Region Africa, Asia
|Headquarters Morogoro, Tanzania|
|Motto We train rats to save lives|
Type Non-governmental organisation
Purpose Provide detection rats technology to solve humanitarian challenges
APOPO (an acronym for Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikkeling: "Anti-Personnel Landmines Removal Product Development" in English) is a registered Belgian non-governmental organisation which trains African giant pouched rats to detect landmines and tuberculosis. APOPO's mission is to develop detection rats technology to provide solutions for global problems and inspire positive social change.
- Organizational structure
- Advantages of African giant pouched rats
- Direct detection
- Criticisms and Limitations
- Advantages over microscopy
- TB screening
- Ongoing projects
- APOPOs Research Development
- TB research
- Landmine study
- HeroRATs scent detection training
- Mine detection training
- TB detection training
- Cost of the training
- My APOPO Rat adoption program
- APOPOs supporters and ambassadors
Bart Weetjens, the founder of APOPOPOCOT, loved playing with his pet rats when he was a young boy. Years later, as a student at University of Antwerp, Bart applied the idea of using rodents for mine detection as an outcome of his analysis of the global mine detection problem. Due to his childhood experience, he knew that rats, with their strong sense of smell and trainability, could provide a cheaper, more efficient, and locally available means to detect landmines.
APOPOPOCOT started as an R&D organization, working with the support of research and government grants to develop detection rat technology for humanitarian purposes. Early research into this technology began in Belgium, with initial financial support from the Belgian Directorate for International Co-operation (DGIS) in 1997 to develop the concept. In 2000, APOPO moved its headquarters to Morogoro, Tanzania, following partnerships with the Sokoine University of Agriculture and the Tanzanian People's Defence Force. Now housed by the University, APOPO trains the rats – termed HeroRATs because of their life-saving capabilities – in near-to-real conditions.
Over the years APOPO has worked on improving its training techniques and evaluating its programs, carrying out numerous studies to examine the performance of the detection rats technology. In 2003, APOPO won the World Bank Development Marketplace Global Competition, which provided seed funding to commence research into another application of detection rats technology: Tuberculosis (TB) detection. In 2008, APOPO provided proof of principle for the utilization of trained rats in detecting pulmonary tuberculosis in human sputum samples. In 2010, APOPO launched a three-year research plan to closely examine the effectiveness of detection rats in diagnosing tuberculosis, in comparison to other diagnostic technologies, and to focus on future implementation models.
In 2010, APOPO made technological advancements and developed an automated training cage for sample evaluation. The rat's response is measured by optical sensors and the cage produces an automated click sound with food delivery. This new system has the potential to remove any human bias, but still has to be measured against the performance of the much simpler and low tech manual cage. In 2014, in partnership with the Central Tuberculosis Reference Laboratory, the National Institute of Medical Research and the Center for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia, APOPO undertook a study to determine the accuracy of detection rats in a population of presumptive TB patients when compared with liquid and solid culture as the reference standard.
The TB detection program in Tanzania was launched in mid-2007 as a partnership with four government clinics. As of 2016, the program has already expanded to 28 collaborating clinics in Dar es Salaam, Coast region and the city of Morogoro and processes around 800 samples per week, collected from 24 public clinics in Dar es Salaam and Morogoro. Following positive results in Tanzania, the TB detection program was replicated in Maputo, Mozambique. In 2013, APOPO opened a TB detection clinic at the Vet School of the Eduardo Mondlane University in collaboration with the Municipal and National Medical authorities. At the end of 2014, five additional health centers joined the TB detection programme in Maputo, sending sputum samples to APOPO TB detection center to be evaluated by the HeroRATs. In 2016, APOPO covers almost 100% of all the suspect TB patients who go to clinics in the city.
In 2003, APOPO mine detection operations began in Mozambique, with the first mine detection rats achieving official accreditation according to International Mine Action Standards in 2004. From 2006 to 2015, APOPO carried out fully integrated mine-clearance programs until the country was declared mine free. In 2012 the speed of the mine detection rats helped APOPO clear the Gaza Province (one of the most mine-affected areas in the Mozambique) one year ahead of schedule. APOPO still retains a presence in the country at the request of the government in order to carry out ‘residual’ (mop-up) tasks. APOPO has also deployed mine clearance operations in Angola since 2012, and initiated operations in Zimbabwe in 2016. APOPO presence in East Asia dates back from 2010: APOPO implemented demining operations in Thailand, Lao and Vietnam, but suspended its projects, respectively in Thailand in 2013 and Vietnam and Lao in 2014, due to lack of funding. In January 2014, APOPO launched its humanitarian demining program in Cambodia along with National partners the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) and the first HeroRATs’ team was deployed in early 2015. By June 2016 they had helped APOPO and CMAC clear their first minefield together.
