How to Hochschule VOICES - Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo

Show notes

In this episode of How to Hochschule Voices we spotlight Prof. Assogbadjo from the University of Abomey-Calavi, Benin, a celebrated figure in academia with 11 international awards, including the Georg Forster Research Award. Prof. Assogbadjo shares his journey in non-timber forest products and conservation, underlining his collaboration with Rhine-Waal University. This partnership enhances international cooperation in soil science and plant nutrition, highlighting his global contributions to research and development from Côte d'Ivoire to Brazil. Join us in discovering how his work embodies the essence of global knowledge exchange.

Related links: HSRW Research Focus - Sustainable food systems, Labef - University of Abomey-Calavi, Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo, Georg Forster-Forschungspreise 2023,

Show transcript

00:00:00: Stephan Hanf: Welcome to a new episode of How to Hochschule Voices, the podcast that delves deep into the vibrant life and stories of Rhine-Waal, University of Applied Sciences, and the rich cultural tapestry of the Lower Rhine region. HSRW is not only home to a diverse community of international students, professors, and staff, but also welcomes guest lecturers from all over the world. This rich diversity forces a unique academic and cultural environment where knowledge and ideas transcend borders today we are honored to have with us professor azabacho Who brings a wealth of knowledge and experience from his work in non-timber forest products, conservation, genetics, first Ecology and Ethnobotany. Hailing from the University of a bony Kelvin in Benin. He has made significant advantages in his field and received more than 11 prestigious awards worldwide, including the George Foster Research Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

00:00:55: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: My name is Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo I'm from Benin, a [00:01:00] faculty of agronomy sciences. I am agronomist and forester. As background, I did my PhD at Kent University in bioscience engineering, and now I'm a full professor of forestry Conservation Genetics at university of in Benain. I, I born uh, the 3rd of May 1974. Yeah in Benin, Republic of Benin Located in West Africa. I did my primary school in Benin, the secondary school in Benin, mainly focusing in science and mathematics. I did my engineer degree in Benin and my PhD in Belgium. And uh, I used to double as a visiting professor uh, in many countries in Côte d'Ivoire for the Doctorate School of Climate Change and Agro Biodiversity.

00:01:57: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: I was also visiting [00:02:00] professor uh, in Brazil, but also in Chuo University at Tokyo in Japan. Now I'm here because I'm one of the awardee of Alexander van Humboldt. Then this year we were six and I'm the one from sub Saharan Africa. And I'm very glad, grateful for that.

00:02:21: Stephan Hanf: Can you explain what the Alexander van Humboldt funding is?

00:02:24: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: Yes, it is, uh, a German foundation which is really wants to deepen a partnership with German research universities, research institute, and foreigns.

00:02:40: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: worldwide independently for from the, the country of origin, then they want to link. They want a really German to become a center of excellence where a scientists from everywhere in the world can. [00:03:00] Get connected and work closely through a platform, collaborate for science, and also work closely for development purpose to have impact on society and also impact on the policies and so on. The main objective of the foundation is to support. Uh, Scientific relationships and uh, get really jamming in the central of of this collaboration.

00:03:29: Stephan Hanf: did you actually find your field of studies?

00:03:32: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: I used to work on non timber forest products like a baobab what you have it here at your botanical garden I used to work on that.

00:03:44: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: Because first of all, when I was in primary school, I noticed that Africa has a lot of potentiality. a lot of diversity. In my single country, Benin, we have more than three thousand and five hundred [00:04:00] species, for instance. And among these species, about eight hundred.

00:04:07: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: are used as medicinal plants, and about 200 are used as food. But at the same time, I also noticed that we are really, people do, do not eat. As there is, why? Because of maybe they don't well manage the existing potential, potential we have at hand. Then my dream was since that time to use the local resources for the benefit of our farmers, our communities.

