Integrated community-driven engagement for sustainable enhancement of food production in East Africa: the Jali Ardhi [Care for the Land] project

Lead Research Organisation: University of Plymouth
Department Name: Sch of Geog Earth & Environ Sciences

Abstract

African farming communities are faced with complex challenges and choices regarding food and feed productivity. Socio-economic and cultural transitions, driven by soil degradation, climate change, population growth, political upheaval, changes in markets, land tenure change and migration put unprecedented pressure on the natural resources that support food and water security. Primary production systems are under stress, nutritional choices are changing and the relationship between development and agriculture is undergoing profound transformation.

In the face of physical threats of soil erosion and land degradation, East African pastoral farming systems are now at a tipping point, and there has never been a greater urgency for evidence-led interventions to support better, and sustainable food production and to reverse the degradation of natural resources that threatens food and water security. Central to our approach is the need for practices that move away from top-down externally driven solutions. Instead we need to use evidence from our scientific research to work with communities and farmers to collaboratively design solutions for real and lasting socio-economic change, and help those communities and farmers to innovate. We propose that sustained change can only be achieved through a thorough and deep understanding of community-specific needs and priorities, as well as the wider political and economic contexts in which policy decisions are made; ambitions which are at the heart of our local adaptation approach.

The aim of our research translation programme is hence to realise locally-adapted enhancement of food production practices that are built on integration of research evidence and community knowledge. These actions have the parallel purpose of both enhancing and diversifying food productivity and also restoring damaged agricultural landscapes to underpin the sustainability of future production. Our partner communities are 4 villages in Monduli District of northern Tanzania with whom the research team has a strong and established working relationship through prior NERC/GCRF research. Each community is experiencing challenges of severe degradation of pastoral land from lowland to upland with contrasting ideas and approaches to diversification and locally-tailored restoration. This programme will enable informed debate to optimise best practice for challenge-led and farmer-driven sustainable enhancement of agricultural food production. Firstly we will interpret through a local socio-cultural and environmental lens key initiatives from stablished paradigms of (i) Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM), (ii) Conservation Agriculture (CA) and (iii) Water Smart Agriculture (WaSA) and integrate these with established research knowledge of local crop and livestock production systems and viable alternatives. Secondly we will develop a predictive evidence base of how different combinations of potential land management and cropping initiatives might affect landscape functionality in terms of erosion mitigation and restoration. Thirdly we will support co-design of action plans for each community and initiate their implementation.

The success stories that we hope will emerge from this research translation action will be shared through the WOCAT [World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies] network and our established international networks (e.g. UN FAO/IAEA, NGOs, East Africa Community) to reach policy makers at regional, national and international levels. The action in this northern Tanzanian context will be further used to underpin future GCRF proposals to address sustainable land management challenges across the wider East Africa Rift System region and beyond.

Planned Impact

Through a proven process of participatory design [co-design] our impact plan will take a nexus approach across established principles of good agricultural practice and integrated resource management paradigms. Working with multiple actors across northern Tanzanian agro-environmental and pastoral value chains, our programme will embed existing research evidence into locally-tailored policy platforms and elucidate (1) best practice farming and crop variety options to mitigate soil erosion and enhance productivity and (2) facilitate the co-design of specific locally-adapted and achievable pathways to implementation for end-users. Work is necessarily aligned with UNFAO's 5 pillars of action for Global Soil Partnership, wider UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the COP 21 Paris Agreement.

Key to our holistic and interdisciplinary approach is 'know-how', which is strongly associated with 'know why'. Understanding unique aspects of each of the socio-economic and cultural contexts in which we will work is critical to delivering real and lasting change from the scientific evidence bases. Our integrated approach means we can clarify and demonstrate the specific benefit accruing to each context as a direct result of our collaborative and participatory work. Given this, the impact delivery strategy will be co-designed and implemented with four key stakeholder groups: (1) individuals of all gender identities who rely on environmental resources (land and water) for livelihood: pastoralists, farmers, fishermen, their families and their local communities; (2) extension workers and development practitioners in NGO organisations (e.g. partners ECHO, Rikolto); (3) regional and national policy organisations (e.g. District Council partners); and (4) international organisations and donors (e.g. UN FAO and World Bank with whom the team is closely connected via current projects/networks). The delivery engine for the plan is the 'participatory evidence into action' work package. Key actions include: (1) cross-group visioning exercises coupled with community-specific planning sessions to test and adapt locally tailored recommendations; (2) where locally appropriate, co-design of policy instruments to build sustainable resource management and enhance the success of livelihood options (mutually supportive processes); (3) evaluation of implementation process and prospects. Key outcomes include: (1) empowerment of individuals (particularly those marginalised by gender and/or age) creating new opportunities in best practice use of limited resources; (2) enhancement of existing, and creation of new cross-sector (government/NGO/community/gender-specific) participatory decision-making and delivery. This is critical for implementation and insurance that agreed development solutions are aligned with specific local socio-economic, institutional and environmental contexts.

Publications

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