BCFN YES! Rewards young researchers from four continents

BCFN YES! Rewards young researchers from four continents

December 05, 2018

BCFN YES! Rewards young researchers from four continents

From Africa to the Americas, passing through Europe: the winning projects from the BCFN YES award combine innovation and collaboration across many subject areas, with people and local traditions firmly placed at the center.

"This year, we received over 120 projects, touching all aspects of sustainability. It was really hard for us in the judges' panel to decide which ones to select for our shortlist". That is how Danielle Nierenberg, President and Founder of  Food Tank, introduced the three projects nominated winners of the 2018 BCFN YES! competition,  which were unveiled at the 9th BCFN International Forum on Food and Nutrition. Aside from the rankings, the 10 shortlisted projects are all winners, especially since they were able to create a network of connections and collaborations among young people that will not weaken, and will bring great results in the future.   

People, seeds and soil for agro-environmental innovation 

A Geographer from the University of Edinburgh and a US soil scientist working in Belize, in close cooperation with the local Maya population: this is the foundation of the 'participative agro-environmental project' by Cathy Smith and Henry Anton Peller selected by BCFN, which aims to improve crops and regenerate the soil under the leadership of local farmers. "What brought us here is a long journey based on our relations with the local people and the work we carry out every day with the Maya farmers", explained Henry, underlining the importance of social networks and gaining trust on the fields. "Nothing we do happens without their approval", he added. This two-way exchange uses an approach known as 'farmer-to-farmer learning' to disseminate information among the farmers, focusing on three main elements: seeds, soil and people. This is how seeds are selected and exchanged, also with a view to preserving the great local biodiversity, for example using cover crops, i.e. crops that are not immediately profitable but help improve soil fertility, to optimize the returns of the next crop.

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"We built a lot and are still building. Science alone is not enough, we need relationships and collaboration", concluded Cathy. 

A silent revolution in Ethiopia

Martina Ocelli left Pisa with her background in Economics and arrived to Ethiopia, which she defines “a magical country”, cradle of biodiversity and land of small subsistence farmers in 8 out 10 cases. This is the background of the project presented to BCFC by the young researcher, who set out the ambitious goal of giving a voice to the huge heritage of traditional know-how, that 'collective knowledge' on which most of Ethiopia's agriculture is based. It is not just about sharing seeds and working tools: there is something intangible and more significant that needs to be enhanced and transformed into a forward step for these farmers. This strongly multidisciplinary project looks at sustainability from many different standpoints and includes surveys of the local farmers, soil sample collections, chemical analyses and ad hoc policy recommendations. "I am delighted that BCFN could see all the nuances of this project and decided to support us in this journey inside the silent revolution based on collective knowledge", said the researcher.

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Hydroponic farming reaches Africa

It is not simple to set up hydroponic farms, and it is even harder in Africa, where infrastructures and technology are hard to come by, and water is an increasingly precious resource. This did not stop three young African women who launched a great challenge: "feeding sustainable agriculture through bio-integrated crop management among small farmers in Tanzania". Geraldine Lengai and Becki Aloo from Kenya, and Margaret Gumisiriza Ssentambi from Uganda are the three researchers who used their different academic backgrounds and their profound local knowledge to design a project that is custom made for their continent "When setting up the systems, we plan to use local materials such as bamboo instead of the traditional PVC,  safer and more sustainable rhizobacteria and plant-based pesticides instead of chemical products", added the young researchers. Their project will initially concentrate on three vegetables, and will include questionnaires, treatment preparation, experiments, data collection and analysis, a final report as well as the dissemination of all information gathered.

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