Legume crops are important components in African farming systems. In addition to providing dietary foods, they provide cash income to smallholder farmers. Legumes also improve soil fertility through biological nitrogen fixation. Major legume crops include cowpea, field bean, soybean, pigeon pea and groundnut.
While these crops are important in east and southern Africa, their production is limited by low adoption of the new and more productive varieties.
To overcome these challenges, the Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume Cropping Systems for Food Security in Eastern and Southern Africa (SIMLESA) project was established in 2010 by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT, by its Spanish acronym). The main goal of SIMLESA is to improve the production of maize and legumes to ensure food security, mostly for smallholder farmers.
The project attempts to develop sound, sustainable-intensification options to deal with focused solutions to poor farm productivity, lack of market access for smallholders, environmental degradation and the effects of climate change on vulnerable rural populations.
The project is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and managed by CIMMYT. It is implemented by national agricultural research systems (NARS) in five partner countries – Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique. Lessons from these five core countries are also implemented in other spillover countries of Botswana, Rwanda and Uganda.
SIMLESA project is envisaged to reach 650,000 small farming households in the five countries over a period of 10 years.
In implementing the project, CIMMYT is assisted by the following: the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) of South Africa, Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), in association with Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation, (QDEEDI), the International Center for Research in the Semi-Arid Tropics(ICRISAT), the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), and the Australian Government through ACIAR.
Following the successful implementation of the first phase (2010-2014), CIMMYT is implementing the second phase of SIMLESA from 2014 to 2018, with an increased focus on upscaling the sustainable intensification technologies initiated and tested in the first phase.
Over the next four years SIMLESA will continue to work with the public and private sectors and with new science partners such as the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). These partnerships are important for SIMLESA to improve the productivity of maize and legumes for improved food security in the focal countries.
During the first phase of the project (2010-2014), the SIMLESA project was implemented under the following five fundamental thematic areas, called objectives:
Objective 1: To characterize maize-legume production and input and output value chain systems and impact pathways, and identify broad systemic constraints and options for field testing.
Objective 2: To test and develop productive, resilient and sustainable smallholder maize-legume cropping systems and innovation systems for local scaling out
Objective 3: To test and develop productive, resilient and sustainable smallholder maize-legume cropping systems and innovation systems for local scaling out
Objective 4: To support the development of regional and local innovations systems
Objective 5: Capacity building to increase the efficiency of agricultural research today and in the future
SIMLESA 11 was launched on the 1 July 2014 with modified project themes (objectives) detailed below:
Objective 1: Enhance the understanding of CA-based sustainable intensification for maize-legume production systems, value chains and impact pathways. The research methods will combine qualitative analysis of existing and new data as well as information gathered from wider consultations with stakeholders. The market analysis will employ standard and established methods for value chain analysis and estimation of transaction costs.
Objective 2: To test and adapt productive, resilient and scalable CA-based intensification options for sustainable smallholder maize-legume production systems. Continues on-farm and on-station research of SIMLESA 1 on CA-based sustainable intensification in the same sites. The teams and activities will be expanded through an additional focus on fodder/forage varieties in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, and new research on soil health focusing on the identification and rehabilitation of non-responsive soils and the development of nutrient management systems. Given the focus of Objective 2 on an adaptive process of identification and testing of improved CA-based systems agronomy and value chain practices/technologies, an innovation systems approach was initiated under SIMLESA 1 and will be continued in phase 11.
Objective 3: To increase the range of maize, legume and fodder/forage varieties available to smallholder farmers. A shortlist of new experimental maize and legume varieties (all countries) and forage/fodder species/varieties (in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania) with potential adaptation to the conditions and farmers’ needs will be identified by NARS for each country and targeted maize-legume system. Maize and legume varieties will mostly originate from on-going breeding programs such as Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa. Significant progress has been made in developing and registering of drought tolerant maize and legume varieties, which are starting to be produced and disseminated by seed companies and community based seed organizations.
Objective 4: To support the development of local and regional agricultural innovation systems and scaling-out platforms. A number of policy options and organizational models for the delivery of CA-based intensification options will be developed. Activities will include the formulation and advocacy of policy options to address institutional constraints for CA-based intensification options in terms of reach, farmer use and sustainability.
Objective 5: Capacity building to increase the efficiency of agricultural research today and in the future. The project will use short courses, workshops, field days and exchange visits in support of the project agenda, and free online courses in topics that are relevant to SIMLESA. Capacity building will be targeted at project scientists and technical staff in partner organizations, and will include researchers, extension agents, the private sector and farmers.