CCAFS / Climate change / East Africa / Environment / Kenya / Mazingira / SLS

Voices from the lab: A research fellow shares her experience at the Mazingira Centre

Established as an environmental research and education laboratory at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Mazingira Centre, seeks to understand and manage the Environmental Footprint of livestock and has a strong focus on capacity development at different levels. In this blog, one of the many researchers hosted by the Centre in this area, Shade Akinsete from the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, shares her experience as a Postdoctoral fellow (funded via Climate Impacts Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement – CIRCLE – program) – at the Centre.

Weighing out soil samples for analysis

Shade weighing out soil samples for analysis (photo credit: ILRI/Lutz Merbold)

Climate change is a real threat that requires several mitigation approaches.  Soil management is considered an integral part of this solution, largely because soils acts as sinks for atmospheric carbon dioxide depending on land-use management. However, evidence on soil carbon sequestration potentials for the African continent is still scarce.

This prompted my journey to the Mazingira Centre, an environmental research an education facility at ILRI in Kenya, where I spent one year calculating soil carbon stocks and related greenhouse gas changes under different land uses in southwest Nigeria in order to evaluate different soil management strategies. This rare opportunity was provided and funded by the Climate Impact Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement (CIRCLE) award that targets early career researchers. Additionally, this opportunity was encouraged by the goodwill of my home institution (University of Ibadan) constantly seeking the growth of her faculty members.

After many weeks of field work in the Onigambari and Omo forest reserves, Nigeria, about seven hundred soil samples for various laboratory analyses were collected and shipped to the Mazingira Centre. My laboratory experience was excellent, owing to availability of functional and adequate equipment for my research. This was complemented by hands-on experience, especially on the gas chromatograph machines for measuring greenhouse gas fluxes. In addition, other equipment for soil preparation and characterization, facilities for measuring carbon in different media (soils, manure and hay), incubators and automated measurement of greenhouse gases as well as their fluxes within the laboratory and in the field, are available at the Mazingira Centre. I enjoyed the ‘do-it-yourself’ approach that confers some sustainable level of independence on the researcher, especially students studying at different post-graduate levels who use the Mazingira Centre Laboratory for their research.

Furthermore, during my one year at Mazingira Centre, I had the opportunity to observe other researches, especially the measurement of enteric methane from livestock. Participating in the bi-weekly departmental seminar further improved my knowledge on other departmental members’ (scientists and students) research.

Greenhouse gas measurement

Incubation set-up of intact soil cores for quantifying greenhouse gas fluxes (photo credit: ILRI/Lutz Merbold)

Overall, the Mazingira experience fostered my capacity, improved my skills such as handling equipment and also improved my independence and leadership skills. In addition, I had an enhanced appreciation on networking among institutions to facilitate collaboration that ultimately provide services that students and other researchers require for success in their work. For example, collaboration between Mazingira Centre and the Nutrition Laboratory, at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA- ILRI) hub also in Kenya, facilitated my access to and use of an equipment (a heating digester attached to a re-circulating water aspirator) that was critical for my research. I was able to conduct a 16 hour hot-acid hydrolysis, a protocol used to separate soil carbon into measurable carbon fractions for the purpose of monitoring the changes occurring within total soil carbon.

Finally, an opportunity to participate in the departmental retreat where short presentations and other activities were held in a relaxed setting was a great way to bring my one year research experience at the Mazingira Centre to a remarkable end. The findings of the one year stay at the Mazingira Centre are currently written up in research papers and will become available shortly.

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