Geraldine Duthe and Thomas Wiest
discuss DEMOSTAF (Demography Statistics for Africa), a four-year international researcher mobility programme between Europe and Africa. INED took up responsibility for coordinating DEMOSTAF at the beginning of the programme, in January 2016.
Specifically, the programme is coordinated by Géraldine Duthé, INED researcher and co-director of the DEMOSUD research team (Demography of Southern Populations) since September 2016, and Thomas Wiest, in charge of European affairs at the Institute’s International Relations and Partnerships department since October 2017. They answer our questions on the project.
(Interview conducted in January 2018)
What is DEMOSTAF?
Demography Statistics for Africa or DEMOSTAF is a European project funded by grants from the European Commission’s Research and Innovation Staff Exchange programme (RISE). The aim is to promote international collaboration between academic and non-academic institutions in connection with research, training and innovation, and to do so by funding inter-institutional mobility.
Five European institutions participate in DEMOSTAF—INED, IRD, University of Paris-Nanterre (France), Université Catholique de Louvain (Belgium) and University of Geneva—along with 13 African partners—the national statistics offices of Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali and Madagascar and nine academic partners in Burkina Faso, Kenya, Madagascar, Senegal and Uganda—and one academic partner in Canada. A scientific advisory committee brings together international experts on specific questions or topics. Approximately 100 researchers, technicians, PhD students and archivists, two-thirds of whom have been awarded international mobility grants (the equivalent of 200 months of international stays for the four years of the project) participate in the programme.
What topics does the research cover?
DEMOSTAF covers four major demography topics centred on key contemporary questions and integrating the United Nations sustainable development goals adopted at the end of 2015. The first topic is factors involved in falling fertility and promoting sources for data on reproduction; the second is improving our knowledge of the health transition in sub-Saharan Africa with regard to the combination of infectious and non-communicable diseases; the third aims to apprehend the complexity of families in West Africa by way of national household statistics; and the fourth concerns future challenges in the area of education (children who do not integrate the school system, literacy teaching, the emerging category of people with higher education degrees).
Researchers use over 50 demographic databases, and there are several collective activities.
What does the programme aim to accomplish?
Sub-Saharan Africa is on the margins of the demographic transition: its fertility rate is still high and mortality has not really receded. Meanwhile, it is for this region of the world that we have the least demographic and health-related data. The fact that there is no regular production of reliable national statistics in many of these countries makes it extremely difficult to measure demographic change. Most children are not registered at birth, and deaths and causes of death are seldom recorded in this part of the world. DEMOSTAF aims to valorise and consolidate African demographic data by integrating them with data collected through the various DEMOSTAF research programmes.
How would you assess the programme at this half way mark?
With over 100 researcher stays abroad funded by the project, joint organization of seminars and workshops by partners, and participation in a considerable number of conferences, the results have certainly met our expectations, thanks in particular to a strong commitment on the part of the African national statistics offices, which thus far have consistently supported their statisticians’ international stays and participation in research projects, specifically the annual collective workshops.
There are always challenges in coordinating a European Union project, especially when it involves such a large number of institutions, participants and staff stays abroad, but participants’ comments have been positive overall both for visits to our African partners and African visits to European organizations. The first two years have produced fruitful collaborations, including several joint publications and nearly twenty conference papers, and DEMOSTAF gained high international visibility for its sponsorship of the most recent International Population Conference, held in late October 2017 in Capetown, South Africa—all activities and actions noted with satisfaction by the DEMOSTAF Project Officer in the September 2017 mid-way project evaluation.
Our project team is therefore moving into this second, 2018-2020 period with great enthusiasm. Among the work that lies ahead is a considerable mobility programme to maintain and organization of the international conference that will bring the project to a close in 2019.