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Beahrs ELP Blog

Malnutrition: an endless battle in Madagascar

by Hervet Randriamady (ELP 2015), Madagascar

Malnutrition has always been a major public health concern in Madagascar. This month (May 2016), the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlighted it during his speech to the members of the Malagasy parliament. He commented on how, alarmingly, malnutrition costs the country more than a billion and a half dollars each year – while also saying that “the human toll is immeasurable”. According to the World Food Program, Madagascar is ranked fourth worldwide for having the highest rate of chronic malnutrition, which impacts roughly 50% of all children under five.

Antandroy kids from  the deep South of Madagascar in 2014 (Photo credit Hervet Randriamady)

Antandroy kids from the deep South of Madagascar in 2014 (Photo credit Hervet Randriamady)

The first time I was aware of the magnitude of malnutrition was in the 1990s when a famine occurred in the far South of Madagascar. The government back then, led by the President Zafy Albert, organized a grand telethon “SOS Sud” to rescue those people starving to death. I vividly remember the hoard of trucks, full of food from Antananarivo, passing by our house in Antsirabe before making their way on the 1,000 km journey to the deep South. The population of Antsirabe enthusiastically welcomed the heroic delegation. The word kere, which means famine, reverberated repeatedly throughout the speech the president made at Independence Square in Antsirabe. The battle against malnutrition seemed to be on, and seemed to be winnable.

Unfortunately, to date, Madagascar has not escaped the grip of malnutrition. First, mother nature has made the matter worse, with the deep South experiencing frequent droughts for many decades. Rainfall is seen as a blessing; hunger as the penalty for when it stops. Just a couple months ago, some people from that same area died from severe malnutrition. Members of the government including the current President Hery Rajaonarimampianina rushed to the South to assist the victims.

Antandroy woman using an umbrella due to the unbearable heat in the deep South of Madagascar in 2014  (Photo creditHervet Randriamady)

Antandroy woman using an umbrella due to the unbearable heat in the deep South of Madagascar in 2014 (Photo creditHervet Randriamady)

And although the most severe cases of malnutrition are found in the deep South, it exists ubiquitously across the country. Malnutrition is crippling for the development of the region and the country as a whole.

With my new position as an Assistant Research Manager on a new research program directed by the Planetary Health Alliance (PHA) at Harvard University, my colleagues and I hope to shed light on how malnutrition is a primary root cause of poor health in Madagascar. More broadly, the research program will focus on understanding how nutrition impacts the incidence of infectious and non-communicable diseases, and how climate change could affect these two relationships. Put another way, a lack of adequate nutrition and a changing climate could make communities more vulnerable to some diseases. We want to better understand how this happens and highlight the need for a broader approach to our thinking of malnutrition, disease, and climate. I will be working with Christopher Golden, the Associate Director of PHA and Research Scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health for the second time and with Benjamin Rice from the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology from Harvard University, who is the Health Programs Director of PHA in Madagascar. The research project is in collaboration with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Princeton University. The research is innovative as multiple academic areas are involved to address malnutrition such as economics, medicine, evolutionary biology and environment. By encompassing these fields of study, it is the quintessential sustainable development concept that I learned from the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program (ELP) at UC Berkeley in 2015.

What I have learned from ELP will be critical for the success of the research. ELP has equipped me with the right training. Having been trained as an agricultural economist to address malnutrition, my knowledge was theoretically restricted to a narrow-view of the venerated economic law of supply and demand. With this new research I will get more understanding of malnutrition in Madagascar. In short, I hope that malnutrition will be a myth for the next generation of Malagasy people and I look forward to working on this project as it aims to move us closer to that goal.

Empowering the Nigerian Girl-child

by Binta Iliyasu (ELP 2015), Nigeria

I returned from ELP 2015 with great enthusiasm and determination to make a difference. I am taking on the challenge in Northern Nigeria, advocating for female youth education and women’s participation in Agricultural Research and Development.

I began by conducting a Role Modelling Event at the Government Girls Secondary School Zaria, Kaduna State, Nigeria in collaboration with the Nigerian Women in Agricultural Research for Development (NiWARD), the Gender Policy Unit, Office of the Vice Chancellor, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Centre for Girls’ Education (a unit under the Population and Reproductive Health Initiative of the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria PRHI/ABUTH, Nigera), and Savannah Resource Foundation (NGO). I used my story (which I developed at the Beahrs ELP 2015) to share my personal career journey as a Hausa girl, just like those at the Government Girls Secondary School.

Fellow, Mentor & Mentee with students

Fellow, Mentor & Mentee with students

I shared how I pursued education at the University during a time when female youth education was unheard of throughout the entire community of hundreds of households. I shared how I became the best student overall at my graduation and the first female University graduate from that community. I also shared my current research towards the development of a vaccine to fight against African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness in humans and ‘nagana’ or ‘sammore’ in animals), a serious threat to the development of agriculture and food security in sub-Saharan Africa despite Africa’s huge agricultural potentials. I encouraged them to study hard and join me to fight against poverty, hunger and underdevelopment through their engagement in Agricultural Science education. This motivation was timely as Nigerians are desperately looking forward to a positive change and a way out of the current crisis due to the abandonment of agriculture and the heavy reliance on crude oil.

