Stories tagged: Africa

Erosion is Eating Away at African Farms: We Must Measure Damage

With severe weather on the rise, farmers and downstream water users are being besieged by the impacts of erosion. But researchers are finding that the right interventions can cut soil runoff by up to 40% – a benefit that might find its way into struggling farmers’ incomes. Jane Gicheha, a Researcher with The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) explores this topics for Farming First.

With no shoes and little pause, Rachel Njeri bounds down her steep hillside farm, hopping from terrace to terrace until landing at the bottom. A grandmother in her 60s, she can reach the tiny stream 100 meters into the valley of her farm in about two minutes.

At the bottom, Rachel looks up to assess her yields, but also to examine the waves of crumbling land that once sustained crops. Rachel’s farm sits along a steep hillside and erosion is washing her soil downhill, causing small landslides, as well as soil and nutrient loss.

“Look at this maize crop, I will not harvest a thing this season,” laments Rachel. “The soils have been eroded and the remaining are just too acidic for food production. Planting maize and beans results in hunger in my house since most of it will not produce anything.”

Researchers tasked with helping Kenyan farmers stave off erosion cautiously follow her path, arriving minutes after. They examine the damage and results of interventions. “With this kind of loose soil, you need something drastic because whatever you plant is just going to wash away with the next rain.” says CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems scientist Ravic Nijbroek.

Extreme erosion is eating away at productive farmland and harming water supplies (Jane Gicheha, CIAT)

Erosion is dramatically reducing land productivity in many African countries, especially for smallholders who often work hillside plots. But the challenges are affecting millions downstream too. Erosion increases the rivers’ sediment load – the amount of soil transported downstream into rivers. And with heavy rains and climate unpredictability, the recent loads have been shockingly high.

More than five million Nairobi residents rely on the Tana River for their water use. One Senior Engineer of Kenya’s Ndakaini Dam says, reports that their operating costs are relatively low during the dry season… But during the rainy season, the sediment levels of the rivers rise, leading to siltation of dam, and increasing operating costs.

Researchers show us the evidence

To find the right solutions, it’s critical for researchers to understand how much sediment loads increase during extreme weather events, and during rainy season when farms receive twice the usual amount of rain. And solutions need to work across different farm conditions.

One project addressing these challenges is The Nairobi Water Fund, founded by The Nature Conservancy business, utilities, and governments together with researchers, NGOs and farmers.

The project’s Business Case showed that investing at least US$10 million in on-the-ground environmental management efforts for the Upper Tana River over a decade can reduce sediment concentration in rivers by more than half.

Success could also mean farmers receive payment for ‘ecosystems services’, like protecting water sources for downstream users, such as Coca-Cola and utility companies.

Transforming that vision into reality hinges on providing evidence that shows that the activities being funded upstream are translating to the expected benefits. This is where research is proving vital.

Scientists have been monitoring water at the farm level since May 2015. This means regularly collecting data on water levels, flow, sediment load in rivers, and water turbidity – the level of “dirtiness” in the water.

This data is used to find out whether sustainable land management (SLM) activities such as building terraces, planting trees and installing grass strips are reducing sediment load within the waterbodies.

This data provides a way to prove interventions are making a difference upstream. This is crucial for farmers and for downstream investors who have a stake in the quality of water upstream. In an on-going impact assessment study, which includes interventions on Rachel’s farm, CIAT/WLE researchers have found that the magnitude of runoff  and sediment for areas with no SLM were up to 40% higher than in the areas with interventions such as grass strips and terraces. This underpins the importance of trialling a range of interventions on individual farms such as Rachel’s.

With these techniques, the water companies will also find less sediment clogging their equipment, lessening a problem that hikes up treatment and maintenance costs. The benefits and reduced costs can be passed along to Nairobi residents using the water.

Finding the right solutions for sustainable land use

Of course, farmers’ livelihoods are also crucial, along with how benefits flow to women. WLE has provided farmers like Rachel improved fodder seeds for more diverse and productive crops. “I decided to plant Napier grass since it will provide fodder for my livestock and help my soil from being eroded,” says Rachel. “Keeping livestock is also a better investment because I sell milk, and once in a while I sell a cow. I get a lot of money to feed my family and even pay school fees for my grandchildren.”

