Oppenheimer Programme in African Landscape Systems (OPALS)


OPALS supports more sustainable human-environment interactions across the continent of Africa, through a six-year programme of applied research.

Through OPALS, we are working to focus the University of Exeter’s research power on the challenges of environmentally and economically sustainable and socially just development in Africa.

Critically we are helping to empower our African partners to lead on these issues, strengthening African voices in understanding, mitigating, and adapting to environmental change. OPALS is aligned with the Future Ecosystems for Africa (FEFA) programme.

Our overarching aims are to:

  • Support a strong, credible, and connected voice for African communities, land managers and researchers in the global climate and ecological crisis
  • Co-produce science-based solutions to understand, mitigate and adapt to environmental change, growing sustainable and resilient social-environmental systems in Africa.
  • Support leadership in environmentally sustainable land management across Africa.

Led by the University of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute working in close collaboration with our partners across the continent, the £2.6 M programme is principally funded by the University of Exeter, Sarah Turvill (Exeter’s Chair of Council), and Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation, alongside contributions from our other partners working with us on targeted projects.


Our programme spans across four intersecting themes, which together will result in long-term benefits to landscape understanding and management against a background of rapid environmental change:


The programme delivery is built around training opportunities for graduate students, the majority of which will benefit African nationals. While some projects undertake more in-depth research through doctoral scholarships, others are delivered through funding and co-supervision of MSc projects at partner institutions in Africa. An exciting and unconventional element of the programme is our impact scholars, whereby trainees are supported through MSc programmes at the University of Exeter before then undertaking funded knowledge transfer placements with partner organizations.

Over its six years, the programme will empower a cohort of African individuals with the expertise, experience, and networks at the interface of research and application to address some of the most pressing environmental challenges facing the continent. These scholars will join a new generation of African environmental leaders and all outputs (data, code, results, publications) we generate will be made available open access to maximise wider benefit.

Polly Carr
CEO Custodian at Oppenheimer Generations

We are delighted to be able to work with the University of Exeter on this African Landscape Systems programme. We have long been committed to research and conservation efforts in Africa, including restoring former farming land to protected reserves, and this project helps us to have an even wider positive impact. We are looking forward to building a lasting partnership in environmental leadership with Exeter.


Dr Duncan MacFadyen
Head of Research at Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation

The partnership between the Global Systems Institute and Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation is hugely exciting as it aims to create real impact across the African continent. Furthermore, we hope to better understand the unique and complex relationships between humans and the environment, as well as the self-healing rates of different landscapes across the continent. The added opportunity to work with partners across Africa with complementary programmes and networks is extremely exciting.”

Dr Andrew Cunliffe
Oppenheimer Senior Research Fellow and OPALS leader

“We are very excited to embark on this new programme to improve the accessibility and value of environmental data and knowledge, enabling better understanding of resilience in ecosystem services provided by African landscapes. These projects will help to inform targeted interventions that enhance the resilience of human activities in these rapidly changing settings considering ongoing climate and land-use change.”