Millets – ancient crops with a bright future

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This blog post is written by Katarina Börling, research adviser at SLU Global, in conjunction to the International Year of Millets 2023.

Sowing millets in the village of Samadey in 1995 ­– a collaborative process. One person created a pocket (hole), while another carefully placed 10-15 seeds into each pocket. After a few weeks, a thinning process took place, and only the three healthiest plants were retained. Photo: Katarina Börling

My first encounter with millets was in the 1990s, spending numerous hot hours in a pearl millets field in the village Samadey outside Niamey in Niger. This was part of a Minor Field Study linked to the PhD thesis of Johan Rockström, where he annually brought two SLU students. The fieldwork gave a good opportunity to follow the cultivation of millets on a farmer’s field. The daily routine also included a morning stop on our way out of Niamey, to buy “maza” – small millets pancakes, from a woman cooking them on a roadside wood stove, which served as our field lunch.

Purchase of lunch – millets pancakes – before leaving Niamey for a day of fieldwork. Photo: Katarina Börling

As one of the earliest domesticated crops with a history dating back 7 000 years, millets have been a staple crop in many parts of the world. However, in the past half-century, millets have been replaced in many regions, in favor of higher-yielding crops such as maize, rice and wheat. Yet, there is a rising interest in millets as they are resilient crops with low input requirements and an ability to cope with increasing effects of climate change, such as drought and flooding. In addition, the interest is driven by the health benefits and nutritional value of millets, providing gluten free grains rich in minerals, vitamins and antioxidants.

Here I’m measuring soil water content in the millet field during the sowing period, protecting the instrument from the hot sun with a shirt. Photo: Kristina Gullbrandsson

SLU symposium dedicated to millets

In India, the spotlight on millets was set a few of years ago, when declaring 2018 as the National Year of Millets. Building on this, the Government of India also proposed to the United Nations General Assembly to declare 2023 the International Year of Millets (IYM 2023). Throughout the year, information has been gathered and several events have been organised to inspire stakeholders from policymakers to farmers, civil society and researchers, promoting a reassessment of the crucial role that millets play both in diets and in production.

In contribution to IYM 2023, we at SLU Global together with SLU Plant Protection Network and SLU Breeding Network, organised a symposium dedicated to millets in September 2023 in Alnarp.The event brought together SLU researchers and MSc students, as well as several international participants. Keynote speaker was Patrick Okori, the Executive Secretary of the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), who gave an inspiring talk where he framed the role of different millet crops in a changing climate and how it can be used for diverse purposes, including as a healthy food alternative. However, he pointed out the need for further research and development on millets.

At the symposium, we discovered that the typical millet yield in Africa is as low as one ton per hectare. However, it was underscored that there is an unleashed yield potential of millets, which can be unlocked through improved breeding materials, optimized agricultural practices and improved seed systems. Concerning health benefits, several positive effects of millets consumption was raised, and we also learned that millets can be used for making nutritious porridge for undernourished children.

I was also very inspired by invited speaker Alexandra Klang from Svalorna (LINK) who talked about the Millets sisters in India. A group of Dalit women who are leading a change of norms in India by supporting small scale millets farmers, pushing politicians to introduce millets in schools, working with seed banks and improving market for millets. By sharing knowledge nationwide, they have elevated the millet cultivation, promoting indigenous knowledge and through that, provided food sovereignty.

Several of the speakers addressed the concern of vanishing cooking traditions, highlighting that millets pose a challenge in terms of preparation due to their unique demands in the kitchen. Also, some new millets varieties give a high yield, but doesn’t taste well, which emphasizes the delicate balance needed between cultivation benefits and gastronomic appeal in millets breeding. However, for us, the day at the millet symposium was nicely framed as we were served tasty millets-cookies for “fika” and a nice millet lunch, which made the day a holistic experience.

Johan Rockström and my fellow SLU student, Kristina Gullbrandsson, taking a break in the shadow during the fieldwork. The millet plants are growing bigger every week. Photo: Katarina Börling

Looking at the bright future for millets

During the week when I wrote this blog post, my excitement for millets reached new heights as I tuned into a news programme on national Swedish TV. Among the often discouraging news reports, a ray of positivity emerged when I witnessed the Indian farmer, Pradeep, passionately talking about his own experience of millets, and how millets can address the issue of food security. “More people’s hunger can be satisfied if more people eat millets, there is no doubt about it”. The journalist behind the feature, Malin Mendel, is a well-known Swedish international correspondent that has a taste for Indian cuisine and has written several cookbooks on the subject. When Malin tasted the millet pancakes that the farmer and his wife had cooked, she said with satisfaction “It tastes healthy!”, maybe implying that millets will become the new fashionable, healthy food making a comeback in the urban areas of India.

