Youth in Soil

From passion to career: Promoting African agriculture

From passion to career: Promoting African agriculture

By Esther Kiura

As a young girl growing in the rural drylands of lower Eastern Kenya, life was sweet but at times, nature was not forgiving as often said. Hence, I kept wondering if our forefathers have committed a crime that the current generation is now paying for.

To understand this dilemma, I developed interest in understanding nature, more specifically agriculture and farming. Growing up, I always accompanied my mother to the farm and with time I admired the profession that was very common among women in the rural areas.

Developing a career from interest

Moving from childhood to adulthood, the young girl from the Eastern Kenya village was set to join the university and decide on what she wanted to become in life. It was an exciting moment to get an admission in one of the best universities in Kenya. Alas! The rural girl was set for a Bachelor of Science in Dryland Agriculture and Enterprise Development.

Although there were mixed reactions from friends who thought that I had made the worst decision in life by taking a course in dryland agriculture, I am passionate about agriculture and optimistic about learning more on modern farming methods, opportunities and challenges in the agriculture sector.

Understanding the realities in African agriculture

Expanding my career opportunities in agriculture, I always desired for an opportunity to take part in forums where issues and possible solutions around African agriculture are discussed. This was exactly what happened when I was selected as part of the Youth in Soil participants to take part in the 5th edition of the Global Soil Week. The 2019 edition focused on creating an enabling environment for sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture in Africa.

The conference brought together stakeholders in the sector from farmers, researchers, scientists, government officials as well as development and investment agencies. It focused on thematic areas including land governance, local governance and cooperation model, finance and markets as well as extension services.


The discussions from the conference focused on the need for the governments to invest in the sector as it plays a critical role in enhancing food security, reducing poverty and creating jobs for millions of men and women living in rural areas of developing countries. It was predicted by the United Nations that agriculture is expected to feed about 2.5 billion people who will be living in the continent by midcentury.

The discussions from the conference also re-instated the need to get more young people involved in agriculture as a means to curb unemployment and create jobs opportunities that leads to sustainable livelihoods.

As the conference concluded, I am re-energized as a youth in soil to continue to work for the advancement of the African agricultural sector as the future and economic growth of the continent lies in the hands of the young people.

Youth in Soil

Accelerating collaboration for sustainable agriculture

Accelerating collaboration for sustainable agriculture

By Abraham Ng’ondo

The art of doing starts with an action says mlogic professor during the start of his lectures. He often mentioned that we need to think global but act local. I have never understood this statement until I attended the Global Soil Week 2019 conference. 

The conference attracted different partners and players who converged in Nairobi at ICRAF Campus to talk about the care and concern for soil. The conversation started from a brief history as to why the plight of soil was neglected and yet, it is important in the achievement of global goals 

The decentralization of global targets to local actions was the focus of the conference. The sentiments of committed international partners to protect and enhance soil health, to create an enabling environment and the insistence for a climate smart farming as well as sustainable agriculture dominated the many workshops during the conference. 

The infusion of human action and the pursuit of nature-based solutions came out vividly from the over twenty case presentations at the conferenceSome case studies from Kakamega county, which happens to be my origin revealed the existence of some good compelling solutions addressing food challenges and sustainable agriculture as developed by different stakeholders. 

Concepts presented during the conference showed how local innovations and actions can help solve local problems and challenges. It was evident from the cases that standing up for marginalized groups can help empower them to act and be part of the solutionIt was also emphasized that the proposed solutions must be nature-based as means to regenerate for an ecosystem balance. 

The conference proposed four dimensions of an enabling environment which are expanded on below, but in broad breadth, I grouped them into two themesThe first is social empowerment towards enhancing livelihood standards and ensuring greater social impact in achieving global goals. The other is the institutional engagement, targeted at enacting policies that can create an enabling environment for climate resilient agriculture in Africa. The workshop discussions within each dimension were as follows: 

Land governance

The land governance workshops discussed that legislations of land laws and regulations enacted should recognize the rights of women to land. Review of land tenure systems will enable women to be part of the sustainable farming process 

In Kenya, the current constitution recognizes the right of women to land but there is still vicious friction in allowing them to use the land unconditionally, more so for agricultural activities. The rights to property among women globally, has restricted women into joining economical agricultural production.  

Evidence from the workshop dimension on land governance shows that successful formulation of land tenure laws and grassroot community efforts are often central to achieving an enabling environment for economical use of communal land by women.  

In most African rural communities, women play a big role in agricultural production for subsistence. Hence, enabling them to have stronger control of the land they plough through land tenure systems will support them to improve their farming practices both at subsistence and commercial level. 


Local governance

In this dimension, it was emphasized that local governance institutions should be able to support marginalized groups such as women and youths to access land for agricultural activities. This has been protracted by various faith-based organizations as well as women chamas or groups in Kenya.  

Stakeholders within the local governance dimension workshop emphasized that local communities can only engage in sustainable land management and use if local authorities are able to put in place binding contracts that will allow rights to land as well as prevent degradation of land from users.  

