Southern African Holland alumni jointly tackle water-energy-food challenges
From 3 – 5 September professionals from Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Zambia met in Pretoria to discuss challenges and solutions in the nexus between water, energy and food security. After three days of keynote speeches, panel discussions and interactive workshops the main conclusion was: regional knowledge sharing and joint solutions are the only way to solve current and future challenges.
Common background; joint future
The 70 delegates in the conference all had one thing in common: they all studied in the Netherlands on a scholarship or participated in capacity development projects, realised through Dutch government funded programmes such as the current Orange Knowledge Programme. The event in Pretoria marked the first edition of the new Orange Knowledge exchange series which focuses on knowledge exchange on regional challenges which coincide with the focus themes of the Netherlands embassies in those regions. The series also aims to create regional platforms and connections to foster networking and stimulate collaboration between alumni, knowledge institutions, business and governmental bodies.
In her welcoming speech, Lianne Houben, Deputy Head of Mission at the Netherlands Embassy in Tanzania explained why events like these are so valuable: “We strongly believe that cooperation and mutual understanding helps in international collaboration on the African continent and beyond. Therefore, we support the important work of the Holland Alumni network which has a huge potential. The theme chosen by Nuffic for this regional alumni event is very relevant for the embassy, as in Tanzania, the programme focuses on multiple sectors such as agriculture, food and nutrition security, and renewable energy.”
Delegates gained a wealth of thematic knowledge throughout the event. One of the keynote speakers was Dr Elsie Onsongo, a Holland Alumna herself. She is Hub Manager at the Centre for Frugal Innovation in Africa (CFIA) Kenya, a strategic alliance between 3 Dutch universities. She introduced the audience to frugal innovation and inclusive business models, explaining that within constraints great innovations can take place. A great example is M-Pesa in Kenya and Tanzania: a mobile-phone money transfer and microfinancing service, making financial services more accessible to a larger community.
The alumni meeting was concluded by Prof. Willem Fourie of the SDG hub at the University of Pretoria, who has written extensively on the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals in southern Africa. The general conclusion was that the SDGs are still too much a topic for an exclusive bunch, and we all have to make sure that they are supported and pursued by a larger audience.
Alumni soapbox sessions
The delegates themselves also had ample opportunity to share their stories. Alice Muro from Tanzania inspired others with the farm she runs where she sustainably combines horticulture, aquaculture, poultry and milking: by using the manure as crop fertilizer and water from the fish ponds to irrigate the land. Japhet Kabonso of Zambia impressed by telling about the Zambian initiative of community forestry: “You empower the local people, you inform them, you help them understand that the resources are their own and that they must manage and sustainably utilise them for their livelihood improvement.”
Next to the plenary sessions, interactive workshops were led by experts on personal branding, entrepreneurship, youth employment and science communication. These workshops encouraged the delegates to work in groups based on common themes or regions and to come up with strategies and networks to implement and promote their knowledge and research.
Dorah Mwenye from Zimbabwe on the event: “We learned a lot this week on for example circular economy and sustainable development, but also on governance issues around the challenges we face in the water-energy-food nexus. What I take away from this event, is that I am more convinced than before that regional cooperation and international expertise are key to solving the challenges we face”.
Developing knowledge and networks
Nuffic, initiator and host, looks back at a successful meeting. Mervin Bakker, Regional Director at Nuffic’s Netherlands Education Support Office (NESO) in South Africa, concludes: “For the Netherlands it is of vital importance that Holland Alumni stay in touch, so they can share the knowledge gained and build relevant networks in sectors that are important for the further development of themselves, their organisations, countries, regions, and the cooperation with the Netherlands”.
The next Orange Knowledge Exchange Series regional alumni event will take place in Bangkok, Thailand, from 20-22 November and focuses on the water-food nexus. Registration is open till 1 October.