With increasing impacts of climate change that calls for resilient crops, coupled with an increasing demand for nutritious and healthy foods, I feel hopeful that the IYM 2023 will increase the interest in millets and that millets are ready for comeback.

The people in Samadey passing through the millets field at the end of the season before harvest of the millets. Photo: Katarina Börling

Find out more about SLU’s research and activities on millets and other traditional crops on SLU Global’s web here.

Social, environmental and economic challenges facing biodiversity in the Andes: Does the solution lie in the hands of the young?

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In the mountains region of Peru, at an altitude of 3000 to 4200 meters above sea level and in between multiple communities, there is a treasure of a landrace diversity of indigenous crops that has been maintained for thousands of years. However, this biodiversity and associated traditional knowledge is now at risk of eroding due to a continuous increase in youth’s migration to urban areas. Recently, I had the privilege to participate in a 10-day study tour to investigate and learn about key innovations of human adaptation to socio-ecological change and the conservation of agrobiodiversity. This tour exposed different aspects of crop diversity conservation by smallholder farmers and the significance of maintaining it for future generations. 

When leaving Peru’s capital city of Lima, one becomes quickly exposed to a different reality involving mountain culture and complex landscapes. Additionally, due to the brief description of the tour’s activities, I had no expectations prior to travelling. As a result, the tour truly shook my world in more ways than one. Together with a group of over twenty people from different countries, we witnessed a deep sense of pride in the country’s deeply rooted food patrimony and its linked agrobiodiversity. Between visiting different towns and rural communities, I was doing my own inquiry about rural youth’s perspective on the conservation of indigenous crops and landraces along with the challenges and opportunities associated with making a decent livelihood in the rural highlands.

Some members talking about strategies for engaging youth and women

With our first stop being Huamachuco, a town located in the north of Peru, we were instantly greeted by spectacular views and great hospitality. We had the chance to attend the annual meeting with AGUAPAN, (Association of Guardians of the Native Potato). Growing a high diversity of native potatoes, one of their main goals is preserving biodiversity and the culture surrounding it whilst putting an emphasis on social inclusion and gender equality. During the meeting, members approached matters like commerce and marketing of native potatoes with Miski papa, (the collective brand of AGUAPAN), migration of youth, communication problems and climate change. By this, they stimulate conversation about development while giving the farmers a voice and allowing them to join forces and exchange knowledge. The marketing of the native potato could possibly generate multiple job opportunities which will motivate younger people to stay and care for the crop. Moreover, seeing as it is a current issue, one of the topics discussed was youth’s and women’s engagement in agriculture, which many farmers had various ideas about. Seeing as potato seeds are passed down to generation by generation, many mentioned family dynamic and cultural appreciation as part of the solution. “We have to motivate the young to join AGUAPAN, and not only them but their families too, and with this our children will cultivate our native potato and unite with the group” suggested one member. Many seem to share this opinion, even youth. Talking with a younger member, he reveals that his motivation for conserving potato landraces comes from his family. “My ancestors had enough trust with their children to pass on this significant knowledge, I wanted my father to have the same ability to trust me and I hope I’ll do the same with my own children”.

Two women in a community posing for a picture. 

Continuing the tour, our next stop was Jauja, where we went on to visit different communities. With being the first foreigners to step foot in some of these communities, we were welcomed by people wearing their mesmerising and vibrant traditional clothing whilst singing and dancing. We were shown a plethora of different potato varieties and even informed about their names in Quechua, which are often related to their appearance. When asked about the roles of the members, the president of the community said: “We teach them (the children) how to plant and conserve the seeds, the benefits of each crop and how to share this knowledge. The women are seed selectors”. Furthermore, despite the women shying away from speaking, they are the most knowledgeable when it comes to the names of each variety. However, they are not the only ones as there are some kids who also possess this skill. An eight-year-old girl by the name of Roxanna approached me and started explaining some of the names. “My mother taught me (the names). I always go to the field with my parents. We grow everything together and work together on the land” she said. “Which one is your favourite?” I asked, and she looked at me like I just asked her to discard one of her dolls. “All of them”, she simply responded.

