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

The BMBF funds transdisciplinary research on sustainable land management to improve livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa. Together, the measures derived from scientific findings will be implemented in an exemplary manner.

The transdisciplinary research funded by the BMBF lays the foundation for identifying climate-adapted, resource-conserving and, above all, implementable solutions and instruments for sustainable land use in sub-Saharan Africa. The knowledge gained together with regional partners from science, administration, politics and business has to flow directly into education and training measures on site in order to improve livelihoods there in the long term and to support the creation of jobs. In particular, the further development of digital formats, such as smart farming, extension apps, e-learning, decision support systems, plays a decisive role for a sustainable development of Africa's rural areas, which takes into account ecological, economic and social aspects in equal measure.

Land degradation is a global challenge – Africa is particularly affected by it

Land degradation means the deterioration of ecosystem services, for example soil fertility, caused by human activities. Land degradation has reached a critical state worldwide. It is not only forcing the climate crisis, for example by releasing carbon previously stored in the soil, but is already threatening the standard of living of nearly half the world's population. The permanent or irreversible change in the structures and functions of soils or their loss provokes, among other things, a shortage of available agricultural land.

The situation is particularly acute on the African continent and especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Agriculture there is largely characterised by smallholder farms, very low average yields, poor infrastructure and difficulties in access to markets. In addition, the agricultural systems so far have been able only to marginally adapt to economic and natural risks – such as world market developments, fluctuations in precipitation, heat stress or pandemics. In many places, the increases in yields to date are due to an expansion of agricultural land - with mostly negative impacts on ecosystems.

According to the United Nations calculations, the population in Africa will increase to around 2.5 billion people by 2050, almost doubling. The pressure on land as a resource for food security will thus increase even further. These factors and the increasing impacts of climate change will make it more difficult to manage the economy adequately, resulting in the growing risk of poverty for the rural population.

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

The need for research and action for sustainable land management in African regions is correspondingly vast. Both the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land Systems and the IPBES Report on Land Degradation and Restoration call on policy makers and the public to do more to address the anthropogenic part of climate change, for example through carbon-fixing land use practices, based on knowledge-based tools in land management. Furthermore, the reports call for a stronger commitment to the conservation of ecosystem services and biodiversity. What is needed is a sustainable improvement of economic practices and the individual production steps. In this context, for example, restoring degraded land while at the same time creating "green jobs" – i.e. jobs that help to preserve or restore environmental quality – also offer considerable potential to sustainably improve the livelihoods of local people.

The German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) also identifies research needs for sub-Saharan Africa in its report Land Transition in the Anthropocene: From Competition to Integration, published in November 2020. According to the WBGU, multifunctional, "climate-smart" agricultural systems are needed that enable a sustainable increase in the productivity of subsistence agriculture. In the interest of local practicability, the Council recommends involving both young African academics and experienced practitioners in research projects. Furthermore, the transfer of proven methods of sustainable land use with approaches from research should be strengthened.

The new funding measure will make an important contribution to closing the research gaps identified both internationally and nationally. In this way, it will also contribute to achieving the international goal of global "land degradation neutrality" by 2030. Under the Desertification Convention (UNCCD: 1994), the international community had agreed to prevent further land degradation and to compensate for unavoidable degradation of land and soil by restoring soil ecosystem services elsewhere.

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