Enter 2015 – The International Year of Soils


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2014 marked an eventful year in agriculture, and as the year drew to a close, 2 key themes emerged across African agricultural policy dialogue; smallholder agriculture and climate variability and change in Sub-Saharan Africa. 2015 has begun on a note that in a way, follows along the same trajectory, and this year, thematic policy focus is on Soils.

African Soil Atlas - Source: The European Soil Portal

African Soil Atlas – Source: The European Soil Portal

Declared as the International Year of Soils by the 68th United Nations General Assembly, 2015 is poised to take last year’s focus on smallholder agriculture and climate change a step further with the help of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); which has been tasked to implement the International Year of Soils within the framework of the Global Soil Partnership, and in collaboration with country governments and the secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

Soils form the most basic foundation of all life as we know it to exist. Occurring in varying states, and possessing innumerable qualities and properties, soils directly influence the quality and quantity of food available on our planet. It goes therefore, without saying that the health and fertility of soils is essential for the maintenance of food security, livelihoods and sustainable ecosystems.

Expected Soil Function Beyond 2012: FAO.ORG

Expected Soil Function Beyond 2012: FAO.ORG

Despite its undeniable contribution to human welfare, soils have long been neglected across policy spheres, and today exist in an untenable state of degradation, and with nearly one-third of the earth’s land characterized by eroded topsoil and fast depleting nutrients, significant environmental, nutritional and socio-economic consequences loom large accross the horizon.

MDG : Parched soil in the Greater Upper Nile region of north-eastern South Sudan

MDG : Parched soil in the Greater Upper Nile region of north-eastern South Sudan

In Africa, the impacts of soil degradation are alarming. According to the Montpellier Panel Report, 65% of arable land, 30% of grazing land and 20% of forests are damaged, an estimated 180 million people are affected and estimated economic loss from current levels of degradation stand at $68 billion per year.

According to the chair of the Montpellier Panel; Professor Sir Gordon Conway, Africa’s resource-poor smallholder famers, disproportionately carry the burden of the continent’s damaged soils. Constrained by fragile land tenure and limited access to credit resources, farmers forego essential land management practices in favor of cheaper, less labor-intensive uses of resources, losing out on long-term gains in soil health, fertility, and productivity, with significant negative environmental externalities.

Global warming in the region also has significant impact on soil. According to the “Climate Change and Security in Africa” report, the continent is expected to see a rise in average temperature that exceeds the global average. Annual rainfall is projected to decrease throughout most of the region, with a possible exception of eastern Africa.

“Less rain will have serious implications for sub-Saharan agriculture, 75 percent of which is rain-fed. Average predicated production losses by 2050 for African crops are: maize 22 percent, sorghum 17 percent, millet 17 percent, groundnut 18 percent, and cassava 8 percent.” With lower yields generally resulting in increased land use, native forests and vegetation will have to make way for increased agricultural land which in turn results in even greater levels of land degradation; perpetrating a vicious cycle that can only be brough to a halt by deliberate, strategic policy action.


With this goal in mind, the Montpellier Panel came up with a number of key proposals aimed at stemming the tide of soil degradation, most significant among these include;

  • Strengthen political support for sustainable land management practices amongst smallholder farmers;
  • Increase financial support for investment in land and soil management;
  • Improve transparency for land and soil management contributions by donors and governments, and implement monitoring programs to track investment performance;
  • Quantify the costs of land degradation and the benefits derived from sustainable land management to reinforce attention to the challenges and benefits;
  • Plug holes in soil data by harnessing the power of Big Data to produce updated, real-time information on soil types, locations, qualities and degradation using remote sensing systems and networks of local weather information and citizen science;
  • Provide farmers with incentives such as redeemable carbon credits, as a way of encouraging adaptation of climate change mitigation practices;
  • Build on the vast base of knowledge on soil science and land degradation in Africa;
  • Strengthen collaboration with soil research centers in Africa and across the globe as a way of building soil science capacity;
  • Embrace integrated soil management (ISM), by incorporating organic farming methods, conservation agriculture, ecological approached and selective targeted use of inputs in everyday farming activity;
  • Foster climate smart soil research aimed at providing farmers with knowledge and resources on how ISM can help them adapt to the adverse effects of climate change and reduce GHG emissions.

The truth is that really, when it comes to soil preservation, we are all farmers, each with an equal share of the responsibility to preserve the livelihoods and birthright so generously given to us, and which we so often take for granted. Check out the links below for more information, and maybe try to figure out how in your own way, you can help preserve this bad old world of ours for those coming after us, and for the foreseeable future.

Sharifa Juma digs terraces to stop soil erosion  Lushoto, Tanzania. Credit: Georgina Smith / CIAT

Sharifa Juma digs terraces to stop soil erosion in Lushoto, Tanzania. Credit: Georgina Smith / CIAT


United Nations

Agriculture for Impact – No Ordinary Matter: Conserving, Restoring and Enhancing Africa’s Soils. A Montpellier Panel Report, December 2014.

“Climate Change and Security in Africa”

All Africa



It’s World Food Day Again!


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In celebration of World Food Day, I thought I’d share a wonderful Nat Geo “What The World Eats” graphic.

Built as part of Nat Geo’s Future of Food Series, the viz illustrates changing food consumption patterns across countries and regions over the last 50 years (1961 to 2011). Select the grams tab to reveal quantity consumed per capita, and the calorie tab to see how food translates into fuel and energy. The percentages in the pie chart are the measure of the proportion of each item in the overall diet.

Created using FAOSTAT data, “What The World Eats” is a fantastic demonstration of how data can be transformed into a visual narrative that is easy to share, and even easier to understand.

Click here, or on the graphic to be directed to the full dynamic visual, and enjoy!

"What the World Eats". Source: National Geographic 2014.

“What the World Eats”. Source: National Geographic 2014.



National Geographic


How Green IS Your Valley?…mapping global climate change impacts.


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Climate change is no longer the far-away, somewhat nebulous phenomenon that it was not so long ago. It is with us here and happening now, and its impacts are being felt across both the developing and developed world. Its effects occur without warning uprooting lives and homes, disrupting economies, and leaving millions of dollars in damages in its wake.

New predictive analysis by Climate Central provides data and imagery on worldwide exposure to rising sea levels and coastal flooding. Results show that 147 to 216 million people live on land that will be below sea level or regular flood levels by the end of the century; that is if emissions from heat-trapping gasses continue on their current trajectory.

The map below provides information on actual country impact. Click here or on the image to be directed to a NY Times dynamic graphic.

