Master Projects 2021/22
Master Projects 2021/2022
Crop Cultivation, Biodiversity, and the Role of Local Environmental Knowledge (Prof. Dr. Boris Braun)
This study will examine the role that local environmental knowledge (LEK) plays in the cultivation of orphan and staple crops (e.g. high yield rice varieties) under conditions of climate and environmental change. Several studies have shown that land users’ local ecological or environmental knowledge is of critical importance for their adaptive cultivation management and their harvest success. Based on interviews with local farmers the project shall answer the following research questions:
What criteria do smallholders use to decide whether and at what intensity to grow either orphan crops or staple crops?
What are the framing conditions that influence these cultivation decisions (local and global market conditions, land ownership, state regulations, etc.)?
How does LEK influence orphan and staple crop cultivation choices, and how can it help to protect local biodiversity under intensive agricultural land use?
Fieldwork will be carried out on Java, Indonesia (together with the Geography Faculty, Universitas Gadjah Mada), or in Bangladesh (together with the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Rajshahi) depending on how the COVID-19 situation develops in both countries over the next few months.
Prof. Dr. Boris Braun
Institute for Geography, University of Cologne
The Role of Local Seed Exchange Platforms for Species Conservation and Community Food Sovereignty (Dr. Alexander Follamnn)
Local seed exchange platforms are booming in Germany. This study examines the extent to which local seed exchange platforms can contribute to species conservation and community food sovereignty. What role do seed exchange platforms play? Which kind of seeds are exchanged and why these? How are seed exchange platforms organized? What has changed in the context of COVID-19?
(In collaboration with Kölner Ernährungsrat und Taste of Heimat e.V.)
“Indigenous“ Varieties of Avocado: Opportunities and Challenges for Urban and Peri-Urban Farmers in Kenya (Dr. Alexander Follmann)
The growth of HASS-Avocado planting for export endangers “indigenous“ varieties of avocado in Kenya. This study investigates opportunities and challenges for urban and peri-urban farmers to grow “local” avocados for domestic markets. This project is carried out in collaboration with Prof. G. Owuor et al., Egerton University.
Wild Foods, Orphan Crops and/or Forgotten Vegetables in Germany: Opportunities and Challenges (Dr. Alexander Follamnn, Dr. Markus Stetter)
Regional commercial value chains and alternative food networks offer market opportunities to save orphan crops and forgotten vegetables in Germany. The study investigates opportunities and challenges for farmers, food producers, and consumers in Germany. What role do wild foods, orphan crops and/or forgotten vegetables play in Germany? Which kind of wild foods, orphan crops and/or forgotten vegetables are marketed? How are wild foods, orphan crops and/or forgotten vegetables “produced” and marketed?
Smelling the “wild” – the political ecology of rare botanical substances in the organic cosmetics industry (Dr. Clemens Greiner)
Global demand for exotic, rare and "wild" ingredients for personal care and wellness products has increased in the past decades. This has led to the commodification of numerous aromatic and medical wild plants - often rare and threatened with extinction - such as Sandalwood, Myrrh or Cedarwood in Eastern Africa, Devils Claw in Southern Africa, or Arnica Montana in Europe. The organic cosmetics industry advertises the high quality of the natural ingredients contained in its products, but also emphasises ethical and ecological concerns. However, the increased demand for "wild" products puts pressure on these rare resources, whose cultivation is often difficult and hardly practicable. The project delves into the world of plant collectors and olfactory experts to explore the political ecology of sourcing and commodification processes of “wild” ingredients for the cosmetics industry. Fieldwork might take place either in Southern Africa or Europe.
Hunger for the wild (Dr. Clemens Greiner)
Wild herbs, wild vegetables and wild salads conquer the menus of restaurants and hobby chefs. How are these "wild" ingredients sourced, produced, distributed and marketed? What distinguishes wild ingredients from others, in terms of taste and (re)presentation? Who consumes "wild" and with what aim? The project deals with the culinary representation of wilderness and the related (artisanal) practice of producing "wild" food. Fieldwork might take place either in Southern Africa or Europe.
“Indigenous” Rice Varieties: Cultural and Nutritional Values (Dr. Michaela Haug)
The “Green Revolution” introduced high-yielding rice varieties to many parts of Indonesia, which are highly dependent on chemical fertilizers, agro-chemicals, and controlled irrigation. Many indigenous groups throughout the Indonesian archipelago who practice swidden agriculture, however, continue to plant a broad variety of “indigenous” rice varieties. This project examines the socio-economic contexts in which these rice varieties are planted and used, including the cultural and nutritional values attributed to them.
This project is carried out in collaboration with Dr Pujo Semedi Hargo Yuwono, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia and is best suited for an Indonesian applicant as it is not clear when field work and travel will be possible in Indonesia for foreign researchers.
