"Water is becoming a scarce resource"

In the SASSCAL project "FoSReCs", Dr Brindha Karthikeyan is researching how water resources in agriculture in southern Africa can be better utilised against the backdrop of global warming, thus securing crop yields.

Oceans, lakes and rivers - the Earth is also known as the "Blue Planet", as around two thirds of its surface is water. However, the scientist Dr Brindha Karthikeyan knows: "The effects of climate change on global water resources are serious. For example, we have to reorganise agriculture worldwide and adapt to the changed conditions. As a society, we must also learn to use water resources responsibly. Because water is increasingly developing from a surplus good to a scarce resource."

Karthikeyan discovered her passion for the environment and nature as a young schoolgirl in her home country of India. In her school subject "Environmental Science", she was fascinated by how science not only develops theoretical approaches to improve the environment, but how scientific findings are also used in practice. Outside of school, she was also involved in the "Nature Club" and a youth movement that campaigned for environmental protection. "All of this sparked my enthusiasm for a career in science," recalls Karthikeyan.

During her bachelor's degree in biology and subsequent master's degree in environmental sciences, her desire to teach and research in an area that has a direct impact on people's lives became increasingly clear. "I decided to specialise in water resources because I grew up in a city where water is very scarce. The government was struggling to meet everyone's water needs. Another factor was the fact that there are many farmers in my extended family. I learnt a lot from them about their water needs – also due to climate change. For agriculture, water scarcity has a direct impact on yields – and therefore also on income. Crop losses have negative consequences for the local population in particular, as this also leads to a shortage of food. During my studies, I was therefore able to see a clear connection to how I can contribute to improving the environment through research and teaching."

Research develops water resource management solutions for southern Africa

Her international career took her to Berlin in 2017, where she has been researching and teaching at Freie Universität Berlin since 2018. There, she is part of the African-German research team in the "FoSReCs" project, which is funded within the SASSCAL 2.0 programme initiated by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). For Dr Brindha Karthikeyan, her involvement in this project is particularly important: "I have led collaborative projects in the past, but this is the first research project for which I have received project funding. Therefore, this is also an important stepping stone for my future career."

The main objective of the "FoSReCs" project is to improve food security in selected regions of Zambia and Namibia through climate-resilient farming methods. "I am assessing the existing water availability, utilisation and demand for climate-resilient crops, taking into account the impact of climate change on water," explains Karthikeyan. "We are also identifying and testing alternative methods of storing water during the rainy season. In addition, a water security programme is being developed that includes all the necessary steps for efficient water management and is adapted to local conditions."

In doing so, she relies above all on cooperation with local partners and the involvement of local farmers in order to propose suitable crops for crop diversification based on water availability. "I enjoy my work because it gives me the opportunity to work with local people who directly benefit from the results of the study," says the scientist happily. "And I can also pass on the experience gained from these projects to students in Berlin who want to pursue a career in hydrogeology."

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