GRID-Arendal welcomes staff back from FK adventure in Africa

Rannveig Knutsdatter Formo and Bernardas Padegimas have returned from a ten-month exchange in Africa, and came back to Norway with a fresh perspective of capacity building, having experienced first-hand how environmental information, or the lack thereof, can literally mean the difference between life and death.

Both Bernardas and Rannveig joined GRID-Arendal in 2010. Both work under the Capacity Building and Assessments Division: Rannveig has been involved in various projects under the Africa Programme, while Bernardas has focused primarily on projects related to the Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia region. These dynamic, enthusiastic individuals are always willing to take on new challenges, making them perfect candidates for GRID-Arendal’s third round of the FK Norway North-South exchange programme.

FK Norway supports professional exchanges between Norwegian and foreign companies and organisations. Since the year 2000, more than 5000 participants have taken part in exchanges between Norway and countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The exchanges are not just North-South, South-North in nature, but often include a South-South component.

The three rounds of exchange that have taken place since 2007 have involved GRID-Arendal’s partner organisations in Côte d’Ivoire, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The most recent round of FK exchange saw Rannveig travel to Uganda and Bernardas travel to Zambia. In return, GRID-Arendal hosted Joel Sangulukani Simwinga from Zambia and Sahon Flan from Côte d’Ivoire. The exchange also had a South-South component – Proscovia Khanzila from Uganda and Neto Nengomasha from Zimbabwe took each other's place for the ten months duration of the exchange.

Ready for adventure! From left: Sahon Flan from Network for Environment and Sustainable Development in Africa (NESDA), Côte d'Ivoire, Joel Sangulukani Simwinga from Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA), Zambia, Proscovia Khanzila from National Environment Management Authority of Uganda (NEMA), Uganda, Bernardas Padegimas and Rannveig Knutsdatter Formo from GRID-Arendal, and Neto Nengomasha from Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), Zimbabwe.
Photo: Lawrence Hislop

The overall objective of the exchange was to build local capacity for the effective management of Africa's environmental resources in order to support sustainable development efforts. This was to be done through research and production support for the third Africa Environmental Outlook (AEO-3), national and regional atlases, and other environmental assessments.

Rannveig Knutsdatter Formo was posted at the National Environment Management Authority of Uganda (NEMA), where her major task was to support the development of an environmental monitoring programme for the region currently under oil exploration in western Uganda. She also worked with the UNEP Department of Early Warning and Assessments in Kenya to strengthen the Africa Environment Information Network, and worked on the AEO-3 by developing case studies to be included in the publication.

Bernardas Padegimas was hosted by the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA), and was mainly involved in the production of environmental impact assessments and district State of the Environment reports. Bernardas also supported the development of content for the upcoming Atlas of Zambia's Changing Environment.

FK Norway offers exchange participants the option to apply for funding to plan and implement projects related to the objectives of the exchange. Rannveig and Bernardas decided to collaborate on a joint project, and to conduct a feasibility study for an atlas on landslides in the slopes of Mount Elgon in Eastern Uganda. Using material collected during their fieldwork, Rannveig and Bernardas produced a short video to raise awareness about the issue.

Through their fieldwork, the two participants saw first-hand how the area's inhabitants live with the threat of having their homes and crops – and even their lives – taken by landslides. Just a few days after their visit to Mount Elgon, a major landslide occurred in Bududa District, which killed 16 people, destroyed livestock and crops, and left many families without homes. 

An overview of the Bududa landslide, which occured on the 25 June 2012.
Photo: Rannveig Knutsdatter Formo
  Villagers and rescue workers searching for survivors.
Photo: Bernardas Padegimas

If developed, the landslide atlas, which will be produced in collaboration with NEMA and other national stakeholders, will assess and map out the areas at risk of landslides in the region. The publication is meant to inform and influence decision-making in Eastern Uganda.

The FK exchange fits well into GRID-Arendal's mission, which is to create environmental knowledge enabling positive change. It is a way of building capacity, both of individuals and of their home institutions. The opportunity provided Rannveig and Bernardas with valuable work experience that will help them to better carry out their work at GRID-Arendal. The other exchange participants have made similar statements – for example, that the exchange has improved their skills in research, writing and communication.

Read more about the FK participants' experience in the online newsletter Ecoflash, published by NESDA, one of the other partners in the project.