Flooding Risk From Climate Change, Country by Country. Source; The NY Times 9/14/2014. Click here on on the map for dynamic visual.

Flooding Risk From Climate Change, Country by Country. Source; The NY Times 9/14/2014. Click here on on the map for dynamic visual.

The largest impacts are predicted to occur in China where 41 to 63 million people are projected to feel the worst of the effects. Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa and the Continent’s largest economy reportedly faces population exposure in the hundreds of thousands.

People living on land that will be below sea level or chronic flood levels by the end of the century, assuming current emissions trends continue, and medium sensitivity of sea level to warming. Some countries, such as the Netherlands, have levees that may provide protection. For the list ranked by percent exposure, we considered only countries with total populations over 1 million. Source; Climate Central Dot Org.

People living on land that will be below sea level or chronic flood levels by the end of the century, assuming current emissions trends continue, and medium sensitivity of sea level to warming. Some countries, such as the Netherlands, have levees that may provide protection. For the list ranked by percent exposure, we considered only countries with total populations over 1 million.
Source; Climate Central Dot Org.

Projections are subject to change depending also on the sensitivity of sea levels to warming.

There is a growing recognition among national leaders of just how disruptive climate change effects can be to an economy, and forward thinking administrations are constantly on the look-out for affordable, sustainable, and scalable solutions that can create pathways towards more resilient economies. On the 23rd of September, 2014, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon invited world leaders from across the globe to New York in a bid to catalyze climate action.

The result was a draft universal climate agreement which will accompany these same world leaders to Lima, Peru in December of this year and Paris, France, in December 2015 where the agreement will hopefully pass into law.

Previous efforts at such an agreement in 2009 faded to nothingness following a disastrous climate summit in Copenhagen, but per Christina Figueres; Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, “a lot has changed in 4 years, and there are higher hopes for Paris”. Furthermore, according to Figueres, Paris will be different from Copenhagen because governments and negotiators will have had 14 months to mobilize and negotiate, and the realities today are considerably more alarming than they were 4 years ago. Climate change impacts are being felt more decidedly and more frequently than they were in 2009, and recent climate related disasters have had a “sobering effect” on world leaders across the globe.

In a moving poem “Dear Matafele Peinem” performed before an audience of 120 state dignitaries, spoken-word poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, 26, from the a tiny Pacific Island nation; Marshall Islands, promised her seven-month-old daughter, protection from the threat of climate change, which she says world leaders are ignoring, and to quote her moving and impassioned words;

“We deserve to do more than just survive…we deserve to thrive.”

…those hidden behind platinum titles who like to pretend we don’t exist,

…backwater bullying of business with broken morals…no one is drowning, baby,

no one’s moving, no one’s losing their homeland.

We won’t let you down. You’ll see.”

Watch the rendition of "Dear Matafele Peinem" by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner; UN Climate Summit 2014.

Watch the rendition of “Dear Matafele Peinem” by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner; UN Climate Summit 2014.



The NY Times


UN Climate Summit 2014

Ebola & Western Africa’s Food Security Future (…of all the regions in all the continents in all the world…you had to come to mine.)


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It really has been a riveting and often chilling couple of months in the international policy arena. Front and center across the airwaves, the African continent has been pummeled, probed, abused and disabused. From Boko Haram in the Nigerian North East to tribal conflicts in South Sudan, to private jets stashed with enough cash to purchase enough munitions to eradicate the so-called ISO or ISIS (…or is it ISI….?) a few times over smuggled into South Africa, the Continent, for all intents and purposes, seems to be getting along infamously.

While our emotional muscles have been trained, and dare I say appropriately so, to direct the worst of our ire towards our desperately inept and corrupt leadership, especially when they are caught right smack in the center of a rather dodgy, secret South African arms deal, it is a little more difficult to point fingers at anyone each time a new case of Ebola results in the rapid and untimely death of the next child, or mother or brother. In fact, the rise of this particular variety of misfortune is an event which unfortunately, cannot be traced to the tangible and callous fall of any human hand, and I for one find this doubly unfortunate, because such ills unlike most other outcomes of human vice, cannot be undone by a well calculated, equal and opposite action.

Ebola2014 - by virologydownunder.blogspot.com.eu

Ebola2014 – by virologydownunder.blogspot.com.eu

You may be asking at this point how all of this relates to agriculture; well, the World Bank in a recent report outlined the short and medium-term economic impacts of the West African Ebola epidemic, and she (that’s right…she) estimates that this public health crisis could potentially cost the 3 most affected countries; Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, upwards of $809 million by 2015 if its current momentum is not controlled or delayed.

GDP growth in Guinea has declined by an estimated 50% from 4.5% to 2.4%, a decline which can largely be attributed to drastic reductions in agricultural GDP value added. Agricultural production has ground to a halt as farm workers flee the countryside in search of an escape from the plague ravaging their families and communities, and exports of key cash crops like cocoa and palm oil have fallen to unprecedented lows.

Farming activity in Liberia’s Salayea district and Lofa county has dropped in tandem with the bodies of able bodies men and women who have succumbed to Ebola, and NGO’s relied upon by community farming cooperatives for technical and financial assistance have either shut their doors and fled, or severely restricted all activities. The rainy season stretching from May through July is prime planting season in a region whose agricultural sector follows a strict farming schedule. Reports from town community officials in the town of Beyan describe vast stretches of farm land which have not been brushed and prepped much less planted. Large public gatherings have been rightly forbidden by the government in the wake of the outbreak, and many farmers who hire the services of large numbers of youth for land preparation and planting can no longer do so. Families and individuals have fled in droves, but mostly to communities where they lack entitlement to farmland. Life has changed for farming households in the Ebola affected regions of Liberia, and the food security and productivity implications are enormous.

Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea are experiencing negative effects on food security as containment procedures and trade restrictions are in full force to prevent the spread of Ebola Virus. (shutterstock & food tank)

Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea are experiencing negative effects on food security as containment procedures and trade restrictions are in full force to prevent the spread of Ebola Virus. (shutterstock & food tank)

FAO reports this month have already begun to register disrupted food trade from all 3 countries resulting in price hikes and food shortages. Restricted movement, while necessary has led to panic purchasing of food especially in urban areas. With the harvest season for two key staple crops; maize and rice, fast approaching, labor shortages are not showing any signs of abating, and cash crop production is also expected to register substantial decline which has serious implications for household purchasing power and welfare.


