< HORTINLEA Annual Meeting 2016
01.03.2017 17:21 Age: 113 days
Category: General HORTINLEA, SP 13, PhD & Master theses

Collaborating for knowledge exchange towards food and nutrition security - the HORTINLEA Master’s Thesis Programme

Theses within the programme along the knowledge exchange network. © Emil Gevorgyan

After almost six months running, the HORTINLEA Master’s Thesis Programme has reached its halftime for the cycle of 2016/17. The programme started in September 2016 to accompany 13 Master students during the process of writing their theses. Time to take a look at achieved milestones and what lies ahead.

The HORTINLEA Master’s Thesis Programme integrates Master students in ongoing food and nutrition security projects in East Africa. Within the framework of international projects like HORTINLEA or Trans-Sec in Kenya and Tanzania, the students strengthen their analytical, theoretical and communicative skills. The participants receive support on three different levels: content-related in form of a supervisor; organisational, for example when planning the field work; and financial, with a fund of about €2,000 per student. All in all, this enables the students to write their theses, look into transdisciplinary research and get in touch with professionals.

In total, 13 topics on knowledge exchange for food and nutrition security were announced in two rounds in May and June 2016. “In August, we then interviewed pre-selected candidates from six different countries via Skype”, recollects the programme coordinator, Dr Emil Gevorgyan. Thereby, the selection committee consisted of representatives of the partner projects as well as Kenyan, Tanzanian and German academics. “The diverse input from partners and HORTINLEA advisors helped in choosing our final 13 candidates with whom we started in September”, says Gevorgyan. Adapted thesis topics include the analysis of finance for smallholder farmers in East Africa, market trends and consumption habits of African indigenous vegetables (AIVs) in the upper Eastern region of Kenya and an analysis of how to improve food and nutrition security through traditional knowledge and food systems in Tanzania.

During the first phase, both the programme and its participants got settled. As this is the first time such a programme has been implemented both in HORTINLEA and the institutional framework it is embedded in, several organisational matters had to be dealt with. This meant finding a proper form for contracts and financial agreements with the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, creating a schedule as well as setting up sustainable communication channels with the students. “At this stage we also wanted to know the specific needs of the students. They expressed interest in data management, a methodology and a project management workshop, which we plan to execute throughout the programme”, states the coordinator. Just like the programme, the Master’s theses became more structured. With support from their supervisors – one from their home universities, one found through the programme – the students worked on their proposals. During this process, two students decided to drop out of the programme, leaving eleven participants.

With these eleven, the first colloquium was held in the middle of February 2017. Using Adobe Connect, it was possible to create a virtual forum with all students and the advisory board. The students briefly presented their topics and discussed their questions in detail with other students, HORTINLEA project coordinator Zoltán Ferenczi, SLE project leader Dr Susanne Neubert and professionals, including Dr Frieder Graef and Dr Constance Rybak from ZALF and Dr Tsvetelina Stoilova from the World Vegetable Center. “The thesis topics are all very interesting and benefit research around AIVs and interdisciplinary projects like HORTINLEA”, acknowledges one of the advisors.

During the colloquium, the different working states became apparent with some students still polishing their topics, four students about to start their field phase in Kenya and one having already defended his thesis on social capital and knowledge communication. Topics that are in the phase of data collection include an analysis of the role of AIVs for school children’s nutrition in Kenya in the form of school gardening. Another student analyses monitoring and evaluation strategies for inter- and transdisciplinary food and nutrition security interventions in East Africa. Lastly, Gevorgyan offers a positive summary of the first half of the HORTINLEA Master’s Thesis programme: “The programme had to deal with and has overcome some institutional and practical challenges. However, we are glad that now most students are about to enter the next working phase. The goal is to collaboratively gain knowledge with the students and lastly having great theses on relevant issues on knowledge exchange for food and nutrition security.”



© Marlen Bachmann