Reinvesting in soil quality: the basis for long-term gains in productivity and ecosystem services in East, West and Southern Africa

The livelihoods and agro-ecosystems on which farmers, agro-pastoralists and pastoralists in East, West and Southern Africa depend are under considerable pressure from poverty, inadequate access to income-earning opportunities, inequity, environmental degradation and increased competition over resources as well as lack of access to information, inputs, technologies and services. This research contributes directly to WLE’s flagship on Regenerating Degraded Agricultural Ecosystems (RDE) by focusing on developing a proof of concept for ecosystem based solutions at landscape scales while exploring associated trade-offs. The overall goal of this research is to identify opportunities that improve soil quality and ecosystem services provision, and therefore livelihoods, in rainfed landscapes. The results of this work will be used to inform development decisions and investments to achieve improved productivity and resources management within landscapes in selected regions of East, West and Southern Africa. We aim to inform development decisions and investments to achieve improved productivity and resources management by working with partners who are directly involved in this rather than setting up these processes within the project. In Ghana we are working with the WLE-funded Regional Focal project “Improving livelihoods in landscapes in the Volta Basin through strengthening farmer-led approaches to ecosystem-based management” which will incorporate our results into stakeholder platforms which will examine how investments and incentives into SLM can be designed. In the Upper Tana, results will be given to the Nairobi Water Fund monitoring team, Steering committee and NGOs implementing Water Fund activities so that Water Fund investment strategies can be adapted if necessary. In Malawi, strategies for investment opportunities in soil will be discussed with decision makers through ongoing participatory processes and also to implementing partner NGOs for uptake where relevant. This research will strengthen gender related activities through W1&2 funds that will be used for participatory processes in all regions. CIAT is working with partners (both private sector and public entities) to provide scientific input on the expected benefits and beneficiaries of feasible sustainable land management solutions, while ensuring that feasible solutions are equitable. Notably, these activities will also complement the recently approved Innovation Fund in the Tana Basin on "Finding Common Ground in land and water resources management" in these agro-ecosystems. This Innovation Fund project is expected to focus on modelling rather than on the ground monitoring and so the two projects will complement each other. Specific activities across these three geographies will include: i) Continuing investigating the impact of field-based interventions on soils and water productivity (2014-2015). For each country, this will include a meta-analysis of existing literature on the impact of interventions on ES. In the Upper Tana, erosion monitoring plots will be installed. In the Upper Tana, the water quality and quantity in least six microwatersheds is currently being monitored in a Before–After Control–Impact (BACI) designed experiment to deliver proof of concept of Water Fund activities. In 2016, interventions (grass strips, ‘funya juu’ terraces, bench terraces and riparian restoration - expected to be implemented in 2016) will be put in place within the microwatersheds in an effort to assess the effectiveness of interventions at reducing sedimentation (changes which are unlikely to be detected at the subwatershed scale). Participatory mapping, focus group discussions and household surveys are all being used to identify costs and benefits of different field-based interventions in Malawi and Ghana. ii) Household surveys and participatory landscape mapping to generate an understanding of differentiated local perceptions on the contribution of ecosystem services to broader (on/off-farm) production, impacts of environmental change and constraints to adoption of SLM practices (2015); iii) Modeling the impact of farming practices on ecosystem services, including water quality and sedimentation (farm to landscape scales). This will be used to identify land management options which are most likely to enhance ecosystem services (Upper Tana – 2015; Malawi and Ghana 2016); iv) Scenario development and analysis to assess trade-offs involved in investing in sustainable land management (action) versus continuing degraded practices (inaction) (2016).