An empty street market in Monrovia's West Point district, 20 August 2014 - Phot Credit; FAO

Empty street markets in Monrovia’s West Point district, 20 August 2014 – Photo Credit; FAO

I say all this to emphasize the truth that the Ebola epidemic is not just a public health crisis, which is a crippling thing in and of itself. It is triggering an even more alarming economic and food security crisis, the effects of which will be felt long after the last Ebola patient is cleared or buried, and international response to the crisis should be structured in a manner that takes the entirety of the situation into consideration.

A trader poses for a photograph at her food stall in the city of Freetown, Sierra Leone, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. The deadly Ebola virus that has killed more than 1,000 in West Africa is disrupting the flow of goods, forcing the United Nations to plan food convoys for up to a million people as hunger threatens the largely impoverished area. (AP Photo/ Michael Duff)

A trader poses for a photograph at her food stall in the city of Freetown, Sierra Leone, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. The deadly Ebola virus that has killed more than 1,000 in West Africa is disrupting the flow of goods, forcing the United Nations to plan food convoys for up to a million people as hunger threatens the largely impoverished area. (AP Photo/ Michael Duff)

The UN World Food Program (WFP) by way of a short-term food relief effort, has launched a regional emergency operation targeting approximately 65,000 tonnes of food to 1.3 million people, and is conducting “rapid assessments to identify the type of measures that are feasible to mitigate the impact of labor shortages during the harvesting period and for related post-harvest activities.”  The FAO has also joined the coordinated UN effort to support affected countries, in daily communication with WHO and other key actors, and has personnel in West Africa aiding technical and logistical efforts.

Such coordinated and timely international response is crucial, and a systemic approach to combating the effects of Ebola from all possible angles of influence is absolutely essential if the region is to emerge from this crisis sufficiently equipped to effectively begin the process of rebuilding its lost capacity.

Next time, let’s talk climate change 🙂

Agriculture Makes a Play In East Africa.


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I have been away for far too long 🙂

However my time away has been spent in the pursuit of the ever elusive and sometimes, seemingly fantastical goal of working to transform the agricultural sector in Africa. I have been in Ghana and Nigeria working with donors and partners on a progress report for the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition Initiative; a new G8 funded program which promulgators hail as a landmark move to boost agriculture and relieve poverty in Africa!, and which detractors scornfully and (dare I say) predictably decry as neo-colonialism!”. Because I am still marshalling the appropriate amount of evidence that will allow me to draw my own conclusions, and awaiting clearance on what information I can and cannot share :), I will save my opinions on the matter for a later post.

Today, I will write a little about another program which I recently discovered which makes me feel somewhat validated in this work; something that does not happen as often as you would think in development practice.

It is no secret that agriculture across sub-Saharan Africa is yet to have its best day. Yet a large percentage of the most knowledgeable people on the subject, on the planet, agree that given the fact that agriculture in its current state typically accounts for between 30 to 40% of gross domestic product and 65 to 70% of the labor force in most of sub-Saharan Africa, the sector is a crucial player in all current and future efforts to end poverty and boost shared prosperity on the continent.

Intent on exploring what has become a proven link between agricultural development and poverty alleviation, African governments in collaboration with the usual cadre of global partner big-brothers, have over the years come up with many, MANY solutions, which while technically sound as a general matter, can often and quite fairly be equated to flinging wads of cash into the nearest lagoon.

However, I will say that there have been some that have made the agricultural development community sit up and take notice. There have been some that have made it easier for a farmer to irrigate her crops during dry season planting. There have been others that have provided subsidized fertilizer for smallholder farmers (a mental note here to tell you about the Nigerian GES fertilizer program soon; it’s a really entertaining story). Some have been solo performances by individual countries such as Ethiopia’s Five Year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP), others have been regional such as the South African Development Community’s Regional Agricultural Policy (just say SADC’s RAP; we development policy people LOVE our acronyms!) We must however, not forget the mother of them all; the ubiquitous, Africa-wide Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Program (CAADP), which brings us full circle to the program in the spotlight today, and so without further chit-chat, I give you the East African Agricultural Productivity Program (EAAPP).

Financed by the World Bank and partners, and focusing on key commodities such as cassava, rice, wheat and smallholder dairy production, the program represents a new and concerted push by four countries in eastern Africa – Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda –to marshal the power of science, boost food and dairy production, put more money into farmers’ pockets, help send and keep children in school, allow them to eat more nutritious meals, and reduce agriculture’s environmental footprint. The project is implemented by ASARECA, the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa, and supports the objectives set by African countries through CAADP.

I, for my part, find the EAAPP particularly exciting, because it touches on three topics that I am particularly close to; agricultural technology, nutrition and climate change, and there are few things in this life that are quite so awesome as using cutting-edge technology to create food production systems that are environmentally sustainable, and provide people not just with food that fills the belly, but food that secures a healthy lifestyle for generations.

The African Union Commission christened 2014 as the “Year of Agriculture and Food Security”, and while some might argue that this nom de plume is inaccurate in that it may suggest that the push for a food secure Africa can be constrained to the activities of a single year, I would say that my excitment about this year in agricultural development programming stems from a viewpoint that highlights 2014 as a year that has brought some serious innovation to African Agriculture; a year in which agricultural development took on a newer face…a bolder face… a face that gives us young agricultural policy infantry a spark of hope that maybe, just maybe the best days for African agriculture are coming, and hopefully…we will be alive to witness them.

Enjoy the EAAPP highlight video below and maybe next post, I will be able to tell you more about this New Alliance that is causing so much activity in the ag-sphere 🙂

Transforming Agriculture for Improved Livelihoods in Eastern Africa

Transforming Agriculture for Improved Livelihoods in Eastern Africa


You ARE what you EAT – Nutrition-Led Agricuture in Senegal.


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One would think that given the many studies demonstrating the importance of integrating nutrition and livelihood considerations into agricultural programs, there would be several real world instances of nutrition-led agricultural interventions carried out effectively and to scale. Not the case.

Frustrated with sideways outcomes of increased agricultural productivity without commensurate positive dietary and nutrition-related outcomes, the NCBA CLUSA International in collaboration with local Senegalese and international organizations pioneered the USAID-funded Yaajeende Project in Senegal in November 2010.

Structured as a 5 year program (11/1/2005 – 06/30/2015), Yaajeende is one of the longest-running USAID-Feed the Future projects to date, and it heavily emphasizes agriculture-nutrition integration from household-level implementation to high-level governmental and private sector coordination, targeting young children under 5 and women of reproductive age for improvements in health and livelihoods.

