Knowledge for a sustainable world

BSc, MSc, PhD

Dr Uche Okpara is a UK Research and Innovation Future Leaders Fellow at the Natural Resources Institute (NRI), University of Greenwich. Before joining NRI, he taught and conducted research at both the University of Leeds and the University of Nigeria.

Dr Uche has a diverse research interest around a central theme of climate security and its link with sustainable peace and inclusive development. His work uses theories and methods from both the natural and social sciences. Several philosophical paradigms (such as post-positivism, social constructivism, pragmatism and critical realism) offer Dr Uche’s research a firm footing. He is well-versed in using mixed methods approaches and forward-thinking transdisciplinary research techniques (such as solutions-orientated, systems-based tools) that recognise the complexity of the world's climate, conflict and peace challenges, and the synergies, trade-offs and opportunities created by change.

Dr Uche recently completed a GCERF (Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund) funded research project which provides an authoritative analysis of past, ongoing and required responses to prevent and counter violent extremism (P/CVE) in Northwest Nigeria, identifying areas and activities with greatest potential for impact in long term P/CVE programming. He has also examined how the COVID-19 pandemic hinders efforts to address shocks from climate change and violent extremism in fragile regions.

Currently, he is working to advance transformative pathways towards sustainable peace and equitable prosperity in transnational territories of the watershed of the Lake Chad basin – areas that crosscut communities facing interrelated risks of violent conflict and climate change. He does this by using innovative tools that are inclusive, participatory and deliberative, such as Young Citizens Panels, Consensus Conferences, Local Citizens Labs and a Conflict and Environment Observatory. Local Citizens Labs in Chad, Niger and Nigeria, for example, serve both as a hub for experiential and experimental learning and knowledge innovation, and a one-stop-shop for operationalising the Sustainable Development Goals related to peace and prosperity at a local scale.

Dr Uche has been a module/course leader for various undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, teaching diverse groups of students in developed and developing countries. He has presented his work and travelled in Africa, Europe and the Americas. His recognition as a researcher is evidenced by a range of scholarly awards (such as the Next Generation Africa Scholar Award and the Elsevier outstanding reviewer award), and interviews granted to journalists working with different media (the BBC World Services and UK Sunday Times) on climate, conflict and fragility themes.

In 2013, he won a Doctoral Research Fellowship Award from the US Social Science Research Council which enabled him to complete his PhD research on the nexus of climate shocks, water scarcity and violent conflict in the Boko Haram-affected Lake Chad riparian zones in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic. One of the published articles from his PhD research won a Postgraduate Research Commendation Prize from the School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds. In 2018, he was invited by the Government of Nigeria and UNESCO to help advance debates on new strategies for climate conflict mitigation, peacebuilding and sustainable development in the African Lake Chad region during the International Conference on Lake Chad.

Dr Uche regularly reviews research grant proposals for a couple of funding organisations, including the UKRI and the Partnerships for Innovative Research in Africa Grant Programme Scheme. He also reviews articles for several international journals advancing environment, security and global development subjects. He speaks regularly at international conferences around the world.

Dr Uche holds a PhD degree in Environmental Sustainability (University of Leeds) and an MSc in Natural Resources and Sustainable Environmental Management (University of Greenwich). His first degree is in Agricultural Economics (First Class Honours, University of Nigeria).

Uche’s research/scholarly interests are varied, broadly cross-cutting the realms of environment, human security, peace and development, and key themes such as:

  • Climate-conflict-fragility nexus
  • Peace-prosperity dimensions and pathways
  • Conflict economies
  • Gender equality and land degradation neutrality
  • Climate adaptation, vulnerability and resilience
  • Water, land, energy and food security
  • Preventing and countering violent extremism
  • Climate security, peacebuilding and conflict prevention  

At the core of these themes, Uche is interested in understanding:

  • How everyday lives and ordinary livelihood expectations are being significantly altered by violent conflict and ecological disasters.
  • The transnational nature and spillover effects of climate conflict, especially in transboundary river basin territories.
  • What locally led climate security governance looks like in places where climate change is exacerbating terrorism and organised crime.
  • What food security and environmental management pathways can balance competing social-ecological priorities and human welfare needs in violent environments.
  • How violent conflict undermines environmental stewardship.
  • How anticipations of future shocks and stresses feed into modes of socio-ecological systems governance to prevent a compounding cycle of fragility and emergency.

