schönfeldt of the University of Pretoria, who is Director of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) Centre of Excellence for Food Security.

Professor Schönfeldt advises the South African National Department of Health and is recognised internationally for research excellence in African food systems.

Also working closely with the course leaders is Bertha Munthali of FANRPAN, who is a nutrition advisor and has conducted nutrition interventions in sub-Saharan Africa, including the Agriculture to Nutrition (ATONU) initiative in Ethiopia and Tanzania.

The training programme comprises activities that will equip scientists with the necessary skills to critically appraise, design, implement and evaluate nutrition-sensitive programmes in Africa.

You can read more in this Medium article.

African girl receiving vaccine injection.

Image credit: WHO/R Barry

Meningitis outbreaks 

Scientists are using weather forecasts to predict the location and scale of impending meningitis outbreaks in sub-Saharan Africa.

It is part of an early-warning system being piloted with the aim of giving health agencies more time to activate emergency response plans.

The approach – pioneered by the African Centre of Meteorological Applications for Development and African SWIFT initiative is using weather data to give up to two weeks’ advanced warning of conditions “less likely” or “highly likely” to trigger a meningitis outbreak.

The forecasts also warn if an outbreak is likely to become an epidemic.

Incidence of the disease rises dramatically in hot, dry and dusty weather. There are about 30,000 cases in Africa each year: one in ten infected people die and others can be left with brain damage, epilepsy and deafness. Once an outbreak starts, it spreads rapidly from person to person.

Professor Doug Parker, Professor of Meteorology at Leeds’ School of Earth Environment and lead scientist at African SWIFT, said: “Researchers have known about the link between weather conditions and meningitis for decades.

“But with advances in weather modelling, we can now forecast with a high degree of accuracy one or two weeks ahead whether those conditions will develop, and that is giving health agencies a window in which to try and target their resources to the right place.” 

Clean energy technologies

A new television drama is combining action-packed entertainment with creating awareness about clean energy technologies.

The project is the result of a project partnership between Leeds and the Centre for Research in Energy and Energy Conservation (CREEC), based at Makerere University in Uganda.

Solar panels in an African landscape.

Professor Jon Lovett, from the School of Geography, leads the project at Leeds.

He said: “There are many excellent engineers and scientists in Africa. The capacity building initiative is enhancing their skills and ability to play a leading role in the clean energy transformation currently taking place globally.

The International Energy Agency estimates that about 600 million people in Africa do not have access to electricity, with 900 million people lacking access to clean cooking.

Indoor air pollution from cooking smoke is called the "killer in the kitchen" and the World Health Organisation estimates it leads to around 1.6 million deaths a year globally.

Small-scale electricity generation can be achieved using solar power and biomass gasifiers. However, the transformative potential of these technologies is not widely appreciated.

We want to see more people using clean energy in the country and in the region


Mary Suzan Abbo, CREEC's director, said the film would encourage wider dialogue and knowledge about renewable energy. “We want to see more people using clean energy in the country and in the region,” she added.

Extreme weather

African SWIFT was set up to improve the accuracy of weather forecasting for people’s safety, and for key economic sectors including aviation, agriculture, energy, water and emergency response.

SWIFT (Science for Weather Information and Forecasting Techniques) is led by the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS). Programme partners include universities and national meteorological services in Ghana, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and the UK.

Every year, high-intensity weather events result in devastating loss of life and damage to land and infrastructure – and they are set to increase because of climate change.

Doug Parker, Professor of Meteorology at the School of Earth and Environment, and Lead Scientist with African SWIFT, said: “By improving weather forecasting, the project has had an impact on the lives of millions of ordinary people who, armed with accurate weather information, can take steps to protect themselves, their families and livestock from the effects of severe weather.

“But the biggest legacy of African SWIFT is the way it has fostered a network of operational forecasters and meteorological scientists across Africa who will continue to adapt and improve forecasting techniques in the light of the latest research long after African SWIFT has finished.”