Knowledge for a sustainable world

BSc, MSc, PhD

Dr Uche Okpara joined the Natural Resources Institute (University of Greenwich) in 2020 as a Fellow (Teaching and Research) in Climate Change and State Fragility. He is an interdisciplinary environmental social scientist working across a wide range of research areas in Environment, Security and Sustainable Development. His research advances understanding of nature-society relationships focusing on:

  • the complex relationships between climate change, violent conflict and fragility;
  • gender equality, food security and natural resources (land and water) management; and
  • the practical and policy mechanisms that can advance climate resilience, peacebuilding and sustainable development in stressed environments.

Uche’s work uses theories and methods from both the natural and social sciences. Several philosophical paradigms (such as post-positivism, social constructivism, pragmatism and critical realism) offer Uche’s research a firm footing. He is well-versed in using mixed methods approaches and forward-thinking transdisciplinary research techniques (such as solutions-orientated, systems-based tools) that are participatory, inclusive and deliberative; and that recognise the complexity of the world's climate-conflict-fragility challenges and the trade-offs and opportunities created by change.

Uche is a lead author in: (i) an EU FP7 funded publication that provides comprehensive guidelines for identifying and choosing tools for appraising soil remediation and restoration measures from across Europe; and (ii) a new United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Science-Policy (Impulse) Report on “Shifting power for a gender equitable land degradation-neutral world”. In 2018, he was invited by the Government of Nigeria and UNESCO to help advance debates on new strategies for climate conflict mitigation, peacebuilding and sustainable development in the African Lake Chad region during the International Conference on Lake Chad.

In 2013, he won a Doctoral Research Fellowship Award from the US Social Science Research Council which enabled him to complete his  PhD research which addressed the nexus of climate shocks and violent conflict in the Boko Haram-affected Lake Chad riparian zones in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic, where one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises in recorded history has occurred in recent decades. One of the published articles from his PhD research won a Postgraduate Research Commendation Prize from the School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds.

Uche has been a module/course leader for various undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, teaching diverse groups of students in developed and developing countries. He has presented his work and travelled in Africa, Europe and the Americas. His recognition as a researcher is evidenced by a range of scholarly awards (such as the Next Generation Africa Scholar Award and the Elsevier outstanding reviewer award), and interviews granted to journalists working with different media (the BBC World Services, UK Sunday Times and Al Jazeera) on climate, conflict and fragility themes. He is a reviewer for international journals advancing environment, security and global development subjects, and speaks regularly at international conferences around the world.

Uche holds a PhD degree in Environmental Sustainability (University of Leeds) and an MSc in Natural Resources and Sustainable Environmental Management (University of Greenwich). His first degree is in Agricultural Economics (First Class Honours, University of Nigeria).

Uche’s research/scholarly interests are varied, broadly cross-cutting the realms of environment, human security and development, and key themes such as:

  • Climate-conflict-fragility nexus
  • Land degradation neutrality
  • Climate adaptation, vulnerability and resilience
  • Water, land and food security
  • Gender equality
  • Climate security, peacebuilding/conflict mitigation

At the core of these themes, Uche is interested in understanding:

  • how everyday lives and ordinary livelihood expectations are being significantly altered by social and ecological disasters;
  • what food security and environmental management pathways can balance competing social-ecological priorities and human welfare needs in conflict-prone environments;
  • how environmental shocks experienced in drylands produce conditions for rebel economies and violent conflict (including how the experience of conflict undermines a society’s ability to cope with environmental change); and
  • how anticipations of future shocks and stresses feed into modes of socio-ecological systems governance that prevent a compounding cycle of fragility.

Uche will lead/support MSc teaching on the Adaptation to Environmental Change module in NRI’s Global Environmental Change Programme.

EU FP7 project RECARE

Preventing and remediating degradation of soils in Europe through land care. As a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Leeds, Uche worked (on this project) with a multidisciplinary team of researchers from 18 organisations across Europe to assess the barriers to adoption of measures for addressing soil threats. The work stream he led delivered comprehensive guidelines for identifying and choosing tools for appraising soil remediation and restoration measures from across Europe (outputs from this work are useful to researchers and practitioners embarking on soil improvement trials and programmes where priorities are driven by practical end-user needs).

British Council /Newton Institutional Links project in the MENA countries

Developing a sustainable, multi-trophic off grid unit of integrated fish and crop production for smallholder farmers in arid and non-fertile regions. Uche led the economic and social aspects of this project, delivering an integrated framework for agricultural innovation uptake in drylands; and advancing understanding of the ways in which innovations in agriculture can become part of the efforts to support sustainable livelihoods in drylands facing climate extremes.

Gender equality and Land Degradation Neutrality [research links between the University of Leeds and UNCCD]

In this project, Uche led assessments of (i) how a socioecological systems approach to land degradation neutrality (LDN) can help identify trade-offs, appreciate dynamics, improve monitoring and inclusivity and create a new culture for achieving LDN; and (ii) the changing dynamics of gender in land management. Through a cross-country analysis of the various ways in which women and men can interact with and care for land resources in more equal and non-hierarchical ways, the project advanced the ground work required for interdisciplinary research on gender equality and land restoration/rehabilitation practices in regions with deeply entrenched sociocultural norms.

