West African students master climate change and sustainable development


Mr. Brou Isidore Kanga

“Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and one of the most serious threats facing the entire international community,” says Brou Isidore Kanga. “Access to climate information enables me to contribute to improving people’s resilience.”

44 year old Brou from Côte d’Ivoire is one of a new generation of West Africans who believe education is key to tackling some of the region’s big climate challenges. In the past five years, 125 West Africans have graduated from the Master’s in Climate Change and Sustainable Development (MCCSD) programme run by the AGRHYMET Regional Centre in Niamey, Niger, funded by the EU GCCA+ as part of its €12.1 million West Africa programme.

“Even before I started the course I was already studying the adaptation of agriculture and climate-dependent activities to the effects of climate change,” says Brou, who graduated with honours and was the valedictorian of the 2019-2020 cohort, and who now heads the Research Department at the National Meteorological Directorate in Côte d’Ivoire. “The Master’s in CCSD was an opportunity to strengthen my capacities to better fulfil my mission. The programme has allowed me to deepen my knowledge and adopt a more holistic approach.”

The course includes modules on the science of climate change, impact and vulnerability, adaptation, mitigation, international governance and negotiations, and communication and management. Students come from Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte dIvoire, The Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Chad and Togo. Each of them must complete a final dissertation focusing on a climate change issue specific to their home country.

AGRHYMET - which is run by the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (Comité permanent inter-État de lutte contre la sécheresse au Sahel, or CILSS) - says the aim of the Master's degree in CCDD is to train high-level managers to both “value and capitalise on knowledge about climate science for vulnerability, impact and adaptation studies to climate change” and to integrate climate change into regional, national and local development plans, programmes and strategies. A key element of the programme is that graduates return to their home countries armed with the skills and knowledge to help them both tackle climate change locally and to empower them in international negotiations such as the UN climate COPs.

Thirty-seven year old Valerie Sounouke, from Cotonou in Benin, is another recent Master’s graduate. “We all know that Benin is a less developed country, with a very poor population,” says Valerie, who works as an agro-meteorologist at Benin’s National Meteorological Agency. “Climate change is really a topical issue and the analysis of meteorological data, the use of climate models in relation to meteorological data, and the analysis of vulnerability are critical. We are still learning about these different approaches, and the Master’s programme has brought a lot more to the table -  such as how to organise participatory surveys, or how to use tools for analysing the evolution of carbon levels in agroforestry.”

Valerie is also keen to put her international governance and negotiation studies to good use. “In the future, I hope to participate in large meetings on the issue of climate change,” she says. “I enjoyed learning about the international climate negotiations during the COPs and the financial mechanisms that support the fight against climate change,” agrees Brou.

With West Africa so heavily reliant on agriculture, it’s not surprising that many students focus on helping farmers to adapt and become more resilient. Cotton, sorghum, maize, niebe (peas), rice, nuts and cocoa are among the crops studied. “Cocoa farming is of huge socio-economic importance in Côte d’Ivoire, but future production is heavily threatened by climate change,” says Brou. “I wanted to help cocoa farmers in the Daloa district become more resilient, so as part of my studies I surveyed 200 cocoa farmers in 12 villages, and met with four cocoa cooperatives and five partner organisations. Among my recommendations are training cocoa farmers in the use of climate services, capacity building for tree nursery production, revitalising the use of organic fertilisers, support for income diversification, index insurance and research into drought-resistant cocoa varieties.”

With preparations for the sixth programme well underway, Brou is keen to encourage others. “The teachers are experienced professionals and experts who have a very good knowledge of their field,” he says. “The lectures and classes allow students to research and present the results to their peers, and to exchange knowledge, and the study tour gave us practical experience in the field.”