5 December 2016
African Soil Seminar Discusses Follow Up and Review of Sustainable Development Agendas
UN Photo/JC McIlwaine
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The inaugural African Soil Seminar issued a call for scaling up soil and land restoration that supports inclusive agricultural growth and is focused on the needs of the poor and food insecure.

The Seminar produced two key outputs, a ‘Co-Hosts Statement’ and 'Chairs’ Conclusions'.

The Seminar featured a number of presentations and projects addressing, inter alia, local, country and regional experiences and best practices, action on land degradation neutrality, and the role of partnerships, youth and gender in land restoration.

1 December 2016: The inaugural African Soil Seminar issued a call for scaling up soil and land restoration that supports inclusive agricultural growth and is focused on the needs of the poor and food insecure. The Seminar produced two key outputs, a ‘Co-Hosts Statement’ and ‘Chairs’ Conclusions.’

The Statement and the Conclusions will feed into the Global Soil Week 2017 and provide inputs to the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development(HLPF), scheduled to convene in July 2017.

Convened at the request of African stakeholders attending Global Soil Week 2015, the African Soil Seminar took place in Nairobi, Kenya, from 28-30 November 2016 and considered monitoring and follow up and review mechanisms in relation to various national, regional and global frameworks, including the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, the African Union’s 2063 Agenda, ‘The Future We Want for Africa,’ and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

In opening remarks, Co-Chair Wanjira Mathai, Director, wPower Hub at Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies, Kenya, lamented the low profile of soil issues, recalling the Guardian columnist George Monbiot’s warning that “we are making a fatal mistake by treating soil like dirt.” Co-Chair Alexander Müller, Managing Director, TMG – ThinkTank for Sustainability, said the discussions would demonstrate that: without healthy soils there will be no sustainable development; food security cannot be achieved without focusing on the land rights of the most vulnerable; and all countries in the world face soil challenges, which necessitates action at global and local levels.

Plenary and break-out discussions, as well as poster sessions and a “marketplace” of sustainable land management (SLM) technologies highlighted how to enable the “triple wins” of climate change mitigation, adaptation and food security, including through: agro-ecology techniques; planting climate-resilient crops that increase soil biomass; and increased use of renewable energy, especially in dryland areas.

Plenary and break-out discussions, as well as poster sessions and a “marketplace” of sustainable land management (SLM) technologies highlighted how to enable the “triple wins” of climate change mitigation, adaptation and food security.

Ethiopia’s experiences in boosting soil productivity and promoting SLM and water conservation practices at the landscape level – covering an initial land area of 20.17 million hectares, with an additional 7.1 million hectares to be added by 2020 – was cited as a best practice at the national level. Tefera Solomon, Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources in Ethiopia, outlined some of the intervention areas including: conducting digital soil surveys and soil fertility mapping in more than 600 districts; establishing soil testing facilities for small-scale farmers; commissioning 10 blending factories to produce custom-made fertilizers; and finalizing more than 60,000 community watershed plans, about 55% of the 2020 target. Tekalign Mamo, Agricultural Transformation Agency of Ethiopia, called for a regional soil fertility mapping initiative to enable African countries to develop guidelines for appropriate local use, as well as to support the scaling up of fertilizers to enhance agricultural productivity.

Various farm-level studies, such as an Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) Initiative cost-benefit analysis of the application of diverse SLM practices by small-scale farmers in Western Kenya were highlighted to show that it pays to invest in soil restoration. The discussions also showcased the World Bank-supported Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project, which successfully monitored the climate benefits of Sustainable Agriculture Land Management (SALM) practices at the farm level, enabling more than 60,000 small-scale farmers in Western Kenya to earn carbon credits. Participants called for the lessons learned from these and other practical experiences to be used to inform indicators for Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 15.3 on land degradation neutrality (LDN) or the “4 per 1000” under the Lima-Paris Action Agenda of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Highlighting efforts at the continental level, Mamadou Diakhite, NEPAD Agency, discussed the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), which seeks to restore 100 million degraded hectares of land by 2030, and reported that 21 countries so far have made high-level commitments, amounting to 63% of the overall target.

