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

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

Women, the Heart of Humanity

Women, the Heart of Humanity

By Nellie Kanyemba Kapatuka

There is no tool for development as effective as empowering women, says a famous quote by Kofi Anan. Women have the potential to do everything they put their heart to and, their contribution to agriculture, more especially in Africa, can never be underestimated.

Growing up, I have always seen women as the frontier of agriculture apart from their usual roles of taking care of their homesteads. Even though this is the case, some African cultures do not allow women to legally own land despite them being actively engaged in agricultural production.

As Mahnaz Afkhami said, women empowerment is intertwined with respect for human rights, there is a point most African cultures are missing when it comes to women land tenure. Women can make so much difference given the right platform and resources.

The recent 2019 Global Soil Week brought out a lot of issues regarding women’s access to land in most African countries. It also brought to light how women can be empowered by giving them access to land for farming as means to contribute to agricultural production in Africa.

Some of the most valuable takeaways from the Global Soil Week included giving women access to land for agricultural production. Success stories from Kenya and Burkina Faso, where women are now able to have land of their own is something worth celebrating. Other countries surely need to borrow a leaf, however there is a need to formulate deliberate policies targeting women to ensure they have an enabling environment for sustainable climate resilient agriculture.

Alice Kaudia, one of the #GSW2019 moderators said, women are an asset in agriculture as they make timely decisions and greatly contribute to farming activities in their households.

“Women are the heart of every household, they make things happen and given proper opportunities, women have proved to be the movers and shakers, hence the need to get them involved in agriculture by empowering them”, she said.


This statement truly reflects how women can add a lot of value and bring a new face in African agricultural production, but again, women empowerment alone is not enough to boost Africans agriculture sector, other different factors like finance and market creation and access also comes to play.

Talking about finance, there is a greater need for governments and partners to put deliberate policies in giving women start up loans for them to grow their agricultural enterprise and operations. This reflects a case study of what One Acre Fund is doing in multiple African countries, providing loans to less privileged farmers. This model can be embraced by most governments in scaling-up finance for women and other smallholder farmers as a way to make hunger a thing of the past in Africa.

Market access just like finance, needs also the government as an enabler of creating environments for sustainable climate smart agriculture, to take up the challenge of finding markets for their local farmers. Through this, governments can also be able to collect revenue thereby boosting their economies.

However, for all of this to happen, there is also a need for people to take up different roles in managing and conserving the environment including the soil, knowing that without healthy soils, no agricultural production can happen.

Statistics have shown that over 24 billion tons of top soils are lost annually across the world due to degradation and siltation caused by human activities.

Soils are the basis of life and are crucial in every aspect of humanity, this is the whole reason why everyone should be taken on board to make sure it is properly conserved and managed.

Youth in Soil

Becoming an Enthusiastic Female Farmer

Becoming an Enthusiastic Female Farmer

A blog post by Dolapo Adeyanju

Opinions and discouragement from my family and friends that women cannot be a successful farmer almost make me re-think if I should consider a career in agriculture or opt for the trending course.  Amid mixed opinions and doubts, I settled for a course in agricultural economics and extension.

In my first class for a practical crop production course named AEE 202, bright grins covered my face with thoughts of how I cannot wait for a learning experience on the school farm, one of the biggest farms in Nigeria.

Being an agricultural and extension student, some of my classes on agricultural extension and women in agriculture were discouraging but my decision remains firm to make a career out of farming. The negative stories of women suffering in agriculture were regular advice from close families and friends, but my decision remains firm.

The unpalatable farm experiences

It’s a new dawn to go to the farm for my AEE 202 course and the excitement, expectations and tension were high. In my green laboratory coat and rugged over-sized black rain boot from my father, I head straight to the farm, encouraging myself with the African golden words – “This is it, oh blessed proud daughter of her father.”

It was the very first farm visit for me and after minutes of driving the bus suddenly stopped in the middle of the bush with my heart skipping like It was going to stop. The car could not move and thus, a means to walk to the farm was the next suggestion from the lecturer. In the middle of the complaints, I alighted from the bus with a bag packed with food, snacks and a water bottle.

Walking to the farm through the poor road linkage – a shattered dream from erosion, I can only compliment myself with my 2 litres of water. In my thoughts, I asked, how do people get to their farms using the unpalatable road.



The walk was not a sweet one but finally we got to the farm and here comes the excitement to get down to work and test my decision to become a farmer. Accompanied by farmers who are old men, we were showed around the farm with stories of their farming experience. The challenges learned in class resonated with the farmer’s stories, listing from poor road network, lack of access to credit, lack of sufficient extension services and high transaction cost.

In my curiosity, I asked about the women in agriculture and the question was a big slap, knock and blow altogether. The explanation given was the assertion that women belong to the kitchen and are meant to help their husbands on the farm but not allowed to own farmlands as all the lands belong to men. I asked in awe of curiosity if women work while the men spend the proceeds and it was a disappointing truth that the farmers nodded in agreement to this arrangement.

The practical farm work was concluded, and the students departed from the farm but the thoughts and statements from the farm keeps bothering my mind. To relieve myself of the experience, I concluded that the world, particularly Africa, must move away from its restrictive tradition holding women and young people back from becoming a farmer. To make a difference, I re-engineered my interest and commitment to study agriculture and change the status-quo.

Women land ownership

Upon graduation from the university some years back, I am excited today to have seen, read and heard about numbers of successful female farmers. Women who broke social and traditional rules to achieve their goals in the agricultural sector. One such success story from Africa is of Alice Kaudia, a Kenyan born woman who against all odds became a successful farmer.

In sharing her personal experience during the opening first day of Global Soil Week 2019, Alice, said that female farmers are faced with numerous challenges which are evident in most African countries. She further explained that women do not have the right to own land due to the current land transfer structures.

Land ownership in most African countries is by inheritance and the lands are transferred to male children. Although in countries where constitutionally, a specified hectare of lands is to be transferred to women, the laws are violated and ignored.


Violet Shivutse, a women leader from Shibuye Community Health Worker Project in Kakamega County of Kenya, mentioned during the conference that women are vulnerable in accessing land. She reiterated that few women have the resources to purchase or acquire land on lease. Hence, leaving many women who are so enthusiastic about farming to end up as mere farm workers.

Violet explained that aside access to land, women’s productivity is low as compared to men because of lack of access to finance, lack of access to other farm resources, multi-tasking and engagement in numerous activities such as domestic and other marital obligations. The phrase resonates with different findings and studies that women provide most of the labor used on the farm.

Re-engineering land accessibility for women

To address the identified challenges and change the societal norms, the questions were evidently answered during the first day of the Global Soil Week 2019 with recommendations as follows:

Firstly, women should be recognized as an important asset that can drive sustainable agricultural development which will change the general perception that women should not own land. In her remarks, Alice Kaudia, an eco-entrepreneur and a co-facilitator for the conference, said that access to land will help to facilitate timely decision making among women and invariably lead to increased productivity and better livelihood.

Secondly, the approach adopted by the Shibuye Community Health Workers is a brilliant approach that can be adopted to increase land access by women as well as provision of financial assistance to women through a community resilient fund to enable them to acquire land on lease and acquire resources required for farming.

As the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day, but the reality remains that the lands in Rome were not left untapped. It is, therefore, important that community collective actions will help to drive women in agriculture and to their promise land to become a successful farmers.

I am a woman, I am energetic, I am a farmer and I will continue to lend my voice to raise more female farmers.