Member Spotlight: Valery A. Binda

Valery A. Binda with Billy at NDAWARA, North West Cameroon

Valery A. Binda is an early career conservationist from the North West Region of Cameroon with a master’s degree in applied ecology and wildlife management from the University of Dschang, Cameroon.  Valery believes that biodiversity conservation is the sustainable development goal that could lead us to acheiving each of the other sustainable development goals.

His research has focused on improving scientific knowledge of the Banded Wattle-eye (Platysteira laticincta), a rare and little-studied bird species endemic to the Bamenda Highlands of Cameroon, while designing and implementing ground action for their conservation. 

SCB held a Q & A with Valery to learn more about his research, why he decided to study conservation biology and what he loves most about what he does!

Banded Wattle-eye (Platysteira laticincta), an endangered bird species restricted to the Bamenda Highlands, Cameroon.

 1. What have been your biggest challenges in this research project?

My greatest challenge has been the current armed socio-political conflict in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon. The species is endemic to the Bamenda Highlands which happens to be at the heart of the conflicts zone. My work on the species has thus been put on hold for security reasons.

2. What is your favorite part about conducting your research here?

My work on the Banded Wattle-eye has so far been limited to the Kilum-Ijim Community Forest which is the last sustainable stronghold of the species. The site is currently the most significant remnant of afro-montane forest in West Africa. Characterized by many challenges including as a very rugged terrain, the site still remains my favorite – every moment spent in this montane forest, whether while working or otherwise has always been so refreshing and re-energizing to my mind and spirit. Each time I make a research trip to the site and come back, I feel like a new being.

3. What surprised you the most?

A major surprising discovery from this project has been the species’ preference for selectively logged areas. Because the Banded Wattle-eye is very shy and elusive, finding out that it has a preference for selectively logged areas was indeed surprising.

Valery A. Binda carrying out a field survey on the Banded Wattle-eye (Platysteira laticincta) in the Kilum-Ijim Community Forest.

4. What does a typical research/work day look like for you here?

While here, my nights are usually spent in a small village very close to the foot of the mountain. Wake up time for me is always 4am. I pick up my field guide and we start trekking and by 6am we are at the study site and begin work.

5. What comes next? What are you working on now?

With the sudden interruption of my work on the Banded Wattle-eye, I am currently developing new conservation tools in mitigating wildlife hunting and human-wildlife conflicts. Besides research, I am also involved in planning and implementing community-driven conservation projects that use social and economic incentives to promote local support for the long-term conservation of wildlife. For example, I am currently working with some target villages around the Campo Ma’an National Park to mitigate bushmeat hunting and human-elephant conflicts through conservation education and capacity building in using (income-generating) beehive fences to safely deter elephants.

6. How did you choose to do this research project in particular?

Since I was eight years old, I would use savings from my daily school allowance to purchase birds captured by other elderly boys in the community, and keep them in a cage where I would provide them with food and “care”. At the time, my main species of interest was the black-crowned waxbill because of its beauty and playful nature. We used to call this species “grassy” because of its preference for grassy areas, and it was only several years later when I started my studies in conservation that I realized that the bird is called the black-crowned waxbill.  It is rather regretful that my reason for keeping them in captivity at the time (i.e. for my entertainment and for the birds’ protection) was erring. 

Kilum-Ijim Community Forest, Northwestern Cameroon. Photo credit: Valery A. Binda

My choice of working towards improving scientific knowledge about the little-known endemic Banded Wattle-eye and designing and implementing ground action for the conservation of the species was thus motivated firstly by my unrepentant love for birds and my concern for species that are endangered but yet are receiving little attention from the scientific community. Furthermore, with very little research experience at the time, I thought focusing on a species that is restricted to a particular area would be an excellent starting point

7. Where could we find you on any given Saturday? What do you like to do for fun?

When not in the field for research, I usually spend the morning hours of my Saturdays participating in team sports, particularly basketball and handball. This is often followed by a few hours of leisure at a natural site, most often Lake Dschang which is quite lovely and close to the sports ground.      
Some of my Saturdays are also spent in wildlife/rescue centers where I get to play with some of these animals and show them some love.

8. What are three things you always carry with you when in the field?

My camera, handheld GPS unit and binoculars are my three best friends when out there trying to conserve wildlife.