To achieve an enabling environment at the local governance level, inclusive and participatory engagement that is in line with the customary laws should be explored while capitalizing on local leaders in the rural villages to create awareness and enlighten their communities. 

Extension services

In this vein, stakeholders discussed why sustainable agricultural production and soft infrastructural network should be linked to support digital solutions for farmers as local farmers tends to suffer from high transactions costs in accessing extension solutions.  

In the case of Kenya, a country with the robust mobile connectivity, farmers and service providers tend to look to digital platforms to enhance agricultural productivity. 

Stakeholders from this dimension workshop agreed that efficient connectivity can allow rural farmers with access to powerful telecommunication services to enable peer-to-peer learning and skills development on good and sustainable farming practices 

Finance and markets

It is often said that finance allows us to attain our budgets and carry out daily activitiesDuring the dimension workshop on finance and marketing, the participants discussed the need to know the sources of funds and the requirements to obtain loans.  

The risk of defaulting was, however, debated among the workshop participants given that most farmers who need funds do not have good credit ratings.  

Private investors and other donor agencies are critical in ensuring sustainable project funding and, in the provision of in-kind loans. To achieve this, it was emphasized that farmers need to be organized in groups and pool resources together as means to better finance their agricultural activities 

Regarding the discussion on market, it was stated that organic farmers are key in the agricultural value chain since markets for organic goods are on the rise in light of global demand. 

To further tackle the issue of markets for farmers, the participants within this dimension workshop appealed on the need to create value addition opportunities for farmers to be integrated in the local and global value chains 

Being one of the youth in soil delegates at the 2019 Global Soil Week was a real-time opportunity for me to learn on the different anchors of an enabling environment and to meet with different stakeholders who cares about sustainable and climate resilience agriculture 

Youth in Soil

Restoring ecosystem through youth engagement

Restoring ecosystem through youth engagement

By Atula Owade and John Agboola

The creation of an enabling environment for sustainable and climate resilient agriculture in Africa and across the globe requires a better understanding of the ecosystem and the importance of nature-based solutionsOne of the outcomes of the Global Soil Week 2019 was the conclusion that protecting and rehabilitating soils is an urgent matter.  

This urgency is informed by the undying fact that soils are being degraded at an unprecedented rate consequently leading to negative impacts such as loss of biodiversity, desertification, and famines. To counter these issues, the UN Environment has declared 2021-2030 as the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.  

In Africa, the program seeks to restore 100 million hectares of degraded lands by the end of the decade. Coordinated by Tim Christophersen, the UN Program recognizes the vital role that the youth will play in achieving such an ambitious goal of ecosystem restoration. Therefore, it has put in place several measures aimed at making youth play an active role in global ecosystem restoration efforts. 

The launch of ecosystem community champions

Humans tend to look up to their peers who are doing something positive in their communities. This is true for all demographics of people, including youth in agriculture. Africa is poised to have the youngest population in the world within the next couple of years, and hence, having community champions for ecosystem restoration would be a great way of speaking to them.  

The Program recognizes the vital role that community champions play in influencing others to take initiatives aimed at restorative practices. The organization is, therefore, currently in the process of identifying and recruiting such individuals to spearhead the restoration efforts.  

Tim declared, “young people are critical to attaining the ecosystem restoration agenda and this will create opportunity for young people to create real impact in their communities. 

Making digital communication efforts

The youthful generation in most African countries and across the globe is tech savvy. Most have grown in the information age and are therefore digital natives. As such, the UN Environment is putting in place several measures to reach this demographic via a set of digital streams. The organization is currently building a dedicated website to be launched in a few weeks that will contain rich information about ecosystem restoration. These include details on sustainable agricultural practices, policies touching on the issue, and program initiatives. At the same time, the organization is working on social media and communication strategies specifically targeted at young people to make them aware of the role they can play in ecosystem restoration, and hence inspire positive actions for the UN Environment 2021-2030 decade on ecosystem restoration. 


Creating a good political climate

Tim Christophersen describes himself as, father of two great kids who deserve a safe and green future. This partly informs his work and that of his team at the UN Environment. In an open recent discussion with GSW2019 youth delegates at the UN Environment campus, Tim acknowledged that restoration efforts will be possible if there is political goodwill.  

The political climate needs to be right through formulation of supportive policies, such as those that will enable the youth practice restorative agriculture, said Tim. Working with partners such as FAO, the UN-REDD Program, and the Global Landscapes Forum, his organization is spearheading the push for policies that will aid the creation of a global ecosystem restoration movement. Consequently, this will limit climate change while improving food and water security and alsocreate green jobs for the youth on a global scale. 

Investing in youth across ecosystem restoration

Inspired by wise words that the greatest sign that one has faith in you is when they are willing to invest their time and money to empower you, it is time for youth to act The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration supports various initiatives that are designed to provide entrepreneurial youths working in ecosystem restoration with the tools they need to succeed.  

One such initiative is the Land Accelerator Program, which is designed to boost business opportunities among the youth by helping make ecosystems healthy. This is a free 6-day training for those who are involved in restoration of degraded lands and revitalization of rural communities for climate action.  

