HARARE, Zimbabwe (CIMMYT) – Delegates at a conference in June called for a new focus and increase in investment to ensure eastern and southern Africa’s farming systems can withstand the impacts of climate change.
Africa is likely to be the continent most vulnerable to climate change, according to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Smallholders produce around 80 percent of all food in sub-Saharan Africa, and rely primarily on rainfall for irrigation – a source that is becoming scarcer and unpredictable under climate change. Farming is also often practiced in marginal areas like flood plains or hillsides, where increasing and more intense weather shocks cause severe damage to soil and crops.
Tanzania’s Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives Charles Tizeba said during a conference on the future of the Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume Based Cropping Systems for Food Security in Eastern and Southern Africa (SIMLESA) project, an initiative led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).
Maize-legume cropping systems have found a niche market among rural Mozambican farmers, thanks to good agricultural practices made possible by the SIMLESA program in the Manica province of the country.
Cowpeas are becoming increasingly more reliable as both a food and cash crop in the province with both high nutritional content beneficial for household consumption and a strong local market demand. SIMLESA program is working with farmers to change the country’s reliance on monoculture by promoting crop diversification as part of its broader agricultural technical package. The practice calls for farmers to plant a variety of crops, including cowpeas. The approach is beginning to take hold, with program clients adopting it.
By Johnson Siamachira
Eastern and Southern African countries need to formulate and implement appropriate policies to help smallholder farmers access technologies that will enable them to increase farm yields and improve crop resilience and nutrition to address poverty, food security, and economic growth, renowned Zimbabwean agricultural economist and academic, Mandivamba Rukuni told a high-level policy forum.
Delivering the keynote address at the SIMLESA policy forum co-organized by CIMMYT and the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) in Entebbe, Uganda, on 27–28 October, Rukuni said this can only be achieved through a dramatic shift to help smallholder farmers produce sufficient food for themselves, plus generate income. “Such technologies include improved seed varieties and fertilizers, and better infrastructure, such as roads and small-scale irrigation,’’ said Rukuni. SIMLESA is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and implemented by CIMMYT.
The forum, whose theme was “Mobilizing policy action to scale-up best agricultural practices,” was attended by the ministers for agriculture of Kenya (represented by Jacinta Ngwiri), Mozambique (Feliciano Mazuze), Rwanda (Charles Murekezi), Tanzania (Hussein Mansoor), and Uganda (Ambrose Agona).
Five challenges that stand in the way of wide-scale adoption of sustainable intensification and policy options were the subject of discussion: sustainable intensification of maize and legume production and livestock integration; building on social capital for collective action; facilitating access to key farm inputs; removing barriers to border trade; and containing maize lethal necrosis: current knowledge.
Fifty people participated, including researchers from CIMMYT, national agricultural research systems (NARS), ACIAR, international and regional non-governmental organizations, farmer associations, and private companies. The ministers pledged to support sustainable agricultural intensification and concurred that enhancing access to markets, extension services, and inputs is a fundamental policy issue that must be urgently addressed so farmers can reap more benefits from agriculture.
High on the agenda was formulating policies that would shape an agricultural market estimated to be worth billions of dollars. At the end of the two-day forum, the ministers acknowledged in a joint communiqué that the market faces many operational challenges. They also pledged to influence their governments to establish sound policies backed by evidence from agricultural research.
This means empowering the smallholder farmers by giving them access to finance, better seeds and fertile soil, effective extension services, reliable markets, and supportive policies. Policymakers, the communique continued, can boost Eastern and Southern Africa’s agricultural development by removing hurdles that limit the productivity of women farmers relative to men. The five ministers pledged to support the establishment and implementation of effective, research-backed policies.
The representatives of the agriculture ministers expressed a continued commitment to the region’s smallholder farmers including pushing for further progress under the African Union (AU)’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme. Launched 11 years ago by the AU in Maputo, Mozambique, and approved by African governments, the program calls on these governments to commit at least 10% of their annual national budgets to agriculture and reach 6% annual agricultural growth by 2015.
