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Food and sustainability

The BCFN YES! Winner selection and next steps

The 2016 edition has been BCFN YES!‘s first time as a research grant competition, a step forward for the Foundation to tackle the major problems of the global food system, favoring once again high-level education with a multidisciplinary and international approach. Anne-Teresa Birthwright and Shaneica Lester are this year’s winners, with a project to develop farming livelihoods and maximize yields in Jamaica, through education, improved irrigation methods and social capital.

From its launch at the beginning of the year, more than one hundred applicants from forty different countries submitted the most varied research proposals. A jury  of international experts have selected the ten finalists teams , based on the robustness, organization and practicality of the projects.
The ten teams were invited to present their research proposal at the 7th International Forum on Food and Nutrition at Bocconi University, in Milan, on November 30th. After being presented by the BCFN Alumni, each finalist team had the opportunity to present the highlights of the research, and answer to the Jury’s questions. All proposals have distinguished themselves for competence, soundness and inspiration, and they are all deserving of special recognition.

Anne-Teresa Birthwright and Shaneica Lester from Jamaica have been selected as winners, with their project “Surviving the Drought: an Irrigation Curriculum for Jamaica's Small-Scale Farmers” 

The Jury has selected the winner upon the significance and the design of the study, the uniqueness of the proposal and the ability to present it to the audience.
The 20,000 Euro grant will be applied to a one-year investigation, and the researchers will be in close contact with the Foundation and the Advisory Board, with regular reporting. The research grant wants to support a project that is innovative, have a promise of major impact, and might be considered groundbreaking for the sustainability of the agri-food system.
Without further ado, let’s find out more about Anne-Teresa and Shaneica’s project, and how the grant will help them advance their research.

Characteristics of the Research Project and Finalist

A few months ago, Anne-Teresa Birthwright and Shaneica Leste decided to collaborate on this project by integrating aspects of their research interest. The aim was to create a project that was action-oriented; which allowed them to explore solutions for issues of national sustainability. From this emerged an irrigation specific Knowledge Transfer Curriculum (KTC) as a targeted approach to the realities of small-scale farmers in Jamaica.
In recent years farmers in Jamaica have faced an increasing water stress due to changing rainfall patterns and the onset of prolonged dry spells. Recurring drought has resulted in decreased yields and an upsurge in the price of local crops. Farmers have somewhat adapted to the dry environment through the use of local traditional knowledge; however this has not been sufficient in mediating these dry conditions and enhancing productivity.
Small-scale farmers in the parish of St. Elizabeth, Jamaica will benefit from the three curriculum (i.e. Unit 1 –Climate-Smart Water Conservation Management, Unit 2- Soil Water Management Unit 3 – Plant-Water Interactions) geared towards enhancing knowledge capacity of adaptive irrigation strategies. This is a cross-cutting concept which involves consulting and collaborating with local authorities and community representatives which allows for the integration of traditional knowledge with that of scientific and technical know-how.

Anne-Teresa Birthwright has a passion for research in sustainable agriculture, rural livelihoods and climate change, while Shaneica Lester focuses on sustainable planning, cities and water resources management within the human-environment nexus. In combining their capabilities they were able to develop this project beneficial to the agricultural sector. They are extremely enthused that the BCFN YES! Research Grant Competition, provided them the opportunity to be part of the solution, while lending their skills and knowledge to address the irrigation challenges of small-scale farmers.

How the grant will be invested?
Through small, interactive sessions of approximately 15 participants, each unit will be explored in depth within a community. The units will be integrated with Jamaica’s wet and dry seasons as well as the Mid-Summer Drought. A field reconnaissance will be done to establish a relationship with farmers, gather information and to select the most ideal community for the implementation of each unit of the curriculum.
A Knowledge Attitudes and Perceptions survey will be designed to comparatively capture the experiences of farmers who participated and implemented the adaptive strategies of the KTC as well as those who did not. Each community will be given approximately two months before an evaluation is conducted. This approach will enable the researchers to gather authentic information on the extent to which these strategies were implemented and their perceived effectiveness in addressing the water challenges faced by farmers.
Simultaneously to the implementation of the KTC, geographical coordinates will be recorded to capture the location of selected plots in each of the three communities in order to carry out a comparative land cover classification. The Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) will be used to classify these pre-selected sites based on the relative amount of green biomass. Changes in the health of crops between the implementation and evaluation stage of the project will be analysed.
The benefit of being BCFNYES2016 winners is invaluable; this competition has provided the avenue to further shape us into action-oriented researchers” said the two researchers. “Being awarded this grant provides an opportunity to create a ripple effect in the duplication of similar practices within other locations. The estimated impact of this project on the livelihoods of small scale farmers and the renewal of the agricultural sector could be unprecedented”.


Shaneica Lester, Anne-Teresa Birthwright (BCFN Yes! winners 2016)
Katarzyna Dembska (BCFN Alumni)
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