Recently, the University of Mpumalanga (UMP) in South Africa hosted the second Pan-African Nematology Network workshop (PANEMA). This international three-day event, co-sponsored by Syngenta, was a South African partnership between UMP, North-West University (NWU) and the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and took place from 1 to 3 March 2023 at the UMP Mbombela Campus. It was attended by more than 120 participants from 8 different African countries, bringing together agricultural extension workers and local farmers, early-career researchers, academics, students, government officials and representatives, as well as attendees from Europe and North America. By bringing together such a diverse audience, participants could share good educational practices, create and strengthen networks between their higher education institutes and benefit from additional educational opportunities.
PANEMA was established by the NEMEDUSSA project (Erasmus+ Capacity Building in Higher Education: Nematology Education in Sub-Saharan Africa), which is co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union and VLIR-UOS from Belgium. The NEMEDUSSA project aims to increase awareness of and education on nematodes in Africa. PANEMA aims to promote networking and academic exchange between nematologists working on the continent, by hosting events such as the PANEMA workshops.
Taking a different approach, the PANEMA workshops focus primarily on training, networking and agglutinating different stakeholders in the context of nematology. The first PANEMA workshop, held in Kenya in 2022, laid the foundation for the event in South Africa in 2023. The second PANEMA workshop, building on that success, strove to have a good balance between seminars, interactive discussions and hands-on practice in the field and laboratory.
The balance was achieved by offering targeted training sessions on nematode-related topics, allowing attendees to select their preferred training. Sessions held in the UMP campus laboratories on the identification of different nematodes and specialised microscopy work, were very popular. An expert market included booths hosted by experienced nematologists, which gave attendees the opportunity to engage with experts on relevant topics, as well as others working in agriculture facing nematode problems. The smaller groups and direct interaction and feedback were particularly well received.
The common theme during this workshop was scientific communication for better nematode awareness. This included specialised training by ‘The Floor is Yours’, who conducted sessions on effective presentation skills. Their innovative approach favours a clear message that is accessible to a diverse audience, which is often lacking in scientific communication. At the end of the workshop, students and academics who followed the training could not only showcase their improved poster and presentation skills, but also use the opportunity to engage with a broad audience on their research.
Plenary sessions included discussions on the enabling of sustainable crop production, the status of nematology across the education, extension and private sectors, and food security in Africa. An interactive session on nematology in agricultural extension was particularly appreciated by farmers and extension workers alike, as it showed them the value of collaborating with nematologists in increasing crop yield.
The positive responses to the workshop illustrate the value of more specialized training and focused events for those working with nematodes in Africa. The next PANEMA workshop is planned for 2024 and will be held in Benin. Additional sponsorship and attendance of an international public is welcomed, so that a wide audience can be reached and nematology can be further embedded on the continent. To participate in the next workshop or collaborate with PANEMA, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. More information on the next workshop will be made available soon, on the website: www.nemedussa.ugent.be.