In addition to helping improve their business skills, the accelerator presents participants with access to potential investors, said Tim 

To learn more about restoring degraded planet and why stakeholders need to invest, and track the pay off, read from Tim’s citation here. 

Youth in Soil

Big Data – An Essential Ingredient For Sustainable Land…

Big Data – An Essential Ingredient For Sustainable Land Management

By Atula Owade

The third day of the Global Soil Week 2019 featured a plenary session in which representatives of various African governments made presentations. Each highlighted the efforts they were making towards achieving sustainable and climate resilient agriculture in their respective territories. 

The delegate from Ethiopia, represented by H.E Etefa Diba Areri, a Member of Parliament who sits in the Agricultural Affairs Standing Committee. One of the things he highlighted was the creation of the Ethiopian Soil Information Service (EthioSIS). While still in development, this information portal is a powerful tool in facilitating sustainable land management. Read more here.

What is EthioSIS?

It is a database which when completed, will contain information about all kinds of soils found within Ethiopia. These include both the chemical and biophysical properties. The ambitious project was started in 2012 via the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) in partnership with the continent-wide Africa Information Service (AfSIS).  

EthioSIS is currently being spearheaded by the recently established Ethiopia Soil and Research Institute (ESRI). The database is a first of its kind on the continent due to the magnitude of data it seeks to collect and disseminate. Its development and establishment of supportive agencies such as ESRI illustrate how vital soils are in the development agenda of the East African country whose economy heavily relies on agriculture. 

How EthioSIS Works?

The end goal of the EthioSIS team is to develop one of the most advanced national soil maps in the world. To achieve this, there are various approaches which are being taken to ensure that detailed information relating to Ethiopian soils are gathered and catalogued. This is done through a combination of field surveys, spectral data collection and laboratory analyses and different experts working for EthioSIS to gather an extensive array of soil data. In line with the advice from the Nairobi-based World Agroforestry Center, the EthioSIS team established soil laboratories across the country.  

Furthermore, it developed procedures for soil sampling, analyzing, and cataloging more than 100,000 samples from nearly 100 sentinel sites across the country. 


The type of Data is EthioSIS hosting?

There are several data points that can be used to describe the nature and health of soils. These include physical attributes like texture and color, as well as geotechnical ones such as permeability and specific gravity. In the same vein, there are chemical ones, on top of biotic factors.  All of these attributes have an influence on soil fertility and are useful for data-driven decision-making that would create an enabling environment for sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture in Africa.  

Given the above, EthioSiS is meant to host a rich dataset cutting across soil parameters. This will result in the publication of up to 22 different maps for every region in the country, with each one providing information about particular parameters.  

EthioSIS as a decision making tool

EthioSiS is meant to host a rich dataset and each database holds information on multiple soil parameters which are used to generate 22 different maps. These contain the chemical and biophysical information about each region, enabling farmers and other decision makers to fully understand the nature of their soils. EthioSIS since inception has produced soil fertility maps coupled with fertilizer recommendations for various regions in the country. This allows those in the ground to treat each region individually, rather than the previously commonplace blanket approach when it comes to things such as application of fertilizer. In this way, the database helps to protect soils through provision of the information needed for SLM. 

How is EthioSIS creating an enabling environment?

During the 2018 CGIAR Big Data in Agriculture Convention, one of the main challenges that was identified with regard to agricultural big data is organizing it. The volume, variability, multiplicity and complexity of soil big data limits the ability of farmers, extension officers, and policy makers to readily use it 

Hence, organizing it would facilitate better decision making for sustainable land management. This is what the database is meant to achieve. It adheres to FAIR Open Data Principles, which makes the information: Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Re-usable (FAIR). In this way, it creates an enabling environment by providing farmers, policy makers and other stakeholders with what they need to make an inform and data-driven decisions.  

Youth in Soil

Scaling-up Sustainable land management in Africa

Scaling-up Sustainable land management in Africa

By Atula Owade

The 2019 Global Soil Week event has an actionable theme of ‘Creating an Enabling Environment for Sustainable and Climate Resilient Agriculture in Africa’. 

In achieving the theme for the conference, it was said that Sustainable Land Management (SLM) cannot be achieved without government support and aside from policy formulation, governments also run institutions that can be used to push the SLM agenda.  

It was obvious that three of the four dimensions of the Global Soil Week directly depend on government interventions:land governance, extension and advisory services as well as local governance 

The opening plenary on Day 3 of the conference included delegations from several African countries where each of the delegates gave insights on the government interventions for sustainable land management in their respective nations. 


The Benin delegation led by H.E. Jeanne Josette Acacha Akoha, the Cabinet Director at the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development. In her speech, she illustrated how land degradation was negatively affecting the country’s economy and destroying ecosystems. To counter the issue, government created several measures such as adoption of an action plan for sustainable land management; accreditation of a national fund for the environment; establishment of two research centres for resilient agriculture; and strengthening the role of the private sector and NGOs for sustainable land management. She also reiterated the government’s commitment to embracing new ideas and partnerships that give life to soils. 

