Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Why we need to investigate young farmers as new actors in the Food-Water-Environment Nexus

As an environmentalist carrying out research in the agricultural development and youth livelihoods, one of the things that struck me most was the lack of awareness among many young farmers on the need to conserve the natural resource base for sustainability of their agricultural activities. The challenge of water is never highlighted in the world of youth agricultural livelihoods that I currently research. 
Young farmers setting up for flood irrigation on their tomato farm.
Photo: Grace Mwaura
However, water, just like land, is essential in determining what livelihood opportunities will be available to young people now and in the future. In Kenya, young farmers, who had failed to find jobs after completing their education engaged in horticultural farming for local and export markets. A commendable self-employment initiative to earn them a living and support their families, but their practices had an adverse impact on the water resources and the wider landscape. 
Crossing the river from which the irrigation water was drawn
Photo: Lynette Achieng
Their continued drawing of water from the already shrinking rivers for flood irrigation meant that they were not only wasting the scarce resource, but also, they were risking the livelihoods of others who relied on the same river downstream. In addition, their excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides would result in loss of agrobiodiversity and pollution of the same water bodies, increasing risks to downstream users. 
One of the farms practising drip irrigation and crop rotation
Photo: Grace Mwaura
Taking an action research approach, I later got involved in exchange visits between these kind of young farmers and others whom I found using water sustainably. My aim was to ensure that all young farmers were aware that not only a livelihood was important, its sustainability mattered, and therefore, smart approaches such as water conservation and organic farming were essential. There was a small group of young farmers who had invested in rain water harvesting technologies and used the water for irrigation and agroforestry practices. Others practised drip irrigation ensuring water efficiency and overall protecting the soil from forming a hardpan. Planting drought resistant crops, which were also indigenous, was not only a water conservation strategy, but also a practice that contributed to agrobiodiversity conservation and increasing the resilience of the farmers.
Thriving agroforestry trees watered with rainwater in Kitui Kenya
Photo: Grace Mwaura
Overall, my biggest lesson was that conservation efforts, in the context of sustainable development goals, need to consider the challenges of creating new sources of livelihoods; involving new actors such as young farmers, often disenfranchised and seeking quick sources of income; but also often unaware of the need to engage in sustainable practices. With collaborative programmes embracing the food-water-environment nexus, we will be better positioned to address unemployment and livelihood challenges, safeguard our soils, conserve water, conserve agrobiodiversity while at the same time, increasing the resilience of the young people and the landscapes to the impacts of climate change. 

This article was part of the Water Flows stories submitted to the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2016

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Three Big Questions Before Engaging Youth in Agriculture Transformation Agenda

Pupils harvest kales from their 4-H project,Mbagathi Primary School.
Photo by Jamila Abass
At the AGRF2016 IDRC sponsored event, Dr. Wanjiru Kamau Rutenberg set the scene for the discussion on deeper questions to ask if we are to meaningfully engage African youth in agriculture. In this article, I elaborate some of hers and other presenters’ questions. The emphasis here is that, it is not just about agriculture being a source of employment for a growing youth population, but it’s also questioning what the real issues are with a youth bulge and how we can tackle them within an agricultural transformation agenda. It is about unpacking the Africa rising narrative, questioning the contribution of agricultural growth to inclusive economic growth, devising innovative ways of closing the gender gap, and measuring agricultural growth relative to other sectors, and hence, better understanding how to seize the youth opportunities therein. Here are some of these explained:-

First, understand what Africa’s transformation really means for prosperity and sustainability. Whereas statistics from the AfDB show that agriculture is the second largest industrial sector in Africa projected to grow by 6% p.a. by 2030, an important question is yet to be addressed: Is this growth or extraction? Is this a factor of prosperity or it’s just a new phenomenon of growth following the old path of extraction and scramble for African natural resources? Are African agricultural policies structuring this growth to ensure that it is first beneficial to African economies before exporting nutrients from the African soil to the rest of the world?

Second, speaking to those outside the agriculture sector if we really want to achieve inclusive transformation, therefore asking: Which sectors complement and/or compete with growth of the agricultural sector? While the agriculture sector is growing, other sectors such as construction and transport are growing even faster meaning there is need for diversification and complementarity. This growth must also be understood in the context of increasing food imports into Africa even as claims are made of African agricultural growth. How can we reverse food imports while sustaining agricultural growth?