APOPO operational headquarters, including the training and research centers, are based at the Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro (Tanzania).
APOPO has field offices for its mine action programmes in Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola and Cambodia and is in process of opening a new office in Zimbabwe in 2016.
APOPO's TB programmes are operational in Tanzania and Mozambique, with offices based in Morogoro, Dar es Salaam and Maputo.
APOPO has also two fundraising offices in Switzerland and in the United States.
The APOPO foundation was established in Geneva in 2015 as a foundation under article 60 of the Swiss Civil Code. In support to APOPO's global activities, the Foundation aims to strengthen its financial resources and network within the major stakeholders in the fields of mine action and tuberculosis, to identify new technical and scientific partnership opportunities and increase visibility.
Most important institutional donors and public fundraising come from the United States. Therefore, APOPO set up the US office facilitates closer relationships with US institutional donors, provides project management services for US donor-funded projects, and enables direct tax effective giving for the US public and corporations. US office was registered as a 501(c)3 tax exempt non profit organization in 2015.
The Administrative Support Office is located in Antwerp (Belgium).
As of June 2016, APOPO employs over 190 local staff spread over its in-country operations and 14 international staff, and has 260 rats in various stages of breeding, detection training, research, or operations. Over 40 volunteers also work in support of APOPO's activities.
Advantages of African giant pouched rats
Deploying African giant pouched rats to detect landmines has several advantages over conventional methods such as using special machines or deminers with metal detectors.
Its main advantage is speed. Past studies have shown that less than 3% of landmine suspected land actually contains any landmines, leaving a high proportion of productive land to lie unused by local communities. Because the rats detect only explosives, and ignore scrap metal such as old coins, nuts and bolts etc. they are able to quickly check vast areas of land much faster than conventional methods, thus reducing landmine accidents and getting people back on their land as quickly as possible.
One rat can check 200 m2 (2,200 sq ft) in around 20 minutes. This would take a technician with a metal detector up to 4 days.
The rats are indigenous to Sub-Saharan Africa, so are well-suited to the tropical climates in which they are deployed, and are resistant to many endemic diseases. They are also widely available and inexpensive to procure. Few resources are needed to train and raise a rat to adulthood and they have a relatively long lifespan of six to eight years. Furthermore, rats do not form bonds with specific trainers but rather are motivated to work for food. This adaptability allows for the trained rats to be easily transferred between handlers.
In the minefields, the rats are too light to detonate a pressure-activated mine when walking over it. Their small size also means that the rats can be easily transported to and from operational sites.
Mine Detection Rats (MDR), the name given to the African giant pouched rats (Cricetomys ansorgei) favoured by APOPO, work to detect landmines by using their exceptional sense of smell.
In order to ensure every inch of ground is properly checked, MDRs wear harnesses connected to a rope suspended between two handlers. Rats methodically search up and down a demarcated zone of 10 x 20 m (200 m2 [2,200 sq ft]) and indicate the scent of explosives by scratching at the ground. The insignificant weight of the rats means they do not detonate a landmine; their scratching solely indicates the presence of a mine. Each zone is screened by two animals.
The points indicated by the rats are marked at the edge of the zone, and then followed up later by a technician with a metal detector, who excavates and then safely destroys the mines.
The rats are able to search the ground more quickly (when compared to a manual deminer) and therefore rapidly confirm the presence or absence of mines. This process is termed, technical survey (TS); the gathering of evidence through use of mine detection rats. The TS process also allows a more precise definition of the minefield boundaries and can release or cancel land outside these boundaries that were initially thought to be contaminated. This TS process is a more cost effective method to release mined areas as opposed to conducting full clearance over the entire area. For APOPO operations the rats are a key part to this process.
