Scholar wins Award for Young African researchers

ARUSHA: A FEMALE scholar has flown the Tanzanian flag higher in Europe after clinching a Coimbra Award for Young African researchers, trouncing her peers across sub-Saharan African higher education institutions.

Dr Never Mwambela, a lecturer at the College of African Wildlife Management, Mweka, Tanzania, emerged the sole young researcher from sub-Saharan Africa with a remarkable project.

Dr Mwambela is executing her research dubbed the Impact of climate change on biodiversity and food security: The role of Nature-Based Solution for Improving Conservation and Wellbeing at the University of Barcelona, Spain.

The scholarship programme aims at equipping young scholars with high impact projects with academic and research contacts in Europe to carry out work they engage in back home.

A scholar has to come up with novel integrative natural solutions with multiple functions for minimising impacts of climate change, while ensuring resilient food production and biodiversity conservation.

Dr Mwambela carried out her award-winning research in Tanzania’s protected areas of Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Makuyuni Wildlife Park and the Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem.

She also conducted the research in the country’s agricultural landscapes of KPL Coffee Plantations (Kilimanjaro) Cotton Plantations in Meatu District, Simiyu Region and in maize farms in Arusha Region. Climate change being a major risk in biodiversity conservation and food production in sub-Saharan Africa, Tanzania included, prompted her to carry out the research.

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In fact, agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing a major challenge of meeting food demands as a result of the sector reducing its footprint in environment and sustainable production.

Pests, especially invasive ones, are responsible for 40 per cent losses of crops, thanks to climate change and weather patterns for contributing to the dispersal, expansion and population dynamics of insect and facilitating the spread of indigenous and exotic species in new areas.

The burning of fossil fuels, clearing of forests for intensive agriculture, including widespread usage of synthetic pesticides, are among human activities worsening the situation, as they increase production costs and environmental pollution.

Dr Mwambela attributed intense droughts, water scarcity, severe fires, rising sea levels, flooding, catastrophic storms and declining biodiversity in some areas of Tanzania to anthropogenic climate change. Simply put, it is all about shifts in temperature, humidity and rainfall patterns over seasons, years and decades compounded by human activities.

“The effects of extreme temperatures on other arthropod groups such as spiders has received much less attention despite their potential biocontrol and conservation role in ecosystem,” Dr Mwambela explained.

In her novel project, Dr Mwambela uses spiders as an ideal approach to determine species’ diversity and their conservation role, analysing the spiders’ gut to determine pests as spider diets in agricultural landscapes of Tanzania.

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Her research findings show highest spiders’ diversity in protected areas in the northern tourism circuit, namely Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Makuyuni Wildlife Park and the Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem.

The findings indicate highest spider diversity and their biocontrol role in agricultural and natural landscapes especially on cotton, maize and coffee fields.

“We discovered more than 100 spiders’ species, including Araneidae, Salticidae and Lycosidae, playing conservation roles as biocontrol of major agricultural pests, including fall army worm, bollworm, jassids, aphids, whiteflies, red spider mites and thrips,” Dr Mwambela said.

Some of the pests, she added, were vectors of viral pathogens confounding the intervention programmes.

She said the lowest spiders’ diversity the findings revealed in intensified faming systems with synthetic pesticide and in inhabited areas called for ecological agriculture and organic farming to restore the soil and ecosystem and minimise impacts of climate change.

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