Climate Change, Lake Drying and Violent Conflict (funded under the US Social Science Research Council Fellowship Scheme)

Focusing on the Lake Chad region in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, this project examined how increased warming, longer dry seasons, water and food scarcities, and socio-political exclusion amplify violence and insurgency. Uche’s contributions here include offering: (i) the first true transboundary, locally-comprehensive and theoretically consistent analysis of the ways in which climate change, state fragility and conflict are contextually-bound and interrelated; (ii) a novel diagnostic tool for exploring how different portrayals of vulnerability influence the discursive formation of climate conflict; and (iii) a ground work for interdisciplinary research on cross-thematic integrative modes of policy planning across vital climate adaptation, conflict management and water governance issues in fragile, food insecure settings.

Journal articles

  • Okpara, U.T., Fleskens, L., Stringer, L.C., Hessel, R., Bachmann, F., Daliakopoulos, I., Berglund, K., Velazquez, F.J., Dal Ferro, N., Keizer, J., Kohnova, S., Lemann, T., Quinn, C., Schwilch, G., Siebielec, G., Skaalsveen, K., Tibbett, M., and Zoumides, C (2020) Helping stakeholders select and apply appraisal tools to mitigate soil threats: Researchers' experiences from across Europe. Journal of Environmental Management, 257 (110005), pp. 1-10. https://doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2019.110005
  • Okpara, U.T., Stringer, L.C., and Akhtar-Schuster, M. (2019) Gender and land degradation neutrality: a cross-country analysis to support more equitable practices. Land Degradation and Development, 30(11), pp. 1368-1378. https://doi:10.1002/ldr.3326
  • Okpara, U.T., Stringer, L.C., Akhtar-Schuster, M., Metternicht, G.I., Dallimer. M., and Requier-Desjardins M.A (2018) social-ecological systems approach is necessary to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality. Environmental Science and Policy, 89, pp. 59-66. https://doi:10.1016/j.envsci.2018.07.003
  • Okpara, U.T., Stringer, L.C., and Dougill, A.J (2018) Integrating climate adaptation, water governance and conflict management policies in lake riparian zones: insights from African drylands. Environmental Science and Policy, 79, pp. 36-44. https://doi:10.1016/j.envsci.2017.10.002
  • Okpara, U.T., Stringer, L.C, and Dougill, A.J (2017) Using a novel climate-water conflict vulnerability index to capture double exposures in Lake Chad. Regional Environmental Change, 17(2), pp 351-366. https://doi: 10.1007/s10113-016-1003-6
  • Okpara, U.T., Stringer, L.C., and Dougill, A.J (2016) Perspectives on contextual vulnerability in discourses of climate conflict. Earth System Dynamics, 6, pp. 2543-2576. https://doi: 10.5194/esdd-6-2543-2015
  • Okpara, U.T., Stringer, L.C., and Dougill, A.J (2016) Lake drying and livelihood dynamics in Lake Chad: Unravelling the mechanisms, contexts and responses. Ambio - A Journal of the Human Environment, 45(7), pp. 781-795. Htpps://doi: 10.1007/s13280-016-0805-6
  • Okpara, U.T., Stringer, L.C., Dougill, A.J, and Mohammed, B (2015) Conflicts about water in Lake Chad: Are environmental, vulnerability and security issues linked? Progress in Development Studies, 15(4), pp. 308 – 325. https://doi: 10.1177/1464993415592738
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Science-policy briefs/reports

  • Okpara, U.T., Stringer, L.C., and Akhtar-Schuster, M. (2020) Shifting power for a gender-equitable land degradation-neutral world. [Online] New instalment of UNCCD science-policy report. Available at: <bit.ly/2ORUhg4> [Accessed 2 March 2020]
  • Chinseu, E., Leventon, J., Stringer, L., Okpara, U.T, and Fleskens, L (2018) Barriers to adoption of measures for addressing soil threats across Europe: Insights from the RECARE Project. Sustainability Research Institute [University of Leeds] Briefing Note Series 19. Available at < https://www.see.leeds.ac.uk/fileadmin/Documents/research/sri/briefingnotes/SRIBNs-19.pdf> [Accessed 5 April 2020]

Internet publications/weblog

 

Thesis

Okpara, U.T (2016) Characterising the relationships between climate shocks, lake drying and conflict in the Lake Chad basin. [Online] Uche’s PhD thesis, available at: <http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/15394/> [Accessed 12 December 2019]

  • Teaching, Research, and Consultancy
  • Uche is playing a leading role in climate vulnerability, state fragility and food security research under NRI’s interdisciplinary Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (FaNSI) funded by Research England’s “Expanding Excellence in England” scheme
  • Elsevier Outstanding Reviewer Award (2018)
  • Postgraduate Research Commendation Prize for High Impact Publication, University of Leeds (2016)
  • US Institute for International Education/Carnegie Fund Award (2015)
  • US SSRC Next Generation Research Fellowship Award (2013)
  • The Bertram Sustainable Agriculture Research Award (2013)
  • TreccAfrica Scholarship Award (2012, Declined)
  • DFID/Commonwealth Scholarship Award (2009)
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