By Gift Briton

With 40 percent of the global soils being degraded, experts reveal that social innovation can contribute to creating and strengthening an enabling environment for smallholder farmers to invest in soil restoration thereby leading to transformation of sustainable food systems, boosting food security and climate change mitigation.

During a Digital Forum on Social Innovations for Soil Restoration, experts noted that soil has a central role in transforming agricultural productivity and reducing biodiversity loss. Moreover, soil is the largest carbon sink hosting a quarter of the world’s biodiversity and playing a key role in water purification and nutrient recycling.

However, according to Alexander Muller, Founder and managing Director TMG Think Tank for sustainability, even though technologies, guidelines and good practices on sustainable food production are available and accessible to most farmers, social constraints in communities is barring people especially women and youths from using them to the necessary scale. He adds that secure access to land is key to reach land degradation neutrality, end hunger and poverty and achieve sustainable development goals.

Furthermore, women form 65% of farmers globally yet they do not have secure access to use the lands therefore women framers need land rights to increase agricultural productivity and invest in farming methods resilient for climate change.

In this regard, The One World, No Hunger (EWOH) initiative of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has opened a space for transformation and innovation through collective efforts, vast investments and mutual learning across a broad partner network.

Through a partnership with TMG think tank for sustainability and the GIZ global soil programme together with local authorities, the initiative has led to development of social innovations to ensure that women and youths have secure access to land enabling them to restore soil and improve their livelihoods in Africa.

In 2016, the initiative began a process of strengthening land leasing in Kenya, Kakamega county specifically, in a bid to respond to the then ongoing conflict around land leasing and to increase women’s access to land for agriculture.

At the moment, the most common ways women and the youth access land for agriculture is either through purchasing or inheritance, a process which is long and costly making them vulnerable.

Through a consultative process and raising awareness led by communities at village level including chiefs, key local leaders, farmers and youth leaders, they developed a land leasing guideline which has now been adopted by 248 farmers, 190 of which are women.

Consequently, the initiative has enabled more women to engage in soil conservation and rehabilitation by doing sustainable land use management including composting and vegetative crop slope barrier to enhance soil fertility.

Moreover, the initiative has resulted in more women engaging in land leasing and growing of indigenous vegetables resulting in increased food production and income at house level.

According to Flora Ajwera, Agricultural Advisor GIZ, “The partnership was successful because it involved the affected people on ground. TMG, GIZ and Chebuye worked together with the local administrators and the communities to address the barriers that exists around food production.”

Furthermore, she adds that for future program, it is important to bring everybody on board because doing this will enable institutions to come together not only financially but also technically creating a reasonable level of synergy and ownership by the locals. She adds that global goals of soil restoration will not be achieved if people do not secure land rights for women.

A similar initiative was conducted in Burkina Faso, where women form more than half of the farmers, yet their access to land is insecure. Against this backdrop, TMG for sustainability in collaboration with GRAF together with local partners, developed a social innovation for land management to secure land rights for women through awareness raising and negotiations.

As a result, men transferred land rights to their wives and daughters where 228 women in Tiarako have obtained secure access to land on a total area of 400ha leading to improved food production and cohesion within their families.

“Technology itself is not enough we also need to ensure that they are taken up and that is what is lacking in most development projects. Therefore, social innovations can really help in surmounting this barrier leading to increase in sustainable developments,” Larissa-Bhatia, project coordinator TMG research said.

“Our social innovations were developed in collaboration with key local leaders, authorities together with people that are affected by the challenges such that people on the ground were on the driver’s seat in developing these innovations and that is why they are now being taken up at policy levels.”

Sasha Alexander, Policy officer United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification(UNCCD) secretariat said, “Healthy soil is key to not only production of nutritious safe foods but also in mitigation and adaption of climate change and halting biodiversity loss. The global recognition of soil as a production unifier is something that we as the global community need to leverage on at national and sub-national levels”.