The YAAJEENDE team is tasked with the improvement of the food security and nutrition of 1million individuals, in 100,000 households across 60 Communuatés Ruraux, in four regions of Senegal plus the Department of Bakel–beginning in Matam, Kédougou and Tambacounda. Of these 100,000 households, 15,000 are categorized as very poor, and a minimum project goal is to improve the nutritional status and food security of at least 150,000 people occupying these impoverished households.

Key activities include promotion of wild foods, preservation of local foods, meal fortification using local food, gardens and iodized salt, distribution of vitamin A and deworming medicine, behavior change communication/information, education and communication (BCC/IEC) and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) activities. The project differs from other similar initiatives because it leads with nutrition, focuses on women, integrates research, and fosters a local private sector. The private sector aspect is particularly innovative as it involves the use of a Community Based Solution Provider model which has revolutionized smallholder and household access to both nutritional and agricultural products and services.

One of the team’s first tasks was the establishment of 1000 Community Based Service Providers (CBSP) for the provision of input supplies, agricultural services and nutritional products to rural people on a commission basis, with the goal that total sales of inputs and services provided through the CBSP network plus the total commodity sales of produced outputs would equal $30 million by Year 5.

Increased economic activity resulting from the establishment of the CBSPs is expected to result in a 250% improvement in the household incomes of farmer participants by an average of 250%, reduced stunting in target zones by 25%, and reduced numbers of underweight children by 35%.

Some of the project impact to date include;

  • The establishment of a network of 427 trained community nutrition volunteers
  • Training of more than 3,300 people on how to make flour suitable for infants at home and more than 7,300 people have been trained on food processing techniques that will allow for longer storage of nutrient rich foods at home.
  • More than 60,000 people have attended 5,274 health talks
  • Education of 2,000 school aged students on micronutrient deficiency and its prevention through school competitions.
  • After a campaign to sell iodized salt in project villages, a drop in the number of homes not using iodized salt from 39 to 22 percent.
  • Formation of mother-to-mother groups in 2012 comprising 57,847 women who learned about health and nutrition
  • Training of more than 17,300 people on WASH technologies.

Below is the Yaajeende story in pictures. Enjoy and share. Given the massive amount of funding that is poured into international development efforts each day with almost no real, measurable outcome, it warms my heart when I come across a program that actually seems to be making an impact on the people that actually matter on the ground, and my joy is made even more complete when agriculture is at the center of this sort of progress in Africa.








Next Up:…we really should get back to SAP 🙂


Counterpart.com – http://www.counterpart.org/our-work/projects/yaajeende

USAID – http://www.spring-nutrition.org/events/getting-how-improving-nutrition-senegal-through-nutrition-led-agriculture

Feed The Future – http://www.feedthefuture.gov/

An App for an Ark…Smart ICT for Farmer Flood Management in East Sudan – Part 2


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Let us walk for a moment through a region to the south of the Sahara, stretching from Western to Eastern Central Africa, which is at once ubiquitous for its rich cultural history and crippling civil conflict; today we will visit The Sudan. The name derives from the Arabic bilād as-sūdān (بلادالسودان) or “land of the Blacks” (an expression denoting West and Northern-Central Africa). The phrase “The Sudan” is also used to refer specifically to the modern-day country of Sudan, the western part of which forms part of the larger region, and from which South Sudan gained its glorious secession in 2011. The Sudan extends in a band-like manner 5,000 km long and several hundred kilometers wide across Africa. It stretches from the border of Senegal, through southern Mali (formerly known as French Sudan when it was a French colony), Burkina Faso, southern Niger and northern Nigeria, southern Chad and the western Darfur region of the present-day Sudan.

africa 2007

To the north of the region lies the Sahel, a more arid Acacia savanna region which in turn borders the Sahara desert to the north, and the Ethiopian Highlands in the east (al-Ḥabašah). To the south-west lies the West Sudanian Savanna, a wetter, tropical savanna region bordering the tropical forest of West Africa. In the center is Lake Chad, and the more fertile region around the lake, while to the south of there are the highlands of Cameroon. To the south-east is the East Sudanian savanna, another tropical savanna region, bordering the forest of Central Africa. This gives way further east to the Sudd, an area of tropical wetland fed by the water of the White Nile.

Avenue of Rams - Naga - Photo Credit Far Horizons

Avenue of Rams – Naga – Photo Credit Far Horizons

Many lifetimes have been spent studying the history of the Sudan, and I will not even attempt to provide a comprehensive account here, but I will say that Sudan has for millennia been the crossroads between Central Africa and the Mediterranean. Sudan as it lives today is a rich and diverse ethnic soup symbolic of the drama and intrigue of its past cultures. The northern area of the country, along with southern Egypt, was home to several ancient civilizations. The first settlers in northern Sudan date back 300,000 years. It is home to the oldest sub-Saharan African kingdom, the kingdom of Kush, which was the most powerful state in the Nile valley four thousand years ago.

Royal Necropolis of the Southern Capital of the Kingdom of Kush (near Bejrawia, 2003) - Photo from utk.edu

Royal Necropolis of the Southern Capital of the Kingdom of Kush (near Bejrawia, 2003) – Photo from utk.edu

Conflict between Egypt and Kush in that era culminated in the conquest of Kush by Thutmose I, but in the 11th century BC, Egypt withdrew and the Sudanese kings grew powerful again. In the 6th century, they invaded Egypt and ruled as Pharaohs uniting the Nile valley from Khartoum to the Mediterranean. The Kushites were expelled from Egypt by the Assyrians, but their kingdom flourished in Sudan for another thousand years. Kush monuments and art display a rich combination of Pharaonic, Greco-Roman and indigenous African traditions, and two are UNESCO World Heritage SitesMeroe and Gebel Barkal. Tall pyramids, gigantic mud-brick buildings, rock-cut painted tombs, and ornately carved temples – all remain for the roaming adventurer to discover, sit silently within and dream.

Sudan Meroe Pyramids-UNESCO

Sudan Meroe Pyramids-UNESCO

Our story takes us to the city of Kassala which along with the Red Sea and Gedaref State comprise East Sudan. With a total area of 55,374 km2, Kassala State lies between latitude 34o 12| and 36o 57| East, and between longitude 14o 12| and 17o 12| North. The state shares an international border with Eritrea to the East. Nationally, it borders Red Sea State and River Nile State to the North, Gezira State to the West, and Gedaref State to the South.



