On 27 October 2023, the Mountain Research Initiative (MRI), GEO Mountains, and multiple partner organisations including the Albertine Rift Conservation Society (ARCOS), the University of York (UK), and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), co-convened a workshop in Kigali, Rwanda within the context of the World Climate Research Programme Open Science Conference 2023.  

The workshop sought to bring together data providers and users from a range of disciplines across the mountains of East Africa. More specifically, through a series of short, invited presentation and group discussion activities, the workshop sought to: (1) establish the current status of monitoring and associated data availability from multiple disciplines and countries / sub-regions; (2) explore opportunities to enhance capacity sharing in relation to mountain monitoring and associated data availability; (3) identify potentially high-impact projects that could be conducted collaboratively; and (4) provide opportunities to network and establish personal connections and specific collaborations.

The workshop was well attended by representatives of environmental monitoring national agencies, researchers, and local institutions. In total, 33 participants were present either in person or online, from Rwanda, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Uganda, South Africa, Kenya, the Netherlands, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, United States of America, China, and Norway.

In the morning, participants heard about various current projects underway in the region, associated data-related challenges and potential solutions. The first discussion of the afternoon allowed participants to engage in detailed small-group discussions and provide additional examples of good data and monitoring practices, challenges, possible reasons for those challenges, and potential solutions. Recurrent example of good practice included the availability of global scale gridded data, the existence of good policies and governance, the access to technology (through mobile phones for example) and the capacities of people in the region. Data gaps included some biodiversity data, in situ climate data, soil data, and societal / cultural data. Data accessibility, standardization, and metadata traceability / clarity were also raised by some participants as outstanding challenges.

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Pictured above: Small group discussions during the afternoon session

Promising solutions to many of these challenges including the development of standard protocols for data collection and sharing, exchanging more data, and improving communication and networking at both regional and international levels between various institutions and other stakeholders (including local communities and national agencies). Indeed, the need for greater involvement of local communities with a view to delivering better project relevance, implementation, and sustainability was a strong theme throughout the discussions. There was also keen interest in better exploiting the potential offered by citizen science approaches, especially considering ever-improving technological capabilities and mobile internet coverage. Regarding the second discussion, which focused more on capacity budling, a dedicated field or residential school for young researchers emerged as a clear priority of the participants. Challenges some participants reported experiencing with the peer-review process could potentially be addressed by targeted writing workshops.

At least three specific potential collaborative follow-up projects have been identified: i) a mountain-focused climate data intercomparison project, involving Google Earth Engine and in various in situ observations, ii) a synthesis or review of available multi-disciplinary data available for in the region, major gaps, and recommendations for future data collection activities, and iii) a review synthesis on ecosystem services in East Africa’s mountain and their value, potentially involving health-related aspects.

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 Cover image by GEO Mountains.

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