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August 24, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

Welcome to the Eighth Edition of our Africa Weekly Digest - A round-up of the news and stories from across the continent that captivated our hearts and minds this past week. We hope you enjoy these stories and we look forward to your feedback.

Happy reading!


1. The Mysterious Elephant Shrew - ''Somali Sengi'' Located After 50 Years. The Somali sengi (Elephantulus revoilii) is one of the most mysterious, known to science only from 39 individuals collected decades ago and stored in museums. The species was previously known only from Somalia, hence its name and the scientists plan to launch another expedition in 2022 to GPS radio-tag individual sengis to study their behavior and ecology. (BBC).  In other good news for conservation, Scientists are working to create a genetic reference map for chimpanzees, with the aim of enabling conservationists and law enforcement to pinpoint a chimpanzee’s place of origin and identify poaching hotspots. Nearly 2,000 chimpanzees are estimated to be lost to the wildlife trade each year. ( Mongabay).                                                              Photo: zoofanatic

2.  Synthetic Biology and Marine Genomics Could Save Both Nature and Jobs for Mauritius and the rest of Africa:  Synthetic biology is a field of science that involves redesigning organisms for useful purposes by engineering them to have new abilities. It is said to be uncovering the incredible commercial value of rare and unique biodiversity. The greatest promise may lie in genomics from the ocean (Marine Genomics), particularly in tropical climates with start gradient changes, like the edge of coral reefs. (Forbes). The oil spill in Mauritius , for example, could significantly impact the discovery of novel medicines, including those that might combat future pandemics. Synthetic biology can offer a lifeline to accelerate the discovery of these rare species. Researchers can collect and sequence samples, and place them into a large digital library. Synthetic biology is one of the hottest technology sectors in Silicon Valley right now. A recent McKinsey report estimated the size of this sector could grow to $4 trillion in the next decade. Medicines, industrial products, and agricultural products are being sought out and commercialized around the world. These are all multi-billion dollar potential opportunities. African countries could take advantage of this with the right public-private partnerships and collaboration to significantly accelerate the discovery of the next new cancer drug or even Covid-19 treatment from a marine organism found around the reef. 

3. Crop Data from Space Can Help Countries Better Manage Climate Risk and Malnutrition: With almost 20% of undernourished people in Africa, and millions more expected to be driven into extreme poverty by the COVID-19 pandemic; African countries need to be better prepared to respond. Scientists from the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land, and Ecosystems (WLE ) are using environmental data available free via Google Earth Engine, to map a global scale of nutrition riskHaving more information in real-time, such as which crops grow best where under current and future climates, as well as their nutrient and economic value, can help policymakers in Africa and around the world to create strategies to reduce risk. Right Map: knowing the global crop diversity(waster stress vs Resilience) IWMI.  (CGIAR).

4. Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy in Africa? African countries are currently facing challenges in using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, including insufficient infrastructure and lack of human resources. Nevertheless, the use of nuclear energy is growing in Africa. Egypt in the process of building its first nuclear reactor, while South Africa has a nuclear power plant and a nuclear research reactor. Last week, the  Government of Kenya announced that it is set to build a nuclear power plant on a site in Tana River CountyA Nuclear Power plant over the next seven years with funding from private investors. The Plant is expected to be commissioned by 2027, with a capacity of 1000MW which will grow to 4,000 MW by 2035. (Business Daily Africa). This highlights the need for public accountability of nuclear energy decisions and governance and the need for democratic oversight. Both Egypt and South Africa have committed to the peaceful use of nuclear energy as an instrument to achieve national, African (Agenda 2063) and international development goals such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Policy frameworks such as the African Nuclear Weapon-Free-Zone Treaty (the Pelindaba Treaty) and the African Regional Cooperative Agreement for Research, Development, and Training related to Nuclear Science and Technology (AFRA) and the Forum of Nuclear Regulatory Bodies in Africa (FNRBA will also be key in ensuring the peaceful use of nuclear energy in Africa. SAIIA’s ‘Atoms for Development’ Project has launched an advocacy campaign to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy in Africa, strengthen relevant bodies responsible for nuclear governance on the continent, improve national-level legislation on nuclear safety and security, and promote public debate on these issues. (SAIIA). 

5. Experts Explore Traditional African Medicine for Covid-19. Globally, up to 28% of all plant species may have been used medically. This makes wild plants and animals extremely important for human health. It also makes them a significant source of revenue: global sales of pharmaceuticals based on materials of natural origin are worth an estimated US$75 bi
llion a year. (WWF). Across Africa, there is one doctor for every 40,000 people, but one traditional healer for every 500. Recognizing this, the World Health Organization and the Africa Centre for Disease Control are collaborating in the use of traditional medicine as a basis for potential remedies for Covid-19. While most countries had by 2018 developed national or state-level laws and regulations to govern traditional medicine, only three, Benin, Ghana, and Mali, reported having an existing national plan for integrating it into their national health services. (Financial Times). 