Kassala is composed of eleven localities (mahaliyas) nine of which are primarily rural in composition while the two localities of Kassala Town and New Halfa are urban centers. Kassala State has an exceedingly variegated agroecological landscape with 80% flat plains, and 20% rocky outcrops and hilly terrain. The state is covered by alluvial and volcanic deposits beneath which lie clay Basement Complex and Vertisols formations which respectively, are a very poor repository for ground water and are very difficult to work with. Any water to be found in this northern area tends to be distributed along cracks in the geological formations. In contrast, the southern soil of the state is a lighter, highly permeably variety of clay soil which supports the rainfed systems of cultivation most commonly practiced in the Gash Delta region of the state.

The Gash River, is a major water supply source in the state providing around 560 million cubic meters of water per year during its months of heightened flow. It is a massive torrential stream originating from the Eritrea/Ethiopian Plateau and extending all the way to the Gash Delta within the eastern part of Sudan. The length of the river is about 110 km from the border to the end at the Delta Die. Its seasonal flow occurring mostly between June and October varies significantly from year to year, ranging from a minimum of 200 to a maximum of 1200 Mm 3/year. The Gash River carries with it a large amount of sediment, predominantly suspended load, and it is estimated that, the sediment load is between 5.5 to 13 million m3 per year. Gradual build-up of this sediment has raised the river bed by more than 2 m compared to the surrounding land of Kassala town, further exacerbating the risk of damaging floods by the river.

The Gash Delta is approximately 280,000ha of land, 180,000 of which is allotted to the Gash Agricultural Project. The remaining 100,000ha is irrigated land and makes up the Gash Irrigation Scheme and is primarily supplied by the Gash River. The Delta is completely dry during all but the flood season months, and over the last few years (1975, 1983, 1988, 1993, 1998), and most recently in 2003, 2007 and 2013, the region has been witness to devastating flash floods that wipe out whole villages and displace hundreds of thousands of people.

Oriny, a flood-affected village in Upper Nile State - UN Photo/Fred Noy

Oriny, a flood-affected village in Upper Nile State – UN Photo/Fred Noy

The literature is in agreement with regards to the major causes of these floods primary among which are; 1) increase in the river discharge due to climate change, which in its turn leads to land use change, high floods and sediment transport, 2) rise in water levels due to a reduction in water channel carrying capacity caused by structures which obstruct water flow e.g. bridges, spurs and dykes, as well as morphological changes in riverbeds and slopes, and 3) cavitation due to human and animal activity or weakening of river banks.

Inundated with flood waters during these key months of the year, farmers in the Gash Delta are powerless to respond. They simply wait for the rain to spend itself, for flood waters to recede, and for the soil to lose some of the moisture before sowing seeds. How long this process takes in any particular year is anyone’s best guess, and each year, the region sinks deeper into food insecurity because as research has shown, if a field is flooded for more than two to three weeks, crop yields are invariably lower.

Field Floods in The Sudan - Voice of Africa

Field Floods in The Sudan – Voice of Africa

While it is true that a great deal of damage has already been done, and it is almost impossible to reverse the hand of nature once she has moved it, some really smart people at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) began to do a little bit of thinking.  They began by collecting remote sensing satellite data in the Gash Basin, and on a weekly basis, they analyzed images in 5 major irrigation sections of the Gash Basin, and used the results to determine the extent and duration of flood waters. They also collected data on soil, land cover and water flow to forecast flood flows at a downstream Kassala station where inundation is particularly high. With all this information, and working with partners at the Hydrolic Engineering Center, Gash River Training Unit, and Kassala University, they used a Hydrological Modeling System and River Analysis System, to develop a prototype flood forecasting tool which works to better prepare farm fields in advance of flood events in order to mitigate damage and improve disaster agency response services.

IMWI - ICT for weather and water information and advice to smallholders in africa

IWMI – ICT for weather and water information and advice to smallholders in Africa

In simple terms, this tool converts complex satellite sensor information to simple text messages which are sent to farmers informing them about the optimum use of flood water for crop production i.e. how to make the flood waters work for them. These texts also warn farmers about flood events which allows them to better prepare their fields, and gives them information on ways to mitigate flood damage by better estimating the risk of future flood events. The flood management tool is also able to predict which areas will be flooded and what communities may be displaced. Overall the technology provides a means of utilizing flood waters for irrigation purposes which in its turn has the potential to improve food production and livelihoods in flood irrigated areas.

Climate change is inevitable, whether by way of human activity, or by natural mandate. However, I think that organizations like IWMI are showing us that climate change does not necessarily have to signal the complete annihilation of human life, rather it presents us with a unique opportunity to change the way we live, and regardless of if living is in a modern flat in Addis or in the fields of the Gash Delta, we can all do our bit to ensure our sustained livelihoods, that of our children and the future of this our Africa.

Cracked Earth - Telegraph.co.uk

Cracked Earth – Telegraph.co.uk

Next Up: …maybe we’ll return to SAP 🙂


Bashar, K.E.- GASH RIVER FLASH FLOODS CHALLENGES TO KASSALA TOWN:  MITIGATION AND RISK MANAGEMENT- http://www.rcuwm.org.ir/En/Events/Documents/Workshops/Articles/8/21.pdf

Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability– Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Eni, Devalsam I, Atu, Joy E, Oko,Comfort..O,Ekwok,Innocent (2011). Flood and Its Impact on Farmlands In Itigidi, Abi Local Government Area, Cross River State, Nigeria , International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, Vol. 1 No. 9.

USDA (1993). West Virginia erosion and sediment control handbook for developing areas. USDA. Sol conservation service: Morgantowa, W. V. West Virginia Division Highways (WVDOH)  (2000). Standard specifications for roads and bridges, State Government, Charleston, W. V.

The CGIAR – Water Land and Ecosystems

Far Horizons

UNESCO World Heritage

The Wageningenur

The International Fund for Agricultural Development

The Kuwait Fund














An App for an Ark…Smart ICT for Farmer Flood Management in East Sudan – Part I


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Our last discussion of gender and agricultural water management brought the many tensions surrounding long term water resource availability Africa to the forefront of my mind – where it stayed until World Water Day which fell on Saturday March 22. Wading through the ocean of literature that came through my inbox in the week that followed, I was struck by how powerful water as a natural element truly is.

Illustration of Poseidon from HQWallBase- Mythical King of the Seas & Chief patron of Corinth, and  Plato's  Atlantis.

Illustration of Poseidon from HQWallBase- Mythical King of the Seas & Chief patron of Corinth, and Plato’s Atlantis.

