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Intensified cropping systems for Africa to tackle climate change
After eight years, the Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume Cropping Systems for Food Security in Eastern and Southern Africa (SIMLESA) project is to be concluded this summer.
Led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the multi-regional project has helped over 235,000 farming households adopt more sustainable practices to cope with the effects of climate change and declining soil fertility.
“The work done by SIMLESA has yielded increasing farm-level food security and productivity, in the context of climate risk and change,” said Eyasu Abraha, Ethiopian Minister for Agriculture and Natural Resources, at an official end of project meeting in April this year. The event reflected on the project’s achievements, challenges and opportunities through an external project review and stakeholder discussions.
Getting small-scale farmers ready for climate change
According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Africa is the region most vulnerable to climate change, with erratic rainfall and increasing temperatures already causing crop failures. Small-scale family farmers, who provide the majority of food in Africa, are expected to be the worst affected.
In response, SIMLESA has facilitated the release of 40 improved maize and 64 legume varieties to smallholder farmers in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania as well as the spill-over countries of Botswana, Rwanda and Uganda since 2010.
According to a speaker of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the spill-over countries are benefiting from on-going SIMLESA research activities. Maize is a major staple crop and legumes provide nutrition and income, and improve soil fertility in most of Africa, while both crops provide vital cash income to families across the region.
The project focused primarily on improving maize-legume cropping systems by encouraging the adoption of intensification of agricultural practices that offer the opportunity to simultaneously address a number of pressing development objectives, unlocking agriculture’s potential to adapt farming systems to climate change and sustainably manage land, soil, nutrient and water resources, while improving food and nutrition.
Strengthening the livelihoods focus
The review also found that SIMLESA could have even greater impact by strengthening its livelihoods focus, such as promoting diversification in household food and nutrition.
“While taking stock of our achievements, we are aware that there are still major challenges to be overcome,” said Mulugetta Mekuria, CIMMYT senior scientist and SIMLESA project leader. “We now seek to extend our impact by learning from past and current work and case studies, and by trying out new ideas, technologies and approaches.”
SIMLESA is currently consolidating cropping trials and training farmers in its final year, and laying the foundations for a follow-up project that would focus on researching sustainable intensification, diversification, smallholder mechanisation and crop-livestock integration across Africa.
The project is working to improve maize and legume productivity by 30 per cent and to reduce the expected downside yield risk by 30 per cent for approximately 650,000 small farming households by 2023. There are good prospects for a third phase of the project, although this has not been confirmed yet.