According to B.M. Prasanna, Director of the CGIAR Research Program MAIZE and CIMMYT’s Global Maize Program, gone are the days when agricultural production in developing countries depended on multinational organizations. “Agriculture in Eastern and Southern Africa continues to underperform because it is not giving farmers enough yield to feed themselves and get more to take to market,’’ he told a media briefing parallel to the forum.
In Eastern and Southern Africa, only 5% of land is under irrigation, while 60% of Asia’s agricultural land is irrigated. Improved seed varieties are not widely used in the region and only 40% of its overall yield potential is realized, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
However, there has been some progress. A few countries such as Ethiopia and Rwanda, for example, have managed to expand their agricultural sectors. They have witnessed a huge decrease in poverty, with Ethiopia reducing poverty rates by 49%. Ethiopia is investing more than 10% of its national budget in agriculture, in line with the Maputo Declaration of 2003.
SIMLESA project leader Mulugetta Mekuria urged researchers and socioeconomists to provide policymakers with factual information to facilitate the establishment of sound policies. By forging strategic, well-formulated partnerships, the region’s smallholder farms stand to succeed as businesses connected to lucrative local, regional, and global markets.
But there are many obstacles along the way. For example, half of the region’s population lives in extreme poverty, and more than 60% lives in remote rural areas where agriculture is the main economic activity. This is unlikely to change any time soon, strengthening the case for effective policies that will improve their lives.
Moreover, the projection is that between 2012 and 2050, the population in most sub-Saharan Africa will more than double, to 11.3 times its 1950 level. Research by the FAO shows that growth in sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural sector reduces poverty 11 times more effectively than growth in other sectors.
Mekuria said food production was being hampered by climate change and called for agricultural technologies to help farmers adapt and cope with climate change impacts such as frequent droughts. At the media briefing, Mekuria explained that research results and tools aside, what was lacking was the political will and commitment to transform and make agriculture more productive and more resilient to climate change, thereby increasing food security.
On 16-31 October 2015, the Sustainable Intensification of Maize and Legume Systems for Food Security in Eastern and Southern Africa (SIMLESA) project undertook a two-week long Mid-Term Review (MTR) of its agricultural research and development activities on station and on farm. SIMLESA undertook this review to assess project performance and recommend actions to refine activities. The last MTR was carried out in 2012.
To wrap up the review, a two-day meeting was held with the participation of 40 people, including representatives from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the national agricultural research systems (NARS) of Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Kenya, and Tanzania, and CIMMYT scientists from Ethiopia, Kenya, and Zimbabwe.
The primary objective of the SIMLESA project is to improve food security for 650,000 small farming households by increasing food production and household incomes of vulnerable but commercially viable farmers by 2023.
A five-member team from ACIAR, SIMLESA’s funding institution, assessed the different maize-legume and forage/fodder production systems in the project’s core countries of Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, and Tanzania, and one spillover country, Uganda. The team also analyzed reports and presentations from Mozambique, and SIMLESA spillover countries of Botswana and Rwanda.
At the meeting held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 31 October, the entire MTR team acknowledged that CA-based maize-legume cropping systems are a highly relevant intervention to reduce smallholder farmers’ vulnerability and food insecurity.
MTR team leader Bruce Pengelly said SIMLESA’s second phase would enable the project to better support regional activities, and would place it more strategically among government, non-governmental, and development partners. His advice to SIMLESA participants: “It may not be in your best interest to embark on new, demanding work now…this is the consolidation phase where you are expected to enhance planned activities.”
SIMLESA Project Steering Committee co-chair Eric Craswell said, “Showcasing our program of work remains a significant challenge. This can be overcome through programs that demonstrate the values of agricultural research and development through the use of maize-legume cropping systems, and help us share lessons learned, and experiences gained.”
Project leader Mulugetta Mekuria stressed that “While taking stock and celebrating our many successes, we are aware that there are still major challenges to be overcome. We will achieve our targets if relevant stakeholders work together for a common goal.”
Overall, the on-farm exploratory and on-station research trials implemented during the first phase (2010-2014) demonstrated useful technologies that were adopted by farmers. However, the concerted efforts of research institutions and the continued training of government extension workers are critical for SIMLESA’s long-term impact in the second phase (2014-2018). Another challenge is building a strong monitoring and evaluation framework, development outreach and communications, and mainstreaming gender into the way NARS plan and think.
