Geology for Global Development

Geology for Global Development

GfGD Strategy 2017-2021: Championing Sustainable Development

Today we publish the GfGD Strategy (2017-2021), outlining our vision and the key objectives that will shape our work over the next 5-years.

In 2015, the international community agreed the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals aim to eradicate global poverty, promote sustainable consumption patterns, and facilitate sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development and environmental protection. Geology can play a vital role in addressing these challenges, but that requires enhanced knowledge, new skills, and strengthened links across charities, governmental bodies, and the academic and industrial geology community.

In this context, we seek to mobilise and equip the geology community to engage in a full, positive and effective manner, preventing and relieving poverty, and encouraging sustainable development.

We see a world where:

  • Every geologist is equipped with the skills and understanding required to make a positive contribution to sustainable development.
  • The geology community is actively engaged in the design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of international development activities.
  • Organisations, governments and individuals have equal access to, and an understanding of, the geological science required to ensure sustainable development.

We have agreed four strategic objectives to help deliver this vision:

1. [INSPIRATION] Promote the value of geology in supporting sustainable development. Many people are unaware of the role geology can play in supporting sustainable development. We will work towards greater recognition for, and understanding of, the role of geology in tackling significant global challenges (e.g., water security, food security, resilience to natural hazards, natural resource management, urbanisation, and climate change).

2. [EDUCATION] Equip geologists to engage positively in sustainable development. The skills and knowledge required to make an effective and positive contribution to sustainable development are often missing from the traditional education and continued professional development of geologists. We will provide opportunities for geologists to develop these essential skills to best serve the communities that we engage with.

3. [ACTION] Enhance the application of geology to international development. We will make a high-quality contribution to practical development projects. We will develop and support poverty-fighting programmes in collaboration with other UK-based and international organisations. By the end of 2021 we envisage our work having helped to address six of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, across five different countries.

GfGD 3rd Annual Conference (Geology and the Global Goals for Sustainable Development)

4. [LEADERSHIP] Exercise international leadership on matters relating to geology and sustainable development. We seek to be a recognised and trusted voice on ‘geology and sustainable development’, helping to reshape the global geology community to better serve society. We will grow in our international influence, and reputation for excellence in all we do.

Over the next five years we’ll be working to implement this strategy, striving towards our vision, and supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We believe that our work can help to reshape the geology community, building a sector equipped to serve communities around the world.

We’d love your support.

If our vision and strategy excites you, please join us.

  • Share: We would like the global geology community to be aware of our work. Please share this strategy and our work with your colleagues, students, and friends.
  • Donate: Whether you’re an individual who can sign up to give £5/month, or you would like to find out more about corporate sponsorship opportunities, please do get in touch. Find out more on our website (
  • Join In: You can get involved in our work by going to University Group events, our conferences and workshops, or supporting our ongoing practical projects. Keep an eye on our social media for new opportunities in the coming months.

Together we can build a geology sector with sustainable development at its heart, equipped to make a positive difference and better serve society.


Geology for Global Development – Our Story, Our Future

Cultural Communication Workshop in Tanzania at the YES Network Congress (August 2014).

Geology for Global Development (GfGD) is a registered charity in England and Wales (Charity Number: 1165663). As we prepare to launch our 5-year strategy (2017-2021) on Monday 12th June, we believe it is helpful to reflect on our story to-date, and share some highlights.

Tanzania: The start of our story

Kagera is a beautiful region of Tanzania, bordering Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Lake Victoria. It is one of the poorest regions of Tanzania, with challenges including health (HIV/AIDS, malaria, diarrhoea), education, income generation, food security, and access to clean water and safe sanitation. Statistics from the World Bank data centre (2015) suggest that in the rural population (much of Kagera), only 46% of people have access to clean, safe water. In the midst of these challenges can be found the people of Kagera, characterised by their hospitality, warm welcome and eagerness to share and learn.

Water collection in Kagera (Tanzania). (Credit: Joel Gill)

Kagera is also the region where GfGD was birthed. I visited in 2009 to help evaluate a water programme, and again in 2010 to advise on the recommendations made in that research. During these visits I observed water projects that had failed due to a lack of understanding of geoscience, but many more projects that had failed due a lack of understanding of good development practice by the engineers, geoscientists and other technical partners involved. Water projects were placed in locations without consultation with communities, and maintenance skills training was absent. One afternoon, sat in the Kagera sunshine, I was reflecting  on these observations and decided that I would start something connecting geology and international development.