From its divinely assigned role as primary sustainer of human life from as early as the womb, to that of the lifelong preserver of even the tiniest living cell, it is clear that the absence of this fundamental building block of life invariably results in a descent towards a sometimes slow but always certain demise.  Water is at once a powerful life-giving force, and a swift agent of destruction, and we are powerless to prevent it from exercising its will once its mind is made up.

One of my best loved bible stories has always been the account of Noah and the flood.

"Genesis 7:11 - The Flood" from Stories of Genesis (roof of Sistine Chapel) by Michelangelo.

“Genesis 7:11 – The Flood” from Stories of Genesis (roof of Sistine Chapel) by Michelangelo.

While the Bible is chock-full of incredible demonstrations of God’s great love for humanity, I find a special comfort in the specific knowledge that no matter how dire the latest UN Climate Change Report is, that story assures me of the existence of a gentleman’s agreement between my kin and the Supreme Ruler of the known universe; guaranteeing the planet’s preservation in known perpetuity. That being said however, (and whether you, dear readers perceive yourselves to be party to this agreement or have absolutely no belief in the existence of this a Supreme Being I speak of), it is undeniable to anyone that hasn’t spent the last few years, or even the last annual turn of the seasons in some alternate galaxy, that agreement or no agreement, the elements are at war with mankind, and even though we have been promised a stay of complete obliteration, and we are experiencing first-hand a major shift in the atmosphere.

Climate change is a phrase that has been bandied about for many years now, and in the not too distant past, discussion of the topic was greeted with thoughtful skepticism at best or scornful, derisive dismissal at worst. More recent responses however, have shifted towards the former and even further into scientifically proven acceptance of its more worrisome and imminent impacts on our world. Climate change “refers to a change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g., by using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties, and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer. Shifts in the status quo may be due to natural internal processes or external forcings such as modulations of the solar cycles, volcanic eruptions, and persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use. It can be attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and/or natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods”1 i.e. climate change can occur as a result of human activities altering the atmospheric composition, and climate variability attributable to natural causes.

Climate change impacts “refer to the effects of climate change on natural and human systems. It primarily refers to the effects of extreme weather, climate events and climate change on natural and human systems. Impacts generally refer to effects on lives, livelihoods, health, ecosystems, economies, societies, cultures, services, and infrastructure due to the interaction of climate changes or hazardous climate events occurring within a specific time period and the vulnerability of an exposed society or system. Impacts are also referred to as consequences and outcomes. These impacts of climate change on geophysical systems, including floods, droughts, and sea-level rise, are a subset of impacts called physical impacts”1.

Climate Change Vulnerability in Africa - Delphine Digout, Revised by Hugo Ahlenius, UNEP / GRID-Arendal

Climate Change Vulnerability in Africa – Delphine Digout, Revised by Hugo Ahlenius, UNEP / GRID-Arendal (click here for larger image)

The occurrence of floods in particular have been a singularly commonplace impact of climate change in Sub-Saharan and Northern Africa. Mozambique in 2000 was hit by heavy rains and a cyclone that covered most of the country with water for over 3 weeks and killed thousands. 2007 in Mozambique brought with it a similar disaster that displaced over 120 thousand people. 2008 brought floods to Namibia and Benin; displacing hundreds of thousands. The Nyabugogo and Mwogo Rivers in Rwanda burst their banks in 2010 and 2011 causing major economic damage. Nigerian cities have often been the sites of large-scale floods, but none have been quite as destructive as those that occurred in 2012 and 2013 which affected both Nigeria and her neighbor Cameroun. Relief Web reports in July 2013 note that these floods affected 35,026 people in 18 states. Stories of large-scale flooding incidents, both old and new abound across the Continent, but for the sake of efficiency, our discussion will focus on the region of Sudan where flash floods have become an issue of particular concern for climate change and agricultural water management experts, especially in the wake of the series of large-scale flood disasters which occurred in 2003, 2007 and most recently in August of 2013 when Sudan was hit with devastating flash floods that displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

First, let me provide a small general overview of how floods can potentially impact agricultural productivity.

Flooding in our discussion area is most often perennial flooding caused by heavy rainfall and/or overflow of river banks. Crop cultivation in wet and poorly drained soil can be quite difficult except in very few exceptional cases. Heavy rainfall or bank overflow accompanied by flooding not only kills woody and herbaceous plants, but significantly affects plant development. The ability for plant roots to tolerate long period of submersion in flood water depends on the period of year the flood event occurred, duration of the flood event, species sensitivity to flooding and type of soil involved2.

The Impact of Flooding Stress on Plants and Crops - Prof. Michael B. Jackson; School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol

The Impact of Flooding Stress on Plants and Crops – Prof. Michael B. Jackson; School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol

Floods also remove a significant amount of topsoil over large areas of farm land usually by way of sheet erosion. This has serious consequences for agricultural productivity as topsoil is the portion of the soil with the highest levels of organic matter and nutrients, and it generally has the most optimal structure3. Furthermore, excessive soil moisture causes a decrease in soil oxygen levels which impedes proper root respiration. Besides the outright killing of submerged branches and foliage, many plants roots are intolerant to long term submersion, and reduced levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide, methane hydrogen and nitrogen gas around the roots cause them to suffocate and die. Toxic compounds such as ethanol and hydrogen sulphide, tend to build up in saturated soils. Photosynthesis is inhibited and plant growth slows or even stops2.

Recent flooding triggered by heavy rains in the Sudan have caused a great deal of destruction in at least 8 states in the region, and smallholder farming communities in the Gash Delta of Kassala State of Eastern Sudan, have been one of the most affected. In an effort to help these farming communities move beyond short-term damage control measures to a more systematic system of warning and prevention against flood crop damage, hydrologists and remote sensing specialists, have come up with a system through which poor farmers can access real-time information which can be easily exchanged and applied to farming strategy as a means of protecting against flood risk. Using smart ICT in the form of cell-phones backed up by the web for example, experts are now able to communicate with farmers and provide quick, real time information on imminent flood events and best practices for flood water management for agricultural production4.

But, before we go into the specifics of the application, let us take a trip to The Sudan.



Next Up: An App for an Ark…Smart ICT for Farmer Flood Management in East Sudan – Part II

International Day of the Woman…what better reason to interrupt all regularly scheduled activity?


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I am of the personal opinion that women should be celebrated every day, hour and second a child is born i.e. continuously…endlessly. As the sole conduit for the propagation of life as we know it, women are as essential to the human race as the very air that similarly sustains it, and as such should be revered for the magnificent monuments to God’s magnanimous and artisanal nature that they are.

That being said, it is common knowledge that the greatest challenges faced by smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are faced by smallholder women farmers. Land ownership, use, and transfer, access to extension services, delivery of extension services, market access in all its permutations, cash crop cultivation, crop productivity, soil quality, credit availability; some of farming’s most notoriously debilitating concerns are borne by female farmers on a daily basis. Today however, I will highlight one BIG one; water management.

Women Lining Up For Water

Women Lining Up For Water

If you have lived, visited, or spent any amount of time in any rural, or even in some cases, urban section of sub-Saharan Africa; if you have lived in or visited a few homes or neighborhoods, you will likely have noticed either someone walking around with a bucket in search of water, or a water tanker supplying a home or group of people, or someone on a motor bike (or okada as they are known in Western Africa) with a “jerry-can” or two of water harnessed between the driver and the passenger with everyone, including the “jerry-can” just on the verge of sliding off. But by some divine intervention, and more often than you would think, all the passengers make it to their destination, the young girl/boy with the bucket finds a community water source or a tap in a neighbouring home with a friendly gateman who allows them to fill their buckets, and return to their homes where an older family member is waiting to use the water to cook or bathe or perform some other household chore.

1. Photo: MCA CAnada; 2. Photo: Bacher's Blog; 3. Photo: VOA News

1. Photo: MCA CAnada; 2. Photo: Bacher’s Blog; 3. Photo: VOA News

Globally, between climate change and political unrest, fresh water supplies are becoming increasingly constrained, and it is estimated that some 783 million people lack access to clean or safe water. In Africa alone, women and children spend 40 billion hours annually collecting water. This is backbreaking effort which is not always successful, as oftentimes after walking miles to the nearest source, water found there is often unprotected and likely contaminated. Not only are these water sources not protected, the long roads leading to them are very insecure and are many times, the sites of harassment and sexual assault against women and young girls.

A mother and her children finish their day off by collecting dirty water in the Lira district of northern Uganda. Photo from Huffington Post.

A mother and her children finish their day off by collecting dirty water in the Lira district of northern Uganda. Photo from Huffington Post.

Now let us put all this in the context of agriculture. According to Nestle CEO Paul Bulcke, the world is using more than its sustainable supply of water, and “…it is anticipated that there will be up to 30 percent shortfalls in global cereal production by 2030 due to water scarcity…this is a loss equivalent to the entire grain crops of India and the United States combined.” In sub-Saharan Africa, or at least in the section of the region that I grew up in, water is perceived to be a women’s business. However as Sonomi Tanaka of the ADB so succinctly put it, “while household water management is seen as the responsibility of the women, the business of water itself, lacks women.  At an institutional level, the number of women in leadership is miniscule compared to the number of men. At the community level, those doing the hard work to transport, reroute, or clean water resources are usually women, while management and distribution decision making is often within the male sphere of influence.” This exact inequity has enormous impacts on agricultural productivity in the sub-Saharan African region.

Women are essential stakeholders in agricultural water management; they play exceedingly significant roles in water and land conservation, rainwater harvesting and watershed management. However, while the majority of water related responsibilities are allocated to women, most water-related rights and powers are conferred on men. UN estimates report that of the 1.5 billion hectares of cropland worldwide, a mere 277 million hectares is irrigated land, while the remaining 82 per cent is rain-fed land1. Women play an important role in both irrigated and non-irrigated agriculture, and a larger number of women than men are engaged in rain-fed agriculture producing two thirds of the food in most developing countries2. Women’s reliance on rain-fed agriculture, is a severe constraint on increased yield and productivity, but water governance and related policies and processes often fail to take into account women’s and men’s multiple water needs and more importantly, some of the more significant gender-specific constraints. For example, access to irrigation is often strongly linked to land rights and has a detrimental impact on women smallholder farmers’ productivity and income as food producers. Gender disparities in land holdings are discernible in all regions, depriving women from accessing irrigated water, belonging to water users associations, benefitting from agricultural extension services and accessing credit as land is often used as collateral. For instance, in rural sub-Saharan Africa, women hold less than 10 per cent of the credit available to smallholder agriculture due to their inability to provide necessary collateral often in the form of land holdings3.

Checklist for Integrating Gender-Related Issues Into Agricultural Water Management - The World Bank

Checklist for Integrating Gender-Related Issues Into Agricultural Water Management – The World Bank

And so in this very important moment in time when we are taking time to celebrate and recognize women, how far we have come, and the prospects for our continued progress, let us look to this grave concern that has plagued women in agriculture in Africa for a great many years, and consider agricultural water resource management as a potential pathway towards gender equality. Eliminating this challenge will require the recognition of the role of women as farmers and irrigators, and a concentrated effort to address their asymmetrical access to productive resources, services and decision-making spheres4. Furthermore, gender issues must also be mainstreamed in all governance and decision-making processes related to agricultural water resource management; an effort that is currently championed by advocacy organizations globally.

Water is everyone’s concern. But if for some reason the sole responsibility for its day to day management is thrust upon women, then they should be granted the free and clear powers to do what they must to be successful in their assigned roles. Anything less than this complete autonomy is undoubtedly a recipe for failure and frustration, not just for women, but for everyone.

Photo: The Associated Press.

Photo: The Associated Press.

Happy International Women’s Day dear readers, March 8th, today and every day; and a special nod to all women near and far who are doing their bit to make their corner of the world a little better.

Next Up: Now Enter The Big Boys! The SAP Era & Other Stories.


1. UN World Water Development Report (2012), “Water and Gender”, Chapter 35.

2. World Bank (2006), Re-engaging in Agricultural Water Management: Challenges and Options.

3. Report of the Secretary-General: Ten-year appraisal and review of the implementation of the Brussels Programme of Action for the Least developed countries for the decade 2001-2010 (A/66/66).

4. UN Chronicle – Women and Agricultural Water Resource Management

5. MIA Sings, The Three “I”s for Women in Water: Information, Incentives, Investment, ADB.

6. Checklist for Integrating Gender-Related Issues Into Agricultural Water Management – The World Bank

“Good Neighbors…Good Friends”


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Regional Integration has been a favored concept on the African Continent since its first appearance in the early 1960s. Today, there are more regional partnerships in Africa than in any other continent, and most African countries are members of multiple regional initiatives. The Organization of African Unity (OAU) was the product of the African vision of continental integration and from its conception through to its present existence as the African Union (AU) it has been a significant force in the movement towards a Pan-African political and economic union.

