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Soils4Africa endorsed by African agricultural organisations

November 24, 2021

A number of key high-level organisations from the African agricultural sector endorsed the Soils4Africa project’s efforts towards building a continental-scale soil information system (SIS), at a webinar held as part of the 17th Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) on November 24, 2021.

Representing H.E. Ambassador Josefa Sacko (African Union Commissioner, Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment), Prof. Afeikhena Jerome, Special Advisor to the African Union Commission, declared the Commission’s support to the endeavor and concept behind the SIS. Noting that the SIS will have scope for further expansion, he said that further expansion would be important for the system to become central to African policymaking in the area of sustainable intensification of agriculture.

In his endorsement statement, Dr. Tilahum Amede from Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) noted the diversity in natural resources, farming systems, and yield gap across the continent; which necessitated the need for a soil information system that could provide good-quality local-level data to farmers, pastoralists and organisations catering to them.

On behalf of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), Dr. Simba Sibanda also appreciated the potential of the soil information system as a source of evidence for agricultural policymaking.

The Centre for Coordination of Agricultural Research and Development for Southern Africa (CCARDESA) was represented by Dr. Baitsi Podisi, who expressed hope that the SIS would form a basis of decision support systems in agriculture , and offered to collaborate with the project to bring it to fruition.

Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa’s (ASARECA) Dr. Enoch Warinda stated that soil degradation was of particular concern to the organisation as it affected all its 14 member states. Expressing his support to the idea and efforts behind the SIS, he pointed out that the open-access nature of the system would be a key aspect of its utility to solving problems cutting across sectors such as soil and water.

Prof. Victor Chude endorsed the concept of the SIS on behalf of the 38 countries he represented as Director of the Africa chapter of the Global Soil Partnership. At the same time, he called for  action to ensure that the standard methodologies developed as part of the SIS are simple and repeatable in the African context.

Need to chart a sustainable course

Welcoming participants, Dr. Rik van den Bosch, Director, ISRIC-World Soil Information (Soils4Africa’s lead implementation partner) said that Africa had the opportunity to learn from Europe’s mistakes and not sacrifice nature in pursuit of agricultural intensification. Thus, it was worth increasing production on existing agricultural land--- using high quality seeds, organic and inorganic fertilizers, improved water management, and control of pests and diseases. This would require data-driven decision making, which necessitated a soil information system with quality data based on standard methodologies.

Echoing this, Marta Iglesias, Senior Project Officer, EU Commission pointed out that only a third of European soils could be considered healthy, even as 30% of agricultural production has been lost to soil degradation over the last 50 years. She stressed that the ongoing African-European partnership on Food and Nutrition Security and Sustainable Agriculture (FNSSA) was a two-way exchange of information that will benefit both continents. (The Soils4Africa SIS will be embedded in FNSSA’s knowledge and information system).

Building upon good work of the past

In his opening address and in response to questions, Dr. van den Bosch pointed out that the Soils4Africa SIS will build upon and will benefit from past efforts in the same direction such as the Africa Soil Information Service (AfSIS) and the Global Soil Partnership. This was reflected in the engagement of organisations in Soils4Africa who were also involved in these past efforts.

Engaging African partners

A key learning from past efforts, according to Dr. van den Bosch, was the importance of engaging African institutions in the process of building the SIS. On the same note, it would be important that the SIS is eventually taken over by an African organisation, which oversees its management and expansion. To this end, it has been ensured that most of the project consortium are African organisations, and the process of identifying an SIS-host organisation has already been initiated. As part of this process, a number of capacity building activities will be carried out in the latter part of the project.

A more detailed report of the event is available here.