An active nest of the Banded Wattle-eye. Photo credit: Valery A. Binda

9. Why did you decide to study conservation biology? What was your path that led you here?

Sometimes when you come from a poor community, you are ready to take on just any job, not because you are passionate about it but simply because it can serve as a source of livelihood for you and your family. I became a biology teacher not because I was passionate about teaching biology but simply because I was doing great in biology and teaching was and still is one of the major sources of livelihood in Cameroon.

However, after teaching biology/environmental science in a secondary school within the Lebialem Highlands for just three years, I started feeling the need to use my position and knowledge to impact not just my students but the entire community. After hearing stories of how rich in wildlife the forests around there used to be and how a majority of the wildlife species had disappeared due to forest clearance, I decided to implement what I was teaching. From developing a giant tree nursery, I engaged my students and other interested colleagues into a series of tree planting exercises targeting degraded forest patches. Seeing how practical our habitat restoration exercises were, I became so inspired and wanted to do more.

As a result, I enrolled into the department of animal biology, faculty of science, University of Dschang from where I acquired a Master’s degree in applied ecology and wildlife management. Because I chose a research topic which was very challenging, I was forced to connect with many different experienced conservation scientists, both within the country and abroad who helped me to go through. My experience and skills in research grew and my passion for wildlife exploded. Today, I am a diehard conservationist.

Amongst the most valuable contacts that have cleared my path towards becoming a conservationist are Dr. Taku Awa II of the University of Dschang, Cameroon who exposed me to so many realities about wildlife research and conservation, and Pr. Kevin Yana Njabo of the University California Institute of the Environment and Sustainability who has always made sure that I get the right connections for my career and professional development in the field of biodiversity conservation.

Valery A. Binda engaging school children through conservation education on 2018 World Pangolin Day

10. What do you love most about what you do?

I just love to see when wildlife thrives thanks to my efforts.

11. Who’s the scientist you admire the most? Why?

My most admired scientist is Dr. Kevin Yana Njabo of the University of California Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. His desire and efforts towards raising an army of young conservation scientists in Africa is so inspiring and assuring. If I am active and known within the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) today, it is thanks to his efforts and desire to groom young conservationists who will do better than him in conservation.

The Longest-Range Electric Vehicle Now Goes Even Farther

For more than a decade, Tesla engineers have been obsessed with making the world’s most efficient electric vehicles. As a result, Tesla vehicles already travel farther on a single charge than any other production EV on the market. Today, we’re making changes to Model S and Model X that allow them to travel unprecedented distances without needing to recharge, beating our own record for the longest-range production EVs on the road. And we’ve accomplished this without increasing the cars’ battery size, proving that our expertise in system-level design can make our cars dramatically more efficient.

Beginning today, Model S and Model X now come with an all-new drivetrain design that increases each vehicle’s range substantially, achieving a landmark 370 miles and 325 miles on the EPA cycle for Model S and Model X Long Range, respectively. Using the same 100 kWh battery pack, these design and architecture updates will allow drivers to travel farther than ever before, charging less frequently and getting more range out of every dollar spent on charging.

We’re also introducing a brand-new adaptive suspension system for Model S and Model X, along with a few other improvements for the best range, acceleration, and ride comfort ever, plus a Ludicrous Mode upgrade for our most loyal customers. Here’s what’s new:

More Efficient Design
All Model S and X vehicles now benefit from Tesla’s latest generation of drive unit technology, which combines an optimized permanent magnet synchronous reluctance motor, silicon carbide power electronics, and improved lubrication, cooling, bearings, and gear designs to achieve greater than 93% efficiency. Pairing a permanent magnet motor in the front with an induction motor in the rear enables unparalleled range and performance at all times. The net effect is a more than 10% improvement in range, with efficiency improvements in both directions as energy flows out of the battery during acceleration and back into the battery through regenerative braking. In addition to adding range, power and torque increases significantly across all Model S and Model X variants, improving 0-60 mph times for our Long Range and Standard Range models.

Faster Charging
Paired with the new more efficient drivetrain design, Model S and Model X are now capable of achieving 200 kW on V3 Superchargers and 145 kW on V2 Superchargers. Together, these improvements enable our customers to recharge their miles 50% faster.