Third, view agricultural growth in the context of inclusive transformation and therefore ask: Is our agricultural growth a magnifier of inequality? It is important that countries position themselves so that this moment of agricultural growth is also a moment to fix the structures of socio-economic inequality that already exist and result in inclusive transformation. Does our current trend of agricultural growth addresses issues of poverty alleviation and improving the livelihoods of those at the bottom of the pyramid and the marginalized? In a particular context of women and youth, it will be fundamentally crucial to apply the concept of intersectionality that allows us to appreciate women and youth contribution within a large context of rapid transformations on the continent. For instance, we already know that closing the gender gap would increase agricultural productivity by 30%, and particularly would attract more young women.

In the light of these three issues, where do we then see the opening and closing of youth opportunities in agriculture? Such opportunities have to be contextualized in the ongoing changes such as the growing Africa-China trade, the expansion of free trade areas in Africa, urbanization and the growing middle class, technological advancements in Africa as well as opportunities provided by democratization in Africa. Importantly, all actors must be willing to recognize and invest in capturing the responsibility, alertness, imagination, and willingness of young people to take action.

A study on expanding business opportunities for young people in agriculture by USIU found that young people are three times more likely to be unemployed. The same study, however, also found out that, when young people are provided with a set of activities, resources and mentoring, they change their behaviour towards becoming entrepreneurial and may even engage in other agriculture-related activities such as research and policy. In fact, women when supported emerge more resilience than men do, and young people are more likely to use their personal savings and borrow from family to start a business.

Our understanding of youth aspirations offers us new insights over the claim that young people are sitting down waiting for things to be done for them. This idea of passive waithood is far from truth as many researchers have shown. In fact, they exhibit a desire to emulate others who are making it in life. However, such testimonials and mentors are few in the agriculture sector, leaving most youth to imagine agriculture as an uncool venture, and the outsiders to understand young people as uninterested in agriculture.

Therefore, we have to rethink this ‘uncool’ nature of agriculture. Fundamentally,  what would we get by unpacking the ‘uncoolness’ and stigmatization of agriculture?

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Leveraging STI to Transform Informal Sector Youth Opportunities

First published on Rhodes Scholars Blog
Because innovations can be as easy as this hand-washing technology
for schools in Kenya. Credit: Healthy Learning Programme
A Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) framework is important in a country where most young people rely on the informal sector for their livelihoods but which are threatened by the economic uncertainties, poor policies, and lack of incentives. Over 70% of Kenyan youth work in the informal sector, a majority in poor working conditions and underpaid. A shift in this sector resulting in improved employability, improved working conditions, creating new jobs and changing existing ones, while transforming the informal sector for future generations is then a priority. How can advances in STI transform youth livelihood opportunities in the informal sector while reinforcing the framework for implementing sustainable development goals (SDGs)? Some of the factors to consider include measuring the impact of STI on the informal sector, scaling up STI best practices, incentives, and capacity building.
It makes economic sense to link STI to the needs of the informal sector and to the achievement of SDGs. Through its national development blue print, Vision 2030, and its new constitution, Kenya is indeed one of the progressive countries in aligning its national development agenda with the SDGs. Articles 41 to 43 outline the labour, environment, social, and economic rights of Kenyan citizens, which are central to Agenda 2030 targets and integrate the principles of sustainability namely, environmental integrity, economic development and social justice and equity. The current economic statistics clearly show that there is little distinction between informality and formality, and in fact, Kenya’s economic growth thrives from informality. It is the smallholder agriculture employing millions of rural dwellers, the informal trade in local markets, the retail kiosks selling cheaply manufactured goods, the bodabodas[1], waste recycling, and the bourgeoning service sector work in small and big towns such as salons, barber shops, and mobile money kiosks etc. that fuel the economy. These, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, account for over 60% of wage employment. Technological advancements and innovation must address such every day and localized hustles to improve micro-economies and hence, address social injustices of those living at the bottom of the pyramid.
Examples of how the informal sector benefits from STI already exist: mobile-based agricultural extension tools, solar-powered irrigation systems, mobile money services, improved seeds for dryland regions, online marketing platforms, local cottage industries, and increased number of technical and vocational training institutes among many others. However, their scale remains inadequate to meet the demands of the millions of youth in need of basic means of survival. Furthermore, these solutions need to move beyond protecting and preventing individuals from immediate calamities, and address long-term improvement of their well-being. This calls for enhancing their long-term resilience to respond to ongoing changes in the economy, society, and environment. Additionally, there is a gap in how we measure their impacts and design and implement replication and scaling strategies. National policies are needed to elaborate the informal sector development pathway, facilitate technology transfer, intellectual property rights, and provide incentives.
Capacity building grounds the capabilities and confidence of young people to pursue opportunities offered by STI in the informal sector. Even though this generation of young people is more educated than past generations, there are disparities in skills required by the labour market and those possessed by the young people. Efforts to address these push-pull factors have been addressed by, among others, increasing technical and vocational education and training institutions (TIVETI), promoting new forms of skills learning; and introducing entrepreneurship training in formal and non-formal education. The mushrooming of start-ups and incubators in Kenya is an indicator of increasing opportunities for capacity building and youth-led job-creation. These platforms offer training, mentoring, networking, and financing opportunities for young entrepreneurs. However, these efforts must be commensurate to the changes in the market to expand the opportunity space for the absorption of young people and in national policies to create an enabling environment for youth businesses to thrive.
Importantly, we must address the significantly low investments in research and development that limit the extent to which STI research is adopted to advance informal sector and improve livelihoods, hence constraining youth opportunities. Kenya invests less than 3% of its GDP in research and there are very few incentives and/or political will to implement policies that facilitate an STI-based economy. This blurs the vision of a sustainable economy and just future for the country and its young citizens.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