While evidence shows interventions are helping, Rachel continues to struggle with some erosion. But researchers are working with her and others to better understand how SLM practices can best reduce soil erosion and runoff – on particular farms, and across the watershed. The evidence is paving the way for the best solutions to be scaled up and adapted across the basin – with benefits flowing back to farmers.

So while Rachel continues to bound down her steep hillside to take stock of her crops, the farm’s best soil will hopefully not make that same journey. With the right, well-tested solutions, researchers hope her soil will remain intact, nourishing crops, providing her a comfortable livelihood, and also contributing to the water security of millions of users downstream.

Rachel feeding her livestock (Jane Gicheha, CIAT)

Unleashing Innovation For East Africa’s Millennial Farmers

Awino Nyamolo from TechnoServe tells Farming First about how to harness the power of young people for Africa’s food future.

 

Growing up in Mbeya, Tanzania, Samson Makenda loved tomatoes, and when he took over a small plot of land as a young man, he thought he could make a living with the crop. He started growing tomatoes the way his neighbors always had, watering the plants by hand, and using the same seeds and fertilizers they did. But in the crowded local market, he struggled to sell what he harvested, earning just $40 per month.

Creating better economic opportunities for young people like Samson is of vital importance to Africa’s economies. Fewer than one-third of young people in Sub-Saharan Africa have a stable, wage-paying job, and the region will add 11 million new people to its workforce this year. Agriculture can play an important role in creating these opportunities, but only if young people are able to innovate, adopt new technologies, and test new models. To do that, they must be able to identify business opportunities, have confidence in themselves and their ideas, and access the finance and connections they need to put these ideas into practice.

The Strengthening Rural Youth Development through Enterprise (STRYDE) program, a partnership between the Mastercard Foundation and nonprofit organization TechnoServe, is helping to create those conditions. Through a combination of training on personal effectiveness, planning, and basic business skills, as well as tailored aftercare to provide young people with networks and practical skills, STRYDE is empowering thousands of young people across rural East Africa to find better economic opportunities.

Seeing the farm as a business

Many young people fail to recognize the business opportunities that surround them and are within reach, and to address this obstacle, the STRYDE program provides training to help rural youth see their family farms and other assets as a potential source of livelihood.

That lesson was transformational for Ndinagwe Mboya, another young person from Mbeya. Her family used to incubate chicken eggs for others, but the business was not particularly successful. After going through the STRYDE program, Ndinagwe came to recognize that there was an opportunity to build upon her family’s experience, however, and create something more successful. With $165 of seed funding she won through STRYDE’s business plan competition, she purchased eggs and started a business of raising chickens on her own.

“Before STRYDE nobody sought my advice on anything, not even my family. But today I am the go-to-person on matters poultry and incubation,” she said. With her earnings, Ndinagwe helps to pay her siblings’ school fees and is saving to attend university.

A toolbox for change

While young people are often familiar with new ideas and technologies, they face obstacles to adopting them. To take new ideas and make them a reality, as Ndinagwe did, young entrepreneurs need a toolbox for change: confidence, connections, and skills.  The STRYDE curriculum includes a section on personal effectiveness, which helps young people to chart their personal strengths and weaknesses, create a plan for their future, and practice interpersonal communication, generating confidence.

Mentorship and aftercare can help entrepreneurs to develop specialized agricultural skills and make important connections. Many ideas also require an investment—like Ndinagwe’s cash grant—to implement, so access to finance is an important factor.

After Samson graduated from the STRYDE program, he began to look around for opportunities to improve his tomato farm. He had noticed that someone had built a greenhouse in the region, and he began to study whether such a facility could help make his business more profitable. Many young people are constrained by a lack of land for farming, so greenhouses and vertical gardens can improve production. As Samson discovered, growing his tomatoes in controlled conditions could also help differentiate them from the other growers.

Samson went to work putting his plan into action. Even a low-cost greenhouse cost more money to build than he could finance himself, so he identified a successful local businessman who could become his partner in the venture. Samson was able to convince him to invest in the project, and together they built the greenhouse and implemented other technical improvements, like drip irrigation, the use of hybrid seeds, and a careful application of organic and chemical fertilizers. Samson’s tomato plants are more productive now, and the fruit has fewer defects and blemishes, so he is able to sell it easily to local markets, restaurants and hotels at premium prices. Now, he earns up to $300 per month.