Criticisms and Limitations
The need for an integrated approach
The Mine Detection Rat (MDR) technology is one of the demining methods used to release land. Those methods are deminers with metal detectors, mechanical demining machines and mine detection animals (dogs and rats). The choice of the method is primarily influenced by the mine threat, climate, terrain, vegetation, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of available demining methods. Each have their limitations, however when combined to other methods, their individual strengths can be maximized and therefore lives are saved and land is returned to mine affected communities far more quickly.
The MDR are most efficient when they are integrated with manual deminers and machines, whereby the collective strengths of each asset are utilized to maximize productivity. The MDR olfactory ability can be subject to external factors influencing its reliability, such as high temperature, humidity and thick vegetation. Hence early working hours on dry days are the preferred working conditions in order to ensure the MDR reliability and mitigate external factors. Ground preparation, such as the removal of vegetation is a requirement for all methods for detecting landmines, whether it is an animal or a deminer with a metal detector. Vegetation needs to be removed to allow the dogs and MDR to get their noses sufficiently close to the ground and similarly to allow the deminer to get the metal detector search-head close to the ground.
The Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) research study on rat landmine detection abilities (2016) highlights the comparative advantages of the MDR technology in regards to conventional demining methods, more particularly to clear low threat mine-affected areas or to confirm the presence or absence of landmines in technical surveys. Speed and accuracy in screening vast areas make MDR the most suitable, cost-effective method for those areas, speeding up the return of lands to local communities to quickly get back their land. Areas containing few explosives or only suspected to be contaminated tend to lack adequate and sufficient information, survey, planning and prioritization. This then typically results in excessive use of expensive clearance assets in low threat mine-affected areas.
APOPO is the only organization to use Africa's giant pouched rats for demining activities. Although the MDR have proven their ability in detecting landmines, there are still those that have not witnessed the MDR at work that criticize and express their negative opinions. APOPO’s innovative approach to safely remove landmines is thoroughly tested and complies with the International Mine Action Standards (IMAS) and so adheres to the United Nations’ requirements for effective humanitarian demining. Despite those with their negative misconceptions, APOPO has gradually received the support of, and recognition from peer organisations and humanitarian actors (see awards and partners) and has already demonstrated its reliability (see ongoing operations). Furthermore, in those countries that APOPO operates, the technology is externally tested and complies with the respective host country National Mine Action Standards.
Mozambique is the first country where landmine detection rats were tested and deployed in the minefields. Operations in Mozambique began in 2003, with the first group of 11 mine detection rats (accredited in 2004) and fully integrated mine clearance operations – including manual deminers, mine detection rats, and machinery for ground preparation – from 2006. Tasked in 2008 as the sole operator to clear Gaza Province, APOPO handed the mine-free province back to its communities in late 2012, one year ahead schedule. In 2013, Mozambique's National Demining Institute (IND) mandated APOPO to expand its operations in Maputo, Manica, Sofaka and Tete provinces.
APOPO mine detection operations lasted for 9 years until Mozambique was officially declared free of all landmines on 17 September 2015. In the process, APOPO destroyed a total of 13,274 landmines and returning 11,124,446 square metres (1,110 ha; 2,750 acres) of land for safe and productive use. APOPO assisted the Mozambique Government to clear landmines and release five out of the ten provinces free from landmines.
Although Mozambique was declared mine free in 2015, APOPO has maintained a presence in Mozambique carrying out residual tasks. This is clearance of explosives in areas not considered to be of immediate humanitarian impact, such as civic land for development, and other locations in which unexpected and suspicious objects have been found. As of June 2016, APOPO teams have been tasked to clear an area near Maputo that was an old ammunition dump that exploded in 2007, scattering explosives far and wide, killing many nearby residents. After clearing the area will become an ecological park and nature reserve.
Cambodia is still in 2016 among the most mine-polluted countries in the world, resulting from 3 decades of conflict in 60s–90s. The collaboration between APOPO and the Cambodia Mine Action Centre (CMAC) dates back to 2012 when two survey teams were deployed within the framework of the National Base Line Survey. In early 2014, APOPO/CMAC started humanitarian demining operations in 6 northwestern districts considered as the most contaminated. Activities were carried out using conventional mine clearance methods. At the same time, APOPO/CMAC also initiated mine risk education activities with surrounding communities.
