2016 Borlaug LEAP Fellow Fikirte Asrat Gelaw hails from Ethiopia and is currently studying at Addis Ababa University, the country’s oldest and largest educational institution. She is pursuing a PhD in Environmental Science, focusing on conservation efforts in the Choke Mountain ecosystem through the analysis of forest carbon storage. Fikirte is looking to compare carbon storage amounts in both protected and unprotected forested areas to see if there are any noticeable differences. Her goal is to figure out how the carbon mass stored by these forested areas is indicative of the health of those respective ecosystems and whether placing the land under protection has made a difference. By preserving these areas and ensuring their health, governments can help make sure that farmers have land that can be used for sustainable agricultural practices in addition to preserving the native species. This will in turn help increase income stability and food security in country into the future.
Fikirte started her academic career at Debub (now Hawassa) University in Ethiopia, where she obtained her BSc in Farm Forestry. After working for various agricultural research centers, she realized in order to make more of an impact in her field, she would have to return to school. In 2011, she completed her MSc in Agroforestry and Soil Management and went to work again as a researcher. It was then that she began to understand the devastation land and soil degradation can have not only on the environment, but also among the people who live and work on that land. After working for the Amhara Region Agricultural Research Institute (ARARI) as a Forestry researcher, she decided to pursue work at a higher education institution, where she would have ability to instruct and mentor budding scientists. She first became a lecturer and then the Department of Natural Resource Management head at Debre Markos University and she remains in that position currently while on study leave. Fikirte has made it her mission to help create ways to sustainably develop land while still respecting and conserving the overall environment. She hopes to find ways to use the knowledge and expertise she gains during her fellowship to inspire others to pursue environmental causes.
As a part of the Borlaug LEAP Fellowship, Fikirte will be working with two mentors who both have a wealth of knowledge and experience in their fields. Dr. David Smart, a professor of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California, Davis, will be working with her to design and implement soil carbon testing trials. His lab works quantifying carbon sequestration into soils and other carbon stocks and he has done research in several other countries as well. Dr. Smart will also help Fikirte use innovative lab techniques that she may not have ad access to while in Ethiopia. She will also be working with Dr. Wolde Mekuria Bori, a researcher at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Ethiopia, whose work focuses on sustainable resource management, ecological restoration and land rehabilitation. He will work with Fikirte to flesh out her work in the Choke Mountain ecosystem and use real-world experiments to help her with her research. Fikirte plans on completing her PhD in 2018.