The early days of Geology for Global Development

In February 2011, I launched a blog, writing and publishing articles on geology and international development. Simultaneously, I began a consultation process, exploring what existing organisations were doing and what could be done to help improve the engagement of geologists with international development. Geology for Global Development (GfGD) was then launched with a formal website in June 2011, aiming to mobilise and equip the geology community to prevent and relieve poverty. Recognising the need to focus our resources, we primarily engaged with students and  early-career geologists, although we were aware of the relevance of our work to the broad geoscience community. Through our activities we help to provide young geologists with the skills, information and opportunities they need to make a long-term, effective and sustainable contribution to international development.

Our 1st Annual Conference, opened by Jeremy Lefroy MP

Since 2011, a team of volunteers have worked hard to build the reputation of Geology for Global Development as an organisation with national and international influence on matters relating to geology and international development.

Examples of our work include:

  • Delivering a series of successful conferences in London, workshops in Tanzania and South Africa, and seminars at multiple major international conferences.
  • Establishing a growing University Group network in the UK.
  • Running diverse practical initiatives to support international development, including a hazards education programme in the United Kingdom.

You can read more about our most recent activities in 2016, in this Annual Report.

Building Partnerships

We value working in partnership with other organisations. We have greatly benefited from the experience, expertise and resources made available to us from our colleagues and friends at the Geological Society of London. They have hosted, subsidised, and advised on each of our Annual Conferences (2013–2017). We have also partnered with the European Geosciences Union since October 2012, as a member of their blog network. Their commitment to facilitating science communication has enabled us to have a free and appealing portal to communicate our work. In 2017 we signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the International Association for Promoting Geoethics (IAPG).

Engaging with the UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, we started a process of engagement with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs provide the geology community with an exciting opportunity to apply our science to help solve some of the world’s most important development challenges and maximise development opportunities. Access to clean water and clean affordable energy, food security, sustainable urban areas, climate action, economic growth, and resilient infrastructure all depend on an understanding of geological processes and materials.

4th GfGD Annual Conference (2016)

In 2015, we organised the first major gathering of geologists anywhere in the world to explore the role of geology in the SDGs, with our annual conference in 2016 continuing this theme. Our pioneering leadership on geology and the SDGs has been recognised internationally, with a leading US university capturing this in their description of our 2015 conference as one ‘of and for the future’. We have since organised related workshops at events in Europe and Africa, and published the first detailed examination of Geology and the SDGs in the International Union of Geological Sciences’ journal Episodes.

The SDGs remain a power articulation of the world we wish to build. We have embraced their aims, and will be making clear reference to the SDGs in our new strategy and work going forwards.

Formal Charity Registration

As part of our commitment to professionalism and excellence, in 2015 we began the process of registering with the Charity Commission for England and Wales, and establishing a Board of Trustees. This facilitates the growth of Geology for Global Development, expanding and enhancing our work. In February 2016, we received the news that our application had been successful and Geology for Global Development was to become an official registered charity (Charity Number: 1165663). Our work continues to be supervised by a Board of Trustees, with day-to-day work coordinated by an unpaid executive team.

New Strategy: Looking to the future

On Monday 12th June we will launch our 5-year strategy (2017-21), to outline our purpose, vision, and objectives. This strategy will guide our activities over the next five years, with future Annual Reports giving feedback on progress towards these strategic objectives. To help deliver this strategy, we’ll be seeking new funding, new volunteers and new members of the executive team and board of trustees.

We’ll be starting new initiatives, and continuing our most popular events such as the annual conference. We have already announced that our 5th Annual Conference (3 November 2017), hosted and supported by the Geological Society of London, will examine the theme ‘Cities: Opportunities and Challenges for Sustainable Development’. Registration will open in the summer of 2017, with further details to be posted on our website and social media.

In the years to come we hope to build on our success. I am excited about our new strategy and the focus it will bring to our work. I hope it will also inspire and excite you, and you will join us in our vision to mobilise the geoscience community to better serve the people of Kagera and beyond.