As major results in 2015, APOPO/CMAC cleared more than 13,719,552 m2 (1,370 ha; 3,390 acres), neutralizing 4599 landmines, and destroying 36 044 unexploded ordnances (UXO). 6,731 people were educated and informed about the inherent dangers of, and attitudes to adopt on, mines and UXO.
2015 marks also the deployment of the first 16 HeroRATs to Cambodia. Two Cambodia handlers previously spent six months in APOPO's training center in Tanzania, to learn about the practical operations of rat detection technology. Following a 6-month acclimatization and training period, 14 out of the 16 HeroRATs were accredited by CMAC in November 2015 in line with the International Mine Action Standards (IMAS).
Since early 2016, HeroRATs have been deployed with CMAC demining teams on operations in minefield for further trials. The trials are aimed at measuring factors such as the speed in which the MDR are able to search the ground and assisting APOPO and the local mine action authorities to develop specific Standard Operation Procedures for the mine detection work in Cambodia.
Angola is affected by mines and explosives remnants of war left by 30 years of conflict, making it one of the most mine-contaminated countries in the world. Since 2012 APOPO has been working under the umbrella of its partner Norwegian People´s Aid (NPA), one of the leading humanitarian mine clearance operators in Angola. Until the end of 2015, APOPO's HeroRATs (which were accredited in 2013), supported demining activities in Ngola Luige in Melange and in Malele site in Zaire province, on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. As of December 2015, APOPO/NPA completed all the mine clearance tasks ahead schedule thanks to the HeroRATs, which were instrumental in speeding up the operations. Malele site was cleared one year in advance, resulting in returning 520,000 m2 (50 ha; 130 acres) of safe land to local communities, namely to 1,329 small-holder faming families with an estimated population of 6,644 inhabitants. The area is expected to become a cross-border market.
Since early 2016, HeroRATs have been tasked to clear another site in Ndondele Mpasi (in the Zaire province). In 2016, APOPO has also initiated a study to accurately assess the impact of the HeroRATs on conventional mine action methods (including the detection and disposal of explosive materials on suspect land). This is being carried out by studying records of the recent Zaire site clearance that deployed both traditional mine action methods as well as the HeroRATs, and by carrying out tests on other sites with and without the rats.
On 25 May 2016, APOPO and the Government of Zimbabwe signed an official agreement to start up landmines clearing activities in the country, including the border to Mozambique. APOPO will soon send a mine detection rats and train a team of Zimbabwean rat handlers. Once accredited by the National Mine Action Authority of Zimbabwe, HeroRATs and their handlers are expected to start mine clearance activities.
Advantages over microscopy
Tuberculosis is one of the deadliest and most contagious diseases in the world, responsible for 9.6 million new illnesses and 1.5 million deaths each year, mainly in poor countries. Public clinics routinely use microscopy to detect TB. However this is slow, and imprecise. In Sub-Saharan Africa only 50% of TB positive patients tested at clinics are actually identified. This creates a vicious cycle where people with TB are sent home and then infect other people, especially in big cities where close living and transport conditions act as incubators for TB. The key advantages of the TB detection rats technology over microscopy are speed and accuracy. Microscopy is the conventional TB screening method widely used but has shown limited sensitivity and is relatively slow compared to the rodent technology. According to statistics, one trained rat can evaluate 100 samples in 20 minutes, while a laboratory technician can only process around 20 samples per day.
Detection rats technology also makes it possible to mass-screen large or at-risk population in poor countries that are limited by unreliable laboratory services. The TB detection rats work at low cost and a fast pace.
APOPO's detection rats technology is aiding DOTS (public clinics) programs to help diagnose vulnerable populations. APOPO collects sputum samples that have already been tested by microscopy in the partner clinic labs and retests them using the HeroRATs. In laboratories rats sniff a series of 10 holes in a line cage *(long glass chamber), under which human sputum samples are placed for evaluation. When a rat detects TB, it indicates by keeping its nose in the sample hole and/or scratching at the surface of the line cage.
In 2015, APOPO improved patient tracking by reducing the TB detection process from a 4-5 day diagnostic timeline to a 12-hour timeline. This has increased the number of newly diagnosed patients starting treatment is it catches them when they return to the clinic for their normal clinic results before leaving the area.
