Kenya, Italy beef up academic ties despite Covid

Co-operation in education and science is a tool to strengthen ties, says envoy

In Summary

• Aim is to promote movement of students and professors in exchange programmes

Italian Ambassador Alberto Pieri in discussion with Prof Federico Gobi of Italy and Prof Julius Oyugi of the University of Nairobi ahead of a virtual conference on epidemics
Italian Ambassador Alberto Pieri in discussion with Prof Federico Gobi of Italy and Prof Julius Oyugi of the University of Nairobi ahead of a virtual conference on epidemics

The vibrant partnership between universities in Italy and Kenya has defied the Covid-19 pandemic to emerge even more buoyant, promising dividends for posterity.

The academic collaboration between institutions of higher learning in the two countries is now poised to expand beyond the University of Nairobi, the focal point, to other universities in other towns beyond the capital city.

The partnership, which is also aimed at promoting the movement of students and professors in possible exchange programmes, has laid the ground for further collaboration.

Based on the triple theme of sustainable architecture on the continent; pandemics and global health; and sustainable agriculture and circular economy; there is a fertile breeding ground for using universities to drive the co-operation between Italy and Kenya and add value to existing endeavours to improve lives.

It was against this background that the last joint co-lecture on sustainable architecture, within a cycle of three conferences, was recently held, touching on recycling of nutrients through crop and livestock systems; use of plant waste in livestock systems; use of crop by-products in feeding; use of food waste in feeding; use of pig waste and manure in feeding; use of poultry manure in mushroom production; and general use of manure fertilisers.

Other areas covered included composting in soil-crop productivity; soil fertility management and environmental impacts; food crop consumers’ health; forestry products and by-products in an agricultural economy; and the burden of populations on natural forests.

The conference also covered the use of renewable fertilisers as an alternative to chemical fertilisers, with a focus on reducing environmental impact occasioned by chemical fertilisers.

Key speakers in this lecture included the Ambassador of Italy to Kenya, Alberto Pieri, Prof. Raphael Wahome of the Department of Animal Production, Prof. Richard Onwonga of the Department of Land Resource Management and Agricultural Technology, Dr. Thuita Thenya of the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies, and Prof. Fabrizio Adani, Full Professor in Biomass and Waste Recovery promoting the circular economy at the University of Milan, Italy.

The previous lecture in March, on the topic of Global Health, saw the participation of Prof. Federico Gobbi, of the IRCCS Hospital of Negrar (Verona), and Prof. Julius Oyugi, Deputy Director of the Institute of Tropical and Infectious Diseases of the University of Nairobi.

Prof. Musau Kimeu of the UoN and Prof. Niccolo Aste, an Italian scholar from Politecnico of Milan and author of a book on tropical architecture, were the keynote speakers of the first lecture in February about sustainable architecture in Africa.

This theme was chosen because, as Ambassador Pieri stated, “we believe in the growing importance of a global approach to tackle climate change issues, that is only possible by optimizing consumption and raising energy efficiency.”

Ambassador Pieri feels that with the new realities posed by rapid growth especially in African cities, there is increased interest to find new ways to cut costs, learn lessons from traditional building methods, conserve energy and promote re-use in architecture, with lessons learnt from the Italian experience.

There is huge potential, he says, in urban architecture, but with an eye on the construction of sustainable buildings and employment of equally sustainable solutions. Smart and sustainable cities, he highlights, are one of the priorities of the Italian presidency of the G20 this year, which focuses on “People, Planet and Prosperity”.

 “I firmly believe in the importance of academic and scientific co-operation as a tool to strengthen the relations between countries, in this case Italy and Kenya”, said Amb. Pieri.

In an interview with the writer, Amb. Pieri made the case that universities are uniquely placed to drive change, since they are moved by science and know-how and thus are able to affect and orientate positively the decisions at government level, consolidating lessons learnt and helping implement best practices.

“Universities have a unique role of developing know-how. And the current situation lays the ground for further co-operation, which should add value to existing relations,” says the Ambassador.

And the co-operation between Kenya and Italy is further buoyed by the presence of start-ups and entrepreneurs which serve as flagship projects, scattered all over the country, in the framework of Development Cooperation programmes.

Before Covid 19 hit, a steady 50,000 Italian visitors came to Kenya every year until 2019, further proof of the confidence they had in the country as a destination of choice, both for the tourist and the investor.

“We are confident that with increased vaccinations and the improvement of the epidemic situation, restrictions will ease and we will be back to the usual business. It is a matter of time,” says Pieri.

The collaborations are also promising in other sectors.

The coffee sector is poised to benefit, with actual actions tentatively set for the second half of this year, from multidimensional initiatives involving technical cooperation, science, and trade, with the aim of improving Kenyan exports to the highly-demanding Italian market.

The energy sector is also marked to benefit from circular economy initiatives, with the development of biofuels from waste and agricultural residues leveraging the technology of the Italian company Eni, thus assisting enormously both the consumers and the agricultural producers – the ordinary Kenyan, so to speak. The focus is on further scaling-up Kenya’s decarbonisation process.

Kenya’s nascent space programmes will also benefit from the long-standing presence of the Luigi Broglio Space Centre (formerly known as the San Marco Space Centre) in Malindi, for which a new agreement was ratified on15th October last year (2020) by the National Assembly, expanding the areas of cooperation to earth observation, training and support to the Kenya Space Agency as well as telemedicine.

The recent launch in March of a jointly developed satellite for the tracking and monitoring of wildlife in Kenya, called WildTrackCube-SIMBA, is just the most recent example of a collaboration in this sector which dates back to the early years of independence.