Fully Adaptive Suspension
We’ve also upgraded our air suspension system for Model S and Model X with fully-adaptive damping, giving it an ultra-cushioned feel when cruising on the highway or using Autopilot, and a responsive, exhilarating confidence during dynamic driving. Unlike other manufacturers, our suspension software is developed completely in-house, using a predictive model to anticipate how the damping will need to be adjusted based on the road, speed, and other vehicle and driver inputs. The system constantly adapts by sensing the road and adjusting for driver behavior, automatically softening for more pronounced road inputs and firming for aggressive driving. We’ve also improved the leveling of the system while cruising, keeping the car low to optimize aerodynamic drag. As with all of Tesla’s in-house software, the adaptive suspension can receive over-the-air updates, allowing us to enable all Model S and Model X customers to have the most advanced suspension technology at all times.

Constant Refinement
To complement these changes, we’ve also re-engineered several other components of Model S and Model X in keeping with our philosophy of continuous improvement. These updates include new wheel bearings and a few new tire designs for certain variants to improve range, ride, and steering. While these changes may seem minor, together they have a meaningful impact when it comes to EV design.

In addition to our Long Range and Performance variants, we’re also re-introducing a lower entry price for Model S and Model X by bringing back our Standard Range option, now available for an even greater value with the new drivetrain and suspension updates. We also want to emphasize the critical impact each of our early Tesla owners has had on advancing our mission, so as a thank you, all existing Model S and Model X owners who wish to purchase a new Model S or Model X Performance car will get the Ludicrous Mode upgrade, a $20,000 value, at no additional charge.

A new journal article presents a methodology for the co-design and adoption of climate-smart practices through an innovation platform.

With the challenges that climate change has brought to agriculture, climate-smart agriculture (CSA)—a possible solution—has seen the need to build innovative farming systems favoring synergies between adaptation, mitigation and sustainable increase in productivity. 

Read the article here

Building spaces that promote interaction among farmers and the actors that support farming systems, becomes one of the key points to facilitate change and make innovation possible through participatory processes that allow them to design and adopt practices that can address climate change.

In a new journal article, researchers from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), present a new methodology to co-design farming systems with key actors that allow them to reach a higher scale. This article is based on the lessons learnt during a participatory research carried out in Honduras and Colombia funded by CCAFS, Fontagro and the Agropolis Fondation.

This new method consists of seven steps to get involved in a process of co-designing climate-smart farming systems that could allow implementation at scale:

Step 1 – Exploration of the initial situationIdentifies local stakeholders potentially interested in being involved in the process, existing farming systems, and specific constraints to the implementation of climate-smart agriculture
Step 2 – Co-definition of an innovation platformDefines the structure and the rules of functioning for a platform favoring the involvement of local stakeholders in the process
Step 3 – Shared diagnosisDefines the main challenges to be solved by the innovation platform
Step 4 – Identification and ex ante assessment of new farming systemsAssess the potential performances of solutions prioritized by the members of the innovation platform under CSA pillars
Step 5 – ExperimentationTests the prioritized solutions on-farm
Step 6 – Assessment of the co-design process of climate-smart farming systemsValidates the ability of the process to reach its initial objectives, particularly in terms of new farming systems but also in terms of capacity building
Step 7 – Definition of strategies for scaling up/outAddresses the scaling of the co-design process

This methodology will allow farmers to co-design and adopt CSA farming systems in order to address the effects of climate change through an open innovation platform. This involves defining participatory cropping and livestock systems and including them in their farms with the associated management practices. At the same time, it seeks to address the specification of a process intended to design climate-smart farming systems by reducing the trade-offs between the three pillars of CSA.

“Such trade-offs may arise at the farm level when prioritizing practices address one pillar and not the others” (Torquebiau et al. 2018). They may also arise at different steps of the production and transformation process when good CSA practices are applied without considering emissions that may occur when transforming such products. “These trade-offs may also occur at the agroecosystem level when, for example, the decrease in GHG emissions is made at the expense of other environmental impacts”, explains Nadine Andrieu, the lead author of the article.

Conclusions

The co-design of climate-smart farming systems requires technical changes and changes to the institutional environment, since everything is part of a multidimensional and complex process that requires a participatory approach and systems where the innovation platform becomes the core of the process. In this platform, it’s necessary to be clear about the key actors that comprise it, their roles and the commonly agreed objectives.

“Generating local and scientific knowledge is a key factor to identify appropriate solutions to tackle climate change, ensure that the process is on the right track, and convince new stakeholders of scaling out/up their results”, concludes Nadine Andrieu.