Kathrin Demmler, Research Associate at Imperial College London and Malabo Montpellier Panel Continue reading
Ending hunger and ending food waste are both central to the aspirations of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the African Union’s AGENDA 2063 and the Malabo Declaration/AU regional priorities. The good news is we can tackle both simultaneously, argues Talentus Mthunzi from the Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN).
By Glen Engel-Cox on behalf of iDE.
“Now that we know how to do this, we will not let it out of our hands,” says Arra Merry, a traditional pastoralist in Ethiopia’s South Omo region. What has she learned how to do? Grow fodder (and the seeds for fodder) that enhances their ability to feed and fatten their livestock and earn an income in this extremely remote and poor location. In just a few years, Ara and her fodder-producing colleagues have enhanced their traditional way of life by learning how to use the Omo river to address drought through agricultural production. Continue reading
The potential for new technology to support African smallholders deserves greater attention, Toby Johnson, communications team leader at the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) writes.
Farmers worldwide are facing huge challenges to meet rising demand with increasingly scarce resources but this situation is most acute in Africa.
With the fastest growing population in the world, the continent’s ageing smallholders shoulder the burden to produce ever more food.
Meanwhile, Africa is also suffering the most extreme impacts of climate change, putting extra pressure on water and land.
But there is huge promise for new technologies and innovations to help improve productivity, profitability and sustainability for African smallholders and agripreneurs, and this should be higher on the international agenda.
Firstly, producing more food for a growing population will require more young people to enter agribusiness.
African leaders have committed themselves to creating new jobs for at least 30 per cent of the youth in agricultural value chains by 2025, but most young people have little or no interest in agriculture.
With the average age of farmers in Africa still at 55-60 years old, we must ask ourselves how we can transform the rural landscape and make it much more attractive for young people.
Digitalisation can provide a potentially profitable entry point for them, with the added benefits of boosting productivity, income, increased food and nutrition security.
Secondly, increasing productivity while using fewer resources in a changing climate will mean smallholders need to adopt smarter, more precise techniques.
The wealth of information now available to us through satellites, drones and artificial intelligence can help smallholders farm with greater efficiency and accuracy, making them more resilient to extreme conditions like droughts or flooding.
Yet while smallholders produce around 70 per cent of Africa’s food supplies, only 60 per cent of Africans have internet connections, limiting their access to key information and knowledge such as weather forecasts, market data and farming advice.
Finally, embracing digitalisation in Africa can help achieve broader development goals such as better incomes.
Digitalisation affords young entrepreneurs the opportunity to create disruptive business models, leapfrogging traditional stages of development while there are claims that leveraging technology to increase access to information could boost rural incomes by up to 60 per cent.
CTA, an EU-funded institution, works across Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific, to support the roll-out of new services and innovations using cutting edge technology.
This has included providing farmers with instant weather updates via SMS, or supporting them with satellite-gathered data and analysis to help guide decisions on fertiliser or pesticide use.
Over the last three years, CTA’s Pitch AgriHack challenge has also reached more than 800 young e-agriculture start-ups, providing training, mentoring and business development skills and seed funding. Several of the supported start-ups have grown into successful businesses serving close to one million smallholder producers
But there is an enormous amount of potential that requires collaboration between the public and private sector to unlock.
This was recognised at the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) in Berlin, which focused on “smart solutions for future farming”, with an emphasis on the opportunity of digitalisation.
The event, attended by agriculture ministers as well as private sector actors, was a great opportunity to bring together the parties that can scale up digitalisation to transform African agriculture.
From blockchain technology for greater transparency and efficiency, to artificial intelligence that automates information services, there are ever more exciting and emerging ways to equip smallholders to be more productive and more resilient.
I hope the dialogue at the GFFA helped to propel the mobilisation of young African innovators, entrepreneurs, investors and governments to capitalise on digitalisation’s potential.
Featured photo credit: USAID
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.
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.
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.