By Harriet James
Lessons from #GLFAfrica Digital Conference 2021
It is estimated that nearly 230 million hectares of land in sub-Saharan Africa are degraded, resulting in a lack of grazing lands, low land productivity, poor and variable biomass production, and lack of crop resilience to climate extremes. Extensive forest areas have been converted into agricultural lands and are more so driven by the expansion of crop-livestock farming. The grazing pressure, low input of nutrients with social and climatic changes eventually result in degraded landscapes. This means that landscape restoration must be a priority if we are to secure future food supplies and protect high carbon and high biodiversity ecosystems across East Africa.
“Science-based evidences have clearly indicated that there is enormous potential for land restoration. There is a lot of benefits that come from this which include food and nutrition security, water and energy security e.g. bioenergy but also ecosystem health and services, biodiversity conservation and many others,” explained Stefan Uhlenbrook program manager CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land, and Ecosystems (WLE), IWMI in the #GLFAfrica Digital Conference.
Scientists, researchers, conservationists, and environmentalists from all over the world came together to discuss ways of restoring the degraded landscapes in the GLF Africa Digital Conference; Restoring Africa’s Drylands. Despite the many benefits of land restoration, the critical role of landscape restoration is climate change mitigation. They further stated that equitable outcomes of restoration require more than technology and biophysical scientists.
“It goes beyond the technical approaches, and we need to address gender equality, land tenure but also integrate local knowledge and consider the social, historical, and political context in the areas we are working with. Without understanding or addressing that will affect the planning and the implementation of measures that are critical for reevaluating the restoration efforts,” notes Stefan.
Stefan adds that researchers at WLE have developed tools and methods that assist in monitoring the restoration progress, help in supporting decision making and landscape restoration, which is complex as it needs different stakeholders in the co-design process.
Marcela Quintero Director, Agroecosystems and Sustainable Landscapes Research
Biodiversity-CIAT shared six lessons that can assist the continent in land restoration.
The first one is the power of information to catalyze restoration actions in Africa.
“Some partners and funders have made a tremendous investment in developing, consolidating of soil information. Why soil? For long-lasting restoration offers, we need to sustain jobs on healthy soils. They made information tools for restoration practitioners. For instance, they have made available the global soil data manager with hundreds of users already there. They also supported the African soil information system project that includes the soil health on the surveillance system,” she explains.
Currently, Agroecosystems and Sustainable Landscapes Research Biodiversity-CIAT has approximately 17 countries using the technology.
Marcela’s second lesson is the significance of scientific evidence in supporting investment cases in soil health restoration. About 65% of agricultural land in Africa is degraded due to poor management practices, which further brings the degradation of land.
“Restoration of soil assists in enhancing the provision of ecosystem services including restoration of water flows, changes in soil biodiversity, and greenhouse gases which are important at local regional and global levels. The importance of soil health goes beyond just having a bumper harvest. Three is science-based research to improve the exiting guidelines to better match land restorations options which better match land restoration options with specific desired ecosystem functions and services,” she says.
She gives an example of Ethiopia, a country where they are finalizing the development of a landscape doctor toolbox. This tool assists in matching different restoration projects with different types of benefits depending on the benefits the stakeholders want to maximize, like soil erosion, water flows, and others. There is also monitoring landscape restoration, from field to lab to space. ICRAF has supported 31 labs in 19 countries and collected 300,000 soil data are from Africa. Last but not least is science has to catalyze policy formulation.
“One of the projects that ICRAF supports is the land degradation neutrality target of the UNCCD through the science-policy interface. We also need policy change to amplify the voice of science. For instance, in Ethiopia, soil degradation and uncertain climatic conditions are threatening the smallholders across the countries. This means that Ethiopia, a society that is agriculturally based, is struggling to produce food for a quickly growing population. Agriculture is the less digitalized sector in the country, and also soil and agronomy data in a different organization that has worked in the country for many years is not ready to be used. With the ministry of agriculture, they established a soil and agronomy data sharing policy, and now they have a group of organizations that are working on developing digital information systems to support more soil management and restore the soils in Ethiopia that are key for feeding their ground population,” she explains.
One of the challenges of land restoration is that most funding is used for production, inputs, subsidies regulation but not often for the agenda of regulation and, in fact, the
For instance, while the Maputo Declaration is remembered mostly for its commitment to allocating at least 10% of national budgetary resources to agriculture to achieve 6% growth of the agriculture economy, none of it goes to land restoration.
“There is also a limited long-term trial in restoring the landscapes. The ones that are there are more agronomic in nature, or some are studies in the natural environment or protected areas, but there is very limited monitoring in an agricultural landscape. Livelihoods too are usually not connected to the restoration agenda either, so the restoration needs too to be connected to social science,” says Anthony Whitbread Research Program Director, Innovation Systems for the Drylands and Country Representative, Tanzania.
Harriet James is a features journalist, travel and conservation enthusiast.
Highlights from Day 1 of the conference Rangelands Conservation- GLF Africa Digital Conference 2021