NewspaperThe presentation titled “Empowering the Girl-child educationally and agriculturally” was covered by the media and subsequently aired throughout West Africa (reaching the remotest parts that have no access to television or print media) through a series of Radio Nigeria broadcasts. After the presentation, there was a Q&A session. The questions that emerged during the Q&A session include: “Binta, how can we support or join you?”, “Our parents are poor, how do we get to the University?”, and “Who will pay our way to the University?” The Role modelling exercise yielded positive results as young girls in the school chorused, “I want to be like Binta, I want to be like Binta!”

Right now, I am faced with the challenge of sourcing for sponsorship for these girls as I get motivated to do much more. Often, girls are given out in marriage in order to settle debts or escape responsibility, especially when the fathers die. This happens mostly after the completion of Junior or Senior Secondary School, no matter how intelligent they may be.

Secondly, I have completed my two-year fellowship with the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) and I was recognized as the best overall in the West African sub-Regional progress monitoring meeting in Ghana. Finally, I have concluded the primary screening of the DNA vaccine, and I am at the final stage of my final PhD program, awaiting the final external defense.

Deforestation: A Cause for Concern in Nicaragua

by Bernis Cunningham (ELP 2015), Nicaragua

One of the main environmental problems of Nicaragua in this moment is deforestation. This problem is inflicted by the uncontrolled advance of extensive livestock farming, unsustainable agriculture and population growth. Nicaragua’s economy revolves around agriculture and cattle raising. The extractive economic model and the population growth of recent years is causing the destruction of the last natural reserves of the country. (Bosawas and Indian corn)


The Central American region is receiving the early impacts of climate change. With this deforestation we become more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. In Nicaragua we have had 3 years of drought with the “el Niño” climate phenomenon. The prolonged drought is causing a serious problem in the dry areas and rural areas of the country. The main problem is the lack of access to water in quantity and quality.

Currently, I am supporting a project for strengthening the social movements in Granada. This project is led by the Nicaraguan Center for Environmental Conservation, a non-profit organization. This organization has two objectives, “the conservation of the environment and sustainable human development…” The project aims to strengthen the capacities of the leaders of social movements in the communities of Capulin and San Blas, which suffer from drought, poverty, and the negative impacts of monoculture plantations of sugarcane in the area.

In Nicaragua, there are more than 101,000 acres planted with sugarcane, more than 800 private cane, 4 sugar mills, 35 producers, 283 direct jobs and more than 120,000 indirect jobs generated. The sugar activity generates more than 5% of GDP, agricultural investment of the $ 200,000,000 of dollars. It generates revenue of more than C$ 30 million córdobas; “brings more than 60 MW of power to the national public network during the harvest period, generating more than 10% of port movement of Corinth and the production is located in rural areas: Chichigalpa, El Viejo, Chinandega, Bethlehem, Potosi and San Rafael de el Sur.” (

The agro-industrial production of cane sugar, peanut, and palm is another serious problem of forest and water resources in Nicaragua. There is evidence of local experience and studies demonstrating the negative effects of monocultures of categorical and assiduously causes to water, land, forest and society as a whole.

Our social research and the testimonies of those affected conclude that the agro-business model generates negative impacts on the environment by using large quantities of water, large amounts of agrochemical, and contributing to soil wear. It also negatively impacts the economy through monopolization and land grabbing, with almost exclusive benefits for big economic groups, displacement of peasants, and low generation of jobs because of the modernization of the agro-industry. Jobs generated by the industry for the most part are of low quality. In the project in Capulin and San Blas, the Nicaraguan Center of Environmental Conservation have held 6 workshops with the community, the company and the local government in 2015 and 2016.

I also participate as a member in the association “Jovenes por el agua” initiative of Global Water partnership ( and ANACC ( “Nicaragua National Association Against Climate Change.”

We hope to be able to promote Agroecology and organic farming within social movements that we advise. We believe that rural models should be focused on meeting the nutritional needs of people of Nicaragua and the surplus to exports to international markets.

I had the privilege of participating in the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program at UC Berkeley. This experience changed my perspective in dealing with environmental problems involving various actors, the government, the company and the community. In the Beahrs ELP 2015, I learned that environmental problems are seen from different perspectives depending on the sector you are representing.

Masaya Volcano

Masaya Volcano

The other project that I’m working on is in the private sector. We have the legal structure of the recycling company and the professional team. We also have the land where we will start the project. This project has been very complex in financial and technical issues. At Berkeley, I met Dr. Thomas Azwell, who has kept me motivated in the difficult moments of this project. I know we have everything that the investors were asking. We hope to launch this project in a couple of months.

