Who is Amon Murwira, The new Science and Technology Minister

President Emmerson Mnagwagwa recently announced his new cabinet, and this particular insert  seeks to understand the man who will be running the ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology Development, Prof Amon Murwira.

Of late, Prof Murwira has been described as a Geo  “fundi, the man is an actual creative scientist in his own right who made interesting headlines in Feb 2012 over his accomplishments in Earth Observation Technology that resulted in the institution installing near-real time earth observation satellite receiving station.

The Then Vice Chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe , Prof Levi Nyagura was quoted,…“One cannot overemphasise the relevance of such research in a country with an agro-based economy such as ours where our understanding of the environment and how we should manage it is at the core of our very existence.”

Prof. Amon Murwira is a lecturer and chairman in the Department of Geography and Environmental Science at the University of Zimbabwe (UZIM). Prior to this, he was an ecologist in the Department of Natural Resources at the Ministry of Environment and Tourism Zimbabwe.

Amon has expertise in Applications of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Remote Sensing (RS) and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) in environmental monitoring and management including in land, agriculture and forestry spatial information acquisition and management, environmental systems analysis and monitoring, climate change vulnerability and adaptation assessment, and environmental impact assessment.

Prof Murwira holds a PhD in Geo-information Science (GIS, RS) for environmental systems analysis and monitoring from Wageningen University and International Institute for Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC) in the Netherlands.

His role in this project includes, under the partnership between CIFOR and UZIM, he will conduct remote sensing analysis to assess the environmental impact of investment on forest in Miombo Woodlands region.

What are some of the interesting applications of remote sensing?

Remote sensing is used to estimate area under crops, crop condition, i.e. whether crops are under moisture stress or not, area under forest and forest condition. Remote sensing is also used to estimate the amount of rain, soil moisture, as well as the amount of water resources.

How can ordinary farmers gain access to remote sensing data?

Remote sensing is no longer as costly as it used to be. Now imagery – the information that farmers can actually make use of – is available for free. All you need is an Internet connection. It is important that scientific institutions make outreach programmes to work with farmers on the ground, through establishing Internet centres within easy reach and ensuring that extension service providers are also IT literate to share the skills with farmers in using and interpreting the images.

How has this technology been used in Zimbabwe?

We have applied remote sensing in the assessment of wheat fields since 2000 and we are in the process of applying it in the calculation of the area under tobacco, a strategic crop for Zimbabwe. We are also applying remote sensing in the estimation of maize yields.

How can remote sensing be used for carbon assessment?

We have done a study on measuring carbon stocking using remote sensing. It found that Zimbabwe has an average 9 t/ha of carbon stocks. For example, if the carbon cost US$10 (€7) per tonne, you would have US$90 (€65) per hectare in Zimbabwe. Using remote sensing, we have been able to quantify the amount of carbon we have in the way we would quantify the amount of money that is in our bank. This information can empower farmers to know their carbon stocks, to be able to negotiate from an informed position at the climate change talks.

Any other practical uses?

We have used this technology in livestock tracking in the context of animal disease control. We are tracking cattle movements in the south-eastern Lowveld to understand where cattle are grazing and whether their grazing patterns influence the spread of diseases. We are working with 12 farmers and 12 different herds of cattle. In particular, we want to understand foot-and-mouth which is transmitted between cattle and buffaloes and vice-versa.

Academically, he was conferred the following

BA Honours in Geography (University of Zimbabwe);
Msc Environmental Systems Analysis and Monitoring (The Netherlands)
PhD Geo-Information Science (GIS, RS) for Environmental Systems Analysis and Monitoring (The Netherlands)
Lecturer and Post-graduate Co-ordinator Department of Geography and Environmental Science (University of Zimbabwe)
Ecologist responsible for GIS and Remote Sensing Applications (Department of Natural Resources, 1994-98)
Fellow Zimbabwe Academy of Sciences
Member African Association of Remote Sensing of the Environment (AARSE)
Member Geographical Association of Zimbabwe

 

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