Scientists Discuss Strategies for Sustainably Transforming Africa’s Agricultural Landscapes in AGRA webinar

The second part of a three-part web series on sustainable farming brought together over 300 participants from around the world to discuss issues around experiences and approaches that have been tested by different development partners in the area of agro-ecology and regenerative agriculture, sustainable intensification and sustainable farming.

Moderated by Aggie Konde, the VP of Program Innovation and Delivery at AGRA, the session’s theme was “Sustainable Farming: Transforming Africa’s Landscapes and Livelihoods”.

The keynote speech was made by Dr. Tilahun Amede, AGRA’s Head of Resilience, Climate & Soil Fertility, who brought out the urgency for players in Sub-Saharan Africa’s agriculture sector to focus on resilience and adaptation and highlighted key approaches tested at farm and landscape scales in various parts of Africa.

In his presentation, Dr. Amede cited decreasing water budgets, recurrent risks of drought, reducing primary productivity and increasing food insecurity as the key trends, which calls for an urgent action in the creation of resilient agricultural and food systems.

“We are facing an increasing risk of climate change and now have an urgent need for adaptation, mitigation and resilience. We also cannot maintain the yield gains we had in past decades without adequate resource management,” he said.

“On the other hand, evidence shows that the improved management of agricultural landscapes could play multiple roles of carbon sequestration, enhancing productivity and profitability,” he added.

Dr. Gete Zeleke, the Director of the Water and Land Resource Center at the Addis Ababa University, highlighted experiences from the Ethiopian highlands showing how sustainable agricultural practices could transform unproductive land into one yielding major outputs and ecosystem services.

Notably, Dr. Zeleke showed how the use of Integrated Watershed Management (IWM) could lead to a reduction of soil erosion, extension of the base flow of streams during the dry season, increase of biomass, better land productivity and the general improvement of people’s lives.

On which point Dr. Zeleke showed how IWM technologies changed barren crop-less land in rural Ethiopia into a lush-green asset, for high yields of food and fodder crops, all in just three years.

“Converting barren homesteads into high-productive agroforestry areas, increased household income and encouraged farmers to keep the land management structures sustainable,” he said.

Dr. Hezron Mogaka, a lecturer in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension at Kenya’s University of Embu, noted that the adoption of agricultural technologies like IWM, would drive a complete food system transformation, and resilience to climate change but only if implemented at a larger scale.

Underscoring experiences from East Africa, Dr. Mogaka outlined the five outcomes of a desirable and sustainable agricultural systems as: Enhancing national productivity; boosting private sector participation; opening up new premium markets; the provision of incentives and for the elimination of environmentally harmful subsidies, and reducing the risks of shocks to negative growth.

To achieve the aforementioned outcomes, Dr. Mogaka fronted an integrated agricultural transformation approach that includes investments in soil health management, soil moisture management, social capital development, weather-based advisories and market-oriented production and value addition.

Dr. Moumini Savadogo, the Executive Director of the West African Science Service Centre on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use (WASCAL) reiterated the importance of science and research in the development of resilient agricultural structures.

“A science-led and evidence-based approach towards smart policies, innovations and practices is important for devising options for climate change adaption, mitigation and resilience to harness the core-benefits of smart actions,” he said.

Other panelist, Charles Karangwa, the Africa Lead for Forests, Landscapes and Livelihoods Programme for Africa at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), focused on the interconnection between government and private sector in securing nature-based assets.

He particularly lauded the AFR100 project, a Pan-African, country-led effort to bring 100 million hectares of land across Africa into restoration by 2030. The AFR100 initiative has already secured the commitment of 31 African governments to restore 128 million hectares of land through USD1bn in development finance and a USD481mn private sector commitment.

To drive the objectives of such partnerships as AFR100 forward, Nico Janssen, the Programme Manager of Agricultural Livelihoods at the IKEA Foundation, proposed investments in research, finance and policy in regenerative agriculture by governments, businesses and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

“Governments should provide incentives to mainstream nature-positive agriculture, while financial institutions must integrate nature-related considerations into their investments. This is as the civil society continues its critical role of raising awareness towards a support for farmers who practice regenerative agriculture,” he said.

Dr. Dave Watson, a Livelihoods Adviser at the UK’s Department for International Development gave a big-picture overview of global food situation noting that “our food systems is failing us” by threatening food and nutrition security, social justice and natural resources. He, however, noted that the situation could be salvaged by prioritizing action that leads to increase in yields, grassroots autonomy and a reduction of the ‘food print’ on the environment.

“For Africa,” he said, “the key drivers of change are its increasing population growth, increased urbanization, climate change and the financialization of the food system.”

Concluding the webinar, Tom Owino, a lecturer in the Department of Crops, Horticulture and Soil lecturer at Kenya’s Egerton University, said that the development of resilient food systems requires the participation of all stakeholders in developing of programs that promote innovation and sustainable growth.

Ms Aggie Konde emphasized the engagement of AGRA in facilitating market incentives and in creating a platform to bring our experiences together and reach out to our millions of small scale farmers in Africa with integrated resources management solutions.

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