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Interview: Stefan Sieber

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​Research cooperation with developing countries - International cooperation to solve global challenges

Mr. Sieber, your international research work on food security was recently selected as one of four best-practice examples for the "Leibniz in Africa" initiative of the Leibniz Association. Which regions are you working on exactly?

I have participated in a total of around 30 projects all over the world, most recently with a strong focus on developing countries. In Africa, we operate specifically in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Cameroon. But we also work in South America, for instance in Colombia. ​

How can research contribute to food security in these regions?​

Challenges such as food security and climate change are highly complex and internationalized, not least as a result of globalized supply chains. Sustainable agricultural innovations in Tanzania, for example, require us to take a look at world trade and its impact on the region. At the same time, local solutions have to be based on the local ecological, economic and socio-cultural conditions. Bringing these different perspectives together with the relevant actors is the added value that comes from international cooperation. Apart from that, we have a moral duty to participate as a partner in finding solutions. The observed problems are often the exported consequences of consumption and the use of resources in rich industrialized countries.​

What exactly does this scientific cooperation look like?​

One very important aspect is the promotion of experts in the study regions. For example: two scientists from Tanzania are currently working here with us at ZALF. As data modelers, they combine scientific expertise with relevant knowledge about the region, the people and their traditions. In return they benefit, for example, from our technical know-how and expand their scientific community. In this way, small research networks are gradually emerging all over the world, which can support us as partners in the focus regions in the coming years.​

And are the solutions developed in these research networks more sustainable?​

That is exactly what we are observing. But also very important is a transdisciplinary approach, i.e. the additional involvement of decision-makers from politics or local organizations, for example. Ideally, they participate in the formulation of the research question and are involved throughout the course of the project. On the one hand, this ensures that we work on the real problems and do not conduct research detached from their daily lives. On the other hand, the local population can then identify more strongly with the project results.

How do you measure the success of projects?​

As is customary in science, our collaborations are measured by the number and quality of scientific publications and approved project proposals. If we cannot maintain the level required, the networks that have been built up in the research regions will disintegrate again. For me, therefore, an important prerequisite for success is that we are able be involved in a region for years to come.​


Interview conducted by Tom Baumeister


Dr. Stefan Sieber
is an agricultural engineer, a lecturer at the Humboldt University of Berlin and has been working at ZALF from 2005 on. Since 2009, he works as head of a research group on the topics of food security, adaptation to climate change, bioenergy, agricultural and environmental policy and strategies for the distribution of knowledge.


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