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Solutions for sustainable agriculture in Africa

small farmersSeveral factors prevent a perfect outbreak of African agriculture. However, opportunities abound to address these difficulties.

In too many parts of Africa, a challenging combination of natural resource and labor constraints and limited access to agricultural inputs and technologies reinforces persistent yield gaps and rural poverty traps. Now more than ever, innovative research on sustainable agriculture is crucial to Africa’s well-being.

In 2001-2008, public research and development (R&D) in sub-Saharan Africa averaged more than 20% growth and supported more than 12,000 agricultural researchers, although R&D levels vary widely across countries. Many different scientific advances are underway.

Sustainable Intensification in Agricultural Landscapes. Researchers around the globe are advancing sustainable intensification strategies that use resources and ecosystem services more efficiently, with fewer negative environmental impacts. A global literature review found that many of these strategies can improve both yields and ecosystem services, but with significant variation across methods and agricultural systems.In a recent study of agricultural technologies, particularly strong effects were projected in sub-Saharan Africa for improvements related to drought tolerance, nutrient use efficiency, and adoption of no-till.

Achieving Multiple Climate Benefits in Agricultural Landscapes. As global greenhouse gas levels rise and climate change impacts intensify, scientists are looking for climate change mitigation and adaptation opportunities in the land sector. In Africa, adaptation benefits are likely to be much more important. For example, reduced cereal productivity and food security are anticipated in Africa due to increasing water stress, higher temperatures, and precipitation changes.[4] Importantly, a recent international study identified agricultural practices, such as agroforestry and silvopastoral systems, with strong potential to deliver both mitigation and adaptation benefits at the landscape scale.[5]

Benefits of Agrobiodiversity. Agricultural production systems rely fundamentally on agricultural biodiversity – the variety of animals, plants, and micro-organisms in farm fields, homegardens, and other parts of agricultural landscapes – in order to effectively adapt to external and internal drivers. For example, a recent study documented ways in which farmers cope with and recover from weather extremes by taking advantage of crop diversity and different micro-agroecological zones.[6]