Burkina Faso

The Sahel nation was represented by H.E Dr. Zacharie Segda from the Ministry of Agriculture & Hydro Agricultural Management. He started with the fact that establishing equitable land tenure for female farmers was one of the most important enabling environments for SLM and hence the government developed bottom-up legislation to achieve it 

He further explained that the government of Burkina Faso is launching a land degradation neutrality process to counter desertification. He mentioned that some positive results have been achieved including organisation of relevant stakeholders, and review of legislation. 

He assured that going forwardthe government intend to scale up these efforts to achieve sustainable land management. Dr. Segda concluded by saying that these efforts would not only protect soils, but also increase agricultural production. 


Located in the Indian Ocean, Madagascar has one of the most unique arrays of biodiversity on the continent and protecting it via sustainable agriculture is a key priority for the government. The country delegation was represented by H.E Ms. Ony Malalaniaina Rabearivololona, the Director General of Sustainable Development in the Ministry of Environment.  

She stated that on top of adhering to the UN declaration on climate change, the government had adopted research on sustainable solutions and developed 14 priority projects on resilient agriculture with the objective of rehabilitating soils while boosting production. Conclusively, she underscored government commitment to SLM irrespective of others economic challenges. 



Addis Ababa was represented by H.E Etefa Diba Areri, a Member of Parliament who sits in the Agricultural Affairs Standing Committee. From his presentation, it was clear that the country heavily depends on agriculture as it employs more than 80% of the population and contributes to 42% of the GDP.  

Despite the potentials of agriculture in the country, 80% of their lands are degraded due to poor land management and unsupportive agricultural policies. Some of the government efforts include formulation of policies, development of a green economy strategy, and establishment of the Ethiopia Soils Information Service for monitoring soil health and fertility. H.E Etefa Diba Areri said the government is also promoting agroforestry alongside construction of soil and water conservation structures to protect and rehabilitate soils. 


Lucy Njenga spoke on behalf of the GSW2019 host country’s Minister of Agriculture, Kenya, highlighting some of the progress the country was making towards SLM. She poised that the government had put in place the national soil management policy which is designed to protect the environment.  

She expressed that the policy is meant to facilitate adaptation to climate change and, working with partners such as the German government to facilitate sustainable increase in agricultural output and incomes.  

The ministry was also initiating several projects including the Kenya Climate Smart Project Strategy which will impact more than 360,000 rural farmers. With such efforts, the government intends to empower its people in undertaking SLM to protect soils and improve livelihoods of Kenyan farmers. 

Youth in Soil

Bridging the gap between global goals and local realities

Bridging the gap between global goals and local realities

By Atula Owade

When Dr. Alice Kaudia took to the stage, everyone kept quiet with the anxiousness to hear from the co-moderator for the Global Soil Week 2019. 

Everyone was keenly listening, as she conducted the opening plenary on day 3 of the Global Soil Week 2019. Highly experienced in agricultural and environmental sciences, she effortlessly bounced from one topic to another as she welcomed participants to the high-level segment of the conference, after the success of the technical segment. 

Reflecting on the need to address the “Missing Middle” needed for creating an enabling environment for sustainable and climate resilient agriculture in Africashe paused and invited a troupe of drummers who energized the crowd with their amazing set piece of African culture. A few minutes later, she welcomed Alexander Muller to give his opening remarks. 

In a loud voice, he said “soil is the basis of all life. If we lose soils, we lose our primary life support system. Unfortunately, too many people have the impression that food can be produced without good soils through heavy use of fertilizer.” 

Further to his quote, he makes an even more impassioned statement: 

“Can you imagine, the world loses 24 billion tons of fertile top soils annually? Yet, protecting soils is not receiving the kind of attention expected for such a vital natural resource. In my previous work with the FAO itself, it took me more than 3 years to establish a global soil partnership.”


The opening remarks from Alexander illustrated the gravity of the situation the world is facing if soils are not protected. The TMG Managing Director does not mince his words on issues involving protection of soilsthere are far too many evident based soil and environmental problems that need to be addressed and treated seriously in order to minimize wide-scale problems in the future.  

He mentioned that there are three problems that must be addressed for sustainable development to be successful. One of the problems is hunger and malnutrition. The number of people who go hungry is rising, particularly in the global south and Africa. At the same time, there is the problem of climate change. This phenomenon threatens ecosystems, agriculture and food security on a global scale. The third of the problem is the loss of biodiversity which is accelerating at an alarming rate. The United Nations warned that more than one million species are facing the threat of extinction in the next couple of years. 

He coughs, and then continues speaking on his evident-based points: 

“Without healthy soils, it would be impossible to solve these problems and several others that are linked to soil ecosystems. To combat hunger, we need soils that are in good condition and hence capable of producing enough food for an increasing global population. Neither can we counter climate change without soil since soils of good quality are a formidable carbon sink. Of course, healthy soils also support a large number of plant and animal species, to protect the earth’s biodiversity”. 


