By Susan Onyango and Leigh Winowiecki

Delegates at Global Soil Week 2019 push for effective land governance, local governance structures, extension services and finance and markets to ensure sustainable and climate resilient agriculture.  

For Africa’s development agenda to succeed, enabling environments are needed that encourage inclusive and sustainable rural development, with special attention and dedication to the climate crisis. Inclusive investments in sustainable land management will ensure food security for smallholders. This will be made possible if land governance, local governance structures, extension services and finance and markets work for the good of smallholders. That was the message from Global Soil Week 2019 held at World Agroforestry (ICRAF) headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, from 27–30 May 2019.

The goal of Global Soil Week 2019 was to contribute to creating enabling environments for sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture in Africa that will lead to food security for smallholders, investments in the sector, small-scale investments in locally driven learning and innovation processes, and dialogue at regional, national and local levels.

Global Soil Week 2019, which had the theme, Enabling Environments for Sustainable and Climate Resilient Agriculture, brought together over 200 development practitioners, researchers, farmers and government officials from Africa and Asia. The conference started with technical sessions, rooted in active, on-the-ground case studies that identified key elements needed to build an enabling environment to achieve the SDGs and global climate targets at local and global scales.  Participants shared experience from projects on women’s participation in sustainable land management and decision making, inclusion of smallholders in markets, strategic partnerships across development actors and scientific institutes, the need for evidence-based decision making and, most urgently, the mechanisms for implementing global initiatives at local levels.

TMG Research identified 16 cases that highlighted activities toward sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture, from community-centered conservation agriculture in Zambia led by WWF through ApisAgribusiness in Ethiopia led by Rare and IFOAM to Regreening Africa in the Sahel led by ICRAF. These case studies were presented, discussed and debated in interactive fora with cross-sectoral, interdisciplinary experts who prepared key recommendations.

Following the technical session was a two-day, high-level segment in which representatives of governments and development institutions from Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Kenya and Madagascar called for urgent attention to what has become a climate crisis.

‘There are opportunities for creating an enabling environment for sustainable agriculture in Africa’, said Alice Kaudia, a facilitator of the event. ‘These include land governance, extension services, local governance and markets. However, there is a missing middle. We need functioning institutions at the ground level that can translate the global commitments on the SDGs and climate change into practical actions that can transform lives.’

It was noted that despite the role of soil as a life-support system, including protecting biodiversity and storing carbon, it does not receive the attention it deserves. Global Soil Week was started in 2012 as a platform to bring together a diverse range of people to initiate and strengthen policies and actions on sustainable soil management and responsible land governance.

‘Soil is the basis of our life’, said Alexander Muller of TMG Think Tank and board member of ICRAF. ‘Without healthy soil we will not be able to tackle the three main challenges we are facing in the world today: hunger, climate change and biodiversity loss. We need to make soil part of the solution because soil management is part of the problem’.

Agriculture and rural development are the foundation of most economies in Africa. However, agricultural production on the continent is hampered by land degradation and poor soil fertility. Therefore, we can only improve food security and improve livelihoods by restoring degraded land and returning it to sustainable tree, crop and livestock production.

‘Call it soil if you like but Global Soil Week is about people’s livelihoods from the land, about how land is best governed and managed, and about how we can sustainably profit from the land,’ said Tony Simons, director-general of ICRAF. ‘Soils are complex mixtures of minerals, water, organic matter and organisms. To solve their complex problems, we need complex mixtures of partners and solutions to protect, improve and benefit from them’.

Speakers made recommendations on actions to transform Africa’s agriculture, including translating scientific analysis into action, strengthening rural management, reviewing legislation from the bottom up, to replicate and scale up successes in sustainable land management, establishing flagship projects on land restoration and strengthening extension services. They also highlighted actions currently underway by governments, including enabling policies and structures for sustainable land management, initiatives for climate-resilient agriculture, insurance schemes, fertilizer subsidies and rainwater harvesting. Also emphasized was the need to link discussions at international level to local level and root them in soil. It was noted that the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development(BMZ) has established programmes to improve food security while protecting the environment.

In closing, speakers from Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, BMZ, United Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), African Union and the Government of Kenya highlighted key issues in the transformation of agriculture and rural development. The role of women in sustainable land management and agriculture was one. Others included incorporating youth in agriculture and value chains, linking soils to business, incorporating youth and creating local ownership of processes to improve production.

‘Climate change is impacting food security’, said Martin Frick, senior director for Policy and Programme Coordination at UNFCCC. ‘Climate-resilient agriculture has a carbon benefit that should reach farmers. I have just learned today of the incredible capacity of ICRAF to monitor and map soil organic carbon at relevant spatial scales. This advancement in technology can help link farmers to the carbon market’.

‘Findings of fora such as Global Soil Week should find their way into policy making so that the urgency can permeate and for right decisions’, said Hamadi Boga, principal secretary, Ministry of Agriculture in Kenya. ‘If we have to transform agriculture in Kenya, we have to deal with soil, data and resilience. We need to work with other Government ministries and development partners to find lasting solutions to soil issues and food security.’


Global Soil Week 2019 was supported by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development and implemented by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, TMG Think Tank and World Agroforestry.


 Also see

Global Soil Week website

GSW Bulletin by IISD


Originally published on World Agroforestry website.