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

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

Global Soil Week 2019: Re-engineering the Will for Local…

Global Soil Week 2019: Re-engineering the Will for Local Actions

A blog post by Atula Owade

It is the fifth edition of the Global Soil Week 2019 and the conversations are lively.

The several months of planning for the 2019 event by TMG Think Tank for Sustainability are showing results as experts from all over the world gathered on the evening of 26th May, 2019 at the Trademark Hotel Nairobi to commence this anticipated conference with a launch dinner. It is the evening of 26th May, 2019.

The 2019 Global Soil Week is said to take a bottom-up learning approach on ‘Creating an Enabling Environment for Sustainable and Climate Resilient Agriculture in Africa’. The event welcomes participants from 12 African countries, India, Germany and America, alongside the co-hosting countries of Burkina Faso, Benin, Ethiopia, Madagascar, and the host country, Kenya.

Anna Kramer, the Project Coordinator for TMG Research welcomes everyone to the conference with a breakdown of how the event will be conducted over the next four days at the ICRAF Campus. The 2019 event is grouped into two distinct segments with the first two days focusing on the Technical Segment and the last two days focusing on the High-Level Segment.

Technical Segment Day 1

Day 1 started with an opening plenary moderated by Alice Kaudia and Alexander Müller. This session highlighted the objectives of this 2019 event and set the agenda through the introduction of the narrative of the Global Soil Week. In the opening hour, a simulation of a case discussion was conducted through an interactive dialogue between a case presenter, Saydou Koudougou, from Burkina Faso and Serah Kirangu from TMG.

The simulation was immediately followed by five simultaneous workshops with different cases. The implementers such as soil experts, agricultural engineers, farmers, agronomists, government officers, and social workers were grouped into five different parallel workshops to discuss cases based on the conference thematic focus.

The intention from the workshops was for lessons from these cases to be analyzed by the participants as means to identify the relevant enabling and hindering factors for creating an enabling environment for sustainable and climate resilient agriculture in Africa.


Technical Segment Day 2

The second day of the event capitalized on experience sharing and also charted the way forward for creating an enabling environment for sustainable and climate resilient agriculture. The different cases and topics were grouped into four dimensions including land governance, extension services, local governance and cooperation as well as finance and markets. The target for the day ensured effective facilitation of deliberations, clustering of lessons from the cases and analysis of cases around the four dimensions. These dimensions are viewed as critical aspects of an enabling environment and represent prominent challenges for sustainable and climate resilient agriculture. The technical segment of the conference ended with a plenary and preparation dinner for the high-level segment of the conference.


The high-level segment

The third day of the conference was entirely dedicated to the four peer review workshops around the same dimensions. TMG has a sustainability think tank, believes that sustainable land management needs a multi-faceted approach.  The belief is that experts need not work in silos for in such a way they are blind to different, equally important viewpoints, hence, encouraging multi-disciplinary discussions.

Following the peer review workshops, senior experts and lead discussants from the diverse workshop dimensions gathered to further reviewed the lessons learned per dimension and commonalities, differences and complementary approaches were discussed to constitute day four discussion within the Global Soil Week Lab.

The final day of the event took the approach of collating all the discussions and peer reviews made during the previous days. These reviews were concluded with a call to action for creating an enabling the environment for sustainable and climate resilient agriculture in Africa.

To close the Global Soil Week 2019, a lab event was organized with high-level decision makers to solidify commitment to actions and implementation. The event ended with a concluding plenary where lessons and actionable outcomes and agenda were shared with the participants for practical application on the ground.