Now in the city of Huancayo, the capital of the Junín region, we are farther away from the farmers and getting in contact with nutrition where I learned about the Escuelas Sostenibles project. The project’s focus is obtaining food security for school children, which it does by using agroecological products in the alimentation system whilst also focusing on aspects like family farming. Hence, by this contributing to a developing local economy, internalizing healthy nutrition and preserving the local diversity. Therefore, Huancayo is an inspiration for nearby cities and provinces. For children, this can help create an interest in nutrition and agrobiodiversity as they are constantly exposed to an environment where a wide range of crops is related to healthy habits and sustainability. For the future, maintaining agrobiodiversity through systems like this could help in generating an abundant amount of career opportunities and therefore prosperity and a higher living standard as a result. Evidently, increasing the likelihood of younger people pursuing a career in agriculture.

The inhabitants of Laraos demostrating a ritual

Back in the Lima region, now we are in the beautiful village of Laraos. Tragically, it seemed as the closer we got to the city of Lima; the fewer youthful faces encountered ours. Further discussions with the farmers revealed that young people do return in time for festivals, like Laraos’ annual water festival (Limpia Sequia). “They come to the parties, identify with their culture and then leave. But yes, one notices that they come with a great will to dance, participate and have a good time.” The farmer said. Despite this, the future looks bright for Laraos. Already benefiting from agroecotourism, the inhabitants of the village have also explored the intimate link between agrobiodiversity and modern gastronomy by releasing the internationally praised cookbook with native recipes, SABORES. This link is of great significance for youth engagement in the maintenance of agrobiodiversity as it associates culinary arts with native crops and traditional knowledge. The short distance to the city of Lima along with the abundance of culinary schools, makes Laraos the ideal place for an alliance between the farmers and the modern-day chefs. Evidently, working closely with the local cuisine will help make youth realize the importance of agriculture and that a career in it does not lack prestige. Moreover, it also contributes to the development of the local economy and with access to societal services, which automatically will better the living quality. Others, however, share a different opinion. “What will solve all these problems we have is political change. The government needs to recognize us and our struggles. That is what will solve this, nothing else.” is what one farmer shared with us.

During this tour, a single question kept lurking in the shadow of all their stories; what will happen if youth continue to abandon what their ancestors have built up for decades? The answer is certainly scary. Custodian farmers in the Peruvian highlands continue to maintain and propagate a wide range of landraces and their cultural identity by constantly improving agriculture, implementing new techniques and technologies, making optimal use of the land and putting emphasis on a continuous process of innovation and evolution of the native potato. However, the key element in their preservation is passing on the knowledge to their children. Thus, it is crucial for young people to realize that despite all the challenges facing them, a plethora of possibilities lie in their place of origin which could motivate them to stay working closely with agrobiodiversity.

Photo credits: Huda Ibrahim.


SLU Youth Institute (SLU YI) aims to create interest among Swedish youth for global food security and to find sustainable solutions to the global challenges based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. SLU Youth Institute is the Swedish part of many Youth Institutes coordinated by the World Food Prize Foundation. Read more at our Swedish website!

Global Youth Institute stÀrker ungas intresse för global livsmedelstrygghet

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Den hÀr bloggen Àr skriven av Kristina Karlsson Green, programkoordinator för SLU Youth Institute i Alnarp, i samarbete med Anna-Klara Lindeborg and Elisabeth Nyström, programkoordinatorer i Uppsala och UmeÄ. 

FrÄn vÀnster: Tina, koordinator, Alice from Lundellska, Jon, WFPF, Zeb frÄn Tannbergsskolan, Nina frÄn Spyken and Elisabeth, koordinator.