GfGD Annual Report 2016

Today we publish our 2016 Annual Report, an important opportunity to share information about our charitable objectives and team, report on activities through 2016, and present an overview of our finances.

Geology for Global Development, established in 2011, is working to mobilise and equip the geology community to prevent and relieve poverty. In February 2016, our application to become a registered charity was accepted (Charity Number: 1165663).

Download our 2016 Annual Report (also available on our website).


Guest Blog: Could agroforestry do more to protect Rwandans from hazardous landslides?

Megan Jamer is a geoscientist from Canada, and an avid cyclist and explorer. Megan is currently travelling around East Africa on bicycle, taking in some remarkable sites and observing first hand the relationship between geoscience and sustainable development. Today Megan makes her debut on the GfGD blog site, writing on the relationship between agroforestry, landslides, and disaster risk reduction.

Some landslide interventions are hard to miss along Rwanda’s highways. There are gabions, and concrete drainage pathways, kept unclogged by women and men in fluorescent vests. Other strategies are more subtle. Where cassava or bean plots are mixed with banana trees or ringed within a hedge, this may also reduce the damage caused by landslides in this central African nation. Rwandan agroforestry is getting attention. The strategy, which combines trees and crops in the same area, is being used to work towards the 2020 goal of trees covering thirty percent of Rwanda’s total surface area. In 2014, more than half of new seedlings distributed by the government were agroforestry or fruit varieties. Food and land scarcity pressure Rwanda’s slopes, and agroforestry is one way to address the root causes of these shortages, protecting against landslides in the process.

A rural dwelling in the hills of northern Rwanda, excavated into the slope (author’s own).

The Problem of Landslides

At least sixty-seven people were killed last year by landslides and mudslides in the north and west, and in the capital, Kigali. Deadly or not, they cause wide-ranging infrastructure damage, harming public infrastructure and trading patterns, as well as hillside settlements and agriculture. Landslides here disproportionately affect the poor, who pursue subsistence agriculture on steep slopes or live in vulnerable urban areas because they have few alternatives.

In the ‘land of a thousand hills’, slopes are made more vulnerable by rainfall patterns that some say are difficult to manage. In The New Times last year, coffee grower Pierre Munyura said that in western Rwanda“we receive about the same amount of rainfall as ever, but the rain comes in heavier and more destructive bursts.” Rainstorms are considered to be the main trigger of landslides in Rwanda, but human activities prepare the slopes for failure. They are cleared and levelled for walking pathways, homes, latrines, small plots and gardens. Other areas are hollowed out for small-scale mining. The result of these activities is a complex pattern of slope disturbance and deforestation.

Hillside communities cultivate in a manner that reflects traditional knowledge, regulations, and the resources available to them (author’s own)

Similar environmental and human conditions come together on the slopes of Mount Elgon in Uganda, where the causal factors of landslides were investigated. The researchers’ prognosis was bleak: “The growing population density not only increases the risk of damage, but hampers the search for solutions for the landslide problem as well.”  Understanding occurrence is the first step in managing rainfall-induced landslides, says Dave Petley of The Landslide Blog, and here Rwanda has made big strides. Its Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDMAR) published a National Risk Atlas in 2015, an analysis of the earthquakes, landslides, windstorms, droughts and floods that challenge Rwanda’s resiliency. The Atlas inventories hazardous landslides, estimates slope susceptibility, and shows maps of properties that affect landslide incidence, including rainfall, slope angle, ground cover and soil characteristics.

MIDMAR’s analyses estimated that nearly half of Rwanda’s population lives in areas with moderate or high slope susceptibility to landslides. These hazards are commonly small and localized, requiring community action, but “knowledge at the citizen level [about landslides] is still low,” says Dr. Aime Tsinda, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research-Rwanda. Translating information in studies like the National Risk Atlas into local knowledge is a slow process. While it’s underway, communities are motivated to adopt agroforestry because of a hazard they are already familiar with: poor quality soil.

More Trees!

