One of the aims of the Transformations to Sustainability (T2S) programme is to build capacity for international research collaboration by supporting early-career scientists. As part of a series of posts from early-career researchers from different T2S projects, we spoke to Patient Polepole, Institut Supérieur de Développement Rural de Bukavu (ISDR‐Bukavu) ‐ Angaza Institute, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the SecTenSusPeace project.
“When we talk about land security, it’s more than a question of land. It’s a question of identity; it’s a question of food security; it’s a question of human dignity,” says Patient Polepole, a researcher with the Securing Tenure, Sustainable Peace? project (SecTenSusPeace).
“The earth nourishes people in the countryside. It’s what gives them the means to send their children to school, to pay for health care — it’s what allows them to exist,” says Polepole, a researcher at l’Institut Supérieur de Développement Rural de Bukavu with a diverse background in development, ecology and human rights and governance – among other specialties.
When conflict forces people to flee their homes, they’re often not able to return for years – if ever – and when they do, their land has often been taken over by someone else, who may by that point have some legal claim to the land.
The SecTenSusPeace project looks into new approaches to this problem being explored in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which have been affected by a long-running, deadly regional conflict.
Land security is critical to stability in the region, and in turn to sustainability, Polepole says: “We talk about transformations to sustainability, but how can we talk about sustainability with such uncertainty in relation to identity, to food, to access to the resources we need?”
It’s a question that invites many more, he says. How does shifting access to agricultural land affect a region’s economy? How do security questions affect agricultural practices – even the crops people choose to plant? And how do people understand their own identity when they’re forced to leave their land?
“It’s not possible to come with one single discipline and understand,” Polepole says, noting the project contributors’ wide array of research backgrounds.
Research from the project has already helped to inform land reform in the DRC, and by sharing data and lessons from the region, the researchers aim to offer insight for other conflict-affected areas around the world.
“Over the long term, local knowledge and decision-making on a decentralized, community-based, local level, could allow us to better understand the problem and propose sustainable solutions,” Polepole says.
Building on the project’s deep body of research, Polepole is now looking forward to digging further into dozens of new avenues of inquiry raised by the fieldwork. “It’s possible to go further, to deepen many questions, continuing in this multidisciplinary context,” he says.
Find out more about the experiences of early-career researchers working on different T2S projects here.