World Agroforestry (ICRAF) is at the forefront of building capacity in Africa to understand and manage healthy soils and ecosystems.
Enhancing the capacity of Africa’s scientists, agricultural extension staff and farmers is critical if the millions of hectares of degraded soils and ecosystems are to return to productivity. World Agroforestry (ICRAF) has been supporting Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Lesotho and Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) to learn how to improve food security and build the resilience of smallholders’ farming and agro-pastoral systems through training in soil health.
In October 2020, ICRAF staff led two virtual training courses on data analysis and soil spectroscopy, respectively, under the Land Degradation Surveillance Framework. The virtual data analysis training supported the Eswatini Water Agricultural Development Enterprise , part of the International Fund for Agricultural Development’s programme with the Government of Eswatini. The training in soil spectroscopy supported Beyond the Static: Operationalizing Earth Observation Assisted Frameworks for Assessment and Monitoring of Ecosystem Health in International Fund for Agricultural Development’s Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Program Areas.
‘In the Eswatini Water and Development project,’ explained Tor-Gunnar Vågen, geoinformatics senior scientist and head of the GeoScience Laboratory at ICRAF, ‘we are supporting the development of a national system for assessment and monitoring of land health. The project is implementing 12 sites of the Land Degradation Surveillance Framework and we are also supporting the Government of Eswatini in capacity development for land-health assessments. As well, an online platform is being developed that will allow decision makers and stakeholders across the country to access synthesis and information on land health at high spatial resolution.’
Twenty-three participants from the Ministry of Agriculture and Information participated in the two-day training, which was a follow-up to an earlier workshop, Biophysical Baseline Assessment using the Land Degradation Surveillance Framework, 27 May to 1 June 2018 in Eswatini. The objectives of the recent workshop were to introduce key concepts, methods and applications of data analysis under the Land Degradation Surveillance Framework; remote-sensing data processing and visualizaton, including various vegetation indices useful for the assessment of land health; and statistical analyses of data relevant to the Framework, focusing on key indicators of soil and land health, such as soil erosion, species’ abundance and diversity, and soil properties.
‘ICRAF started engaging with the project team in 2017,’ said Leigh Winowiecki, leader of the Soil and Land Health research theme at ICRAF, ‘both in the field in Eswatini as well as during stakeholder workshops held in Lesotho and Kenya for training in global information systems. It has been such a great experience working with the team, co-implementing methods for assessing ecosystem health. I look forward to continued engagement and development of mapping outputs and decision dashboard with them.’
Concurrently, another team led by Elvis Weullow, manager of ICRAF’s Soil–Plant Spectral Diagnostics Laboratory, ran a second virtual training in infrared spectroscopy and x-ray spectrometer techniques with a group of six participants in Côte d’Ivoire. This training was part of the Cashew Value-Chain Competitiveness Project: Support for the Components of Sustainable Soil Management and Climate Change Resilience, which is funded by the World Bank.
In this project, ICRAF’s mandate is to improve the sustainability of the cashew supply chain based on evidence-based recommendations for sustainable production. This will be achieved through sustainable soil management by establishing a cutting-edge central laboratory of infrared spectroscopy that will enable rapid analyses of a huge number of soil and plant samples; soil characterization through the Land Degradation Surveillance Framework; and training farmers in sustainable soil management.
This training was part of a series to equip staff of the recently opened laboratory with techniques for managing the entire soil and plant sample chain, from reception of samples to scanning and production of spectra for calibration. The specific objective of the workshop was to provide the knowledge of infrared spectroscopy techniques needed for the central laboratory in Sinematiali to be fully operational. These techniques include sample processing, log in and sample archiving, instrument validation and sample scanning, data processing including software installations; spectral data processing and analyses; introduction of online Spectpred App and sample shipping protocols as per new regulations issued by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service.
‘ICRAF provided the initial training in infrared techniques and a spectrometer alpha, each in 2012, with the idea of progressively scaling up the use of infrared spectroscopy techniques in the country,’ explained Tondoh Ebagnerin, a land health scientist with ICRAF Côte d’Ivoire and one of the training participants. ‘After this training, we expect the central lab to be fully operational with staff in charge of calibration, prediction and data management. This will generate a long-lasting impact in Côte d’Ivoire and West Africa at large.’
ICRAF’s Soil–Plant Spectral Diagnostics Laboratory has so far helped to set up 37 spectral labs in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Australia. More than 1000 people have been trained in soil and plant spectrometrics over the years. The training courses and advisory services are now being offered virtually following COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
Written by Ann Wavinya