By Ochieng’ Ogodo
By Ochieng’ Ogodo
But African soils are fast becoming nutrient deficient with low yields spelling a bleak future for many. Keith Shepherd, soil scientist with the Nairobi-based World Agroforesty Centre or ICRAF, said many factors account for the worrying scenario. “The organic matter in the soil has been mined intensely but supply has been suppressed. There has been low level of nutrient input,” he said. Because of this there isn’t enough nutrient supply for crops. The decline in organic matter has led to soils becoming physically degraded and has accelerated water run-off, which erodes the richer part of soils into water bodies. “This has led to progressive decline in water quality and increased siltation, especially in lakes and dams.”
Another important soil capital, phosphorous, is inherently low and this basic problem has not been addressed in Africa as opposed to other regions such as
Many soils in
“Agricultural development,” he said, “was critical for poverty alleviation in
Not all is lost
“Both policy makers and scientists are now waking up to this,” said Shepherd. The realization is that without reviving the agricultural sector, the majority of people in
“A lot can be done by improving support for farmers, like making inputs widely available, creating credit and supplying higher value crops,” Shepherd pointed out.
One of the ways of addressing the problem, according to Shepherd, is through agroforestry where farmers grow trees on farms along with other crops, and can use or sell products from their trees such as timber or fruits.
There are also trees that fixing of nitrogen in the soil and act as natural fertilizers. Another example is leguminous fodder trees which are grown by farmers in many places, including around
Trees, Shepherd explained, can also be important for stabilizing ecological systems, and farmers can benefit from woodlots and planting trees on boundaries.
The World Agroforestry Centre is now involved in many projects aimed at replenishing the diminishing African soil capital for better yields and improved livelihoods.
“One of our main projects is to contribute to the African Soil Information Service (AfSIS) to enable stakeholders to get better information on problems and opportunities relating to soils in
Through infra-red spectroscopy - whereby light is shone on the soil sample and the reflected light collected back as a spectral signature - together with new similar x-ray techniques, it is possible to get information on the amounts and types of minerals and chemical elements in the soil. From this, the type and quantities of nutrients in a particular area can be determined and the amount of water it can hold and thus helping to advise on optimal soil management.
Through AfSIS, the Centre and its partners are currently involved in soil survey across sub-Saharan
“This program started a year ago and is funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and is hosted by the Centre’s sister institute, the Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute of the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT-TSBF)” he explained. The project is also conducting crop testing trials to see how soils respond to fertilizers. “When we work in a particular country we train national teams from national programmes to contribute to the African Soil Information Service to help improve national services”
Advice to different stakeholders
A key goal of the World Agroforestry Centre says Shepherd, is to give advice to different stakeholders ranging from farmers to policy makers and development banks on constraints faced and appropriate land management interventions, like the right agroforestry and soil management techniques for different types of soils and locations. A key need in getting information to farmers, he said, is the building of national and private extension services for advising farmers on appropriate crops and trees, for example for acidic soils. There is also increasing opportunity, he pointed out, to get information to farmers through local internet services and mobile phone services.
At a national level, the Centre provides advice to governments in planning agricultural development programmes for different areas, in developing policies for protection of the environment, and on the role of agroforestry in these developments.
The Centre’s information is made available to the donor community and development banks to provide guidance on funding and support that they could be directed at agriculture. “Agriculture is vital for economic development, poverty alleviation and basic food security, and there will be a lot of spin-offs like processing of food and tree products for internal and external markets,” said Shepherd.
**Ochieng’ Ogodo, the Sub-Saharan Africa News Editor for SciDev.net (www.scidev.net) is a
By Ochieng’ Ogodo
This should be the new paradigm shift in agricultural growth in the developing world, especially in
“In order to successfully meet challenges of globalization, developing countries, in general, and
He, however, recognized that, as continent with countries having primarily agriculture economies,
It is for this that his department is currently working with Regional Economic Communities, members states, research institutes such as International Livestock Research Institute and IFPRI, civil society organisations as well as development partners to move forward the agenda for research and technology.
Professor Kwadwo Asenso-Okyere, IFPRI’s director for International Service for National Agricultural Research Division said in many parts of the developing world, mostly
The pervasive poverty in many parts of these countries cannot be tackled sufficiently without paying attention to production and market development for agricultural products.
To cope with the demand factors and emerging global issues, actors in the food and agriculture value chain need to innovate to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
“The good news is that there has been steady progress in African agriculture over the last few years with growth rates increasing from 2 percent per annum in the 1990s to about 5 percent in the 2000s,” he told the forum.
