Selina Naana Egyir on natural resource management in Africa

Selina Naana Egyir on natural resource management in Africa
12 min read

Africa as a whole has vast natural resources, and if well managed, can be a major force in global affairs. But the question remains: Will Africa ever benefit more from its natural resources?

Today, we discuss this and more with Ghanaian Natural Resources researcher, Selina Naana Egyir.

Selina Naana Egyir

It has always been Selina’s belief that in a world that humans are eager to explore and exploit, ecologists of all sorts will be needed to sound the necessary caution and direct man to a more sustainable future.

Selina had her high school education at Yaa Asantewaa Girls’ Secondary School in Ghana where she studied General Science. She then attended the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) to study  Natural Resource Management and majored in Fisheries and Watershed Management.

After serving as a Teaching Assistant at KNUST, Selina obtained a Swedish Institute Scholarship to pursue a master’s degree programme in Sustainable Water Management (Ecological Engineering) at Kristianstad University in Sweden, where she passed with distinction.

Selina Naana Egyir (left) sampling rivers in Spain

Selina pursued a second master’s degree in European Inland Water Quality Assessment at Mälardalen University, also in Sweden.

Selina is currently in her final stages of her PhD programme in Sustainable Urban Drainage at Heriot-Watt University and will be graduating in May, 2016.

“As part of my PhD programme, I have been running interactive workshops by engaging primary and secondary school students and communities with “community resilience, and the roles that individuals can play in protecting themselves and their neighbours from flooding in UK communities”. I am also a STEM ambassador for STEMNET UK where I help to engage and enthuse young people about STEM. Whenever I am in Ghana, I mentor JHS pupils and voluntary teaching in orphanages.”

  • What about Natural Resource Management interests you so much?

“Environmental issues, particularly with water resources, have always fascinated me since I was an undergraduate. I studied natural resources management because of my deep-seated interest in environmental issues. I have always believed that sustainable water management can improve tomorrow’s cities’ health.

Ghana has been abundantly blessed with water resources, but the problem has always been economic scarcity and not resource scarcity. This is what made me more interested in water resources management in Ghana.

Let’s ask ourselves these questions; How do households in Ghana get good supply of cheap, clean and quality drinking water? How do we effectively manage our water resources in Ghana? Do we place value on it? How are women and children in Ghana affected by poor water quality? How do we reach out to rural areas to ensure that they have good supply of drinking water? How do we ensure that people whose livelihood depends directly on water resources are using it appropriately for future generations? What is the government’s take on Ghana’s natural resources, and how are they ensuring its sustainability for future generations?

I have always wanted to contribute my knowledge and skills to water security for disadvantaged people in sub-Saharan Africa, to improve sustainable growth and poverty reduction especially among women and girls. Growing up in Ghana, I realized women in some rural areas of Ghana constitute the majority of sub-Saharan Africa’s poorest people, and are highly dependent on local natural resources for their livelihood as a result of their responsibility to secure water, food and energy for cooking and heating up their homes.”

  • You have not one, but TWO masters degrees. What inspired this?

“To answer this I think I have to take you through my career journey. I think it will make it easier for people to understand. This is because whenever I talk about this, some people think it was a waste of time to do this as a woman. For me, it has been highly valuable and has shaped my career, which I hope will benefit Ghana and encourage more women to pursue their academic dreams and careers.

I began my research career in 2007 as a student at KNUST, working under the supervision of Professor Mrs. Esi Awuah and Mr. Kobbina Awuah on a UNICEF/EU funded project with students from Cornell University. The project was on testing the quality of the source of drinking water in some selected communities in the Northern Region of Ghana. I then volunteered, with some community engagement, on the sensitization of Guinea Worm infection which was predominant in the Northern Region of Ghana. At the time, Ghana was the second most Guinea Worm infested country, and I felt we could do better. Following this project, in the latter part of 2007, I was supervised by Dr. Benjamin Betey Campion of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) on a research project on the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for watershed management using Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) in Aboabo, Kumasi due to the predominance of flooding in Aboabo around that time. This gave me in-depth knowledge on water management and sanitation in Ghana. In 2008, together with some friends, we started a voluntary sensitization program called Earth watch on the KNUST campus local station (Focus FM), where we helped sensitize students on sustainable living, the environment and the importance of Ghana’s natural resources.