00:04:47: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: To really help them diversifying their food, but also their resilience and uh, their adaptation more and more to the risk and to the hazard [00:05:00] because they have everything around themselves. We just need to think and help them on that. when I When I came to the university, I choose agronomy because I realized that this is the best way to, to reach my dream, eh?

00:05:17: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: Because agronomy is more or less focused on how to use nature for the benefit of communities. And I continue the same way. Did my PhD and also now I'm a professor working in the field of forestry using these resources for the benefit of our community. the history. Since primary school, I want to really help the community with the potential we have at hand.

00:05:49: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: Yeah, this is my dream, and I think I will reach that.

00:05:52: Stephan Hanf: What are like the biggest challenges to, to accomplish this

00:05:56: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: dream? Yes. The, the big challenges is you know, at the [00:06:00] beginning I need support and support because, you know, my parent, my, my father, he deaf already, but he's a, a teacher at secondary school.

00:06:11: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: Then he doesn't have enough means enough, I mean, to support really, then this is a really challenging, then I need a really, you know, university anywhere is very costly, then I, I should really work hardly to win scholarship and so on to support my, this is the first challenge I, you need to be really strong and work hardly to find your own support.

00:06:41: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: Because support from parrots is not really obvious. Secondly I used to work on something which is very strange. Because most of our government they want just to focus on very simple things. [00:07:00] But what I want to do is a bit very strange because why use all those resources?

00:07:09: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: It is not easy because they, they work on rice maize, and so on. Then using local resources, that means forest resources and resources from agroforestry systems. It's not really easy. Then you need to convince. Them for the relevance of what you, you are doing before they be aware about that and support you.

00:07:34: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: Also, one challenge is we are in the world which is very complex and also ambiguous. Then working on all those environments is not easy, then you will need to develop your leadership skills, your personal development skills, And you need to also be very strong, because we are in the world where competition is [00:08:00] very high.

00:08:00: Stephan Hanf: What are a few strategies you think that might be usable to convince them that this, your research field is

00:08:10: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: important for the government?

00:08:11: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: To convince them, firstly, try to improve my capacity, my personal capacity. Firstly, to apply. for grants worldwide. And if you win, that means even at outside, They, they, they notice that this is relevant. Then from your own country, they start also thinking this is really important because you have really get confident from outside then.

00:08:46: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: They should now be careful on you. This is first. Secondly if you have your first grants to work, you should really work hardly to publish. [00:09:00] Because we are at university, publication is key for any given scientist at university. I used to publish a lot.

00:09:09: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: to convince more and more that now I have my audience, I can develop my strategy by showing to everyone who want to know that this is relevant. Then I published to date many papers, more than 250 publications and this is not common. It's not common, but I have a team because I lead a non timber and forest product and off farm crops unit at my university.

00:09:43: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: Then I have a postdoc. I have more than 20 doctors and PhD already graduated and all of us. Under my leadership, we closely developed a [00:10:00] very big team working on. All those resources, this is a really convincing and uh, we used to develop, for instance many products to the community. From Baobab, for instance, we used to develop a 13 product uh, with, for the help of students and this product are linked to the small and medium enterprises now. They are the small entrepreneur working and they have their job and can live based on that. And also now we can get the resources from forest. to the community with the quality control because we are, we try to investigate many things before moving to the, to the industry.

00:10:48: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: But it's not a big industry, just smaller, but it's something. I have one of the student, we develop a product. He has himself seven [00:11:00] young people working with him. Then this is also job creation is not too much, but it's something, and they are really happy with this job.

00:11:13: Stephan Hanf: And what is the product they, they, they, I don't have, yeah, I know how it looks, but did they, they harvest the baobab?

00:11:16: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: Yeah, they

00:11:16: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: harvest and they process, and you have many products that we have developed. But it's mostly like a food product or? Yeah. It, there are many, many products maybe.