In the Beahrs ELP program, I met many environmental leaders from all parts of the world. I maintain communication and exchange environmental information whit ELP participants. In this course I had the opportunity to meet great academics, learn new skill and make new friends. The ELP hass definitely been a great experience in my life and professional career.

My Impressions of the ELP

by Linh Huong Dang, Vietnam, ELP 2015
Written on August 1, 2015.

Finally I made it to the United States where, to me, it is supposed to be a pinky one. However, to be honest, I was a little bit disappointed on the way from San Francisco International airport to Berkeley. The taxi drove me by some gloomy resident areas. The reality was far different from what I had in mind. The disappointment went away as soon as I entered the “Bear territory” – I could feel a friendly, open, and academic atmosphere. The first day went by with a mixed feeling about a new country and the people here.

Second impression – the country of immigration. From Foothill to the campus, I saw people from all over the world. No matter where they were from and how long they have been living in this country, opportunities were there for people to take. All of the ELP staff were originally from different parts of the world, some respectful and distinguished professors also came from other countries. They made themselves in the country by their efforts and talents, and for that, I admired them. I was fortunate to have a chance to expose myself to other educational systems, but for the very first time in my life, I was deeply impressed by the way people could make the change here. They made me feel I was part of the team even though we all met each other for the first time.

Third impression – good story. Everybody I met here has a story. And some of the stories made me cry. I could not forget the the moment I had to control myself for not bursting into tears in front of people when listening to an inspiring, motivated, and brave story from one of my classmates – her own life. I also remembered the minute I couldn’t help but cry when I had a chance to express my gratefulness to one of the professors who was a silent sponsor to help me attend the course. In ELP, you are encouraged to tell your story and listen to the others. It is the shortest way for you to reveal yourself, reach out to embrace, and learn from others – learning is sharing. Stories make people get closer to each other. No matter who you are or where you are from, true stories come from within with full emotional, touching, and inspiring thoughts that connect people.

Fourth impression – field trips. ELP offers you not only the academic knowledge but also the practical and fun experience. From Redwood forests to Point Reyes, from Urban Agriculture to Salinas Valley, you have chances to experience the conservation and agriculture work on the ground in the country. Believe me, they are so much different from what you have already known. And if you are lucky enough (like me), you will see elk in the wild.

There are so many things I would like to say about the amazing three-week course with ELP where my expectations came true. Go to the ELP, go to UC Berkeley to experience it yourselves, and I am sure you will love it all. And last but not least, by attending the ELP, you will have a chance to meet the most talented participants from around the world who you will never forget in your life.

Rivers for Life

by Gabriela Ponce Guerrero, Ecuador (in Switzerland), ELP 2015
Written on July 18, 2015.

One of the lectures I enjoyed the most was the one given by Professor Vincent Resh on water and environmental leadership. I consider managing freshwater resources to be one of the most vital, not only environmental, but also social problems we are currently facing. I have had the opportunity to research the impacts of river regulation and fragmentation on the ecological integrity on riverine ecosystems. Despite being familiar with many of the concepts presented, I found it fascinating to hear more about the biological components. Once you understand that leaves are the main energy source in rivers, you realize how important it is to protect the riparian vegetation. After briefly going through some of the science behind the differences between rivers and lakes, Professor Resh shared some of the principles necessary for a community based water management: (1) having a “shared vision of a community’s water future”; (2) putting limits on water consumption; (3) allocating specific amounts to each use; (4) investing in water conservation to its maximum potential. We also had a lively discussion around the principles based on the challenges and insights some of the participants have encountered in their carriers or studies. Building on that, I would like to share some of my thoughts on freshwater management.

Impacts on the world’s large river systems due to fragmentation and regulation by dams [Nilsson et al., 2005]. Source: GWSP Digital Water Atlas (2008). Map 25: River Fragmentation by Dams.

Impacts on the world’s large river systems due to fragmentation and regulation by dams [Nilsson et al., 2005]. Source: GWSP Digital Water Atlas (2008). Map 25: River Fragmentation by Dams.

Rivers have been extensively altered to support economic and social development. Modifying rivers has provided benefits such as reliable water supply, reducing flood hazards, and generating hydroelectric power. Environmental and social implications were often not taken into consideration during planning and construction phases, causing the displacement of 40 to 80 million people worldwide and leading to significant degradation and loss of species and ecosystems. Furthermore, there are major challenges river scientists will have to face like adapting the science and practice of water management to climate change and its consequences. Moreover, growing population will result in higher pressure on water resources. It is crucial to recognize the water needs of riverine ecosystems themselves. Failing to see rivers as legitimate water, users could undermine their integrity leading to their deterioration which will result in rivers being unable to provide their multiple ecosystem services. It has been suggested that one of the most effective ways of tacking these challenges is to restore rivers, since healthy rivers are naturally more resilient to change.

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