After a short pause, he continues from where he left off:  

“The Global Soil Week was started to address these challenges. Having observed the low attention that soils received in global environmental discourse and the urgency of the situation, we developed a platform through which solutions can be sought. Now on its fifth edition, I am glad to see you all here and the progress made so far. This shows your commitment towards protecting soils, he mentioned. 

A smile flashes on his face as he moves into the next phase of his speech: 

“It is not all doom and gloom, though. There are certain achievements that have been achieved so far. The importance of soil protection is slowly gaining traction and is indeed exemplified by SDG 15.3 whose aim is to achieve a land-degradation neutral world by 2030. This and other international declarations are a step in the right direction. But…” 

The smile fades away. 

“…Where is the action? Not enough is happening on the ground, where real people are daily encountering problems associated with land degradation. We don’t fully transform complex scientific analyses of these problems into concrete solutions. Which begs the question, how can global goals be implemented at the local level?” 

Instinctively, he indicates that he is approaching the end of his speech. 

“This is the question we have been trying to address over the past 2 days of the technical segment. We have to find ways of localizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We can achieve multiple goals such as tackling food insecurity and climate change by protecting soils. We, therefore, need to find ways of bridging the “missing middle” between global goals and local realities. Through the Global Soil Week 2019, we believe that this can only be achieved if there is an enabling environment which is the missing link”. 

As he concludes, he rhetorically asks the audience what needs to happen to create such an enabling environment for sustainable and climate resilient agriculture in Africa. He asks them to hold their answers for the peer review workshops on the conference dimensions such as land governance, local governance, extension services and market and finance. 

He, briskly, walks away from the podium. 

Dr. Kaudia steps back to the stage, ready to welcome the other speakers on Day 3 of the Global Soil Week 2019. 

Youth in Soil

Demystifying extension and advisory services through learning

Demystifying extension and advisory services through learning

By Atula Owade 

The Global Soil Week 2019 had a variety of topics to tackle regarding creating an enabling environment for African agriculture. There are several experts and project implementers from a diverse range of backgrounds partaking in the reviews and analysis of the topics around these casesAmong others were farmers, agronomists, economists, soil scientists, social scientists, who are also contributing to the discussions on enabling environment. 

To enrich discussions on the theme of the Global Soil Week 2019, the conference was divided into Technical and High-Level SegmentDay 1 of the Technical Segment was divided into five parallel workshops to discuss a number of cases.  

Workshop 3 was held in one of the ICRAF Campus buildings and offered a platform through which extension officers and enthusiasts could share their experiences and learn from one another, as many of the cases discussed provided lessons for this dimension. This was designed to facilitate conversations that would lead to actionable outputs that would aid the creation of an enabling environment for sustainable land management.  

In this regard, an enabling environment is viewed as the presence of certain institutional and technical requirements. These requirements promote large-scale dissemination and long term maintenance and adaptation of practices for sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture after the end of external interventions. 

The guiding objectives

 There were five workshops with the same overall aim of facilitating a bottom-up learning approach on Creating an Enabling Environment for Sustainable and Climate Resilient Agriculture in Africa”. Each workshop discussed a number of cases during the Technical Segment on Day 1 of the conference. Each workshop had three guiding objectives, which included:  

To ensure that participants have a clear understanding of the enabling environments and the means used to create them for each of the presented cases; tencourage participants to identify relevant lessons discussed comprehensively, and to provide a platform through which participants could learn from one another’s experiences. 

Approach taken

 It is often said that the success or failure of a workshop largely depends on the approach that is taken when conducting it. There needs to be a structure which ensures that all the relevant items are covered and effectively addressed. This is exactly what was considered when devising the approach taken during Workshop 3In this workshop, both project presentations and peer-to-peer discussion approaches were used. 

Project presentations approach

Workshop 3 featured four case presentations. These included: sustainable honey production by Apis Agribusiness in EthiopiaThe Kenya agricultural carbon project by Vi agroforestry; scaling up evergreen agriculture in 8 African countries by ICRAF, and NABRAD on building an empowered and financially inclusive rural India through government intervention. 

The major talking points in each presentation were anchored on what made their projects innovative and the individuals or organizations involved in its formulation and implementationThe expectation from the workshop was high for the participants, to be able to understand the nature of the project and how it facilitates the creation of enabling environments for sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture in Africa. 

Peer-to-peer discussions approach

 The aforementioned presentations were meant to trigger conversations around sustainability and extension work. Each case was unique and thereby, bringing something different to the table. The case of the sustainable honey production project illustrated how behavioral science can be used to encourage sustainable land management. The NABRAD case showed the importance of government intervention in promoting extension work for farmers. 

The discussions from the workshop were also guided by how the project interacted with certain important elements such as the farming community where the project is being implemented; the local and national governments; the civil society; the project business model and the international community. Lessons gathered from the presentations were pickedup as talking points among the participants. 

Working in small groupings, the implementers analyzed and reviewed each case individually through discussions and peer-to-peer learning exercises. The cases were assessed to identify what elements of an enabling environment they were creating among farmers and local communitiesIn rounding off the discussions, a set of actionable outputs were formulated and were used as an integral part for the high-level segment of the conference. 