00:11:29: Stephan Hanf: So everything what you can think of out of this

00:11:31: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: tree. Yeah. There are food products. Yeah. Mainly. Yeah. Mainly food product. But now we are in the process to develop some cosmetic product. But our first focus is food product. Then I try to develop with my team, all, all those things.

00:11:50: Stephan Hanf: It's like drinks. It's,

00:11:51: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: This is the product developed though.

00:11:57: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: This is fermented cereal, down, which we bought [00:12:00] about per maze for them. Yes. We finally like with here, yes. Develop more than thousand products that with this, we can do the same and I'm sure that, and also with this, you can have money, you can get money to the young and they can develop themselves, their own enterprises, because I know how to do, and then I can lead.

00:12:26: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: Them to that. Yes. And this is Al always my, my view. And also we try to help community to grow in situ and always my, my, it's like that we used to,

00:12:39: Stephan Hanf: that's like, and, and it's planting, right? Yeah, yeah.

00:12:42: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: Crafting. Crafting to reduce the cycle, the production. And also we used to measure, this is the three very big three.

00:12:52: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: Then carbon sequestration to calculate per hectare, what can be derived from [00:13:00] as money. And we used to calculate all those things and now I can say everywhere that this species, this is just an example, can be used. For the sustainable development goals, then that's why I think I'm, I'm doing something.

00:13:15: Stephan Hanf: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. My question, because like you mentioned that applying for grants, like just to start out to raise awareness for topic, right? Apply grants do papers because I think sometimes people think like universities are like ivory tower, right? But what's interesting is that, what you said before, that by applying grants also from outside your home country, that then the awareness inside your own country, because they realized, Oh, there is interest in Germany.

00:13:42: Stephan Hanf: And I mentioned Tokyo before, Japan. That's all it is. It's worthwhile. Yeah. So, so, I mean, this is a great example what science actually can do,

00:13:52: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: right? Yeah, exactly. You know, science is before at the university level, we think we should [00:14:00] work closely among ourselves, but this is not helpful, especially in Africa.

00:14:06: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: We need to get community engaged. You we know. We know that university are mainly for research, but it should be like, here, apply research. If you want theories, the theoretical university should be created and separated from the apply one. And the apply one should also get community at the central of the thinking. And I realized that in the developed country, It is already almost more or less like that, because your research really helps the community. It should be the same at our place, and that's why this partnership and the collaboration for the one who has already this capacity is key, because we can come here and learn.

00:14:57: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: And also bring [00:15:00] what we have as resources and together we can really achieve very more. And that's why such type of collaboration for me is always welcome. Because the guys like us it is really the, the best way. To proceed because, you know, I'm not a politician, I'm a scientist and for a scientist, you should be free at your mind and create for community.

00:15:32: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: This is what I, I really think. Yeah.

00:15:36: Stephan Hanf: Did you already had like the chance to, to learn about like the local industry, agrarian industry in this area?

00:15:44: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: Here in Germany, not yet, not yet, but I'm planning that for the next visit, visit because now the, the winner is not, is not really, well,

00:15:55: Stephan Hanf: there's four, I think there's like one, but not a lot.

00:15:57: Stephan Hanf: No,

00:15:58: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: we [00:16:00] are planning that. We have to have a look at some companies that can be useful for our work, of course. And then. Eh, eh, discuss with them why not to strategize a kind of collaboration.

00:16:16: Stephan Hanf: What do you think is possible for this region, but also this university to learn from your research and from Benin and Yes, of course.

00:16:25: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: Yeah. You are right. I, I gave already two lectures. To the student, master student they are about 25 I think they are international master students. They came from Pakistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, biological resources, biological resources. Then I gave them lecturer, one lecturer. Focus on uh, underutilized species, the species that are there, but not really well I mean, for added value.

00:16:57: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: And through this exchange, this is [00:17:00] always the starting point of the international relationship and collaboration.

