21.04.2021 31.05.2026
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Sustainable land management in sub-Saharan Africa: Improving livelihoods through local research

Future-orientated land use in the sub-Saharan region and better adaptation to climate change - these are the goals of the BMBF funding initiative. The research results aim to produce effective measures that can be implemented in agriculture in the future.

Land degradation has reached a critical state worldwide. It refers to the decline in ecosystem services, such as soil fertility, caused by human activity and climate change. The situation is particularly imminent on the African continent and especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Agriculture there is dominated by smallholder farms, low average income, inadequate infrastructure and difficulties in accessing markets. In addition, the agricultural systems have so far only been able to adapt to economic and natural risks – such as global market developments, rainfall fluctuations, heat stress or pandemics – to a limited extent. In many places, the increases in productivity are due to an expansion of agricultural land – with mostly negative effects on ecosystems.

Another challenge: according to the United Nations, the population in Africa is set to almost double to around 2.5 billion people by 2050. This will add to the pressure on land as a resource for food security. These factors and the increasing effects of climate change will make it more difficult to realise adequate yields and incomes, with the result that the risk of poverty for the rural population will continue to rise.

The transdisciplinary research programme funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) engages regional partners from science, administration, politics and business and creates the basis for identifying climate-adapted, resource-conserving and, above all, practicable solutions and instruments for sustainable land use in sub-Saharan Africa. The mutually generated knowledge will be integrated directly into local education and training programmes in order to improve livelihoods and support job creation in the long term. In particular, the development of digital formats, such as smart farming, advisory apps, e-learning and decision support systems, play a crucial role in the sustainable development of rural areas in Africa taking into account ecological, economic and social aspects in equal measure.

Significant need for research and action for sustainable land use in Africa

There is a great need for research and action for sustainable land management in African regions. Both the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land Systems and the Report on Land Degradation and Restoration of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services IPBES call on political decision-makers and the public to do more to combat the human-caused part of climate change, for example through carbon-fixing land use methods. In addition, it is important to identify climate-adapted solutions in agriculture and to do more to preserve ecosystem services and biodiversity. What is needed is a climate-adapted and sustainable improvement of farming methods and the specific production steps. In this context, for example, the restoration of degraded land and the simultaneous creation of "green jobs" – i.e. jobs that help to preserve or restore the quality of the environment – also offer considerable potential for sustainably improving the livelihoods of local people.

The BMBF funding programme "Sustainable Land Management in Sub-Saharan Africa" addresses these issues in order to close research gaps that have been identified both nationally and internationally. In doing so, it also contributes to reaching the international goal of achieving global "land degradation neutrality" by 2030. As part of the Desertification Convention (UNCCD: 1994), the international community agreed to prevent further land degradation and to compensate for unavoidable land and soil degradation by restoring ecosystem services elsewhere.

The projects at a glance

The BMBF is funding four research projects and one associated project. The INTERFACES project provides overarching support for all four research projects dealing with "Sustainable Land Management in Sub-Saharan Africa". The aim is to accelerate the implementation and development of the entire funding programme. INTERFACES is responsible for coordinating and organising accompanying activities to network the various participants. The BMBF provides a total of 14.5 million euros over the period from 2022 to 2027.

The consequences of climate change and a growing population pose major challenges for West Africa – including in terms of food security. Instead of utilising more and more land for agriculture, the project COINS is focusing on the question of how the productivity of agricultural land can be increased. The German-African project team is investigating which efficient forms of land management are most effective for intensifying agriculture on the same area – taking into account local conditions such as water availability or soil characteristics. Specifically for Ghana and Senegal, COINS is evaluating and cataloguing methods for the sustainable intensification of agricultural land. The project relies on the use of digital technologies: in order to develop better cultivation methods on productive land and soil remediation practices on degraded soils, COINS implements regional modelling, for example, and uses data from earth observation as a basis. In addition, new remote sensing products are being developed to monitor and quantify the impact of various sustainable intensification measures.

In order for farmers to ultimately implement such methods, it is necessary to understand and build on existing digital advisory tools such as apps in the field of "sustainable intensification" – for a successful transfer from theory to practice.

Duration: 01/10/2022 - 30/09/2026

More information on the project website

A large number of smallholder farms can be found in sub-Saharan Africa. How can these be converted to more sustainable and productive land use? The research project DecLaRe is examining various approaches to solve current land use problems on smallholder farms in the alternating humid savannah regions of northern Ghana and Benin. Multi-layered land use rights often play an important role in the interaction between farmers and livestock keepers. The DecLaRe project is implementing the new solutions on a trial basis and thus developing a decision-making tool with scientifically based recommendations for action. The African-German project team will make the research results available in an open source database. It is intended to serve as a decision-making aid for local agriculture in order to support future-oriented land management.

The DecLaRe project team works on the basis of existing local knowledge, scientific findings and databases in Ghana and Benin in order to obtain as much data as possible. These are supplemented by specific field experiments, empirical social science research and interdisciplinary modelling approaches developed by the project team. For example, the project is examining the cultivation of sesame in agroforestry systems. Sesame is a promising new crop for smallholder farming systems and is becoming increasingly important as a healthy food due to rising global demand. One advantage is that sesame can be grown without herbicides and insecticides and is therefore less harmful to ecosystems, requires little investment and is less exposed to price fluctuations than maize and cotton, for example.

Duration: 01/11/2022 - 31/10/2026

More information on the project website

Livestock farming in open grazing areas, so-called rangelands, is an important land use system that contributes between 15 and 60 per cent to the agricultural gross domestic product of countries in eastern and southern Africa. This way of farming uses very little fossil fuel, but requires a lot of knowledge and information. This is where the project InfoRange comes in, using digitalisation to make livestock farming more efficient and developing ICT solutions together with the user groups - including agricultural businesses, authorities and veterinarians. The knowledge of all those involved is utilised to work out what digital solutions for better rangeland management and veterinary care could look like and what is needed for the successful use of ICT solutions. Similar to the geotagging of photos and live traffic reports, user-generated information, which can be transmitted by livestock farmers via smartphone apps, for example, is combined with remotely sensed data. With the help of machine learning, patterns in various scenarios can be recognised and analysed.

In addition to the farmers, InfoRange involves various decision-making bodies in the project from the outset in order to produce results that can improve political decisions.

Duration: 15/12/2022 - 14/12/2026

More information on the project website

The effects of climate change and population growth pose new and enormous challenges, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. For subsistence farmers, the focus is primarily on food production for their own needs and not on trade in agricultural products. It is becoming increasingly challenging to farm the land sustainably while at the same time conserving natural resources. There is often a large gap between scientific concepts for sustainable land management and the needs of local communities on the ground.

The MINODU project aims to close this gap by processing existing knowledge in a user-friendly way and creating local networks. Together with students from the University of Kara and local communities, concrete solutions are being developed in the rural region of Kara in Togo. New forms of knowledge exchange are created through participatory design. This promotes a collective learning approach that enables people to overcome global challenges at a local level while at the same time valuing the traditional practices of local farmers and enriching them with scientific knowledge.

The research project investigates how results can be shared with groups that have limited access to digital technologies. The aim is to provide and improve knowledge on topics such as climate change, sustainability, water management and desertification as well as relevant technologies through various participation formats.

The project team is researching how concrete improvements can be achieved locally in terms of sustainable land use, what resources are available and how those involved can benefit from a joint network with other stakeholders. Digital technologies and social action are combined to create new opportunities and build connections between the different groups. This practical approach ensures that knowledge is firmly anchored in the minds of all participants and creates an emotional connection to the topic.

Duration: 01/03/2023 - 28/02/2027

More information on the project website

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