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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 

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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. 

 

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Data: An essential ingredient for sustainable land management

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.