A ‘FLAIR’ for research: SWIFT scientist awarded prestigious fellowship

Philip Antwi-Agyei is a 2020 FLAIR fellow.

By Lauren Phillips, University of Leeds

Ghana’s agricultural sector loses more than £20 million each year due to extreme temperatures, changes in rain cycles, floods and droughts – poor climatic conditions as a result of climate change.

For a country where agriculture accounts for more than 50% of the GDP and provides more than 90% of the food needs for the country, implementing climate-resilient solutions is critical to feed the population and protect people’s livelihoods.

GCRF-African Science for Weather Information and Forecasting Techniques (SWIFT) academic Professor Philip Antwi-Agyei will address this challenge over the next two years as part of the second cohort of Future Leaders – African Independent Research (FLAIR) Fellowships.

FLAIR fellow addresses food security in Ghana

Announced on 11 May by the African Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society, the prestigious scheme supports a select group of outstanding African scientists to develop their independent research careers while addressing global challenges in ways relevant to the needs of their countries.

Chosen from a competitive pool of more than 400 applicants, Antwi-Agyei’s project aims to understand how Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) interventions can be used to build the resilience of agricultural systems in Ghana, helping address threats posed by climate change, particularly in highly vulnerable dryland farming systems.

Antwi-Agyei (left) combines technical expertise with a participatory approach, working with local informants to address climate change.

“Agriculture is the mainstay of Ghana’s economy. Building the capacity of farmers to address climate change through the adoption of climate smart agricultural interventions will not only provide stable income and productivity, but will also enable resilience against high-impact weather, helping to reduce poverty and food insecurity,” he explains.

Through the fellowship, Antwi-Agyei plans to combine his expertise using spatial databases, ecological surveys, mapping tools and soil samples with a participatory approach, working alongside community to determine how CSA might best be applied to Ghana.

While his research focuses specifically on Ghana, findings will be transferable to other African countries with a similar climate.

Fellowship builds on career accomplishments

Though the FLAIR programme is tailored towards early career researchers, the Ghanaian scientist already has an impressive career.

Since 2018, he has been an integral part of the African SWIFT programme, acting as co-lead for the  User Needs, Co-Production and Communication work package, where he liaises with stakeholders in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal to better support users’ understanding and use of weather forecasts and services.

Antwi-Agyei facilitating a workshop in northern Ghana.

He also acted as a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1.5 oC Special Report of Global Warming, received a prestigious African Academy of Science research award in 2019 to support sustainable agriculture and economic development in Ghana, and was recently promoted from Senior Lecturer to Associate Professor at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana.

A stepping stone towards research excellence

As an aspiring climate change expert, Professor Antwi-Agyei says the FLAIR fellowship is an important step towards leading research that influences policy, informs best practices, and most importantly, addresses the adverse impacts of climate change.

“We don‘t have too many well-funded post-doctoral fellowships in Africa and the FLAIR fellowship offers a unique opportunity to develop early career African researchers. This opportunity will further broaden my knowledge on global development issues and help me network with other experts working in the field,” he says.

“I want to encourage my fellow early career researchers, especially those in Africa, to continue to believe in their abilities to undertake high impact development-oriented research that can transform the economies across the continent.”