The One Planet Fellowship, a $20 million initiative dedicated to supporting research on climate change adaptation, is an academic mentoring scheme which aims to support Africa’s smallholder farmers in adapting to a changing climate.
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.