“For people around here, this is new tech for them, so they want these tomatoes,” says Samson. He has diversified his earnings by launching a crop nursery business, as well.

Samson and Ndinagwe are just two of more than 48,000 young people benefiting from the STRYDE program. The program has shown that simple changes in how young people think about the opportunities around them and how to adopt innovation can make a big difference, and the average participant has seen their income increase by 133 percent.

But with Africa’s growing youth workforce, more work remains to be done. The STRYDE program has worked to build the capacity of vocational training centers, schools, prisons, and other institutions across East Africa to deliver the curriculum. Local partners like these will be critical in ensuring that more young people can recognize and seize opportunities for a better living.

 

AUG292018
Global Landscapes Forum: Nairobi

29th – 30th August

Nairobi, Kenya

Every year, Africa loses an estimated 2.8 million hectares of forest, with deforestation and land degradation seriously affecting its environment and people. The 2018 GLF Nairobi will help build and align international, national and private sector support for forest and landscape restoration, and will pave the way for turning this support into action. By bringing together actors from all backgrounds and sectors, the conference will spark a global conversation around Africa’s landscapes.

The 2018 GLF Nairobi will showcase and explore success stories and challenges across the continent and will foster political and community commitment to implement the AFR100 Initiative: restoring 100 million hectares of degraded landscapes across Africa by 2030.

Read more >> 

 

Hashtags: #ThinkLandscape, #glfnairobi2018

Agroecology in Action: Harnessing the Power of Orphan Crops

Howard-Yana Shapiro, Chief Agricultural Officer of Mars, writes on Farming First about how orphan crops can benefit African farmers and the wider world.

Africa has thus far missed out on having its own ‘green revolution’. One reason for this is that it has no large, homogenous ecosystem, such as India’s Deccan Plateau. Any approach to boost productivity and food security must fit Africa’s myriad, small and distinct ecosystems.

The term agroecology refers to using ecological processes in agriculture, and maintaining balanced and healthy ecosystems. Pursuing an agricultural revolution that makes use of African crops that are already adapted, already grown and eaten by local farmers, would therefore be a good place to start.

At the African Orphan Crops Consortium (AOCC) our goal is to improve these varieties –  “orphan” in that they have received very little scientific attention – so that they are more nutritious, higher yielding and hardier in the face of weeds, pests and the changing climate that is already altering Africa’s smallholder cropping systems. We do this by working to sequence the genomes of 101 of these important African orphan food crops and making the data publicly available, and training African scientists to make rapid improvements to them, benefitting smallholder farmers and consumers across the continent.

This plan was hatched back in 2011 by myself at Mars, Incorporated, Ibrahim Mayaki at the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, and Tony Simons, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). It quickly won the backing of the African Heads of State meeting at the African Union Assembly. Today the consortium contains 15 government organisations, scientific and agricultural bodies, universities, companies, regional organisations and NGOs, along with a network of 20 agricultural and horticultural organisations.

The AOCC’s African Plant Breeding Academy (AfPBA), based at ICRAF in Nairobi, will have trained 84 of its target 250 African plant scientists to work on the genome ‘maps’ by the end of 2018.

This approach could benefit the 600 million who constitute Africa’s rural population, most of whom grow much of their own food.

How does this relate to agroecology?

First, more than a quarter of the chosen species are trees, such as the baobab, the leaves of which contain twice as much calcium as spinach, three times the vitamin C of oranges and four times more potassium than a banana. Many of these tree crops are native to their ecosystems and provide other benefits, such as shade, water management and food for wildlife. Our work serves to preserve and improve these species, so they can continue to perform these important natural functions.

Second, many of the crops being sequenced have been in their given regions for a few centuries, are non-invasive and do not harm the local ecosystems. A cornerstone of agroecology is to maintain balance in ecosystems. Protecting and improving native crops will lead to increased diversity on farms, which will contribute to this goal.

Finally, using genetic interventions to make these crops more resilient and adaptable to a changing environment often means farmers need to apply fewer additional inputs to them in order to harvest a bumper crop.

