Accepted proposals 2017

Influencing factors of crop growth

Case study of Molati, South Africa
Food security is a growing concern worldwide as growing population and water availability change significantly; saving water, implementing new techniques, restructuring the layout of land use to increase agricultural production are possible ways to tackle the phenomenon. The objective of the study is to investigate how changing practices in agriculture can benefit increase in crop growth. The study area is of a small village named Molati in Limpopo province, South Africa, where the majority of the population undertakes subsistence farming in pursuance of food security. The village, which consists of 800 households, constantly struggles with food security; therefore focusing on crop growth can actually greatly improve their quality of life and hopefully set a positive example for nearby areas. The methodology covers a sensitivity analysis for which the input is mostly provided by Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) in an ArcGIS environment. A study area has been set up the previous season, which will act as data source and control scenario. Visiting the village to collect data, mainly to make measurements of the various crop fields and to incentivize the uptake of new techniques is vital. The optimal agricultural practice is revealed through a sensitivity analysis, for which data is provided by running the SWAT model with those manipulated parameters, which can actually be modified by human interaction.

Name: Kristof Horvath
Master program: Environment and resource management
VU supervisor: Jasper van Vliet

Building climate resilience for communities in sub-Saharan Africa.
An assessment of water harvesting systems and their impact on drought vulnerability in Kitui, Kenya

This thesis project assesses the effects of water harvesting systems on drought vulnerability and
their long-term impacts on food and water endowments in Kitui county, a rural, semi-arid region in Eastern Kenya. Vulnerability in this case is understood as the likelihood of a household experiencing harm, such as poverty or food insecurity, due to its exposure to drought. Based on data collected from over 300 households and in stakeholder interviews with farmers, village leaders, government officials, and NGO members, the vulnerability score of different households is calculated and compared between households with water harvesting systems and households without them. Drought vulnerability is then correlated with different factors such as water endowments, household income, education level, and age, to identify which  variables determine the vulnerability of households in the region. Finally, current household endowments are compared to those that were measured shortly after a large number of water harvesting systems were installed 10 years ago to gain insight into the extent to which benefits were sustained over this period. This step also takes into account governance mechanisms as a possible explanation for the short- or longevity of benefits derived from water harvesting systems. The data for my analysis is collected with the help of local university students, tying my research to regional knowledge hubs and providing training in the use of a specific research method in return. The results will be published and shared with university faculty, local NGOs, and political decision makers in order to guide drought adaptation policy towards the most effective options and thereby promote food and water security in the region.

Name: Mirja Schoderer
Master program: MSc Environment and Resource Management
VU supervisor: Dr. Ralph Lasage