The CLIFF-GRADS program — supported by the CGIAR Research Initiative on Low-Emission Food Systems — strives to narrow the capacity gap on climate change research in the Global South. It offers doctoral students from low- and middle-income countries opportunities to enhance their research skills. A network of 176 researchers from 37 countries has emerged from CLIFF-GRADS; several have taken up roles in international initiatives relevant to climate mitigation in agricultural systems.
Compared with the Global North, the Global South suffers a capacity gap on research in climate change and agriculture . The CLIFF-GRADS program — a joint effort between the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (GRA) and the CGIAR Research Initiative on Low-Emission Food Systems — aims to help bridge this gap by providing PhD students from low- and middle-income countries with opportunities to strengthen their research skills .
The program focuses on the measurement, modeling, and reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in agricultural systems and on enhancing carbon sinks in the overall context of improving food security. CLIFF-GRADS awardees undertake applied research on such topics , working with scientists at a research organization outside of their home countries. During a six-month stay at their host organizations, they are exposed to world-leading international expertise, expand their research networks, and receive training that they would not otherwise receive during their PhD in their home countries. The fellows develop specific skills, for example in remote sensing, field and laboratory techniques for measuring GHG emissions, and evidence synthesis. They also gain international experience, are exposed to new cultures, and sometimes learn a new language.
“[My] experience … gave me a sense of where my research should focus and areas collaborations could be struck in the future. The opportunity that the CLIFF-GRADS fellowship offers is extremely helpful in developing early-career researchers, and I am definitely better for it.” – Kofi Konadu Boaten, Program Associate for Agriculture, Global Methane Hub
Since the program began in 2017, there have been five rounds of awardees, with funding from the Ministry for Primary Industries of New Zealand, the CGIAR Trust Fund, and USAID. The investment represents US$12,000 per awardee. Today, an alumni network of 176 researchers from 37 countries (41% women) has emerged from CLIFF-GRADS. They have conducted research at 64 host institutes. Twenty-five of these (11 women) graduated in the 2022 cohort. CLIFF-GRADS fellowships have resulted in 35 articles in 28 peer-reviewed journals. Several fellows have taken up roles in international initiatives relevant to climate mitigation in agricultural systems.
Take the case of Kofi Konadu Boaten from Ghana, who participated in a side event organized by Low-Emission Food Systems and the GRA at COP27 . Kofi works for the Global Methane Hub, an initiative “to scale up cost-effective solutions in methane mitigation and contribute to transformational change in the energy, agricultural, and waste management sectors” . Kofi has indicated that, without the CLIFF-GRADS fellowship, he would not have been able to successfully complete his PhD, attributing this achievement to the skills he acquired and mentorship he received under the program. He added that having access to the network of CLIFF-GRADS alumni enabled him to further develop his skills, transfer knowledge to others in his country, and even obtain his exciting role at the Global Methane Hub.
Another speaker at the CLIFF-GRADS COP27 side event  was Titis Apdini from Indonesia. She serves as joint programming officer at Wageningen University & Research, and in this role participates in transnational collaborative partnerships in the areas of bioeconomy, food, and the blue and green environment . Apdini shares Kofi’s views about the added value of the program.
Universities and research institutes have critical roles to play in education, training, and research to achieve the goals of the UNFCCC. Article 6 of the UNFCCC seeks to reduce the impact of climate change by enabling society to be a part of the solution. The CLIFF-GRADS program is a key enabler of the human capacity-building aspirations of the UNFCCC.
2023 heralds the sixth round of CLIFF-GRADS awards. The continuity in the program contributes to a rapidly growing network of climate change scientists from low- and middle-income countries, boosting the prospects of shrinking the climate research gap between the Global North and Global South.
- Downside up: Science matters equally to the Global South, Nature
- CLIFF-GRADS Fellowship
- CLIFF-GRADS: Building capacity for climate change research in the next generation of scientific leaders from the Global South (COP27 event)
- Global Methane Hub
- Wageningen University and Research Joint Programming Officers
Header image: As part of his CLIFF-GRADS fellowship, Kofi Konadu Boaten undertakes a field visit to the long-term no-till experimental plots at the USDA-ARS Soil and Water Conservation Research Center, Pendleton, Oregon, USA (2019). Today, Boaten is a Program Associate for Agriculture at the Global Methane Hub, a role he gained through connections he made under the CLIFF-GRADS fellowship program. Photo by Wayne Polumsky