Youth in Soil

Success factors in scaling sustainable land use

Success factors in scaling sustainable land use

By Atula Owade 

Human behavioral science remains one of the most interesting fields of study. I have been watching a series of lectures by Stanford University’s Prof. Robert Sapolsky on the topic around human behavioral change and I am always astonished by how omnipresent human behavioral science is, in our daily lives. 

Prof. Sapolsky’s easy-going lecturing style makes it easy even for someone with no prior experience in the field to fully understand how we behave. I am always thinking of why people behave the way they do and how these behaviors can be shaped to trigger certain actions. 

In the midst of this thought provoking imagination on human behavioral change, Ann-Kathrin Neureuther, a Senior Manager, Farming for Biodiversity at Rarestarted her presentation on “Success factors in scaling sustainable land use” at the Global Soil Week 2019 . Hers was one of the case presentations made during one of the  case workshops held on Day 1 of the conference.  

It sounded like an interesting topic and soon enough, she voiced words that drew my attention. I swivel my chair and look straight ahead, listening keenly. It was as if she had read what had been going through my mind, and now speaking to me directly.  

A good understanding of human behavioral science and its applications has helped those in the medical sector achieve great success. This is especially the case with inducing positive behavior change in the fight against various diseases. However, very few interventions have taken a similar approach in the environmental sciences, explained Ann. 

Now I’m more excited than before as she narrows down into my line of work around agriculture. The other participants in the workshop room at the ICRAF campus were also paying keen attention and wanting to hear how they can use behavioral science in their extension work to scale up sustainable land use. 

At Rare, theybelieve that inducing positive behavior is essential in facilitating sustainable development and countering global challenges such as climate change, over-fishing, and deforestation. Positive behavior is a powerful tool that can be utilized in creating an enabling environment for sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture in Africa, added Ann. 

In explaining the concept for better understanding, she pauses for a minute as she moves from one slide to another. Then, she proceeds with her presentation. 

Extension and social workers must understand three core principles that guide human behavior. This is based on the research carried out by Rare’s Center for Behavior and the Environmentwhich identified the three core principles including: emotions are often more powerful than reason; people are social animals; and the principle of context matters. 

The thirty or so participants in the room looked at her more intensely after she captured their attention as shhad captured mine. was busy taking notes and trying to keep up with her fast-paced presentation. 

A moment later, she started with the explanation of each element individually, using a company that promotes sustainable honey production in Ethiopia as a case study. She uses the story of Apis Agribusiness to illustrate the importance of these three principles of human behavior in extension work. 

Emotions are, often, more powerful than reason

 One of the reasons Apis Agribusiness has been successful is that it simplifies decision making by appealing to emotions more than it does to logic. Using the slogan, “No trees, no bees, no honey, no money”, Apis Agribusiness create a sense of pride in environmental protection by showing how trees benefit them individually. In this way, the farmers are more likely to protect the environment as compared with reasoning with farmers based on mere abstract scientific concepts. 


People are social animals

To pass the message of environmental conservation, Apis Agribusiness relies on the fact that people’s behaviors are heavily influenced by their social interactions. Therefore, Apis made efforts by first convincing the most influential people in the communityfollowed by training in bee-keeping and environmental protection practicesThis project is ensuring that both the identified role models and community champions influenced others to join the program. 

Context Matters

Finally, another thing that extension workers can learn from the case of Apis is that the context of their work environment matters. Multi-religious practice is common in the community where Apis Agribusiness works and therefore, a working relationship approach was built on the power of groups and religious norms. The extension workers co-wrote sermons on environmental protection with local priests and imams. This approach has heavily contributed to its success. 

She concludes her presentation by displaying on the projector screen the metrics which showcase the strides that Apis Agribusiness has made so far. These include working with almost 250 farmers to supplorganic honey to the European markets.The company is now taking the next step by scaling the model up to reach an additional 6,800 farmers and 15,500 community members. 

Evident from the presentation, I am convinced that these 3 principles of human behavioral science are factors of success in scaling sustainable land use. They can be used in creating an enabling environment for sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture in Africa. 

Youth in Soil

The woman of the soil

The woman of the soil

By Sally Kimathi

The Global Soil Week 2019 is over with much excitement of what the conference has achieved in a space of one week. On my return home from the conference, I paid keen attention to the greener landscape along the roadside. The countryside is a great place to relax; away from the air and noise pollution of the city. After such a busy week at the conference, the beautiful environment and the fresh air on the countryside is a timely well-deserved relaxation.

The fifth edition of the Global Soil Week 2019 held at the ICRAF campus in Nairobi is surely not the regular conference, given that the event was on a whole different level with regard to highlighting the plea of the farmer alongside enabling environment.

The fact that Sustainable Development Goals can only be implemented on the ground and not in conference rooms was at the finger prints of every delegates. The paintings were on the wall and the echoes filled the room that all sustainable development goals are local and require local actions and local systems.