Africa seems unable to get enough of the orphan crops approach. Two members of the 2017 class have started a continuing education program for MS-level scientists in their home country of Ethiopia.  Four graduates from West Africa are collaborating to raise funding for training more than 70 graduate students on breeding of orphan crops. Members of the 2017 class are establishing an African Plant Breeders Association to cover the whole continent.

The benefits of orphan crops

The AfPBA and its lab have some of the best sequencing equipment in the world, certainly the best in Africa. Students – and these students are already among the best plant scientists in their countries – can use the equipment, but graduates also continue to have access to it.

One great benefit of this approach to education is that it is either done locally by AfPBA graduates or in Nairobi. The plant scientists are not taken to Europe or the United States, only to stay and contribute to Africa’s brain drain.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) decided recently to join the consortium. This has led to an ambitious letter of intent between the two organizations. It calls upon the two to work together to assist FAO member countries to develop and implement appropriate policies, regulations and laws that facilitate the genetic improvement of orphan crops; to strengthen institutional and human capacities of FAO member countries activities for research and development, especially in molecular genetics, plant breeding and seed delivery systems, and to advocate for enhanced crop diversification, crop rotations, associations and crop sequencing in a way that orphan crops are integrated and can become part and parcel of sustainable cropping systems.

We believe this could help spread the benefits of orphan crops throughout the planet. Already there has been talk of a Chinese Orphan Crop Consortium and an Indian Orphan Crop Consortium.  

As The Economist’s science editor commented after a visit to our facility last year:

“Bananas, mangoes, pineapples and pawpaws are all tropical fruit that have gone global. If some of Africa’s orphan crops, suitably improved by genetic knowledge, were to follow suit, the benefits to African farmers would be huge.”

This future is within grasp, and can be done by harnessing the power of what nature already has to offer.

 

Farmers Need Long-Term and Short-Term Solutions to Combat Fall Armyworm in Kenya

Fall Armyworm has arrived in Kenya to stay, but while the government develops a long-term strategy, farmers need ready and accessible solutions now.

From a distance, Wycliffe Ngoda’s two acres of shiny green maize crops look healthy and lush. But the tell-tale holes in the leaves and debris on the stems give away an increasingly dangerous secret hidden in more and more maize fields across Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa. The rampant Fall Armyworm caterpillar is once again threatening harvests across the continent for a second year.

The pest, which arrived in Africa from the Americas in 2016, affected around 50,000 hectares of maize in Kenya alone last year, costing 25 per cent of the crop, according to government officials.

This year, the losses could be as high as 50 per cent, threatening Kenya’s food security and farmers’ economic security in a country where the average annual consumption of maize surpasses 100kg per person. Continue reading

Fishing for Market Opportunities in Nigeria

Fish farming is a huge industry in Nigeria, but smallholder farmers face several obstacles. Elisa Burrows, Partnership Manager at Fintrac, writes how offering financing for them can open up a world of opportunities.

In the Kano and Sagamu regions of Nigeria, suitable water resources and high market demand mean that aquaculture presents a profitable opportunity for smallholder farmers to expand their farming activities. Yet few farmers take advantage of this opportunity because they lack the technical knowledge fish farming requires and because there are few hatcheries that supply fish to small-scale farmers. To help change this, Chi Farms, a Nigeria-based livestock and aquaculture business, is working with smallholder farmers – primarily women – to develop this business opportunity.

The market opportunity for fish farming in Nigeria is huge. Nigerians consume nearly 2 million tons of fish per year, and the country’s growing population ensures demand will continue to boom. Demand far outweighs current national production, making it necessary to import fish from all over the world. However, in recent years the price of imported fish has increased significantly because of the devaluation of the Nigerian naira. Even though fish is a key ingredient in many Nigerian dishes and an important and efficiently produced source of protein (for every kilogram of fish feed, a kilogram of fish is produced), only half the fish consumed by Nigerians is sourced locally. To increase local production, Chi Farms is partnering with Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, a Fintrac-implemented USAID program that invests in private sector partnerships to commercialize agricultural innovations in smallholder markets, to increase Chi Farms’ capacity to supply fish to farmers and build teams of aquaculture specialists to provide extension services. Continue reading