Beahrs ELP Blog

Lactating Mother and Environmental Leadership

by Mphatso Chapotera, Malawi, ELP 2015
Written on July 16, 2015.

The reality is: I gave birth to a beautiful girl on May 13th, 2015 and left my six-week old baby with my mother in Malawi to attend a summer course in Sustainable Environmental Management, the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program, at UC Berkeley. I feel that it was one of the most challenging decisions I have ever made in my life. Right now, you may be asking yourself many questions as to why I sacrificed my family priorities for the sake of my career.

I still remember the day, back when I opened my inbox and downloaded a letter of offer for an advanced science training from AWARD (African Women in Agricultural Research and Development) to come to UC Berkeley. At that time, I was heavily pregnant. After opening the email I did not know what to do. I went home and shared the news with my family in order to get an answer because AWARD was waiting for my acceptance email. Nobody gave me a concrete answer. The next day I took courage and shared the good news with my boss, he was very supportive and wondered how I will manage to attend the course with a baby on my way. After negotiations with my family, I decided to go ahead with my decision of building my career.

During the three weeks of ELP, I have formed bonds, relationships and funny enough, potential collaborators and business partners. We laughed, hugged, cried together and exchanged great ideas with people from all over the world. We did not just learn to be collaborative environmental leaders; we also learned how to be better versions of ourselves. Before ELP, I thought that I had found my passion, my path in life and my destiny, but I was greatly mistaken. I have just awakened the sleeping giant in me. I have been opened up to a “new me.” I am going back a motivated person ready to compete with men for top leadership positions better than before (my profession is male dominated). Last but not least, I would like to thank AWARD for sponsoring me to go to the ELP summer course this year. Though I am excited to hold my beautiful daughter again, I will always remember that “you never really graduate from ELP.” That is why I sacrificed my family priorities for the sake of my career.

Some thoughts about personally tests

by Mette Dam, Denmark, ELP 2015
Written on July 17, 2015.

Last week, I had the pleasure of spending three days together with Susan Carpenter. This was not just a pleasure because of Susan Carpenter’s delightful personality, but just as much due to the interesting program about collaborative leadership for sustainable change she had planned for us. We discussed what a good leader is made of and what kind of challenges a collaborative leader can meet and how to address them.

During the three days Susan Carpenter introduced us to a lot of different things and subjects we, as environmental leaders, need to address and take into account in our daily work. I especially enjoyed the session about different personalities and how to get the best out of it.

We started out by taking a personality test, showing that all people can be divided into 16 groups and 4 overall groups and how this also relates to our professional behavior. The division was based on, among others: the preference to either include details and facts in their work or to simply work with the overall picture and how they feel about deadlines.

By using the personality test as an example, Susan started a debate about how important it is to be aware that people differ and get motivated by different things. A good leader should know how to get the best out of each colleague.

It turned out that I am an idealist, which is a relative rare type as only 15 to 20 percent of the population is in this category. Idealists are described as people who always strive to discover who they are and how they can become the best possible self. Moreover, we like to focus more on what might be rather than what is, paying more attention to the overall picture instead of the details. Another important thing about the idealists is that we value relationships with other people high and we further believe that friendly cooperation is the best way for people to achieve their goals.

I really like to take these kind of tests and I was not surprised by the result as I get bored when I have to work with too many details; instead I prefer to work with the overall picture. What really drives me is to look for opportunities where I can develop my skills and become even better. However I do not believe that this is some kind of whole truth and that it actually is possible to divide people into certain groups.

However I still think this knowledge will be an effective tool for me in my further work, as I will pay more attention to the fact that everyone is not like me and I need to be more aware that we have different preferences and react differently. This simple test really showed the importance of knowing your colleagues and other people you interact with, in your professional career, and be aware of differences in preferences and how to appreciate and motivate them.

After the workshop with Susan Carpenter, I started to notice that our speakers fall into two overall groups: those who clarify their points by using a lot of detailed data and those who make the presentation way more personalized by constantly sharing their own experiences and stories in relation to the topics. I prefer the last one while one of my friends prefers the first approach. We can barely agree on which speaker did best. I have to remember this and incorporate way more data and details into my presentation in order to meet different types of people.



Management effects on Calf Performance in Smallholder Dairy Farms in Tanzania

by Jelly Chang’a, Tanzania, ELP 2015
Written on July 17, 2015.

In Tanzania, smallholder dairying is recognized as an important instrument of social economic improvement. The industry increases milk production and empowers women and youth in income generation. Despite the important role of the industry, farmers have continued to experience sub-optimal performance of their animals.


The future of small-scale dairy production depends, among other things, on the successful raising of calves and heifers for replacement. Important aspects in the calf rearing are health management and calves’ nutrition. Poor calf rearing practices, including underfeeding, have shown to result in high mortalities and poor growth rates. The overall effect is a lack of potential replacement heifers leading to low rate of herd growth and improvement. In Tanzania, calves, unfortunately, tend to be a neglected animal category on many small-scale dairy farms. Many of the smallholder dairy farms are smallholdings where farmers often lack the resources to develop the most effective rearing systems for young stock. Instead, their attention is primarily directed towards milk production, emphasizing feeding and managing their milking cows. Young stocks may receive insufficient attention because they do not generate income for many months. The use of farm-grown legume forages and home garden fodders can both satisfy the nutritional needs of the calves and also reduce calf-feeding cost. This is particularly relevant for resource-poor farmers. Fodder shrubs can also provide a range of other services, including soil conservation.



