£1,000 ERM Prize for best thesis awarded to CEP student Zandile Moyo


Zandile's field observations of the study site

Zandile's field observations of the study site

Zandile Moyo completed an MSc in Environmental Technology last summer. Her Master’s research project won the annual £1,000 ERM Prize for best thesis.

Zandile was “amazed and shocked” to receive the ERM Prize, which is awarded to an original and innovative research project with a sound theoretical basis and critically applied methodology, and which has the potential for practical application. She continues: “to get recognition for something that you’ve put so much time and stress into is really such an amazing feeling. It makes it feel like it was all worthwhile.”

The project

Zandile’s project, completed last summer as part of the MSc in Environmental Technology at the Centre for Environmental Policy (CEP), focused on the role of cocoa agroforestry in Ghana to support the conservation of biodiversity.

“The context”, she explains, “was situated in the need for sustainable agricultural production to feed rising demands, and to reduce the detrimental effects on biodiversity.”

“Agroforestry is basically growing crops under the shade of other trees. In recent years there’s been a trend to reduce shade, and I was really interested in exploring the role that agroforestry plays in supporting conservation.”

She continues: “Ghana’s the second largest producer of cocoa in the world [where] cocoa is traditionally grown under shade, but their yields are among the lowest, which suggests that the current system is not optimal.”

Zandile worked in Ghana for a year before embarking on the MSc, enabling her to make connections with an NGO who “had a data set that they’d been collecting for the last four years, which was completely un-analysed. I think that’s partly the reason that I managed to do so well in my thesis, was that I had such a broad range of data to work with. The specific topic for my thesis was then led by the data I was given. My supervisor [Dr Caroline Howe] was also great – I couldn’t have done it without her to be honest.”

A holistic approach

Agroforestry is seen as a strategic tool for natural resource management because it gives you the potential to balance conservation needs with cultural development and income growth. Zandile Moyo MSc Environmental Technology

CEP’s MSc course provides a holistic approach to environmental studies. “Although I have a science background in ecology, and love the scientific side of research, I wanted something more holistic from my Master’s, including more emphasis on social sciences”, says Zandile. “CEP’s course is just a perfect balance of both – they expose you to broad range of subjects surrounding environmental issues, from law, to policy, to ecology, which gives you a good perspective, and which has been really, really useful”.

This approach fed directly into her research project: “I think that agroforestry is seen as a strategic tool for natural resource management because it gives you the potential to balance conservation needs with cultural development and income growth, so I really like it as a solution.”

Master’s projects can be challenging because of their short time-frames. Initially Zandile wanted to combine quantitative and qualitative methodologies: “I had quite big goals for my MSc thesis but they were unrealistic for the time-scale. Combining the social side of it with the biodiversity side would be a good development of the project.”

Post Master’s plan

Since graduating Zandile has moved to Ghana, to work as a consultant for the Nature Conservation Research Centre (NCRC), which is the NGO she’d worked with on her dissertation. “They do a lot of REDD+ implementation [to mitigate the impact of deforestation] and are an internationally recognised NGO, but still very small, so a lot of the work is very practical.”

“I always struggle with knowing whether to focus on the academic stuff, or the in-practice stuff. I’m really enjoying working with this NGO at the moment, and I’m excited to see where that goes. The NGO sector is definitely for me. I think what I maybe want to do is get a few years experience and then come back to do my PhD.”

And the holistic approach continues: “at the moment I’m working on a project using LandScale, which is an emerging global tool being developed by lots of different organisations to measure the sustainability of landscapes. It uses four pillars – ecosystems, production, governance and human livelihoods – to try to capture the sustainability of landscapes in a broad sense, not just from the perspective of the environment.”

Any advice for current students interested in getting into sustainable agriculture?

It felt real ... because people were actually working on this project in Ghana, and it had the potential to have an impact afterwards. Zandile Moyo MSc Environmental Technology

Zandile recommends designing a research project that enables work in partnership with another organisation, such as an NGO, “because it puts you into that world before you even start applying for jobs, and it lets them know you have the experience and skills to work with them.”

“I had a really great, eye-opening time at Imperial, particularly during the optional second term when forestry and agriculture were a core focus of my module. I have the principles and background to do what I’m doing now from both my undergraduate and master’s degrees, [but also] I don’t think I’d have a job [with NCRC] now if I hadn’t worked with them for my thesis.”

She’s also keen to emphasise how important it is to enjoy the experience: “I really enjoyed it, plus it was a topic I was very interested in. It felt real as well, because people were actually working on this project in Ghana, and it had the potential to have an impact afterwards.”

Find out more

Learn more about what the MSc Environmental Technology involves and find out more about the Centre for Environmental Policy's research


Claudia Cannon

Claudia Cannon
The Grantham Institute for Climate Change

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Contact details

Email: c.cannon@imperial.ac.uk

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