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You are here: Home eNewsletter Archives 2007 June 2007 Prof Almeida Sitoe prepares to take over ELTOSA reins

Prof Almeida Sitoe prepares to take over ELTOSA reins


Prof Almeida Sitoe, the driving force behind the establishment of the Mozambique Long-Term Environmental Research Network (Picture © Mitzi du Plessis)


Prof Almeida Sitoe will take over the reins from Johan Pauw, outgoing ELTOSA Chair (left) at the ELTOSA Conference later this year (Picture © Mitzi du Plessis)

Prof Almeida Sitoe flew in for a meeting with SAEON to plan the forthcoming ELTOSA Conference which will be held in South Africa in the second half of this year. SAEON eNews caught up with Prof Sitoe, Chair of the Mozambique Long-Term Environmental Research (LTER) Network and Deputy Chair of the Environmental Long-Term Observation Network for Southern Africa (ELTOSA) during his two-day stay in the country.

Prof Sitoe, Head of the Forestry Department at the Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique, first became acquainted with the International Long-Term Environmental Research (ILTER) Network in 2001 when he was invited on a trip to visit LTER sites in the USA. It was also on this trip that he met Johan Pauw, Head of SAEON and Dr Joh Henschel of the Gobabeb Training and Research Centre in Namibia, who informed him of their intention to establish a long-term environmental observation network for the southern African region.

Based on the trip and his discussions with Johan Pauw, Prof Sitoe realized that his country had much to gain from an LTER network, and set out to establish one in Mozambique.

He invited Johan and Joh to Mozambique to meet with like-minded environmental observation scientists in the region. The landmark meeting, which was held on Inhaca Island in 2002, was where the idea to establish a local network for Mozambique was first mooted. Prof Sitoe had done his homework well - the meeting was attended by a fair representation of politicians, including the Minister of Environmental Affairs, the Vice-Chancellor of the Eduardo Mondlane University and prominent researchers. Their support for the idea of a national network for Mozambique was sufficient motivation for Prof Sitoe to proceed with arrangements.

Not that it was an easy task. As Associate Professor, he had an extremely hectic teaching and research schedule at the University to manage. "It was a bit daunting to be faced with the mammoth task of setting up the network over and above that," he says with a twinkle, "and it took two full years to get everything in place."

In 2004, the Network was launched. The event was attended by the Minister of Science and Technology, representatives of other ministries, NGOs, religious organizations and more than 60 institutions, most of them research institutions, as well as Johan Pauw and Joh Henschel.

At the conclusion of the event, during which overwhelming support was received for the establishment of the national network, Prof Sitoe was appointed coordinator of the national network. "And that over and above my responsibilities as an Associate Professor at the time," he says with a chuckle.

To enable him to fulfill two such hectic portfolios, the university appointed support staff to assist him, and allowed him full access to facilities such as free internet access and a webpage dedicated to the network (

In 2005 he had a dynamic and interactive webpage up and running for the network, with a searchable data base of researchers, research projects, research activities and relevant publications.

He also embarked on a marketing drive to recruit more students into the network and to publicise it within and outside the university.

Most of their participants are final-year students and the network supports them in preparing posters and presentations. As an added incentive, the network runs an annual competition for the best student poster presentations.

"Most of our actions revolve around capacity building," says Prof Almeida, "and from this year onwards we are extending our efforts to reach more students from universities outside Maputo."

Another important acitivity is benchmarking visits to learn from other countries and then applying what is practical and possible for Mozambique.

"At the moment the network is not a high political priority," he says, "and it is important for us to match the needs of the network with the political agenda. We need political support, especially in terms if resources."

Limited resources remain a challenge. As no specific budget has been allocated to the network, Prof Sitoe has to rely on one-year grants for which he has to apply on an annual basis. "I now have yet another portfolio to contend with," he jokes, "that of full-time fundraiser."

As one of the objectives for the future, Prof Sitoe would like to see the network expand and core sites being set up for long-term research and observation. Mozambique has been hard hit in the recent past by natural disasters such as big floods and cyclones. "Our politicians regard these disasters in a serious threat," he says, "which might strengthen our hand in getting the network more firmly entrenched and fully operational to be able to give valuable input into national policies and actions to mitigate these risks."

ELTOSA leadership

Prof Sitoe, who will soon be taking over from Johan Pauw as Chair of ELTOSA, sees the regional network as another big challenge. "That's mainly why I am here today," he says of his visit, "to learn from Johan Pauw who has vast experience in long-term environmental research and observation and as the outgoing Chair of ELTOSA."

Prof Sitoe says he wants to draw on the experience of well-established country networks such as those in South Africa and Namibia to apply best practices in the management of the Mozambique and ELTOSA networks and make them function optimally.

As in the case of the Mozambique network, ELTOSA is seriously hampered by limited resources, which remain a problem as there is no fixed budget for the network. The committee is currently working on a fundraising strategy.

"Now ELTOSA has been established the challenge lies in showing what the network can achieve," explains Prof Sitoe. "We need to show the advantage of having such a facility to be able to attract funding. With the network still in its infancy, it is difficult to persuade other countries to join and organizations to fund the network. We need to show the many advantages of the network before we even think of expanding."

The first seeds

Prof Sitoe was born in the coastal region of the Gaza Province 300 km north of Maputo. "I'm a countryman," he admits with a measure of pride, "and I've always been interested in the environment."

He originally went to university to study agronomy, but in his third year was persuaded to switch to forestry. "Our professor showcased this new discipline really well," he concedes. While still a student, he was employed as a part-time teaching assistant, which offered him the opportunity to stay on at the university, further his studies and get more involved in university life. At the end of his course, his professor asked him to stay on at the university, and he agreed. "It was during the war," he says, "and this was definitely the safer option."

He has never looked back. Educating and training young people has become one of his passions in life.

On climate change

"Climate change is definitely going to have a considerable impact on poor countries such as Mozambique," he predicts, "and the majority of the population is going to be severely affected."

He foresees that the national and regional long-term observation networks will play a major role in monitoring the status of the environment, conveying the message of climate change and influencing national and regional policy.

Dr Sitoe formed part of the expert group appointed by the UN Secretariat to advise countries on measures to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. As coordinator of the Mozambique network and Chair of ELTOSA, he sees himself playing a role in influencing people in Mozambique as well as in the southern African region.

"Although climate change may manifest itself as one of the greatest threats to our planet, it is good to know where you stand, and what you can do to improve or adjust to the situation, and this is where the respective networks can fulfill a vital role," he says. "I am happy and privileged to be a part of that."

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