My passion is to provide training to smallholder farmers to manage their animals more effectively using low cost ingredients and establishing home garden fodders so as to achieve high productivity.


Connecting with Your Roots

by Gabriela Ponce Guerrero, Ecuador (in Switzerland), ELP 2015
Written on July 4, 2015.

“Take risks and follow your passions.” – Brittany Berger

gabi1The Muriqui monkeys are endangered species found only in the Atlantic Rain forest of southeast Brazil. Similar to humans, Muriquis work together and protect each other. They have been characterized as easygoing and highly cooperative. As with many other species, they have been severely affected by deforestation and forest fragmentation. Observing them in their natural environment and knowing their story was one of the most influential experiences for Brittany, which led her to love the forest and devote herself to several social and conservation programs.

gabi2Brittany is the Environmental and Social Project Coordinator of the Ibitipoca Reserve, recently appointed social director for REDE Ibitipoca, a unit of SEBRAE (Brazilian service of assistance to micro and small enterprises), and co-founder of the NGO Muriqui Institute for Biodiversity. All of these happened by chance. Brittany is a citizen of both the United States and Brazil. She was raised in the US and did not have the opportunity to connect with her roots until recently. After finishing college she decided to travel for six months in Brazil. She never imagined that she would end up staying.

Brittany believes ecotourism is a framework which can improve the quality of life of local communities and preserve the environment. In her own words, ecotourism is for travelers, not tourists, looking to experience nature and culture without leaving negative impacts behind. The community of Ibitipoca is just outside the national park and has greatly benefited from ecotourism. They all have a great love for the land and the financial benefits provide an additional incentive to protect the environment. The rapid urban growth has caused some problems due to the lack of planning and little government support.

Ecotourism is a promising approach as a fast growing sector. However, it requires travelers to be very careful with greenwashing and make sure that ecotourism is more than just a marketing strategy. Brittany recommends to take some time to research, to look for the mission statement, and to find out who owns the place and what kind of activities are offered.

Stepping back, taking a look and beginning with an open mind…to rehabilitate degraded soils of western Kenya

by Abigael Nekesa Otinga, Kenya, ELP 2015
Written on August 9, 2015.

When I received my ELP course invitation letter, I was elated and for obvious reasons. Firstly, I was going to America….guys, America! Secondly, I was attending one of the most distinguished universities of time. Thirdly, I would meet experts from all over the world that were in their own capacities environmental leaders championing sustainable management of the environment.

The ELP course has been a great eye opener. After years of soil science, this was a beautiful and welcomed change. The courses ranged from Climate Change, Communications, Food, Biotechnology, and Agriculture, Water, Biodiversity, and Conservation, Collaborative Leadership for Sustainable change to Marketing, CSR and Enterprise Facilitation to mention just a few. The courses were delivered by highly experienced professionals and distinguished scholars, some of whom are world award leaders in their academic fields. One particularly interesting one (interesting with me because it resonates with what I do) was the talk by Dr. Ernesto Sirolli stemming from his worldwide known Ted Talk “Shut up and listen!” Dr. Sirolli emphasizes the fact that if you want to assist a community, you have to shut up and listen to them. According to Dr. Sirroli, there are many smart people in the communities who are entrepreneurs and this potential should be tapped not by telling them what to do but by listening to the ideas they have and then giving them knowledge and helping them develop their ideas. Dr Sirolli quoted from the book Small is Beautiful, by Ernst Friedrich Schumacker, that in economic development principles, two principles are a must. First, respect the people and second, if people do not push to help, leave them alone. This to me was very powerful because many times we walk into a community “uninvited” with our projects do our work, walk out after completion of the project and when you go back, there is absolutely no impact. According to Dr. Sirolli, as an entrepreneur or aspiring entrepreneur, you must have three things working well: 1) The product that you want to sell has to be fantastic; 2) You have to have fantastic marketing and 3) tremendous financial management. And he rightly says that not one person can do these three things together. And so Dr. Sirolli’s advice for those helping communities is to advise the aspiring entrepreneurs to have at least three people with the above-mentioned qualifications from the start. He emphasizes that no company or business in the world was started by just one person! “The future of every community lies in capturing the passion, energy and imagination of its own people,” says Dr. Ernesto Sirolli. We cannot afford to do the same things in the same way; we have to change the status quo!

My concern has always been about the management of our degraded soils in a sustainable way. From an environmental standpoint, this is actually possible, a lesson I learned during one of the hotly debated issues of whether agroecology can feed the world. You see, in small-scale farming where mechanization is not an option and land is scarce, agroecology is the next best alternative. These farmers have to till their fields to provide their families with food, education and medical supplies. It therefore means that if the farmers have to meet all these needs, then the agriculture here has to be intensive.