Den 23 oktober var det Ă€ntligen dags för avfĂ€rd, efter veckor av förberedelser reste vi koordinatorer inom SLU Youth Institute tillsammans med tre gymnasieelever och en lĂ€rare till Des Moines, Iowa, för att delta i Global Youth Institute (GYI). Efter att ha förberett och pratat ihop oss under hösten, möttes vi till slut alla upp pĂ„ Kastrup – Zeb frĂ„n Lycksele, Alice frĂ„n Uppsala och Nina frĂ„n Lund. Och sĂ„ Anna, engelsklĂ€rare pĂ„ gymnasieskolan Spyken i Lund, som följde med för att stötta eleverna och delta i GYI:s program för medföljande mentorer. Ett kort möte vid gaten blev det, dĂ„ flyget frĂ„n Arlanda var försenat och deltagarna frĂ„n Uppsala och UmeĂ„ dĂ€rmed fick springa genom Kastrup. Kort, men inte mindre glatt dĂ„ alla var otroligt peppade pĂ„ att trĂ€ffas och komma ivĂ€g! VĂ€l framme i Iowa blev vi varmt mottagna pĂ„ flygplatsen av fantastiska representanter frĂ„n World Food Prize Foundation (WFPF).

De tre svenska gymnasieeleverna, Alice, Zeb och Nina, som representerade SLU Youth Institute i USA 2023.

Veckan som följde var vĂ€ldigt intensiv med ett spĂ€ckat schema frĂ„n 7 pĂ„ morgonen till 22 pĂ„ kvĂ€llen – “Hur ska eleverna orka?” tĂ€nkte vi innan vi Ă„kte, men i sanningens namn var det nog vi koordinatorer som var tröttast; eleverna höll energin uppe trots att de umgicks med rumskamrater och övriga deltagare till sent om kvĂ€llarna. Eller kanske just dĂ€rför, för det var nog utbytet med alla nya, internationella bekantskaper som var nĂ„got av det mest givande för dem under veckan. Som vi förstod det hade det varit livliga diskussion om bland annat vapenlagar, migration och vĂ€lfĂ€rdssystem, dĂ€r synsĂ€tt och erfarenhet kunde skilja sig mycket Ă„t mellan eleverna, men olika perspektiv pĂ„ frĂ„gor öppnar ocksĂ„ upp för förstĂ„else och nya tankar. MĂ„nga av eleverna gjorde upp gemensamma planer om att i framtiden fortsĂ€tta hĂ„lla kontakten och besöka varandra.

Förutom att redovisa sina uppsatser pÄ engelska i internationella rundabordssamtal, arbetade eleverna med en gruppuppgift om global livsmedelstrygghet, de deltog i olika panelsamtal och i Borlaug Dialouge, det konferensprogram som anordnades i samband med utdelningen av World Food Prize, dÀr forskare, makthavare och företagsledare deltog. Eleverna fick under veckan t.ex. höra om innovationer i livsmedelssystemet, regenerativt jordbruk, resiliens och hur man kan engagera och möjliggöra att organisationer och grupper i samhÀllet bidrar till förÀndring.

FrÄn vÀnster: Anna, lÀrare frÄn Spyken, Austin, WFPF, Zeb frÄn Tannbergsskolan och Nina frÄn Spyken.

Just förĂ€ndring var konferensens övergripande tema och det framhölls mĂ„nga gĂ„nger att livsmedelssystemen mĂ„ste förĂ€ndras, vi kan inte prioritera enbart produktion utan mĂ„ste anpassa oss, bĂ„de till pĂ„gĂ„ende klimatförĂ€ndringar och framtida scenarier. Även om en del programpunkter för eleverna innehöll lĂ„nga föredrag bjöd de flesta in till interaktion mellan eleverna och presentatören. Det var tydligt att organisatörerna prioriterat elevernas möjlighet att nĂ€tverka med de experter och ledare som deltog, dĂ€r ungdomsperspektivet var ett genomgĂ„ende tema i hela Borlaug Dialogue. Eleverna fick bland annat möjlighet till en exklusiv frĂ„gestund med USA:s jordbruksminister och World Food Prize-pristagaren Heidi KĂŒhn, som deltog tvĂ„ gĂ„nger i ungdomarnas  program. NĂ„got som verkligen genomsyrade programmet var tron pĂ„, och uppmuntran till, ungdomarna. De stĂ€rktes, pĂ„ ett sĂ€tt vi kanske inte Ă€r vana vid i Sverige, till att förĂ€ndra vĂ€rlden, ta ledning och bli framtidens ”game changers”. Man poĂ€ngterade att Ă€ven om ungdomarna, och vĂ€rlden idag, kommer att stĂ„ inför stora utmaningar, sĂ„ görs det ocksĂ„ otroligt mĂ„nga insatser och framsteg. Framtiden Ă€r inte nattsvart, det finns hopp och möjligheter!

Vi koordinatorer deltog parallellt i ett eget program, dÀr vi fick nÀtverka med koordinatorer frÄn andra Youth Institutes och diskutera hur vi kan förbÀttra vÄra program. Vi fick en hel del nya idéer till aktiviteter för elever och lÀrare, samt nya kontakter för att kunna utöka vÄra samarbeten. MÄnga av de andra Youth Instituten har nÀra samarbete med universitetens studentrekrytering, vilket vi ocksÄ ser stor potential till och vill utveckla hÀr pÄ SLU. Det var Àven roligt att höra att WFPF planerar att sÀtta ytterligare fokus pÄ hÄllbarhet i Global Challenge-uppgiften. NÄgot som vi i SLU Youth Institute redan betonar. Vi fick Àven nyheten om att ytterligare ett Youth Institute kommer ansluta sig frÄn Uganda, vilket kÀnns mycket positivt!

Alice vid rundabordssamtalet med experter och elever frÄn andra Youth Institutes.

Efter en intensiv vecka vĂ€nde vi hemĂ„t igen – mĂ„nga erfarenheter, perspektiv och kontakter rikare, och med ny inspiration till att fortsĂ€tta utveckla och driva SLU Youth Institute framĂ„t. Och vi tror nog att vĂ„ra elever tog med sig mötets budskap och blev stĂ€rkta i att anvĂ€nda sin egen drivkraft; ett par veckor efter hemkomst kontaktade de nĂ€mligen MusikhjĂ€lpen för att starta en insamling till förmĂ„n för Ă„rets tema Ingen ska behöva dö av hunger.

Reflections from Agri4D – Lessons on resilient food systems

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Written by Matthew Kessler, project coordinator at TABLE, a collaboration between University of Oxford, SLU, and Wageningen University that explores the evidence and values behind global food systems debates.

African vegetable market, Assomada, Santiago Island, Cape Verde

Food is at the center of many of the intersecting challenges we face today. Nearly one in 10 people in the world are undernourished, climate change throws more instability into the already difficult job of farming, and global biodiversity is rapidly declining – so much so that some are calling this period the sixth mass extinction. These challenges are especially acute in low- and middle-income countries, which was the focus of the Agri4D 2023 conference that was I fortunate enough to co-moderate in September.

The incredibly timely theme of this year’s conference was “building resilient food systems in uncertain times.” While I won’t be able to summarize all that I learned, in this blog I’ll share two key insights I gained from this year’s conference: elevating unheard voices in food systems, and the importance of seeing each solution in the appropriate context.

Complex food systems

How do you run a conference on such a complicated topic like food systems? You’d have to explore the complex and interconnected webs that connect seeds and inputs to farms, farms which produce food that is regionally or internationally distributed across global supply chains, food that is then sold, or processed and sold, and purchased in markets, retailers, restaurants, and ultimately end up on people’s plates.

This movement of food from seed to plate does not only present logistical challenges, but also political, cultural, social and economic dilemmas. In order to facilitate an inclusive conversation about the future of food, you’d have to take the approach that Agri4D did, and engage with farmers, businesses, economists, trade experts, politicians at regional and national levels, civil society and researchers.  I was impressed with the commitment and care that each brought to improving food systems and making them more resilient, although they didn’t always agree on a solution.

Context matters

It’s a rare opportunity to be presented with a myriad of solutions and efforts to enact food systems transformation across the world. In this short period of time, it’s easier to notice the striking differences across countries and contexts. Some regions face challenges of malnutrition, the impacts of climate change, gender inequality, political instability, or a combination of these factors.

As keynote speaker Professor Appolonaire Djikeng pointed out, resilient to what? What is the exact vulnerability that we need to confront and how can we be proactive in our approach to building resilience. How can scientists, policymakers and practitioners work together to get ahead of our challenges and not only react to them. While we are connected by global challenges, and can share what we learn with each other, we must also recognize that solutions aren’t always easily translatable to other contexts.

I want to highlight one more accomplishment of this conference that really stood out to me, which was its ability to elevate unheard or marginalized voices in the food system.