The challenge of an entrepreneurial narrative to youth unemployment in Kenya

A recent World Bank report indicates that Kenyan educated youth are unlikely to find formal jobs. This is the case worldwide; but it is more critical in Africa where the demography will remain young for the next four decades. Nine million Kenyan youth will join the labour market in the next decade, and even though job creation has relatively increased in the last decade, it has not kept pace with the high numbers of youth entering the job market. Moreover, the recent surge in GDP in Africa has also been fuelled by a disproportionate expansion of the service sector, with limited synergy and growth in the industrial and agricultural sectors. Consequentially, educated youth are increasingly employed in temporary jobs or carve out new occupations in the informal sector.

An assumption that graduates might alter their career trajectories towards entrepreneurship rather than formal jobs prevails. Across the continent, there has been a surge of public and private investment in promoting youth enterprises in a wide range of sectors, including agriculture. The overriding goal of these investments is to address unemployment and promote and self-employment and job-creation among youth.
Kenya Economic Update 2016
However, the numbers of young people transitioning into entrepreneurship is not significant. The 2015 East African Youth Survey indicates that even though most young people were willing to do anything to earn a living, their perceptions of agricultural occupations remained largely negative with only about 11% of Kenyan youth willing to take up agricultural occupations and about 63% anticipating public sector jobs. Not only does this tell us that there many youth yet to change their aspirations and expectations in line with the socio-economic changes, it also highlights the narrow range of opportunity spaces for decent work outside the public sector.
My doctoral research found that young people are willing to diversify their livelihood options during times of economic uncertainty by pursuing portfolio occupations[1]. These opportunities are often found in the informal sector and mostly do not address the productive and transformative needs of work or even result in significant economic growth. Furthermore, they are reliant on an enabling business environment that meets the needs of the heterogeneous youth cohort, a factor that has not been considered in most youth empowerment programmes. Fundamentally, the emphasis to entice young people into agriculture has resulted in the creation of temporary work opportunities in the sector without addressing the systemic challenges of the agrifood sector. As such, many youth engaging in agriculture do it while waiting for opportunities to transition to other livelihood sources.
On the other hand, whereas agriculture provides a great avenue for youth entrepreneurship, it is a capital-driven strategy for alternative livelihoods. Only those young people with access to a range of capitals (such as skills, start-up capital, land, market access etc.), enabling their basic survival, engage in agriculture as a business. Many others find themselves in agriculture as a last resort strategy, as a side-hustle, and during tarmacking. For these reasons, agricultural occupations are yet to become the envisaged productive and transformative work opportunities for young people. Nevertheless, these informal and temporary opportunity spaces do become part of their portfolio occupations allowing young people to get by and earn certain social markers of adulthood.
Least we assume that entrepreneurship is the ultimate solution to youth unemployment problems, we have to remain cognizant of the significant role of state in creating structures that facilitate an enabling environment for job-creation and for youth agribusinesses to thrive. There is need for a paradigm shift, so that, even as the state shrinks, there are policies and institutions enabling a rethinking in how we mainstream the youth demography into national development policies.