Agroforestry is the ‘intentional integration of trees and shrubs into crop and animal farming systems to create environmental, economic and social benefits’. On cultivated slopes where agroforestry isn’t practiced, small plots drape over them, resembling smooth patchwork blankets. Like blankets, their soils can more easily wash away, creep or slide catastrophically. This is what happened last year, says J.M.V. Senyanzobe, a Forestry Lecturer at the University of Rwanda. “If you observe the concerned areas,” he says, “they were empty of trees, just grasses which are not strong enough to stop the soil from being eroded.”

When trees are cut down their roots decay, eventually rendering them ineffective soil binders. The slopes of Mount Elgon demonstrate the difference. Forested areas lacked evidence of landslides, even when they grew on slope angles and in soil types that contributed to slope instability elsewhere in the study area. Deforestation began as early as 3000 BC in what was Rwanda-Urundi! Reforestation and tree cultivation have been encouraged since the 1930s and it’s working: In 1996, an FAO agroforestry study exclaimed that “photographs taken in Rwanda in the early years of this [twentieth] century show landscapes almost devoid of trees, a stark contrast to the present.

Some Rwandans are motivated to plant because of what the trees themselves offer. Bananas are brewed into beer, coffee trees have been called ‘Rwanda’s Second Sunrise’, and eucalyptus and pine provide construction materials. Other trees are valued for their structure, for example marking plot boundaries. And it’s taken some convincing, but more people are trying out types of agroforestry that plant trees and crops together, in an effort to improve soil quality. There are techniques that do more to increase soil stability. This guide recommends mimicking the plant diversity of a natural forest as much as possible, or to plant tree rows within crops along topographic contours. Within Rwanda, living hedges were found to greatly reduce soil erosion, but landslide prevention wasn’t specifically investigated. Senyanzobe recommends a combination of reforestation between cultivated areas, and agroforestry species within crop areas.  Ultimately, “the sustainable solution is to plant trees as much as possible,” he says.

Outside of agroforestry, is there a way to reduce hazardous landslides in Rwanda? Enforcing rules about how people should excavate slopes or use terracing appropriately is difficult, especially in remote areas. Similarly, mass relocation of vulnerable hillside communities is unrealistic in mainland Africa’s most densely populated country. Large-scale agroforestry interventions, by contrast, are already underway. But because they aren’t undertaken to address landslides specifically, their effectiveness is currently limited.

Pieces of the Puzzle

Speaking to the effectiveness of agroforestry for any goal, “it needs to be implemented with sensitivity to people’s needs, priorities and sociocultural and economic conditions,” says the FAO. It’s not yet clear whether many Rwandans choose tree planting specifically for reducing landslide risk—today, selling the tree’s products or increasing soil fertility are more powerful motivators. If this is how communities prioritise, then agroforestry will be pursued to the extent that those benefits are gained. The damage by landslides may be mitigated, but as a by-product.

Obstacles to agroforestry being used for disaster risk reduction overlap with the challenges of agroforestry in general. One major hurdle in Rwanda is the belief that trees can damage crops by shading them, drying them out, or otherwise competing. Unfortunately this is sometimes true. Avocado trees can harm the crops closest to them. Pine and eucalyptus trees are resilient, but also invasive.

Making the most of agroforestry involves more conversations about the risk—and prevention—of landslides. On the heels of its efforts to understand occurrence of its natural hazards, Rwanda is trying to increase public awareness of landslides in a number of ways. In the official guide to primary school construction, choosing a stable slope location is a ‘must,’ and instructions are given to this end. Public radio broadcasts, disaster committees at the district level, and discussions during monthly community service day (umuganda) on topics including disasters are other examples. Currently, about a quarter of disaster-related spending in Rwanda is directed to prevention and mitigation.

Seedling distribution on National Tree Planting Day looks pretty good, but so does a new home. Recently, several high-risk families were relocated to ‘disaster resilient’ homes in collaboration with UN-HABITAT. Both of these events received media coverage, but were largely treated as separate topics.

The collapsed downslope shoulder of a road in southern Rwanda (author’s own)

These conversations in the media and during umuganda need to continue, but hopefully soon when there’s talk of landslides in Rwanda, trees and agroforestry will be a bigger part of the discussion.

Do trees keep you safer from hazards in your environment? Do you think that any tree planting is a good thing when it comes to landslides, or can it bring mixed results?


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: