Global Aggies: From Davis to Bo, Sierra Leone

Martin Kailie, Peter Nasielski, and Dana Armstrong working on a project together in Sierra Leone.
(L-R): 2017-18 UC Davis Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow Martin Kailie, Peter Nasielski, a design and sustainable environmental design undergraduate student, and Dana Armstrong, an international agricultural development graduate student, working on a project together in Sierra Leone.

Campus Connections Lead to International Research Collaborations

Given the thousands of students and scholars with international and transnational ties and the thousands more of faculty members and visitings scholars with expertise across hundreds of disciplines at UC Davis, often inspiration for international projects and connections for interdisciplinary collaborations begin on campus. 

Dana Armstrong, an international agricultural development graduate student, and Peter Nasielski, a design and sustainable environmental design undergraduate student, met Martin Kailie, a farmer, social entrepreneur, and founder and CEO of Green Africa Inc., at UC Davis during the D-Lab course: Feasibility Studies in International Development.

Dana and Peter
Dana Armstrong (left), an international agricultural development graduate student, and Peter Nasielski (right), a design and sustainable environmental design undergraduate student.

Kailie was spending the academic year on campus through the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program—which brings international leaders to UC Davis for professional development and collaboration in agricultural and rural development, natural resources management, and environmental science. As a part of his fellowship, Kailie was interested in the feasibility of a project in his home country of Sierra Leone.

Dana Armstrong and Martin Kailie
Kailie (left) and Armstrong (right) with a cookstove as a part of a feasibility project.

In studying the feasibility of a market in Sierra Leone for cookstoves that run on ethanol made from a locally sourced plant known as cassava, Armstrong and Nasielski became intrigued—so much so that they decided to partner with Kailie to continue working on the project, including much needed on-the-ground research.

Testing product
Nasielski (center) working with local stove builders to design an effective ethanol stove in Sierra Leone.

With funding from grants through the Blum Center for Developing Economies within Global Affairs—which provides funding and mentorship for hands-on student projects in communities around the world—the three planned their project and traveled to Sierra Leone to test ethanol fuel as a more sustainable source for cooking in in Kailie's home city of Bo in Sierra Leone.

"This project was exceptionally interesting and helpful to me. Working directly with a Sierra Leonean citizen to support him in assessing the feasibility of his idea, and helping him bring his dreams to life, was much more rewarding than working for a large NGO," said Armstrong.

Armstrong teaching workshop
Armstrong, and Kailie's daughter Massa, providing a training for community households.

The project, which was also supported by the Project Gaia NGO and Sunbird Bioenergy, involved providing fifty households with ethanol stoves, conducting weekly surveys, and tracking fuel use to identify acceptability, usage rates, and willingness to pay. 

"I had to overcome challenges (such as, how should we transport 1,000 liters of pure refined spirit across a country with poor roads?) as we went, but was informed by best practices learned at UC Davis and from discussions with expert researchers," said Armstrong.

Road in Sierra Leone
Enjoying the view on the road during sunset.

In the end, the team gathered all the information they set out for, learning that ethanol is not currently competitive with biomass fuel (burning wood or charcoal), but it is very competitive with the gas burner stove many families have—and is a safer and cleaner alternative. With Armstrong back on campus and Kailie continuing the work in Sierra Leone, the two are hoping to apply for additional grants to scale up the initiative where appropriate.

"It's clear that every initiative has tradeoffs, and the real work is effectively assessing those. I'm looking forward to publishing this story this summer and continuing my move into a career that builds on these principles," said Armstrong.

In addition to gaining valuable experience working with communities and project partners in Sierra Leone, Armstrong and Nasielski enjoyed experiencing Kailie's home country for three months over the summer just as he had experienced theirs during the year before.

Armstrong, Kailie and Nasielski in boat
(L-R): Nasielski, Armstrong, and Kailie enjoying some down time in Sierra Leone.

"The small and innovative nature of our project challenged me to network all across the landscape: with stove providers in Nigeria, clean cooking experts in Washington, D.C., and ethanol production companies in California, England, and Sierra Leone," said Armstrong.

"I learned how to effectively manage a complex project, and view global problems from many angles: social, economic, and environmental," she said.


This is part of a series featuring Global Aggies – members of the UC Davis community who are living the Global Affairs mission: to inspire global curiosity, understanding, and engagement. Learn more about Global Aggies at UC Davis

About Global Affairs at UC Davis

Global Affairs brings the world to UC Davis, welcoming more than 10,000 international students, scholars and leaders, and hosting programs that inspire global curiosity, understanding and engagement. Compelled by the valuable outcomes of thinking globally, we make transformative opportunities a reality by supporting the thousands of students and faculty studying and researching internationally—and by facilitating collaborations that tackle the world's most pressing problems through more than 150 international partnerships.

Putting our vision of a UC Davis community that engages, thrives, and leads in this interconnected world into action, Global Affairs is now in pursuit of an ambitious goal: Global Education for All.

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