[1] Mwaura, G.M. 2015. Educated Youth in Kenya: Negotiating Waithood by Greening Youth Livelihoods. PhD Thesis. Oxford University

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Policy Imperatives for Spurring African Youth Employment through Ecosystem-Based Adaptation (EbA) Driven-Agriculture

In the face of the predicted impacts of climate change on ecosystems and livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa, addressing inclusive economic growth, food insecurity, and ecosystems management shall require a renewed effort by the African countries that recognizes the need for inclusion and participation of the growing youth population in Africa. According to the World Bank, 200 million Africans are aged 15-24 years, and approximately 11 million young people join the workforce every year. Most of these remain unemployed, pausing further potential risks to ecosystems, socio-economic and political stability of African countries. Governments, therefore, need to think of how to tap into the young workforce and channel their energy into addressing food insecurity, maintaining healthier ecosystems, and hence, steer sustainable development in Africa.
According to EBAFOSA, ecosystem-based approaches to agriculture provide opportunities for increasing agricultural productivity, improving human well-being due to increased incomes, maintaining healthier ecosystems, and expanding the agriculture value chains hence diversified work opportunities for a variety of people. The diversified opportunities in EbA-Driven Agriculture are unique in that they are knowledge and labour intensive, and require increased human capital, thus likely to attract the growing, unemployed, yet relatively educated youth population in African countries. Furthermore, the emergent opportunities are green and have the potential of becoming decent jobs if governments and other stakeholders prioritize i) mainstreaming EbA approaches in their national development policies and plans and ii) including young people as key actors in the implementation of these policies and plans.
For the latter, governments must take advantage of the youth dividend who bring along innovation and flexibility, but are also largely cut off from productive work in the formal economy. We must first acknowledge the impact of the ongoing efforts to increase youth opportunities in the agriculture sector in the last six years. The 2014 African Union Heads of States reaffirmation of their commitment to the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) was followed by a commitment to create 30 percent of youth employment opportunities in the agriculture value chains. Governments of Kenya, Nigeria, Benin, Senegal, and Ghana have created youth employment and entrepreneurship funds to which young agripreneurs are currently benefitting. Institutions such as ANAFE, IITA, and CGIAR ‘youth in agriculture programmes’ that deviate from their usual research focus indicates the significance of young people as new actors in African agricultural transformation. The private sector and the overall public-private partnership environment has grown leading to initiatives such as UniBrain, YPARD, CORY among many others. Donors and development agencies have increased their support to youth agribusinesses such as the MasterCard Foundation, IFAD, AGRA, Commercial Banks, among others.
However, the main challenge of the ongoing initiatives is their failure to fully integrate EbA approaches in the emerging agricultural opportunities. More so, the existing national policies have barely established guidelines of including EbA principles into agriculture to an extent that new farmers can adopt such practices. There is also the factor of policy interplays that influences the impact of regional and national policies on youth opportunities in the agriculture value chains. For instance, the unresolved land tenure conflicts and policies in most African countries limit young peoples’ access to land which is a pre-requisite to farming. However, liberal trade policies and urbanization have opened up new markets and encouraged young people to invest in small-scale and medium-scale enterprises. Likewise, policies on education, health, infrastructure development, natural resource management, and climate change often open up or limit young peoples’ opportunities. Some of the policies which have a positive interplay with EbA policies include country development visions; micro, small and medium enterprises development policies; employment policies; national youth policies; education policies; and gender policies. There exists great potential for interplay between climate change, green economy, and youth employment policies as they intersect at the point of low carbon development and green and decent employment. EbA-driven agriculture is just one of the opportunities to achieve these multiple benefits.
Principally, the extent to which regional and national policy-making processes consider EbA principles and practices important approaches to addressing sustainable agricultural transformation, will determine the outcomes of policies targeting agricultural development and addressing environmental conservation, climate change and economic growth. The recognition of young people as key actors in the design and implementation of any policy is then a key determinant of their chances to engage in EbA-driven agricultural opportunities. The perceptions and attitudes of those in power influence how young peoples’ interests are included in policy-making and implementation processes.
On the other hand, new studies point to increasing interest among young people to become entrepreneurs rather than pursue formal and white collar employment. While this could be attributed to job insecurities and high unemployment rates, it is also evidence that new and expanding markets, including in the agricultural sector, are opening up opportunities for young people to engage at different levels of the value chain as entrepreneurs. Therefore, the rhetoric that young people are disconnected from national development and disinterested in agriculture must change and instead our focus should be on the mechanisms through which African youth can be facilitated to make meaningful contributions to African economies through agriculture value chains. Our optimism that young people can drive an EbA-driven agriculture is based on the premise that this knowledge and labour intensive approach offers viable livelihood opportunities which with the right policy environment, supporting infrastructure development, access to resources and widening of the value chains, is capable of providing decent jobs to young people while safeguarding the environment and improving the economies in the long-run.
Policies aiming at increasing young people’s knowledge and skills base, particularly in technical know-how and agribusiness management must be promoted and their implementation continuously monitored. The ongoing emphasis on agribusiness knowledge acquisition for young people must also include ecosystem-based approaches to agribusiness planning and management. There is need to introduce and support policies that aim at accelerating and up-scaling the agribusiness incubator footprint that has started in some African countries especially to capture more young people in diploma and college level who are more likely to establish small enterprises after graduating. Institutions that guide review of curricula in agriculture, agroforestry, and natural resources, such as ANAFE, must provide guidance to universities and colleges based on new knowledge and practices that links EbA to green business initiatives. These policy initiatives must also recognize and include in their plans, the significant role played by informal learning platforms, including the role of indigenous knowledge in shaping sustainable livelihood opportunities.

