Dr. Enoch Bessah, an Alumni of the MRP, graduates with a PhD in Environmental Management. He shares his experience on the programme, the research journey and subsequently joining ISNAD-Africa as an Associate.
Congrats on the completion of your PhD programme. Would you like to tell us about yourself?
I am Enoch Bessah from Ghana. I hold a Master’s degree in Climate change and Adapted Land Use and BSc in Agricultural Engineering. I just completed a PhD in Environmental Management from the Pan African University, Institute of Life and Earth Sciences which is hosted by the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. I am a highly motivated, dynamic, and development-oriented researcher, skilled and experienced in the field of climate change, soil and land-use engineering, social survey, remote sensing, GIS and modelling. My research experience in the field of environment and agriculture is about 7 years. My research interest is centered around ecosystem services, specifically on freshwater ecosystem services and its interaction with climate change.
Why a PhD? – Your motivation, what were your considerations before deciding for a PhD programme?
The lack of climate and ecosystem services experts in Africa was my major motivation to continue my education to specialize in the area of climate impact studies. I also considered the relevance of the study or area of research interest in contributing solutions to the current global challenges.
What was your research focus and what motivated the choice?
My study was on the “effect of climate and land use change on hydrological ecosystem services in the Pra River Basin, Ghana”. Climate change is currently one of the greatest global problems affecting all sectors with an enormous projected impact on Africa. Furthermore, freshwater resources (hydrology) are consistently decreasing at the global scale in addition to its uneven spatial distribution in the world. Knowing how freshwater provision will behave and change in the future under climate change would support the adaptation in decision making and lead on the next phase of research to improve resilience to climate change through nature based solutions.
What spurred you to do a PhD in the field of environment/energy/climate science
I have a desire to be part of the solution to the current global problem of climate change through research.
Apart from gaining a PhD degree, what are your findings?
I found that the West African climate system is complex, especially the modelling of rainfall, therefore, high-resolution spatial models should be used in climate impact assessment to reduce the uncertainty in projections based on model skill. Furthermore, conversion of forest or land cover for other activities could bring about a positive or negative impact on the services provided by terrestrial ecosystem on freshwater. The kind of effect is dependent on the site specific location of the conversion. Therefore, scenarios of conversion should be generated for each basin to have an idea of the possible consequences before granting permission for the conversion of forest or land cover for any other activity.
And how long did this take you?
I did a course work for one year while field work and write-up of the thesis was 2 years and 4 months. The final defence process took 4 months to complete. In total, my PhD covered a period of 3 years 8 months (Feb. 2016 – Oct. 2019).
Beyond academics! Who do you think would directly benefit from your findings outside your university?
Farmers and inhabitants are the direct beneficiaries of my findings. I will be communicating to them the results of the study through the extension officers I worked with during the data collection period and the chief farmers (head of farmer’s association in each community). Policy makers and the Pra River Basin management would also benefit from the findings by using it to support decision making on biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services protection like sediment and nutrient delivery control in order to ensure the provision of quality water to the about 1300 towns depending on the basin for freshwater supply.
You are one of the 2018 cohort of ISNAD-Africa’s Mentoring for Research Programme (MRP), how would you describe the programme in general?
The mentorship programme is the best amongst many programmes that break racial and continental barriers in bringing the best out of African students. The initiative was timely and it is delivering results from my experience on the programme. MRP will be the game-changer in building the Africa of our dreams through a transformed research at the postgraduate level.
Could you kindly share with us your personal experience on the programme?
The first thing I learnt from my mentor during our first Skype interaction was “your research must not only fill a scientific gap. It should also be relevant for policy”. That changed my perspective of postgraduate research. Beside my thesis, I had the opportunity to participate in a one-month short course in Germany at the Centre for International Postgraduate Studies of Environmental Management, in the Technical University of Dresden. The course was on Renewable Energy Sources and Energy Efficiency. I was further enlightened on the relevance of my field (Climate Change) in the global energy transitions. My research network has grown, thereby increasing my collaboration potentials. Through MRP, I have the opportunity to publish in reputable journals that are fully open access through my collaboration with my mentor. Currently, we have two publications under review and three manuscripts are in preparation.
If we may ask, taking a retrospect of your research programme, what do you think you could have done better or in another way?
There are three major areas of my research I would have changed if for instance the duration of the research was longer and funds were available. The first will be to carryout in-situ experiment for some of the biophysical parameters I used in my models which were not available for the study area nor in any part of Ghana. I had to rely on other African countries with similar climatic conditions to use their reported data to run my models. The second will be to use reanalysis climate data after checking their correlation factor with station records. This would have increased the number of stations (generated grids for climate parameter sampling) over the study area and reduce the spatial variation due to the limited (7 functional) climate stations over an area of about 23,000 km2. The third thing I would have added will be to assess rainfall onset, cessation and length of rainfall season from farmers’ observation and compare it with the stations records and historical simulation of the models for a better understanding of the distribution of rainfall over the study area and also determine the type of model projection of onset, cessation and length of the rainy season the farmers could rely on.
As you may know, PhD research often demands more than envisaged. Would you like to appreciate some of the people and organisations that supported the success of your research?
The summarised acknowledgement in my thesis was two pages. It shows that many hands contributed directly and indirectly to the success of my studies. I will however mention some few ones here for the sake of time and space. I appreciate African Union Commission that awarded the PhD scholarship for my studies and the International Foundation for Science (IFS) for the research grant awarded to complete my field work. I am grateful to my supervisors; Prof. A.O. Raji, Prof. S.K. Agodzo, Dr. O.J. Taiwo and Dr. Olusola O. Ololade and my international mentor, Dr. Alexandre Strapasson, who served as external supervisor for the interest they had in my work and their investment for a successful research. I appreciate ISNAD-Africa for the MRP initiative that connected me to my international mentor. I also acknowledge the following organizations for access to data and support during data collection; West African Science Service Center on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use, Ghana Meteorological Agency, University of Prince Edward Island in Canada, Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture, developers of SDSM-DC, United State Geological Survey Department and many others. I finally appreciate the Director of my institute, Prof. M.O. Abatan for his immense support; Coordinator and Professors of Environmental Management Programme and all the staff of the institute. Special thanks to everyone, not forgetting the follow-ups of the Programme Manager of ISNAD-Africa and the entire team of the organization for their tireless support.
In 2019, you joined ISNAD-Africa as an Associate, what was your motivation and how would describe your experience on the team?
I joined ISNAD-Africa to contribute to the development of other postgraduate student in Africa as I have received during my time as a mentee on the MRP initiative of ISNAD-Africa. I see ISNAD-Africa preparing the next generation of leaders through quality research and giving them an international perspective to development. I believe many more African potential leaders will do better for the continent if they get an opportunity to enroll in the programs of ISNAD-Africa. ISNAD-Africa is a loving family with determined youth working tirelessly to make postgraduate research in the area of focus of the organization in Africa relevant to this generation. The dedication of the staff encourages you to always do more for others (mentees) to assist them achieve their goals.