6. Deforestation Leakage Undermines the Conservation Value of Tropical and Subtropical Forest Protected Areas in Africa: Protected areas curb deforestation within their borders to avoid deforestation across the conservation landscape, however, this study shows that overall conservation success might still depend on activities beyond PA borders. In 55 cases, deforestation rates were higher in buffer zones than in protected and control areas, suggesting a relatively high prevalence of deforestation leakage stemming from protected areas. Commodity production (i.e., permanent conversion of forest to uses such as agriculture, mining or energy infrastructure) was responsible for eight of the nine highest rates of buffer zone deforestation among leakage cases. Overall, the existence of PAs avoided deforestation in 65 cases (54.2%) and enhanced levels of deforestation in 55 cases (45.8%). Five PAs, three in Africa and two in America, had a higher value of irreplaceability than their 10 km buffer zone. (
Global Ecology and Biogeography ). 

7. African Countries Are Coming Together to Control Illegal Fishing: A new and very informative article in the upcoming September 2020 issue of Smithsonian magazine documents the hunt for the modern-day pirates who steal millions of fish across Africa - moving from Namibia to Mozambique to Tanzania. Read about the excellent work of Fish-i Africa, a pioneer endeavor uniting eight East African coastal countries along the Western Indian Ocean to stop illegal fishing. This unprecedented alliance is showing that regional operation, coupled with dedicated data analysis and technical expertise can stop illegal catch getting to market, and prevent criminal fishers from pursuing their lucrative business. (Smithsonian).

8. Ground-breaking Research will Improve Early Warning of Devastating Megastorms in Africa: Research will make it easier to predict the path of some of the world’s most powerful storms, enabling communities to better protect themselves from severe flooding. Mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) are ‘megastorms’ that affect large parts of the world, including Africa, causing human and livestock deaths plus major damage to infrastructure. In Sahelian Africa, these extreme storms have tripled in frequency since the 1980s due to global warming. The researchers looked at satellite data on the activity of thousands of storms, plus land temperatures, in the Sahel for the period 2006 to 2010. The study’s authors say the results have important implications for ‘nowcasting’ (forecasting for several hours ahead) of severe weather not just in the Sahel, but potentially other MCS hotspot regions of the world. With a more effective alert system, local people will be able to take action to protect themselves as well as their homes, livestock and possessions, plus plan emergency responses. (Future Climate Africa).  

9. A New Conservation Tool to Protect Livestock, Lions, and Livelihoods in the Okavango Delta  Painting eyes on the rumps of livestock can protect them from attacks by lions in landscapes where they coexist, a joint study from UNSW Sydney, Taronga Conservation Society Australia and Botswana Predator Conservation shows. The researchers found that cattle painted with artificial eyespots were significantly more likely to survive than unpainted or cross-painted control cattle within the same herd. In fact, no painted 'eye-cows' at all were killed by ambush predators during the four-year study, while 15 unpainted and four cross-painted cattle were killedScientists suggest this is a more humane alternative to using lethal control and a more ecologically sound alternative to using fencing to separate livestock from carnivores..(Phys.Org)

10. Leveraging Satellite Data for Disaster Desponse in Africa. As we celebrate world humanitarian day, for humanitarian workers responding to natural disasters having instant access to up-to-date and accurate maps can mean the difference between life and death. Increasingly, satellite maps and data are being tapped to help humanitarian workers better respond to natural disasters in a variety of ways; from the Ebola outbreaks in Liberia and Guinea to mapping refugee settlements in South Sudan and coordinating flash flood response in Djibouti. Already, 1 in 3 people in Africa faces water scarcity, and about 400 million lack access to safe drinking water. Organizations such as Digital Earth Africa are creating easy to interpret data sets for governments, and others, to make more informed decisions about how to allocate water.(Devex). On the other hand, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMaps team is focusing on mitigating or reducing the impact of natural disasters on communities by crowdsourcing comprehensive datasets on key lifeline infrastructure such as hospitals, roads, and bridges.

This year, #EarthOverShootDay landed on August 22. This means we have busted Earth's budget for the entire year! From today, we are operating in overshoot by drawing down local resource stocks and accumulating CO2 in the atmosphere. Check out the highlights and the detailed research report explaining how the date of Earth Overshoot Day was calculated. (



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