On Thursday 19 October, the University of Pretoria (UP) Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship (CAS) held a seminar jointly hosted by the Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet-Africa) and Peer-learning for Emerging Researchers’ Knowledge and Advancement (PERKA). The seminar was entitled “Developing Africa’s Next Generation of Researchers” and focused on the work being done by both the FSNet-Africa and PERKA projects to support and capacitate early-career researchers in Africa.
The CAS seminar included an introduction to FSNet-Africa and PERKA and presented an overview of Africa’s early-career researcher landscape and the early-career research phase. The FSNet-Africa model was explored as a successful example of developing Africa’s next generation of researchers. Members of the FSNet-Africa network discussed the outcomes of this project in terms of benefits to early-career researchers’ research skills, research networks, skills for research leadership, mentorship, and research impact. This project is now in its final few months, officially concluding in December 2023.
The FSNet-Africa project aimed to strengthen food systems research capabilities and the translation of evidence into implementable policy solutions and practical interventions in support of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets for Africa. This was achieved through leading systems analysis research on climate-smart, nutrition-sensitive, and poverty-reducing food system solutions designed and implemented in partnership with relevant food systems stakeholders. Since 2021, the FSNet-Africa fellows have been working jointly with their mentors (from African institutions and the University of Leeds) and their University of Pretoria Hosts to implement a transdisciplinary research project focused on African food systems.
Dr Elizabeth Mkandawire, FSNet-Africa Network and Research Manager, emphasised the positive outcomes of the project: “It’s been really exciting to see the way in which fellows have collaborated with the stakeholders in designing, implementing, and even sharing their research. We are really excited to see how they take this work up in policy and practice.”
The CAS seminar concluded with the announcement of the official launch of PERKA Phase II. PERKA Phase I was a joint participatory research project focusing on support provided to early-career researchers in the post-PhD phase in Africa. Funded jointly by the Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa, the project was implemented in collaboration with CAS at the University of Pretoria. PERKA Phase II will build on the successful outcomes of PERKA Phase I, which identified, analysed, documented, and shared the key lessons learned from CCNY’s investment in post-PhD support programmes in Africa. PERKA Phase II will consolidate the regional stakeholder engagement commenced in Phase I and cultivate strategic intentionality on the part of African institutions and funders to take ownership of and invest in support for early career researchers.
Dr Melody Mentz-Coetzee, Principal Investigator of the PERKA II project, had the following to say about the launch: “Only by taking ownership of and investing in Africa’s early career researchers’ well-being and productivity can resilience and sustainability in the higher education pipeline be ensured. Through PERKA Phase II we aim to strengthen the connectedness of key role players on the continent, and build capacities for understanding the impact of early career researcher development programmes. Through building collaborations and documenting a clear case for investment in these programmes, we hope to see greater strategic intentionality and institutionalization of post-PhD programmes moving forward.”