The logistic arrangements, planning and the organization of the entire week made the conference stand out. From the Youth-in-Soil side event that gave the youth delegates a platform to air their views, learn about social media reporting and learn more on matters around sustainable agriculture and creating an enabling environment as well as case study discussions in both the technical and high level segments.

It was a participatory conference as the case studies brought reality into the conference room and the welcome dinners that gave delegates an avenue to interact and network. Maybe that is what made the conference stand out or possibly, how issues around the woman of the soil were prioritized.

One of the major highlights of the event was on how to secure land for rural women farmers in a sustainable way. With one of the moderators being a woman and a farmer, Alice Kaudia, I felt at home and the need for women to take ownership.

In opening the conference, Alice shared that her life experiences shaped her interest in agriculture and soil. It took me 10 years back to a time when I used to live with my grandmother. There is nothing I enjoyed most than scheduling for tea picking days as this gave me so much satisfaction, said Alice.

In continuation of her life-experience, she said, I remembered that my grandfather had finalized the land court case and it was time for the sons to inherit their portions and in my community back then, women had no rights to land. The community land used to be re-allocated to the sons including my grandmother’s tea plantation and alas! there was nothing to look forward to during tea picking days.

In most African countries, rural women play a major role in ensuring household food security through small scale food production. However, most rural women lack secure access to the land they plough.


In Burkina Faso, 50% of farmers are women and yet they lack secure access to land while in Kenya, 80% of rural women are farmers and less than 3% own land. In most cases, the land is leased or belongs to the man of the house. More so, access to land is governed by traditional laws which do not allow women to own land. These traditional laws make it difficult for women farmers to invest in sustainable agricultural technologies and further limits them in terms of timely decision making in agriculture, said Alice.

Over the past years, efforts have been directed to sustainably secure land for rural women farmers as highlighted by cases from some African countries such as Burkina Faso and Kenya at the Global Soil Week dimension workshops.

The cases showcase evident-based facts and progress made in ensuring secure land ownership by female farmers especially those in rural areas. Some of the actions highlighted were strengthening and collectivizing women to advocate for their rights, facilitating exposure visits to challenge gender stereotypes and widening the scope to address redistribution of land.

Reminiscing on the experience of being among the selected youth in soil and the many exciting experiences from the conference, I am finally home and with a warm welcome from this incredible rural woman smiles from a distance and her eyes lighting up with joy.

The excitement of seeing her daughter home after one week of learning at the Global Soil Week. In the same vein, I smile back, a smile of hope, having in mind all the promising policy recommendations made at the conference concerning rural women farmers.

This excitement is fueled with the hope that the recommendations will be implemented and this amazing woman of the soil smiling at me right now gets to benefit, amongst a thousand plus other rural women across the African continent.

Anchoring from the famous word of Wangari Mathaai, I found confidence after the conference to say, I am a proud daughter of my native soil, as my mother and father; a youth in soil, and more importantly, a proud woman of the soil.

Youth in Soil

Les pôles de croissance agricole, la panacée aux maux…

Les pôles de croissance agricole, la panacée aux maux de l’agriculture africaine?

Un article par José Herbert Ahodode

La Conférence internationale des Sols (Global Soil Week) s’est tenue à Nairobi (Kenya) du 26 au 30 mai 2019. Des échanges constructifs au cours de cette rencontre ont permis à divers acteurs de réfléchir sur les maux de l’agriculture africaine dans un contexte de changement climatique. Dans cet article, en ma qualité de YouthInSoil, je vous invite à une réflexion que je fais mienne et je vous emmène au cœur du partenariat public privé en Afrique en faisant un focus sur les pôles de croissance agricole. Bonne lecture et surtout, belles réflexions car c’est l’heure de l’ACTION !

La promotion du partenariat public-privé (PPP) comme stratégie de financement du secteur agricole  en Afrique s’amplifie. Depuis quelques années, les pôles de croissance agricole se multiplient et occupent une place grandissante sans que leur impact positif sur la sécurité alimentaire, nutritionnelle et la lutte contre la pauvreté ait été démontré. Beaucoup de questions subsistent encore et on se demande entre autres si les agropoles sont la meilleure option pour le développement agricole ? Si c’était le cas, la pratique du PPP dans la dynamique des agropoles est-elle la meilleure ? Quelles sont les réalités autour des agropoles ? Favorisent-ils réellement le développement de filières compétitives et  inclusives des exploitations familiales ?