According to adoption monitoring studies, over 46,000 farmers across SIMLESA sites adopted CA and improved maize-legume technologies in 2013. As a result of on-farm exploratory trials, by 2014, over 68% of host farmers were using two or more of these technologies in Mozambique. Across the six SIMLESA districts in Malawi, use of CA technologies increased from an average of 4% during the baseline year to 38% in 2013. This year, the project reached out to a total of 173,533 farmers, compared to the target of 143,607, accounting for a 21% increase in the number of farmers.
SIMLESA envisaged a 30% risk reduction by 2023. Using SIMLESA data from Malawi, the project found that the chances of producing extremely low yields were actually higher than had been assumed in many studies. This indicates that crop diversification and minimum tillage are strategies that can reduce the risks implicit in maize production.
Addressing participants at the MTR meeting, SIMLESA cropping systems agronomist Isaiah Nyagumbo said that during the first five years, the project focused on establishing on-farm and on-station trials to develop and test productive, resilient, and sustainable maize-legume systems that are well adapted to each country’s socioeconomic, agroecological, and cultural environment.
A total of 268 maize and 378 legume varieties underwent on-farm participatory selection. “From these, the best performing maize and legume varieties that met farmers’ preferences were selected and scaled up by partner companies, said Peter Setimela, SIMLESA seed systems specialist.” The best varieties yielded 30-40% more under drought and 20-25% more under optimum conditions compared to commercial checks.
By October this year, 56 agricultural innovation platforms had been established and were operating at 31 sites, according to Michael Misiko, the person responsible for scaling up project activities.
Through the project, 22 doctoral students enrolled at different universities in South Africa, Australia, Ethiopia, and Kenya. A further 42 students were pursuing Master of Science degrees at national universities in SIMLESA partner countries. Three out of 64 SIMLESA-supported NARS staff members graduated (two Ph.Ds. from Tanzania and Kenya, and one M.Sc. from Rwanda). Two more M.Sc. candidates from Mozambique studying at the University of the Free State in South Africa submitted drafts of their theses and were expected to graduate this year.
“We are encouraged by the progress made so far and expect to have a measurable impact in the years ahead. New areas of research, crop livestock integration, market link mechanisms, agricultural innovation platforms, specific climate-smart agricultural practices, and capacity building are the fresh challenges the project faces in the coming years, “said Mekuria.
By Johnson Siamachira
According to the World Food Programme (WFP) of the United Nations, nearly 1.5 million (16 percent) of Zimbabwe’s 14 million people are feared to go hungry at the height of the 2015–16 lean season – a 164 percent increase on the previous year(Hunger hits 1.5 million in Zimbabwe as maize production halves-WFP). This is due to a dramatic decrease in maize production. The lean season is the period after harvest when food stocks run low.
CIMMYT’s Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume-based Cropping Systems for Eastern and Southern Africa (SIMLESA) project and the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) of South Africa hosted a five-day gender training workshop on 24-29 August in Pretoria, South Africa.
Technologies likely to make a difference in the daily lives of rural women farmers are those that address their specific needs based on the division of labor in developing countries.
By Johnson Siamachira
Smallholder farmers in East Africa can attain food security and move from subsistence to commercial farming by sustainably intensifying their maize-based farming systems. This was revealed during the annual field days recently held in Kenya and Tanzania, which were jointly organized by CIMMYT’s Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume Cropping Systems for Food Security in Eastern and Southern Africa (SIMLESA) project and the two countries’ national research systems.
Three agriculturalists from the Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume Cropping Systems for Food Security in Eastern and Southern Africa (SIMLESA)–Mozambique made a training visit to Brazil on 3-13 June 2015.
By Johnson Siamachira and Gift Mashango
Sustainable intensification through conservation agriculture (CA) is not only necessary but urgent. This is the key message and approach that SIMLESA is focusing on, in collaboration with its international partners and national agricultural research systems (NARS) in Africa.