Gender and youth perspectives were another key theme at the meeting, with Florence Mtambanengwe, soil scientist at the University of Zimbabwe, pointing out that small-scale agricultural production in Africa is carried out primarily by women farmers who struggle with “problem soils” containing very low nutrient capital. Stressing that most soil restoration practices are labor intensive, she posed the question, “who is doing the carrying?” Related discussions noted that despite producing most of Africa’s food, women often lack the rights to manage land and welcomed progress made to reform land tenure law in countries such as Benin and Burkina Faso. In the past, it was noted, women in the Sahel often faced a dilemma as they were traditionally allocated the most degraded land and would often lose it to landlords or spouses once they had successfully restored it.

YFarm, a programme promoting youth-led farms and agribusinesses, was presented as an example of how to draw on youth’s energy and creativity, with participants calling for increased capacity building and mentoring programmes, for young men and women and improved access to research and technology. Discussing some emerging issues, Ivonne Lobos Alva, Global Soil Forum at IASS, further noted the importance of integrating young people’s visions, especially on such issues as food waste recycling, organic production and distribution, and urban transformation.

With regard to the catalytic role of public sources to promote soil rehabilitation initiatives that benefit food-insecure farmers, Carolin Sperk, Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS Potsdam), said current environment financing and accounting systems are not designed to capture the complexity of soil restoration and called for public funds to be used to incent bankable models for sustainable agriculture. Describing India’s experience, T.S Mohan, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), India, stated that the Bank provides working capital for both on- and off-farm investments such as terracing, land leveling, bio fertilizers and pesticides, and said this is becoming feasible for finance institutions. He also presented examples of soft loans to farmers as a model of “patient capital.”

Offering a private sector perspective, Clarisse Aduma, Agri-Business Development Manager with a KCB Group in Kenya reported how the Bank is learning to listen better to farmers and has adopted human design methodologies to consult smallholder farmers directly and develop financial products that meet their needs. She noted that the opportunity to integrate such products as these with accessible new technologies, describing a new collaboration with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and the Mastercard Foundation to reach two million farmers in Kenya and Rwanda through mobile-based banking services, such as Kenya’s M-Pesa platform.

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) highlighted ongoing efforts to leverage private funding for large-scale land restoration, through the newly launched LDN Fund, a public-private funding mechanism. Simone Quatrini, Global Mechanism of the UNCCD, said more than 100 countries so far have received support to develop their land degradation neutrality (LDN) targets. On the types of initiatives that could be eligible for support by the LDN fund, Quatrini identified sustainable agriculture initiatives such as cocoa renovation and rehabilitation, linking cattle production to pasture restoration, sustainable charcoal production and green infrastructure in urban areas.

One of the latest countries to embark on its LDN target-setting process is Sierra Leone, for which the launch event underscored the impact of land degradation in curtailing farming productivity due to the loss of soil nutrients. During the launch on 23 November 2016 in Freetown, Sierra Leone, the UNCCD’s National Reporting Officer for the Ministry of Lands, Lahai Keita, reported that the country-driven process aims to monitor changing climatic patterns, and address the issues of food security, income equality, poverty reduction and job creation. A unique aspect will be a revegetation programme that bringing together mining and agricultural stakeholders, which was proposed by the Sierra Leone National Federation of Farmers.

The African Soil Seminar took place at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Nairobi, Kenya, from 28-30 November 2016. It was co-hosted by the Governments of Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Kenya along with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Agency. It was convened by GIZ, TMG – ThinkTank for Sustainability, the Groupe de Recherche et d’Action sur le Foncier (GRAF), the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), the Network of African National Human Rights Institutes (NANHRI), the Global Soil Forum at IASS Potsdam, and the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), with support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. ICRAF is a member of the CGIAR Consortium. [ICRAF Blog Post] [IISD RS Summary Report] [IISD RS Coverage of the African Soil Seminar] [Global Mechanism Press Release on Sierra Leone LDN Launch] [UNCCD LDN Target-Setting Programme]

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