Les pôles de croissance agricoles (agropoles) sont développés sur des zones de terres agricoles dotées d’un fort potentiel, souvent irriguées ou potentiellement irrigables, et sur lesquelles les pouvoirs publics souhaitent favoriser la concentration des investissements publics et privés. Ils sont dotés d’infrastructures de soutien à la production, à la transformation et à la commercialisation des matières premières agricoles, et sont connectés aux marchés régionaux et internationaux pour l’achat d’intrants ou la vente des produits. Selon la BAD, 2016 : « Ces politiques pourraient conduire à une hausse des investissements du secteur privé orienté vers des domaines d’excellence et de haute productivité ». La promotion des pôles de croissance agricoles s’inscrit en effet dans une dynamique d’incitation de l’investissement privé à grande échelle dans l’agriculture, mise en avant par les Etats, les organisations internationales, les agences de développement, et les firmes agroalimentaires multinationales. Cette approche du développement agricole considère la lutte contre la faim essentiellement comme un défi d’augmentation de la production et des rendements, sans prise en compte des dimensions de revenus des plus pauvres, de destination de la production agricole, etc. Ainsi, les problèmes du monde agricole demeurent sans solution efficace. Il est donc opportun de s’interroger sur les failles du système car le fonctionnement des agropoles reste entaché de beaucoup de déviances…

La question foncière liée à l’accaparement des Terres par les grandes firmes (sans politiques d’indemnisation crédibles) avec la complicité de l’Etat est un obstacle certain. L’Etat, étant détenteur des droits de propriété, décide de leur déploiement ou transfert vers les multinationales sous ordre de PPP. Ce positionnement de l’Etat induit certains agents à marchander la Terre pour des bradages aux firmes par suite de commissions mirobolantes ; la corruption y trouvant un terreau favorable. Cela défavorise les agriculteurs locaux qui n’ont plus accès au foncier car dépossédés de leurs Terres. En plus, la réalisation de nouveaux aménagements et infrastructures implique des redistributions du foncier. Les procédures (simplistes et réductrices) d’expropriation des terres, de compensation et de réinstallation des populations affectées sont peu négociées et s’accompagnent de nombreuses contestations. Dans le même temps, la défaillance du système judiciaire pénalise les paysans car ils sont incapables de faire valoir leur droit. La raison du plus fort étant toujours la meilleure, force est souvent restée à la loi du plus fort, c’est-à-dire l’Etat ou les privés disposant de moyens nécessaires pour « s’acheter » la justice…


Par ailleurs, il faut remarquer que les exploitations agricoles sont faiblement intégrées avec aucune place pour l’innovation paysanne avec cette approche très « top down » : contrainte des producteurs à appliquer un paquet technologique sans tenir compte des spécificités locales. Il n’existe donc pas des mesures d’accompagnements pour la prise en compte des exploitations familiales « greniers des ménages » dans l’ordre de mission des agropoles. On déduit que le modèle promu manque d’être inclusif pour les producteurs. Derrière un affichage éthique (la lutte contre la faim), les firmes promeuvent leur vision en faisant miroiter des investissements privés et en conduisant les Etats à tourner dos à l’agriculture familiale. Aussi, pour les termes du contrat de PPP, l’acerbe critique est liée à la crise de confiance entre acteurs et aux relations de copinage entre Etat et Entreprises dans l’implémentation des agropoles ; toutes choses ne favorisant guère leur essor !

L’effet de concurrence sur les marchés est une problématique soulevée par la défiscalisation à l’avantage des grands opérateurs privés. Accorder des incitations fiscales, douanières n’est pas mauvais en soi si les investisseurs privés s’engagent et respectent leur engagement de créer de la richesse et des emplois. Ce qui n’est pas le cas et, ces opérateurs sont plus compétitifs que les agricultures familiales, bénéficiant moins de soutiens. Avec ces revers, les agropoles ne répondent pas aux enjeux primordiaux de sécurité alimentaire et nutritionnelle ; encore que les filières promues soient destinées à des marchés extérieurs pour la plupart.

En scrutant les questions de commercialisation et du marché, il serait opportun de mettre en œuvre des stratégies idoines pour bénéficier des économies d’échelles entres acteurs. C’est l’avantage de l’approche « chaînes de valeurs » préconisant de tisser des liens entre secteurs et acteurs pour accroitre la productivité et la compétitivité des agents économiques. Pour répondre aux défis du développement agricole, il urge de changer de cap dans la pratique du PPP sous l’option des agropoles. Il faudrait définir le cadre légal en établissant les normes de manière inclusive avec toutes les parties. Il faut donc que le partenariat soit gagnant-gagnant pour les divers acteurs et puisse résoudre les défis de coordination d’une approche multi-composante et pluri-acteurs. Investir davantage dans les infrastructures – transports, électricité, eau et TIC – afin d’améliorer l’accès aux marchés, aux intrants, aux technologies et aux ressources financières et investir dans les chaînes de valeurs pour rapprocher les agriculteurs des marchés seraient aussi des alternatives à envisager.

En définitive, le partenariat public-privé pour le développement agricole met les agropoles en pole position en dépit des pratiques non inclusives pour toutes les parties prenantes avec des intérêts économiques divergents. Des facilités réglementaires, fiscales existent pour encourager les investissements mais au détriment des exploitations familiales agricoles. Il est donc de la responsabilité des Etats et divers acteurs de corriger les disparités pour l’essor des agropoles. Il y va de la survie de l’agriculture africaine et c’est un défi primordial dans un contexte où nous sommes appelés à nourrir plus de monde avec des ressources sans cesse amenuisantes.