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A participant of the programme discusses challenges of evaluating international projects like HORTINLEA.
© Sergio Urioste Daza

Striking new paths:

HORTINLEA Master’s Thesis Programme

In September 2016, the HORTINLEA-project started a new groundbreaking SLE- initiative. The HORTINLEA Master’s Thesis Programme. It is designed to support master students with their master theses in contentwise, organisational and financial ways. 13 students were selected and provided an insight into international organisations, field research and interdisciplinary sciences over the following months. The programme supports and promotes their analytical, methodological and communicative skills.

Back in May 2016, the theses topics were announced with a process time of one year. The overall topic was titled ‘knowledge exchange regarding food and nutrition security’. “In August 2016, after two rounds of applications, we interviewed students from 6 different countries”, remembers Dr. Emil Gevorgyan, coordinator of the programme. Gevorgyan was supported by a consultative committee, composed of scholars and experts of international organisations, such as Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF) and World Vegetable Centre. “Eventually, we chose 13 students. They examine, among many other things, communication of knowledge and social capital of small farmers of indigenous vegetables, links between local and academic knowledge about nutrition systems and the evaluation of interdisciplinary research projects such as HORTINLEA.”

Step by step towards a continuous initiative

In the following weeks, the new initiative brought with it a substantial amount of organisational challenges. Applications for support, work schedules and, above all, communicative structures that would be usable in the future had to be created. In February 2017, the first students began their field research with field tests and interviews. “The major part of my field work took place in western Kenya”, says Manon Lelarge, Master student of Rural Development at Pisa University. “To my surprise, many of my interview partners, even in the most rural areas spoke English fluently and were eager to share their information about their work with me.” James Chacha, master student from Tansznia at Sokoine University of Agriculture, had similar surprising experiences during his field work in the Kilimanjaro region. "The biggest challenge and a quite surprising encounter was the strong and unfading smell of the vegetable Momordica foetida after plucking its leaves during sampling. Fellow passengers seemed annoyed and wanted to know who was responsible for ‘spoiling the air’. We had to explain what we were carrying and for what purposes."
By now, 8 of the remaining 11 participants have finished their acquisition of data, two are already celebrating their excellent grades of their finished theses. “With regard to content and organisation, the programme was often challenging. But the interest on behalf of other institutions and the really exciting finished theses confirm the virtue of an initiative like this”, Gevorgyan resumes shortly before the end of the programme in September 2017.

© Marlen Bachmann

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In Iyala, Western Kenya, Manon Lelarge interviewed small farmers on their traditional knwoledge on indigenous African vegetables.
© Manon Lelarge

One Master thesis examined the behavioral effects on students through growing indigenous African crops in school gardens in western Kenya 
© Linda Sigilai

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