APOPO's TB detection rats have been re-checking samples from public clinics in Tanzania since 2007 and in Mozambique since 2013. APOPO hopes to start TB projects in Ethiopia by the end of 2016
APOPO is considered a key partner in accelerating TB/HIV elimination in Tanzania and Mozambique, two high TB-burden countries, and has full local commitment from their Ministries of health and affiliated institutes, local universities, and civil society organizations.
Over the years, APOPO has increased the case detection of new TB patients with over 40% in APOPO-collaborating health clinics and cumulatively detected over 9,000 TB patients initially missed by microscopy tests performed at health centers.
Besides detecting tuberculosis, APOPO is committed to raising the number of patients that complete tuberculosis treatment. Therefore, APOPO entered into a partnership with OpASHA (http://www.opasha.org/), which developed eCompliance technology to improve treatment adherence. APOPO has also engaged with local partners such as MKUTA and PASADA who are made up of ex-TB sufferers. These volunteer organizations reach out to communities to offer TB education in order to reduce stigma and improve safe practices. They also support APOPO partner clinics by helping suspect TB patients give sputum samples and tracking down patients who left before receiving their TB test results.
The TB detection program in Tanzania was launched in mid-2007 as a partnership with four government clinics. It has since expanded to 24 collaborating clinics in Dar es Salaam, Coast region and the city of Morogoro, evaluating over 1000 samples every week.
In 2015, the HeroRATs screened more than 40,000 sputum samples, thereby identifying over 1,150 positive TB samples that were wrongly diagnosed by conventional diagnostics like microscopy.
APOPO has built and equipped a TB detection rat facility at the Vet School of the Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo. In 2015, 14 health centers in the city of Maputo worked with APOPO, providing TB sputum samples. As a result, APOPO assisted those health centers not only increase TB detection rate by 48% and contributed to halting 3800 potential TB infections. Over 9166 presumptive TB patients evaluated by HeroRATs in 2015, 666 missed by conventional methods were diagnosed.
APOPO's Research & Development
In parallel to mine clearance and TB activities, APOPO also carries out research and development in order to constantly improve the detection rats technology. APOPO also aims to investigate other applications where the technology could be used as a low-cost and low-tech solution (e.g. detection of salmonella or contraband tobacco, or search for victims in collapsed structures).
The TB research and training facilities center is located within the Sokoine University of Agriculture and houses a laboratory and four rat-training rooms (for pre-training stages, research activities, and two rooms shared between research and operational activities). The laboratory is equipped with a fully functional sputum sample processing facility, complete with safety cabinet, autoclave, centrifuge, multiple microscopes, two Gene Expert machines and general safety equipment.
The R&D Center conducts research to evaluate rats as a diagnostic tool in human health. APOPO carries out :
APOPO has developed a five-year strategic research plan in order to be accredited by the World Health Organization (WHO). The plan foresees number of key studies to be presented to the WHO's Strategic and Technical Advisory Group for Tuberculosis. Key for APOPO is to prove that the detection rat technology is more accurate and cost-effective, easier to use, and shows better clinical outcomes for patients, compared to existing diagnostics.
Since 2014, APOPO set up a TB Scientific Advisory Committee, composed of a multidisciplinary team of international TB experts. The Committee provides scientific and medical credibility to the program and research output, advises on the long-term strategic research planning, and identifies new opportunities for research, funding, and partnerships.
In 2015, APOPO performed two lines of basic research at the training facility in Tanzania, one to increase theoretical knowledge of scent-detection processes and the other one to evaluate standard scent-detection procedures.
Large scale screening study project in Tanzanian and Mozambican prisons
In 2015 with the support of the USAID Development Innovation Ventures program (USAID DIV), APOPO began an active case finding research project that screens prisoners in Tanzanian and Mozambican jails for tuberculosis. This study aims to build evidence to convince TB response decision makers that HeroRATs can be used as a mass screening tool. This represents a cost effective add-on technology to help break the TB cycle by screening populations in high-risk settings such as jails, high-density housing, and factories (all of which are considered incubators for TB).
In 2015, more than 2,500 prisoners were tested for TB in Mozambique and Tanzania and the study continues into 2016.
In 2015 partner GICHD conducted a study on MDR landmine detection abilities. The study contributed to data determining MDR operational efficiency and effectiveness according to International Mine Action Standards (IMAS).
