Put Soils First, African Soil Seminar concludes
For three days, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) was abuzz with stakeholders concerned about the state and fate of Africa’s soils. Over 150 government, UN and NGO officials, researchers, agricultural technology providers and human rights advocates were attending the first ever African Soils Seminar, 28 – 30 November 2016.
“Soils are the basis of our survival,” said the co-chair Wanjira Mathai, who directs wPOWER Hub and chairs the Green Belt Movement founded by her mother Nobel Laureate Professor Wangari Maathai.
“We cannot wait until we get more data on soils to improve lives.” said the other chair, ICRAF board member Alexander Müller of TMG ThinkTank. “I say yes to more science but we
need measures to improve things right away. There are no-regret activities like adding compost and addressing land tenure.”
The Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS Potsdam) from Germany and the governments of Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Kenya co-hosted the event, which had dozen other partners and sponsors, including NEPAD, FARNPAN, GIZ and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, BMZ.
The seminar, themed ‘Soil Restoration for achieving the 2063 and 2030 Agendas in Africa: Linking Global Ambitions to Local Needs,’ covered the gamut of topics related to soil – from restoration to carbon to land tenure.
Professor Florence Mtambanengwe set the scene. “Over 75% of Africans derive their incomes from the soil so we cannot talk sustainability if we fail to talk about soil,” said the Zimbabwean soil scientist. “From the geological perspective, African soils are problem soils with very low nutrient capital. You have to work them very hard to produce. And population density increases degradation. If you have little land, rotating staple crops and legumes might be a farfetched idea.”
“Climate variability is speeding up soil degradation,” said Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock, Hon. Willy Bett. “But on the positive side, there is a growing interest in soil testing in the country and by law, every farmer must maintain 10% tree cover on their land.”
“It is important for governments to allocate money to soil improvement in national budgets,” said FARNPAN’s Sithembile Mwamakamba.
“To date, 21 African countries have committed to restoring 63 million hectares by 2030 under the African Landscape Restoration Initiative, AFR1000. The goal is to restore at least 100 million hectares,” said NEPAD’s Mamadou Diakhité.
The first session on “Soil carbon for climate and development: prioritizing small holder food security” zeroed in on the “triple win” – how soil restoration can simultaneously increase food production, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by capturing carbon, and help communities adapt to climate change. Noting that SDG 15 (Life on Land) recognizes soil as the basis of food production on land, one participant said maintaining soil carbon is “an important strategy for a well-functioning soil ecosystem.”
A session on governance called for reforms to land tenure systems in Africa. Simon Bodea from Benin described weak land rights as a barrier to the adoption of soil-improvement techniques such as leaving the roots of legumes in the soil after harvest. Less than 7% of farmers do this. “I assure you that the moment farmers have rights to the land, the constraints to adoption will diminish,” said the leader of Synergie Paysanne.
Delegates observed that women and the poorest generally have the least fertile land. McBride Nkhalamba from African Peer Review Mechanism said, “How land is managed depends on who owns it and for what purposes.” Several called for women-friendly strategies for soil restoration.
In a session on finance, Clarisse Aduma from Kenya Commercial Bank said that just 3% of loans go to agriculture in East Africa. She runs a MasterCard project to offer financial inclusion to two million farmers in Kenya and Rwanda.
Pushpar Kumar, UNEP’s chief economist for ecosystems, said investing in soils made great economic sense but was neglected. “The benefit cost ratio is extremely high. The avoided loss is the benefit: 97% of food comes landscape farming but nobody is willing to pump in the money.” Christian Witt of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation noted that oftentimes “The problem is not money but the business case.”
Leigh Winowiecki, ICRAF soil scientist, pointed out the need “to consider the social and ecological drivers of degradation, and develop site-specific restoration technologies,” while ICRAF’s Deputy Director-General Ravi Prabhu observed that “a lot of the degradation we see results from energy poverty”. Commenting on this, Bernard Crabbe of the European Union described an EU-funded agroforestry project on sustainable charcoal for Kinshasa, DRC.
Many participants felt confident positive strides were being made. “Soil restoration is a subset of sustainable land management,” said Habtamu Hailu, coordinator of Ethiopia’s SLM programme, a world best practice. And NGO leader, Paul Okong’o described decades of promoting nitrogen fixing shrubs in Western Kenya. “Oh they do improve soils. They provide organic matter so the water content becomes higher than when you started. Soil fertility goes up, and the hardpan gets broken by their roots!”
Still, many others felt that they were at the start of a long and complex journey. “What are the conditions overall needed to increase the natural capital of the soil?” asked Carolin Sperk of IASS. “And how best can we share the risks so that farmers do not have to carry them alone?”
The landmark meeting culminated in a communiqué from the four host governments, which called for “soil restoration that supports inclusive agricultural growth that focuses on the needs of the poor and the food-insecure.” It also called for increased investments in soil rehabilitation, acknowledging that smallholders already make significant investments on their land.
The African Soil Seminar was conceived by African stakeholders at the Global Soil Week 2015, who expressed strong interest in creating a regional African platform for sustainable soil and land management.
Download Statement by Co-hosts at: http://globalsoilweek.org/outcomes
See related story and photos: http://www.iisd.ca/soil/african-seminar/
The event was co-hosted by:
Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Benin
Ministry of Agriculture and Water Development, Burkina Faso
Ministry for Agriculture and Natural Resource Development, Ethiopia
NEPAD agency and
Ministry for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Kenya.
GIZ; World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF); FANRPAN; Network of African National Human Rights Institutes; TMG- Think Tank for Sustainability; and the IASS Potsdam.
Financial support for the event was offered by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation.
For more information, contact:
Leigh Winowiecki at ICRAF: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jes Weigelt at IASS: email@example.com