Dr Uche is leading or has been associated with several recent funded research projects:

  • Principal Investigator on a UKRI-funded project ‘In defence of lives and livelihoods: co-creating pathways towards peace and prosperity for the Lake Chad region’ (October 2021 – September 2025). This project: (i) explores the politics of knowledge around peace and prosperity using creative mixed methods; (ii) unpacks peace-prosperity dimensions, nexus and pathways using scenario-based forecasting and backcasting approaches; and (iii) advances interdisciplinary knowledge co-creation on peace-conducive economic development using local citizens labs and a conflict and environment observatory.
  • Co-Investigator on a GCERF (Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund) funded project on ‘Preventing and countering violent extremism in Nigeria – a needs assessment’ (June to August 2021). This project provides an authoritative analysis of existing/ongoing and required responses (including regional/national/local strategies/policies) to prevent and counter violent extremism (P/CVE) in Nigeria, identifying areas and activities with greatest potential for impact in long term P/CVE programming.
  • EU FP7 RECARE Project: Preventing and remediating degradation of soils in Europe through land care. As a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Leeds (in 2017/2018), Uche worked (on this project) with a multidisciplinary team of researchers from 18 organisations across Europe to assess the barriers to adoption of measures for addressing soil threats. The work stream he led delivered comprehensive guidelines for identifying and choosing tools for appraising soil remediation and restoration measures from across Europe (outputs from this work are useful to researchers and practitioners embarking on soil improvement trials and programmes where priorities are driven by practical end-user needs).
  • British Council /Newton Institutional Links project in the MENA countries: Developing a sustainable, multi-trophic off grid unit of integrated fish and crop production for smallholder farmers in arid and non-fertile regions. Uche led the economic and social aspects of this project (at the University of Leeds, 2017/2018), delivering an integrated framework for agricultural innovation uptake in drylands; and advancing understanding of the ways in which innovations in agriculture can become part of the efforts to support sustainable livelihoods in drylands facing climate extremes.
  • Gender equality and Land Degradation Neutrality [research links between the University of Leeds and UNCCD]: In this project, Uche led assessments of (i) how a socioecological systems approach to land degradation neutrality (LDN) can help identify trade-offs, appreciate dynamics, improve monitoring and inclusivity and create a new culture for achieving LDN; and (ii) the changing dynamics of gender in land management. Through a cross-country analysis of the various ways in which women and men can interact with and care for land resources in more equal and non-hierarchical ways, the project advanced the ground work required for interdisciplinary research on gender equality and land restoration/rehabilitation practices in regions with deeply entrenched patriarchal sociocultural norms.
  • Climate Change, Lake Drying and Violent Conflict (funded under the US Social Science Research Council Fellowship Scheme): Focusing on the Lake Chad region in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, this project examined how increased warming, longer dry seasons, water and food scarcities, and socio-political exclusion amplify violence and insurgency. Uche’s contributions here include offering: (i) the first  transboundary, locally-comprehensive and theoretically consistent analysis of the ways in which climate change, state fragility and conflict are contextually-bound and interrelated; (ii) a novel diagnostic tool for exploring how different portrayals of vulnerability influence the discursive formation of climate conflict; and (iii) a ground work for interdisciplinary research on cross-thematic integrative modes of policy planning across vital climate adaptation, conflict management and water governance issues in fragile, food insecure settings.

Dr Uche Okpara welcomes enquiries from prospective PhD students interested in working on topics that crosscut climate conflict/security, climate resilience/vulnerability, natural resources management, peacebuilding and sustainable development.