Screenshot of panel recording from “Panel 12 – Indigenous knowledge production and rights in food system”

Elevating unheard voices

One of the most profound outcomes of the conference was its commitment to giving a platform to voices that are seldom heard in discussions about food systems. Those who are most vulnerable are typically being “spoken to” rather than “discussed with.” We heard a compelling keynote by Seema Kulkarni that spoke to the lived realities of the wives of Indian farmers who had taken their own lives. We learned about the immense challenges they face in continuing to run these farms while navigating economic hardships and societal pressures, and the community they found in supporting each other. Their stories were a strong reminder that the human element should never be lost in our discussions about food systems.

In addition to these personal narratives, the conference organized a panel discussion on indigenous knowledge production across Asia and Africa. These panellists shared the importance of preserving food cultures – cultivating, preparing, and sharing communal meals – to provide diverse and healthy diets to malnourished populations. Incorporating indigenous knowledge into our strategies for building resilience is an important tool to tackle some of the specific challenges that these communities face.

Conclusion

Building resilience across food systems is not a task for a single stakeholder. Nor is it strictly an ecological principle, where a resilient ecosystem can be defined as one that is better able to withstand and absorb ongoing shocks to the system. Resilience is also a social principle, where a village of people from different backgrounds, trainings and worldviews, work together to increase the resilience of local and global food systems.

We need to follow in the footprints of this conference – to bridge the gaps between science, policy, and practice, and bring a diverse array of professionals to the table. To be open about what solutions work, which don’t, and what remains uncertain. To be clear-headed about what the vulnerabilities are that we are trying to address. To apply the right interventions, whether they are trainings to build knowledge and skills, the use of appropriate seeds and technologies, or smart policy interventions and business innovations. Ultimately, we need to work together if we wish to apply and build a resilient, sustainable, and just food system in the future.

CA4SH at the 2023 World Water Week: Innovative solutions for promoting healthy rangelands under a changing climate

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Rangelands cover about half of the Earth’s land surface, store between 10 and 30% of terrestrial carbon, and support over 2 billion people, yet they are under-recognized and under-valued and have been largely ignored in sustainable development agendas and climate negotiations. 

 

Typically, we have our heads in the trees when it comes to thinking about carbon sequestration, as we can see their carbon-storing biomass right in front of our eyes. In a 2022 study of over 6000 peer-reviewed and gray literature, 78% focused on forests while only 6% focused on grasslands and 3% on drylands.

But if we look beneath our feet in rangelands, we can see that they store 70% of their carbon belowground and support 80% of agriculturally productive land, globally, making them a critical focal point for addressing the global challenges of biodiversity loss, land degradation, climate change, water and food insecurity. Restoring degraded rangelands is urgently needed to address these interlinked crises and enhance human well-being.

 

On 21 August 2023, CA4SH joined CIFOR-ICRAF, Focali, IGAD, SIWI, SLU, University of Nairobi, and WWF at the 2023 World Water Week organized by Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) in a virtual session to discuss water-smart rangeland restoration.

The theme of this year’s World Water Week was Seeds of Change: Innovative Solutions for a Water-Wise World, facilitating conversations about how we manage water through the nexus of innovation, governance, and science. Moderator Malin Lundberg Ingemarsson (SIWI) opened the joint session by inviting participants to challenge the status quo of under-valuing rangelands in targeted investments for innovation.

Keynote speaker Leigh Ann Winowiecki (CA4SH co-Lead and CIFOR-ICRAF Soil and Land Health Global Research Lead) issued a call to action in advance of the upcoming 2026 Year of Rangelands, stressing that “now is our opportunity to convince the community to come together on rangeland health.” To do this, she underscored the importance of investing in rangeland restoration and rangeland health monitoring, scaling innovations, filling research gaps, and providing scientific evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of restoration efforts over time. She also highlighted the key role of community engagement and the importance of encouraging farmer and pastoral-led innovations.

 

A soil profile shared by Winowiecki shows how far the deep roots of a grassland in Kenya reach. (C: Kelvin Trautman)

Monitoring rangeland health, understanding drivers of land degradation, and tracking restoration progress is entirely within our reach using the innovative Land Degradation Surveillance Framework (LDSF) coupled with Earth Observation (EO) and citizen science. Leigh Winowiecki described the systematic, landscape-level framework which measures a variety of land health indicators including soil infiltration capacity. She shared an example study from the Drylands Transform project in Kenya and Uganda which identified key determinants of water infiltration into the soil, including soil carbon content. Soil infiltration capacity is a critical indicator of land health as it determines the maximum rate at which water can enter the soil, controlling the generation of surface runoff and erosion, which are key drivers of land degradation. Leigh Winowiecki shared that the LDSF is inexpensive and accessible, and called for increased investment in capacity building for farmers and pastoralists to monitor the health of their land and contribute to filling data gaps through citizen science.

