Dries holds a PhD in Applied Biological Sciences from Ghent University which he obtained in December 2012, on a dissertation about the cycling of carbon and nitrogen between soil, plants and atmosphere in undisturbed peatlands of Poland. Shortly after he started working with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, first as post-doc and now as scientist with the NRM unit and Central Africa hub, and has been based in Nairobi for eight years. He specializes in the agronomy and ecology of smallholder farming systems in Sub-Saharan Africa with specific focus on soil health, crop production, fertilizer efficiency, climate resilience and carbon drawdown. Through his empirical research in agricultural and natural ecosystems Dries has built very strong skills in analytical chemistry and statistical computing. He particularly looks to use information at the level of farmer fields for identifying interactions between crops, soils and weather, developing tools for rapid diagnostics, conducting meta-regression analysis and up-scaled scenario assessments. From this he has authored 24 peer-reviewed papers (H-index: 11), next to a number of popular science briefs, articles and interviews that are drawing considerable attention. Since joining IITA he has led the implementation of 8 projects with a total budget of €2.1M, and has raised nearly €1M as lead applicant or partner. By engaging in multi-disciplinary and citizen-driven research Dries gained extensive knowledge about challenges in food, energy and water systems of SSA, their interconnectedness, and how agro-ecological and socio-economic factors affect the viability of nature-based technologies. In particular, he saw that access to clean and modern energy holds back progress while at the same that large amounts of agricultural residues and other low-grade biomass are burnt or dumped that causes much more harm than good. Because of this Dries’ attention was drawn to gasification and biochar systems for value augmentation of excess organic resources that allow to increase rural production and incomes and mitigate impacts on the climate and broader environment. He continues to push the research and development frontier around green energy and sustainable food production by bringing together know-how, technology and stakeholders.
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