But to sustain this, Okyere stated, there is need for extraction of economic, ecosystem and social value from knowledge which involves putting ideas, knowledge and technology to work in a manner that brings about a significant improvement in performance.
A lot of knowledge, he explained, already exist and can be used to improve the livelihoods of the smallholder farmer in the rural settings where more than 50 percent depend on agriculture.
But there are no proper linkages for knowledge mobility from institutions of learning, research and different actors to get innovation to work to advance food and agriculture and this call for new approaches to capacity building.
The first stage of capacity building development, he pointed out, should be at the universities or institutions of higher learning to make them innovate and become efficient.
“It has been demonstrated that students retain 90 percent of concept or method if they teach others, 75 percent if they practice by doing, 50 percent if they are involved in a discussion but only five percent through lectures,” he said.
Scientists and students should talk to farmers and see how best they could infuse their [farmers] indigenous knowledge with those in formal educational systems and pass it on for accelerated agricultural production in the developing world.
The next level of capacity building is that of farmers to make them adopt new knowledge and technologies as well as improve on the existing ethnic agricultural knowledge to step up agricultural growth for food and poverty reduction.
Okyere also said for knowledge to be generated and used effectively for innovation in agricultural development there must be innovators in organizations, institutions, technologies and policies that are involved in the process.
Joachim Von Braun, Director of IFPRI challenged Africa and the rest of the developing world to develop their basic science, build practical technical education programmes on agriculture at higher institutions of learning and tap into existing indigenous knowledge to improve agricultural production for food security and wealth creation for the rural poor.
“Agriculture is a major source of employment in the developing world and also a vital source of food for majority of rural populations,” said Braun
Yet agricultural education and research is not being felt on the ground because of lack direct connection between scientists, students and the smallholder farmer who needs knowledge to adopt innovative methods of farming for increased yields.
Most agriculture students, he explained, do have practical experience and thus the big gap between knowledge and innovation and reality on the ground in the end. Africa, he told meting should make agriculture part of its higher education technical programme as one of the means in innovatively addressing food insecurity and poverty reduction in rural settings.
It should be part of the learning process right from secondary education level and
**Ochieng’ Ogodo is a Nairobi journalist and the Sub-Saharan Africa News Editor for Scidev.net .He is the English-speaking Africa and Middle East region winner for the 2008 Reuters-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting. He can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most people in rural Kenya grapple with a huge problem of access to water and sanitation. Photo: Ochieng Ogodo
In Kibera, there are no storm water drainage systems and people wade through dirt when it pours. “On water born diseases God is there for us.” Achieng’ said. This overcrowded dwelling has liter-biodegradable and non-biodegradable-strewn all over. Kibera is a microcosm of what goes on in slums in most African urban centers and clearly exemplifies the sorry state in provision of clean water and sanitation to many people in Africa, be it in urban or rural settings.
Unmet fundamental human rights
Provision of clean water and adequate sanitation is not only a fundamental human right but among measures of a country’s healthy living. However, inadequate provision of the two is still a huge problem in rural and urban Africa, especially in slums.
Dr. Catherine Kyobutungi of the Africa Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) said the problem is more acute in African slum areas compared to rural dwellings. But even in rural areas, she hastened to add, there is a huge problem of access to water and sanitation.
“In Africa 70 percent of the urban population live in slums under extremely difficult conditions when it comes to water and sanitation provision,” she said.
“Water, both in quality and quantity, is an important aspect of life irrespective of one’s social status. On average a person needs 20 liters a day,” she explained.
But whereas it is recognised that diseases associated with water are mostly water washed and water borne, not much is being done and this is a clear indication of a continent still unable to meet basic needs of its people.
“In many cases scarcity and quality go hand in hand and the poor bear the brunt of water washed and waterborne diseases,” Kyobutungi explained
While the need for safe water to be healthy and prevent diseases, especially from water borne diseases cannot be gainsaid those in slums suffer both. “In public heath terms you need both quality and quantity,” she said.
Sanitation and diseases has tight link
According to Kibyotungu, an associate research scientist at the Nairobi based APHRC, there is a tight link between sanitation and diseases. The first thing is a toilet but there is much more to this like having Ventilated Improved Pits.
Waste disposal, the drainage system and general environmental cleanliness influences diseases like malaria and cholera.