In Kenya, maize is the staple and many farmers depend on this crop for their livelihoods. This crop is largely produced by about 3.5 million small-scale farmers producing approximately 75% of the crop. The remaining 25% is produced by large-scale farmers. Since Kenya’s independence (1963), farmers have cropped maize in the mid and highlands whose yields have continued to decline. The maize crop has been bogged by numerous problems, from the 2008 energy crisis (affecting market prices, fertilizer inputs, etc.) to the most recent being the maize lethal necrotic disease that caused 10-100% losses. It is rain fed and a very nutrient-demanding crop that is highly dependent on external fertilizer inputs in conventional agriculture. However, some case studies have shown that conventional agriculture, i.e. maximizing the use of fertilizers in smallholder farming systems, is not enough. Wairegi and Asten (2011) echoed this sentiment in their study on the use of fertilizer in East Africa. They showed that in East Africa, the use of fertilizers on maize was not economically feasible. In fact, these authors discouraged the high use of fertilizers on the commonly cropped maize in the region citing unprofitability.

I work on a project that seeks to rehabilitate degraded soils of western Kenya in small holding farms that are involved in crop-livestock integrated systems. Soils in this region are degraded and respond little to application of fertilizers. The main factors of soil degradation include loss of nutrients (ions) adsorption sites, especially in clay-poor soils, micronutrients exhaustion, structural collapse and low water retention. Further, long time use of these soils with little organic material addition has depleted the soil of organic carbon. Such soils undermine the resilience of food systems and livelihoods to climate variability and population pressure. As mentioned above, highly degraded soils may even become poor-responsive to conventional mineral fertilizers (N, P, K) and in this region, farmers are concerned that the soils that were productive some years back now hardly produce enough to feed them. Rehabilitating such soils entails building up organic matter that would provide adsorption sites for nutrients and water. These small-scale farmers do not have the luxury of leaving their fields fallow to build up organic matter over time. They depend on the fields every year and every day for their livelihoods. Agroeclogy could be an alternative, and in this case, the priority would be in-situ and/or ex-situ additions of materials that restore the depleted soil carbon that would provide the skeleton needed to hold nutrients and water that are very high in demand by these soils. The addition of organic matter and sustainably keeping it in the system through agroecology would thus be a first in managing these soils in a sustainable way. Indeed, agroecology is both labor and knowledge intensive but if practiced well, the rewards are long lasting as was observed on Rene Zazueta’s farm during the ELP training.

For the smallholder farmers in this region, it is not about a competition between biotechnology and agreocology. For us, the pertinent issue is can we feed, clothe, and educate our children on a less than two ha piece of farm? Can we still be able to do this amidst the threats of climate change? Are our food systems resilient enough? And perhaps combining a little bit of everything in the most appropriate way to make sure that we achieve this could be the forefront on our agenda. A really stimulating talk given by Prof. Miguel Altieri was enlightening. The most important thing for such farmers is for them to be food secure. The poverty cycle is broken once this is achieved. During our ELP course, Prof. Altieri stated that if one is food secure, apart from having food throughout the year, they could also sell their labor. And since they are food secure, they can actually negotiate and the chances of being paid less for their labor are low.

Before the course, I had two pressing questions. The first is: in on-farm experiments, how do we get farmers and extension officers interested in work? Now this question has arisen from the so commonly referred notion of “farmer fatigue.” Farmers see many researchers and NGOs come and go, sometimes with different issues, sometimes with the same issue. They have become tired of the researcher’s and NGO’s ideologies…they have become tired of being told what to do. In fact, they actually do not see the benefit of experimental research projects for them. This was answered by Dr. Sirolli’s talk, “Shut up and Listen!” From his stimulating talk, I found that we have been approaching the issue in a completely different way and the key question is, “Did these smallholder farmers invite you?” If they didn’t, then you will spend your time and money doing whatever brought you to that region and once you have packed and left, they would go back to their own systems. The lesson is “shut up and listen!” Let them own the process.

otinga1 otinga2

Rene Zazueta on his farm in Berkeley- Due to the characteristic of diversity, agroecology can indeed nourish the world!!

My second most pressing question was how to involve stakeholders in sustainable soil management, especially in intensely cropped lands where available land for agriculture is a challenge. Now to answer this question, I got insights from Susan Carpenter’s presentation on negotiation. In the negotiation presentation, I learned that the most important thing is to make all the stakeholders understand their benefits of what you are working with, i.e. what is their stake.

I have successfully completed the course (now I am a certified environmental leader!!!) and now I have more questions than answers. However, with the skills acquired during this course, I know I will make a difference, taking one tiny step after the other to rehabilitate the degraded soils of western Kenya!


Wairegi, L.W., van Asten, P., 2011. Exploring the scope of fertilizer use in the East African region. Challenges and opportunities for agricultural intensification of the humid highlands of sub-Saharan Africa (CIALCA) International Conference, 24-27th October, 2011, Kigali, Rwanda.

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