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

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

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

Enabling environment for sustainable land use and management

Enabling environment for sustainable land use and management

By Nellie Kanyemba Kapatuka

For a long time, African countries have been heavily affected by effects of climate change ranging from soil erosion, degradation and drought among many others. Implementation of deliberate measures set aside by government and developmental partners still seem not to fully address such issues causing fear and anxiety among people especially the most rural communities in Africa.The workshop on land management at the Global Soil Week 2019 which brought over 200 participants across the globe, revealed existing gaps in the current initiatives to conserve and protect land to create an enabling environments for sustainable climate resilient agriculture on African continent.

In one of the dimension workshop on local governance, successful cases were analyzed and reviewed. In Malawi, Chia lagoon which lies on Lake Malawi was on the verge of destruction as it was heavily silted due to water run-off. Sharing the story, Total Land Care Malawi Managing Director Zwide Jere explained how challenging it was to change the mindset of communities around the lagoon into realizing their roles in redeeming it. “Farming activities happening upstream had deadly impacts on the downstream communities who heavily relies on fishing for livelihood”, said Zuze, one of the expert from the workshop. It was discussed that involvement of both up and down stream water users almost yielded nothing as they both did not realize how beneficial the water body is to them both until the process restructured to involve key local structures in the implementation process.

In Kenya, a case study was cited that 80% of women are engaged in farming activities, leading to implementing projects that aimed at enhancing food security and market access for land constrained women farmers. This implementation of this project has successfully empowered women to have access to their own farmland. In a quest to create an enabling environment for sustainable agricultural production and climate resilient agriculture, the project which 850 women farmers, who were empowered to steer all the agricultural processes in their communities.


One Acre Fund on the other hand, working in countries like Kenya, Malawi, Ethiopia and Zambia among others, is bailing out farmers by providing financial assistance in form of loans for farmers to easily access farming inputs. This project however stirred some debate among the workshop participants as to whether farmers in Africa really need money or capacity building for them to have en enabling environment for their agricultural production. However, Daniel Omondi from the One Acre Fund said all they want is to improve accessibility and applicability of rural extension services for small holder farmers. He added that with time, they expect the farmers to develop resistance and become financially independent.
“We set a fixed time frame where a farmer can be a beneficiary of these loans to make sure that we enhance the spirit of self-reliance so they can be financially independence”, said Omondi.

The workshop draws conclusion with valuable lessons such as good working collaboration between government and non-governmental organizations, women involvement in matters that affect them by overcoming gender stereotypes and changing people’s mindset towards non-conventional agricultural practices. The discussions from the different dimensions from the Global Soil Week 2019 including land governance, local governance, extension services and finance and market leaves no doubt that delegates will go back with refreshed minds and a clear vision on how to help farmers in Africa have an enabling environment for sustainable climate resilient agriculture.