African Regional Partnerships

African Regional Partnerships

Regional partnerships in Africa occurred in 2 major waves; the first in the mid-1970s through the early 1980s and the second during the first half of the 1990s. Both waves were the direct product of a combination of national positions and initiatives in African countries, and developments around the world. Post-independence, African nations earnestly looking for ways to join forces and grow, entered into the first few regional integration agreements, which were also in a way the result of the European Community’s successful enlargement in the 1970’s when the UK, Denmark and Ireland joined up. The second wave was more about revamping and revitalizing existing regional bodies rather than creating new ones. It also occurred around the same time as the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the consolidation of the EU with its single market.

Regional Integration Agreement Date of Inception Country Members
SACU – Southern African Customs Union 1970 Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland, South Africa
ECOWAS – Economic Community Of West African States 1975 Benin, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Mali, Cabo Verde, Niger, Cote D’Ivoire, Gambia, Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Guinee, Guinee Bissau, Sierra Leone, Togo.
ECCAS- Economic  Community of Central African States 1983 Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Rep., Chad, Congo-Republic of, DR Congo, Eq. Guinea, Gabon, Rwanda, Sao Tome & Principe
SADCSouthern African Development Community 1992 Angola, Botswana, Congo DR, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
UEMOA – West African Economic and Monetary Union 1994 Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo.
CEMAC – Communauté Economique et Monétaire d’Afrique Centrale 1994 Cameroon, Central Afrian Rep, Chad, Eq. Guinea, Gabon, Congo
COMESA – Common Market for Eastern & Southern Africa 1994 Angola, Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
EAC – East African Community 1999 Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda

Now, while regional economic integration cannot be as clearly categorized as an agricultural development paradigm as some of the other topics we have discussed, it did have significant impact on the growth of the agricultural sector in Africa; and here’s how.

Basic Human Rights as an agricultural development phenomenon did not occur quite on its own. The 1970’s in African development was also a time when national policies began to place a great deal of emphasis on industrialization. This push for made-at-home products in itself came about as a result of a desire to implement import-substitution strategies for a limited range of consumer goods such as beer, matches, and textiles. This move towards import-substitution was also highly predicated on existing regional market sharing agreements.

Africa in World Trade - IMF

Africa in World Trade – IMF

Regional government interest in import-substitution peaked once annual growth rates took a dive from a World War II average of 8 percent per year to a 1973 place of 2 percent per year following the oil crisis that occurred during that period. African countries looking for ways to meet the global economic challenges, took up regional integration by implementing common external tariff protections. Focus shifted from agricultural production, and governments became more interested in strategy that would enable them to produce goods at home. Those governments that had made a killing during the cash crop and petro dollar heyday were able to access easy financing for urban industrial investments, further cementing the demise of national agro-agendas.

How did all this impact agricultural development?

In 2 major ways. When a country or region either in response to global/regional/national financial crisis, or for reasons such as some of the others above, implement certain types of policy measures designed to promote industrialization, one of the effects of such policies can be the appreciation of real exchange rate.

What does this mean? Exchange rates in simple terms can be defined as the amount of foreign currency that can be purchased with a single unit of domestic currency, or the amount of domestic currency it takes to buy a single unit of foreign currency. I.e. how many Ghana Cedis (GHC) can I buy with $1 or how many U.S. Dollars (USD) can I buy with 1GH₵. Exchange rates allow us to denominate the cost or price of a good or service in a common currency.

Now if the value of the GHC were to appreciate, relative to the dollar, it means that the cedi has become more expensive and can now be exchanged for a larger amount of dollars. I.e. 1GH₵/$1 ! 0.90GHC/$1 means that the cedi has appreciated relative to the dollar and the cedi has now become more valuable. This also means that the dollar has depreciated relative to the cedi and is now less valuable.

Most important for our purposes, real exchange rate appreciation such as I have described above usually results in a decrease in the price of imports and an increase in the price of exports. I.e following the appreciation of the cedi, it becomes cheaper for Ghana to buy stuff from other countries and it also becomes more expensive for other countries to buy stuff from Ghana.

This is exactly what happened following the regional push for industrialization and common external tariff protection. Appreciation of the real exchange rates in the region, discouraged outside merchants from purchasing from African countries, which had the effect of discouraging export crop production.

This was one effect of regional integration on agriculture. Regional integration also impacted the demand for food imports. Overvalued exchange rates combined with rapidly expanding cities caused an increase in food imports in urban areas. This had a ripple effect across food markets, and before very long the prices of local, non-tradable staples (roots, tubers, and local grains) began to rise as well in tandem with imported rice and wheat prices.

This was when people began to sit up and take notice. Food availability and affordability began to become a major concern, and by the time drought and famine visited the Sahel and Ethiopia in 1974, and world rice prices reached its uppermost boundary following the oil shock in 1973, local food prices were through the roof and governments began to fear for African domestic food supply.

What happened next was a scramble for solutions. Policy responses focused on boosting food production were implemented and parastatal marketing agencies were created to ensure that the exploding cities were fed. Cash crop-era agricultural researchers maligned for their lack of focus on food crop production began to harp on the subject of extension for both traditional non-tradable food commodities and rice. Investment in dams for irrigated rice production in Africa became the “thing to do” and food became central to the Basic Human Needs dialogue that was also raging during this period. Food was classified as the most “basic” of needs. The smallholder farmer was king and “food production” strategy became the platform for many a politician, both true and charlatan.

And so while Regional Integration in and of itself was not an agricultural development paradigm, its establishment set in motion a chain of events that moved the agricultural development agenda forward, and secured the subject firmly in the annals of African agricultural development discourse.

Up Next: Now Enter The Big Boys! The SAP Era & Other Stories.


FAO: Regional Integration in Africa (http://www.fao.org/docrep/004/y4793e/y4793e0a.htm); Dinka, T, Kennes, W.1 2007. Africa’s Regional Integration Arrangements: History and Challenges (ECDPM Discussion Paper 74). Maastricht.; University of Michigan: Import substitution as economic development (http://www.umich.edu/~econdev/importsub/); IFAD – Food price hikes and food security (http://www.ifad.org/operations/food/); Oyejide (1986) The Effects of Trade and Exchange Rate Policies on Agriculture in Nigeria. IFPRI Research Report 55. Washington, D.C. (http://www.ifpri.org/sites/default/files/pubs/pubs/abstract/55/rr55.pdf)