HeroRATs scent detection training
The African Giant Pouched Rat is an intelligent animal, relatively calm and trainable. Full training of an HeroRAT takes approximately nine months on average, and is followed by a series of accreditation tests. Once trained, HeroRATs are able to work efficiently for approximately four to five years before they get retired.
All HeroRATs are bred and trained in Morogoro breeding and training center prior to deployment to countries of operation.
Training starts at the age of 5–6 weeks, with socialization. The rats are exposed to various stimuli (such as sights, sounds and people) and then trained through principles of operant conditioning. After two weeks, they learn to associate a "click" sound with a food reward - banana or peanuts.
Once they know that "click" means food, the rats are ready to be trained on a target scent and specialize in either TNT for detecting landmines or TB for detecting TB-positive human sputum samples. The complexity of their tasks gradually increases until they reach the final training stage where they have to do a blind test in order to be accredited. Once accredited, the HeroRATs are ready to work in either a minefield or into the research lab for tuberculosis or remote scent tracing (RST) detection. Rats that fail the accreditation exercise, are given an early retirement and cared for their entire life.
According to their scent detection specialization, rats follow a series of parallel training stages, which build on the skills learned on the previous stages:
Mine detection training
Mine detection training enables the apprentice HeroRATs to develop their ability to detect TNT (which is the explosive in most mine).
TB detection training
The TB detection training enables the apprentice HeroRATs to develop their ability to detect the microbacteria found in TB-positive samples of sputum.
Cost of the training
One HeroRAT costs approximately 6000 euros to fully train (including basic food, health care, housing, training and evaluation). The cost of APOPO's HeroRATs works on an economy-of-scale basis, which makes them a highly valuable and cost-effective asset to solve humanitarian challenges. With a minimal start up cost followed by low running costs, testing and mine clearance become highly cost efficient as more samples are tested and land released.
APOPO has officially partnered with Sokoine University of Agriculture, The University of Antwerp, The National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Program (NTLP), The National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD), The Tanzanian Peoples Defense Forces (TPDF), JENEL TVD, the Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA) and Cambodia Mine Action Centre (CMAC).
APOPO's funding partners include the Belgian, Flemish, Norwegian and Liechtenstein Governments, the United Nations Development Programme, the US Department of State's National Institutes of Health (NIH), USAID DIV, HDIF, the European Union, the Province of Antwerp, and the World Bank.
APOPO also receives support from Foundations, private donors and public fundraising campaigns. Donors include, The UBS Optimus Foundation, Trafigura, the Postcode Lotteries from Sweden, The UK and Holland, JTIF and Only The Brave Foundation.
My APOPO – Rat adoption program
Myapopo is a sponsorship program aimed at raising fund among the public through a personalized adoption system. When HeroRATs are adopted, their adopters/sponsors receive a virtual HeroRATS and regular updates on their HeroRAT's daily activities, through all the stages of the HeroRAT life, from birth to retirement. Adopters can also choose their HeroRAT's name and appearance on the virtual adoption system.
APOPO's supporters and ambassadors
Princess Astrid of Belgium has been a dedicated APOPO's advocate since she joined the Board in 2009 as Honorary President. In 2011, she visited the headquarters in Tanzania and the mine action operations in Mozambique.
American actress Minae Noji is the first APOPO Ambassador to use her fame to support APOPO's HeroRATs. A rat-lover, she appears in a video called "It's time to rethink everything you thought you knew about rats", in which she declares her commitment towards the detection rats and APOPO's mission and work.
In 2015, Belgian artist Frederich Michielsen who contracted TB in the past, initiated the Ratatart for APOPO auction project, and engaged more than 50 artists in donating pieces of art work for the auction/exhibition.
Poppies for Peace (from its original title : Klaprozen voor Vrede) aims to help increase awareness on landmine issue and financially support APOPO effort to use detection rats for mine clearance activities. A Poppies for Peace art piece consists in a field of ceramic red poppies as a symbolic reference to landmine casualties. The initiative was started in 2004 by Belgian ceramic artist Anita Huybens, who conceptualized, created and exhibited over 1000 ceramic poppies. After the death of the artist in 2008, the project was handed over by a team of volunteers .