Integrating Oil Palms in diverse agroforestry systems (Dr. Michaela Haug)
Oil palms are usually grown in large corporate owned plantations. The establishment of such large monocultures is associated with many negative ecological and social consequences. Among other things, the local population loses (parts of) their land and thus also the possibility to provide themselves with food. An alternative to monocultures is a mosaic landscape in which oil palms are integrated into diverse and more resilient agroforestry systems. Some smallholders in Indonesia are currently trying to do just that. However, little is known about their concrete practices, their experiences and their success with it. This project examines recent attempts of integrating oil palms with other crops, oil palm intercropping and including oil palms in agroforestry practices.
This project is carried out in collaboration with Dr Pujo Semedi Hargo Yuwono, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia. It can be carried out as a field study which would be best suited for an Indonesian applicant as it is not clear when field work and travel will be possible in Indonesia for foreign researchers. Alternatively, this study could be carried out as a desk study supplemented by online-interviews.
Characterisation of genetic variation of finger millet in Kenya towards improved yield and pathogen resistance (Prof. Dr. Stanislav Kopriva)
Fungal diseases are one of the major factors reducing yield of crop plants. This is true for staple crops and even more for the underutilised crops, primarily in the countries of Global South. One way of improvement crop resistance to such diseases is the use of genetic variation in local varieties and introducing resistance genes into high yielding varieties through breeding. Our colleagues at the University of Egerton, Kenya, characterised 25 finger millet (Eleusine coracana) varieties for their resistance to blast disease in the field. The aims of this project are: (1) to confirm the variation in resistance to blast in controlled conditions, (2) to test whether endophytic fungi may improve the resistance, and (3) to assess the genetic variation of the varieties by genome sequencing. The project will generate data that can be directly use for selection of resistant varieties for cultivation and breeding as well as for development of agronomic practices using inoculation with endophytes to protect the crops against pathogens. In addition, the genomic data will be a foundation to further research aimed at identification of the resistance genes and genes underlying the variation in a number of agronomic factors. The project will be carried out in collaboration with Prof Paul Kimurto, and Tracy Jayo, Egerton University, Kenya.
Developing breeding and other strategies to conserve genetic diversity and cultivar variety through seed exchange platforms (Dr. Markus Stetter, Dr. Alexander Follmann)
The conservation of traditional crop varieties is challenging, as they are often outcrossing and highly heterogeneous. Cultivation in small populations potentially leads to inbreeding and the loss of genetic diversity. Mixing strategies and the systematic exchange of seeds can preserve crop diversity and identity, and help adapt new varieties to changing environmental conditions.
(in collaboration with Master’s project “The Role of Local Seed Exchange Platforms for Species Conservation and Community Food Sovereignty”)
Under-utilized plant species of Namibia and the political boundary between domesticated and wild plant use (Prof. Dr. Thomas Widlok)
There are three kinds of plant use that are typically distinguished in southern Africa in general and Namibia in particular namely; commercial crop production, domestic plant use on communal lands as well as foraging of wild plants. This typology also has political connotations since it has been stereotypically aligned with the economic strategies of European settlers, Bantu-speaking farmers, and Khoisan-speaking indigenous minorities respectively. In the past decades this typology and order of things began to be shaken. Research on local crops and on various wild plants suggested that local crop and wild plant uses had considerable unrecognized potentials.
It is against this background that this MA/MSc Research Project would focus on one of the case studies on the following neglected or under-utilized plants:
- Khomas and Ohangwena Regions of Namibia: Citrus lanatus (watermelon)
- Zambezi and Otjozondjupa Regions of Namibia: Brassica napus (Rape) and Brassica oleracea (Kale)
- Ohangwena, Oshikoto and Omusati Regions of Namibia: Pennisetum glaucum (Pearl millet) and Lagenaria siceraria (Calabash/Gourds)
The door to the lab as a political threshold (Prof. Dr. Thomas Widlok)
Domestication is often portrayed as a seamless process from individual gardeners who refine trees to the scientists who manipulate the genetic makeup of plants with high-tech methods. The main divide is assumed to have taken place thousands of years earlier, at the time of the neolithic revolution that separates foragers from farmers. But do those who graft apple-trees and those who do gene sequencing in the lab really share the same mind-set and the same political practice vis-à-vis the non-human species they are dealing with? The new lived body phenomenology (of G. Böhme and others) and the multi-species ethnography (of A. Tsing and others) suggest otherwise and propose that there is instead a recent (and potentially reversable) transition going on: The pomologist who cultivates fruit trees assumes "given" properties of plants and of the human ability to exploit them. By contrast, in the gene lab plants are "made" on the basis of a strict division between nature "out there" and what humans do with nature.
This distinction follows a more general dominant distinction between nature "given" and the human potential of manipulating nature which is hypothesized to be the critical underlying and fundamental political dividing line of today. In this project we compare the way the two groups of specialists deal with plants. The researcher accompanies pomologists and lab workers in their dealings with plants and elicits the body schemas and out-of awareness cultural models that underlie their work.