Dr Uche is currently supervising two PhD students:

  • Betty Flora Nakiru, “Exploring Linkages between Climate Change, Conflict and Food Security in Karamoja, Uganda” – https://www.nri.org/people/nakiru-flora-betty - Funded through NRI’s Food and Nutrition Initiative (FaNSI) Scholarship.
  • Abubakar Ibrahim, “Comparative Vulnerability Assessment for Strengthening Adaptive Capacity and Food Security of Rural Communities in Kebbi State, Northern Nigeria” - https://www.nri.org/people/ibrahim-abubakar - Funded through NRI’s Food and Nutrition Initiative (FaNSI) Scholarship

Journal articles

  • Nkiaka, E., Okpara, U. T., Okumah, M. (2021). Food-energy-water security in sub-Saharan Africa: Quantitative and spatial assessments using an indicator-based approach, Journal of Environmental Development, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envdev.2021.100655.
  • Okpara, U.T., Fleskens, L., Stringer, L.C., Hessel, R., Bachmann, F., Daliakopoulos, I., Berglund, K., Velazquez, F.J., Dal Ferro, N., Keizer, J., Kohnova, S., Lemann, T., Quinn, C., Schwilch, G., Siebielec, G., Skaalsveen, K., Tibbett, M., and Zoumides, C (2020) Helping stakeholders select and apply appraisal tools to mitigate soil threats: Researchers' experiences from across Europe. Journal of Environmental Management, 257 (110005), pp. 1-10. https://doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2019.110005
  • Okpara, U.T., Stringer, L.C., and Akhtar-Schuster, M. (2019) Gender and land degradation neutrality: a cross-country analysis to support more equitable practices. Land Degradation and Development, 30(11), pp. 1368-1378. https://doi:10.1002/ldr.3326
  • Okpara, U.T., Stringer, L.C., Akhtar-Schuster, M., Metternicht, G.I., Dallimer. M., and Requier-Desjardins M.A (2018) social-ecological systems approach is necessary to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality. Environmental Science and Policy, 89, pp. 59-66. https://doi:10.1016/j.envsci.2018.07.003
  • Okpara, U.T., Stringer, L.C., and Dougill, A.J (2018) Integrating climate adaptation, water governance and conflict management policies in lake riparian zones: insights from African drylands. Environmental Science and Policy, 79, pp. 36-44. https://doi:10.1016/j.envsci.2017.10.002
  • Okpara, U.T., Stringer, L.C, and Dougill, A.J (2017) Using a novel climate-water conflict vulnerability index to capture double exposures in Lake Chad. Regional Environmental Change, 17(2), pp 351-366. https://doi: 10.1007/s10113-016-1003-6
  • Okpara, U.T., Stringer, L.C., and Dougill, A.J (2016) Perspectives on contextual vulnerability in discourses of climate conflict. Earth System Dynamics, 6, pp. 2543-2576. https://doi: 10.5194/esdd-6-2543-2015
  • Okpara, U.T., Stringer, L.C., and Dougill, A.J (2016) Lake drying and livelihood dynamics in Lake Chad: Unravelling the mechanisms, contexts and responses. Ambio - A Journal of the Human Environment, 45(7), pp. 781-795. Htpps://doi: 10.1007/s13280-016-0805-6
  • Okpara, U.T., Stringer, L.C., Dougill, A.J, and Mohammed, B (2015) Conflicts about water in Lake Chad: Are environmental, vulnerability and security issues linked? Progress in Development Studies, 15(4), pp. 308 – 325. https://doi: 10.1177/1464993415592738

Science-policy briefs/reports

  • Okpara, U.T., Stringer, L.C., and Akhtar-Schuster, M. (2020) Shifting power for a gender-equitable land degradation-neutral world. [Online] New instalment of UNCCD science-policy report. Available at: <bit.ly/2ORUhg4> [Accessed 2 March 2020]
  • Chinseu, E., Leventon, J., Stringer, L., Okpara, U.T, and Fleskens, L (2018) Barriers to adoption of measures for addressing soil threats across Europe: Insights from the RECARE Project. Sustainability Research Institute [University of Leeds] Briefing Note Series 19. Available at < https://www.see.leeds.ac.uk/fileadmin/Documents/research/sri/briefingnotes/SRIBNs-19.pdf> [Accessed 5 April 2020]

Opinion pieces/blog posts/internet publications

PhD Thesis

  • Okpara, U.T (2016) Characterising the relationships between climate shocks, lake drying and conflict in the Lake Chad basin. [Online] Uche’s PhD thesis, available at: <http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/15394/> [Accessed 12 December 2019]
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