“Sanitation and supply of affordable clean water can influence the transmission of water diseases. But waste disposal is also important,” said her.
For Kenya, 20 percent of the country is urbanised but not much has been done to uplift these places out of the situation according to the researcher.
In Nairobi, for instance, public taps are only available to 3 percent of slum dwellers while in the entire city it is only to 15 percent of the inhabitants. Other urban areas have only 35 percent of the people accessing tap water and in the whole country only 11 percent have access for a population of over 36 million people.
“For the entire country, on average, only 34 percent have access to public tap or water right into their residences,” clarified Kyobutungi. Thirty-one percent nationally get their water from wells and springs and other sources. In Kenya rural areas most people do not have access to water.
In Nairobi those who live in slums pay more for water compared to other city residents as they buy 20 liter container between Ksh 2-10.
“This is eight times what other city residents pay and it happens irrespective of the fact that quality of water is questionable,” said Kyobutungi.
Slums are fertile grounds for exploitation by those who move around with water tankers and small containers in handcarts. Sources of their water and cleanliness are always questionable.
On sanitation only 7 percent of slum dwellers have flush toilets while for the whole of Nairobi it’s available to 56 percent of the over three million city dwellers. Kenya as a whole has only 12 percent with access to flush toilets according to Kyobutungi. In slums VIPs are only accessed by 6 percent while in rural areas those who have what can be called decent pit latrines is only six percent with entire country having only seven percent.
The whole of Nairobi has only 13 percent with VIP toilets. Flush toilets plus VIPs in Nairobi is accessed by 69 percent. For slums combined it is 12 percent.
For traditional pit latrines it is 73 percent for slums in Nairobi while Kenya as a whole only 66 percent access them. In slums 10 percent are without any such facilities while in the entire country 15 percent have no access to sanitation services at all.
“Visiting toilets in slum areas is not free and one has to part with between KSh.2-5 per visit and children are forced to ease themselves in their houses and throw these away in paper bags or just do so around their ramshackles,” Kyobutungi observed. Availability of the facility does not mean usage. It depends on their pockets.
“This,” said Kyobutungi “means it is a dire situation given it’s a basic need but has not been met.” And the consequences are many. Children both in rural and slum areas are vulnerable but with the latter being more exposed.
A third of children living in slums in Kenya must have been affected by diaorrhea at least in two weeks and 32 percent before the age of five shall have had diaorrhea episodes and this compares to 18 percent in the entire Nairobi and 21 percent for the whole country.
“This is already bad enough. Dehydration kills many children in slum areas and the more the episodes the more the chances that that the children will die,” she said. But even sadder is their mothers do not know what to do and health facilities are unavailable. Where there are medical facilities costs will deter many from visiting.
At night the problem is compounded with insecurity with muggers on the prowl and people even get fatally beaten. With diaorrhea children disease like pneumonia sets in and it becomes a vicious circle only stopped by death.
“It has a both mid and ultimate consequence, which is death” For children below 5 years 151 out of 1000 will die before their first birthday. For Nairobi it is 98 out of 1000. Most children in the slum areas die because of diarrhea and account for 20 percent of deaths there.
Little investment and thought have been given to this area. “Slums are illegal and the government cannot put infrastructure but again it has both legal and political connotations,” said Kyobutungi. There are about 80 slums in Nairobi alone with most of them over 40 years in existence.
Millennium Development Goals
According to A Snapshots of Drinking Water and Sanitation in Africa by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organisation (WHO) the number of people without access to sanitation increased by 153 million from 430 million in 1990 to 583 million in 2006.
“The rate at which Africans gained access to sanitation, 153 million people since 1990, is insufficient to meet the MDG sanitation target,” the report says. Even more shocking is that 38 African countries in Africa have less than 50 percent sanitation coverage.
Whereas 605 million people had access to improved drinking water in 2006, thus a coverage increase of 56 percent in 1990 to 64 percent in 2008, those without access increased by 61 million from 280 million people in 1990 to 341 in 2006. This falls far short of the required number to meet MDG on drinking water by 2015.
MDG target 7c calls on countries to “Halve by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basics sanitation.” Africa is steel in lack of clean water and decent sanitation for majority of its population. This makes it indeed one of the big and urgent challenges for the content in the 21st century.
**Ochieng’ Ogodo, a Nairobi journalist, is the English-speaking Africa and Middle East region winner for the 2008 Reuters-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting and the chairman of the Kenya Environment and Science Journalist Association [KENSJA]. He can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org