The African Academy of Sciences and Royal Society announce further recipients of 2019 FLAIR scheme

07 May 2019

The African Academy of Sciences (AAS) and Royal Society have announced a further eight recipients of the FLAIR fellowship scheme. FLAIR (Future Leaders – African Independent Research) is supported by the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). It is designed to help talented early-career researchers, whose science is focused on the needs of the continent, establish independent careers in African institutions and ultimately, their own research groups.

The first round of FLAIR fellowships was announced in April 2019.

The next round of the FLAIR scheme is now open for applications, closing on 15 May 2019. This year the academies want to encourage more applications from under-represented countries, particularly Francophone and Lusophone countries.

The 2019 FLAIR cohort were selected from a competitive pool of more than 700 applicants. Their research is diverse, ranging from providing renewable energy solutions and addressing climate change, to tackling food security and targeting health and environmental problems that are most acute for people living in African countries.

Thanks to the FLAIR scheme, some of the scientists are returning to the continent from countries such as the UK and USA to continue their careers in African institutions. This is an important part of the programme – attracting scientists back from the high income countries where they have completed their postdoctoral training so that they can play a part in building the research infrastructure at home. To keep improving its scientific output, Africa needs to pay urgent attention to growing and retaining its scientific talent and FLAIR is one of a number of initiatives through which The AAS is tackling this issue.

Professor Felix Dapare Dakora, President of the African Academy of Sciences, says, “The AAS welcomes the exceptional FLAIR grantees to its postdoctoral family. We recognise that well-planned postdoctoral programmes are critical in promoting scientific and research excellence and leadership in Africa and so want to be catalytic in inspiring African institutions to critically think about the role of and defining postdoctoral programmes that suit their needs and purpose and can be instrumental in driving socio-economic development on the continent.”

Dr Judy Omumbo, Programme Manager, Affiliates and Postdoctoral Programmes, says, “We look forward to welcoming the FLAIR grantees to the community of AAS postdoctoral fellows. FLAIR  grantees will have access to AAS’ wider programme of support to develop them as independent research leaders including leadership, entrepreneurship and media,science communication and public engagement training, a mentorship scheme with internationally recognized mentors, proposal writing workshops, Open Access Publishing (no fees), via AAS Open Research and networking opportunities both regionally and with the UK and to develop regional and international collaborations.”

Professor Richard Catlow, Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society, says, “I’d like to offer the Royal Society’s warmest congratulations to our first intake of FLAIR fellows. These scientists represent the next generation of leading African scientists, and we are incredibly proud to be part of a programme that is investing in them at such a crucial point in their careers.

“Fostering science and innovation for social benefit and prosperity is key to the wellbeing of any society, and investing in Africa’s scientific talent holds the greatest potential to tackle global challenges and improve quality of life.”

The FLAIR fellows, their nationalities and institutions are:

Ezekiel Mugendi Njeru, Kenyan, Kenyatta University (Kenya)

For smallholder farmers in the semi-arid regions of Kenya who are unable to afford vital inorganic fertilisers for their crops, there is an alternative: the microorganisms that increase nutrient uptake in crops. Njeru will map biodiversity patterns of these microorganisms to optimise their introduction to crops to improve yield and drought tolerance.

Elizabeth Ndunda, Kenyan, Machakos University (Kenya)

For developing countries, environmental pollution is an emerging challenge. One such pollutant type is the probable human carcinogens PCBs, which accumulate in animals. Ndunda is developing an accurate, readily deployable sensor for these widespread environmental pollutants.

Wilfred Odadi, Kenyan, Egerton University (Kenya)

Managing the intensity of livestock grazing is vital for both conservation and livestock welfare, so when pastoralists give their livestock seasonal access to private ranches (otherwise un-grazed land and refuges for wildlife) the effects are substantial but unmonitored. Odadi proposes to understand this land-sharing scheme - that between pastoralists and private ranchers - so that optimal grazing conditions might be arrived at to ensure peaceful co-existence between wildlife, livestock, and humans.

Zebib Yenus Nuru, Ethiopian, University of South Africa (South Africa)

In the transition towards renewable energy, specifically solar power, Africa and southern Africa have plenty to give, with annual average solar irradiance double that of the UK. One downside to this energy technology is the point at which solar energy is converted to either heat or electricity, an issue located squarely at the solar absorber surface. Nuru aims to develop and optimise a range of solar absorbing surfaces that overcome this energetic shortfall.

Balla D. Ngom, Senegalese, Universite Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar (Senegal)

Ngom is working on renewable technology - batteries and supercapacitors - that will enable the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy generated by the wind and sun.

Raphael Tshimanga, Congolese, Universite de Kinshasa (The Democratic Republic of Congo)

The catchments of the Congo are of great importance, providing hydro-power, water supply, fisheries, and more, and yet their extent and interconnectedness remain undescribed. Tshimanga is developing a catchment classification system to enable healthy and sustainable resource planning for the Congo Basin.

Emmanuel Balogun, Nigerian, Ahmadu Bello University (Nigeria)

Two major diseases have been partly attributed to poverty and underdevelopment in Africa: Sleeping sickness and nagana, affecting humans and livestock respectively. Balogun is working on identifying a compound to neutralise the sleeping sickness parasite.

Rufus Akinyemi, Nigerian, University of Ibadan (Nigeria)

Akinyemi is looking into the genetic basis for memory loss after stroke. People of African descent are particularly prone to worse stroke outcomes.

Read about the first FLAIR fellows, announced in April 2019.