 

While the LDSF is a global initiative, case studies showed session participants innovative solutions being implemented in Kenya, Uganda, and Burkina Faso. Margeret Nyaga, PhD student at the Department of Land Resource Management and Agricultural Technology at the University of Nairobi, shared her research within the Drylands Transform project led by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). Margeret is investigating landscape restoration through Livestock Cafes – knowledge-sharing hubs and experimental sites where the project engages with local communities, extension workers, NGO practitioners, and authorities to test and demonstrate innovative land restoration and water management options – in the Karamoja region between Kenya and Uganda. Water-smart innovations like water harvesting with half moons, rock check dams, vetiver grass planted along contour lines, and reseeding of rangeland grasses and legumes showed evident results after just one year of implementation.

 

Aubin Ouedraogo (Terre Verte) shared the results of promoting Bocage Perimeters (wégoubri in the Mooré language) in Burkina Faso. These are integrated systems with trees, livestock, and crops working together to fight land degradation by controlling livestock grazing and promoting agroecological best practices. The first vocation of the bocage is to keep water where it falls by creating bunds, ponds, and living hedges, in order to mitigate the erosive action of monsoon waters and maintain the biodiversity of the area. Surface runoff is collected in harvesting ponds to recharge groundwater and the bocage perimeters are subdivided into fields that are managed by local families for increased food security.

 

Following the presentations, Margeret Nyaga and Aubin Ouedraogo joined an interactive panel with Dominic Kathiya (IGAD, ICPALD), Melissa D.Ho (WWF-US), and Aida Bargués-Tobella (SLU). Panelists were asked about the role of rangelands in biodiversity conservation and climate, the key aspects of water-smart restoration in rangelands, as well as barriers to upscaling restoration and soil health interventions and the tools we need to do it.

“Grasslands have intrinsic value [but] we forget that half of our land mass is grasslands!”

— Melissa D. Ho (WWF-US)

The panelists echoed the message that rangelands have been overlooked for too long, and that it’s time for a shift in focus when it comes to climate and biodiversity conversations and investments. Melissa D. Ho pointed to the Cerrado savanna in Brazil, neighbor to the Amazon rainforest, which covers 21% of the country’s land cover but which is nowhere near a household name like the Amazon is. Aida BarguĂ©s-Tobella highlighted the dichotomy between water as both a driver of erosion and a source of life and resilience and therefore the cornerstone for restoration in the changing global climate. The key? Healthy soil captures water, making it reliably available for plants to thrive while reducing water-related risks and disasters such as floods and droughts.

 

These points were well-rounded by Dominic Kathiya who discussed the important role of harmonizing policy and practice to scale implementation of water-smart rangeland restoration. He also reminded session participants that rangelands are important sources of livelihood and that restoration activities must address sustainable use by humans, including support for the extension of resources and management programmes. In closing the session, Stephen Mureithi reiterated the multiple benefits of rangeland restoration including enhancing food and nutrition security, water security, resilience building against climate change, reversing land degradation, and halting biodiversity loss. He called on governments, agencies, and non-governmental organizations to co-work with communities to enable them to achieve restoration in landscape scales.

 

This session at the 2023 World Water Week marks a pivotal moment for rangelands, and came at the timing couldn’t have been better to complement some exciting news received the week prior. The Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development, Formas, announced grant funding for the research project Scaling rangeland restoration in drylands through synergies in the biodiversity – water- climate nexus (Restore4More) led by SLU in partnership with CIFOR-ICRAF, the University of Nairobi, Makerere University, Stockholm University, Linköping University, IGAD-ICPALD, SIWI, and Vi Agroforestry. The long-term goal of Restore4More is to generate knowledge on the biodiversity-water-climate nexus that can contribute to large-scale, long-lasting, and effective rangeland restoration in the drylands of East Africa for increased climate change adaptation and mitigation, enhanced biodiversity, and water and food security.

Webpage CA4SH: https://www.coalitionforsoilhealth.org/