00:17:05: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: Always. Someone come, say some things, you are interested, and you get in touch with him, and you start. Always. Secondly, I gave another uh, lecture on Agroforestry to the same audience. And for me, it is an opportunity to share our experiences. I told you I published more than 250 papers.

00:17:29: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: But it is through this audience, I can share what we, we used to do and what are the outcomes from our researches and the way forward. With them, with throug collaboration. What is really interesting. The first time I met, I, I knew already Florian and, and gaba long time ago, but we, we met last time in Malawi [00:18:00] where you have a team here working with Malawi, Sudan, and so on.

00:18:06: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: On Baobab, where they invited me to join as a guest and it is through this conference we discuss about the Alexander von Humboldt application. You know, just five minutes discussion and we keep in touch, we apply and we succeed. And that's why I say, if you have an opportunity to share something with a colleague.

00:18:35: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: With some the student researcher, scientist, it is always something that can open the, the, the way for, for both of, for all this. This is a really important then it is for me the opportunity to share what we did at our site in tropical Africa. With you and [00:19:00] colleagues here.

00:19:00: Stephan Hanf: Yeah. Do you have like the feeling that the way science is done or teach in, I mean, you, you're not here for, you just came here more or less here in Germany and, and the other universities you teach before, is there a difference or?

00:19:15: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: Yes. You know, knowledge is everywhere. That's true. Science is everywhere, but it's not performed the same way. Here, what I notice, you are really well equipped. Like, I have seen the equipment you have, and I was impressed. For this, it's not a big university. It's not big. But with a very impressive equipment.

00:19:44: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: At our site, we do not have such type of equipment because we do not have support from our community, our government globally, and it's not only my country then we have many [00:20:00] resources, but we do not have equipment. Maybe you have less resources than us, but you have equipment. That means it is really simple.

00:20:11: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: Collabaration! We bring the resources, we analyze them and together we find our result and we can communicate. Then the way you used to do it here is you are really well equipped. Then the practices is a reality. You say something theoretically, you can go to the lab and practice and you have the result.

00:20:37: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: To date, I won 11 prizes worldwide. This is one of the how to say my achievements.

00:20:48: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: I won really 11 prizes the outstanding one, including Alexander von Humboldts uh, the George Foster awards I, I, I gave this year. I [00:21:00] was granted by the Academy of Egypt. As the best scientist working for food security and nature and so on. I have the name in science at Oxford University where I have been granted a really a prize.

00:21:24: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: I win many prizes in ecology, ethnobotany, many prizes. My achievement and this is first. Secondly, I train a lot of students. I train because I won a lot of grants and projects, then I use this opportunity to train more than 150 masters to date, and they are graduated. I still have some PhD students, there are five [00:22:00] and I used to train to date more than 20 who, who are already graduated their PhD.

00:22:08: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: Then I give impact. Who are doing something related to our field of interest. Then for me, I used to impact this young, to develop some pro products, that are already on the market. I'm not alone. I have a team. Then, the products are already on market. And this impacts society. I used to train community to improve the way they used to proceed based on my science, scientific research. And finally I can say I have a lot of network.

00:22:51: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: Because of the science I used to perform, then I have some achievement. And you know already the challenges. The challenge is always you need [00:23:00] to go further, far, and you need support. And such type of supports are always welcome to strengthen our dream to help us , eh, eh, reach moving toward our dream, then.

00:23:18: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: That's that's it.

00:23:19: Stephan Hanf: And it's really interesting that like all the achievements come out that you had this dream, right? Yeah. Like one idea spurred

00:23:26: Prof. Dr. Ir. Achille Ephrem Assogbadjo: so many. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. The multiplier effect is a reality. This is what science and knowledge can do. Yeah.

00:23:38: Stephan Hanf: Thank you for listening. We welcome your feedback and are always open to suggestions for improvement. You can contact us directly at podcast at hsr eu. Please see the show notes for links and more information about today's topics and guests. My name is Stephan Hanf. Thank you for listening. See you next time. Choose

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