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$150,000 Splashed For Prestigious Marine Fellowship

Dr Ifesinachi Okafor-Yarwood, a lecturer in the department of Sustainable Development at St Andrews, has received a Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation carrying the value of $150,000, over the course of three years, to fund her research on the socio-economic effects of Ghana’s fisheries closure policies on local communities.

This research especially centers on the role of women, who are usually responsible for the process of distributing and preparing the fish. This achievement makes Dr Okafor-Yarwood one of seven conservation researchers to receive the Pew Fellowship globally.

Dr Okafor-Yarwood will work with members of the local community in Ghana in order to attempt to bridge the gap between local ecological knowledge and state-sanctioned policy and interventions at the fisheries. The topic of research was selected with a deep understanding of the way in which Ghana’s fisheries are vital to livelihoods and food security in West Africa, and being threatened due to the impact of climate change as well as previous threats, such as pollution and overexploitation.

The research impact will be to share these findings, through building policy briefs and workshops, between communities, researchers, and national and international organisations to develop best practice moving forward. “The artisanal fisheries sector contributes to the livelihoods and food security of millions of West Africans,” Dr Okafor-Yarwood said.

“However, fisherfolk within the sector have continued to be side-lined when decisions on fisheries governance are made. My research investigates how fisherfolk in West Africa can participate in fisheries governance, contributing to policy by sharing their knowledge and concerns about exploitation, conservation, and management.” On an international scale, Dr Okafor-Yarwood is one of 202 marine fellows from 42 countries working to defend the ocean and its resources by investigating sustainable practice through research.

The Pew Fellowship’s website emphasises the competitiveness of this honour, reading that, “An independent international selection committee of experts with a range of geographic and subject matter knowledge evaluates the applications and recommends fellowship candidates. The review process is rigorous, and selection is highly competitive.” The fellowship selection process includes filtering through a pool of “midcareer natural and social scientists from around the globe who have research experience, advanced degrees, strong records of achievement, and a commitment to bringing evidence to bear on conservation issues.”

Additionally, the Pew Fellowship process is nomination only, meaning the selection process is limited to only the most qualified candidates to take on the scope of the projects fulfilled by the Pew Fellowship. However, Dr Okafor-Yarwood has had a deep depth of research in marine sustainability and security. Her past research topics have included maritime security in Africa, women’s responses to disruptions due to COVID-19 on small-scale fisheries in Africa, and how attempts to improve governance impact African small-scale fisheries.

Dr Okafor-Yarwood centers indigenous epistemologies in her research; her researcher profile states that, “ My multidisciplinary research combines empirical (indigenous epistemologies), doctrinal, historical, and theoretical analysis to investigate the complexities that shape environmental justice, maritime and natural resource governance, and security in Africa.”

She also currently leads a research team dedicated to exploring the gendered dimensions of maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea due to the effects of the global Covid-19 pandemic across the region’s maritime domain. Her qualifications expand even further; she holds a PHD from King’s College London, an MA in Conflict, Security, and Development from the African Leadership Centre. She also has a BA in International Relations and Peace and Conflict Studies from London Metropolitan University.

Dr Okafor-Yarwood is well poised to represent St Andrews research on an international scale as she tackles this vital issue of food security, sustainability, and governance in Africa.

Illustration: Isabelle Holloway

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