I moved on to become a Teaching and Research Assistant at KNUST where I worked on a collaborative research with KNUST and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University sponsored by USAID /CRSP on “Characterization of pond effluents and biological and physiological assessment of receiving waters in Ghana” and “Aquaculture information sources for small scale fish farmers: the case of Ghana”. These were supervised by Professor Steve Amisah.

In the period between 2010 – 2012,  I engaged market women and fish farmers in Ghana on the economics involved in the selling and distribution of Tilapia and Catfish. After this experience in Ghana, I decided to pursue a master’s degree program to improve my knowledge in sustainable water management. I obtained a scholarship to enrol in a university in Sweden where I studied Ecological Engineering and specialized in Sustainable Water Management. It was a one year programme, and I realised although I was exposed to laboratory analysis to check water quality, I felt it was not good enough because Ghana had a lot of inland waters and some people’s livelihood depended on fisheries. So to contribute my knowledge to Ghana and help improve the health of our ecosystems, I decided to do a second masters’ degree on Inland Water Quality Assessment. During the time, I got the opportunity to work as a research assistant after a year at Mälardalen University, Sweden. I was part of a team that researched on the dormancy, germination and toxin production in Cyanobacteria and its impact on perennial blooms in lakes and reservoirs, and on Spanish Inland Water Quality Assessment focusing on Rivers and Lakes in Madrid in conjunction with the European Water Framework Directive (September 2010- January 2011) at the biology lab of Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.

Overall, it has been quite challenging, yet rewarding. Being a woman in this field, in a foreign country with different cultures, and coming from a developing country, has been tough. Some men I met were not so easy to associate with in an academic setting, and at times, did not value my input in the academic environment. It has also challenged my faith in God. Being an unmarried Ghanaian woman while pursuing my academic career, initially did not go down well with my family as they perceived the higher I advanced in my career, the more it would be difficult for me to have a husband. Thankfully, I overcome all these challenges with humility, love and overall with God.”

“To be honest, every time I have had the opportunity to discuss this issue with other Africans, they have always shared the opinion that we can never beat this curse, and even if we will, it will be a 100 years from now. However, throughout my academic pursuit, I have come to realize that we can, and it starts with individuals and not the government. I know most people believe a corrupt government leads to poor governance of our natural resources. Corruption does not start at the government level; it starts from childhood. Some individuals will eventually grow up and be in leadership positions. I strongly believe that children need to have some form of discipline at an earlier stage in order to break the cycle of corruption, and consequently resource mismanagement. That is the only way out.”

  • “Land grabbing” happens everywhere. But, it often takes place in Africa. Our governments welcome investors with the intention of benefiting from land sales. They offer our high-yielding land with easy access to water and infrastructure, and majority of these contracts rarely include conditions protecting the interests of our communities. What can we do to prevent this?

“Community engagement I will say is the useful and important way to go about this. This is because, most of the time, the government due to its own self-interest, does not have the necessary information and local knowledge to protect the interests of those communities. Engaging with the local community prior to the sales of these lands and having the locals on board during the planning and implementation is not only vital to share the responsibility in identifying issues, but it brings about a high level of community input on recommendations and advice for local and regional use of the resources. This can somehow contribute to problem solving, and could further achieve natural resource management goals, as well as to protect the interests of communities.”

  • If you had the opportunity to make a change in your home country, what would it be, and why?

Restructuring the education system: I believe children do not have the right insight into career choices.

More concern and respect for our environment: During this century, we should not have to die because of Cholera and flooding in Ghana. These are as a result of blocked drainage systems which are mostly filled with rubbish. It should not take a major flooding and death incidents before we desilt and clean our drainage systems.”

  • What is your message to women in this field?

“They should follow their dreams and not be discouraged. Be a woman of substance; have a positive influence; be a woman of meaning; use your voice; live up to your morals and values (always remain aware of them).  And last but not the least, do what excites and motivates you. Don’t settle because you have to, settle because you want to. And be humble.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my story. I hope it has a positive impact on all unmarried women out there.”