Finally, advocacy and capacity building are needed to drive these policy changes. Civil society organizations in collaboration with research institutions and policy think tanks must lobby governments to allocate at least 10 percent of national budgets to agriculture as required by the African Union Maputo Declaration. A significant share of this budget must go towards assuring opportunities for young people in the EbA-driven agriculture value chains. Importantly, advocacy on land reforms, restoration, and management must consider the role of young people in steering EbA-driven agriculture in the long-term. In addition, lobbying for the harmonization of government policies will reduce existing gaps, while innovative financial mechanisms, institutions, and collaborative networks help in realizing the vision of scaled-up EbA agriculture in Africa through youth engagement.
For further reading on ecosystem-based adaptation: weADAPT and  ACTS

#Collections: Timbuktu and the truth about African scholarship

Timbuktu. Source: UNESCO
I recall this night with embarrassment when a German colleague took me to a certain ‘Timbuktu CafĂ©’ in Hamburg. Poor me, I would not recall why Timbuktu was such an important city on the African map, that a  restaurant by that name was a favorite for the germans! There was amazing live African music (Oh! how I love live music) and the cafe was rich in artefacts of African origin. But as I soaked in all these in a ‘far off’ Hamburg, I lamented having little knowledge of my continent, and especially of places such as Timbuktu that were famous in other continents yet their history unknown to me. Thus, Timbuktu joins my list of #Collections which I started with a recollection of the Nok Culture as an indicator of Africa’s ingenuity and a review of The Nile Project. 
Timbuktu, a historical city in Mali, is one of those places which harbour evidence of Africa’s scholarship dating back to the Golden Age. I would love to make connections of Timbuktu with my love of Malian musicians like Fatoumata Diara and Rokia Traore, or with the cynical definitions of Timbuktu provided by the Oxford Dictionary as a term ‘used in reference to a remote or extremely distant place’. But let me keep to the history of the city as a centre for scholarship and economic activity since the 11th century.
Situated 20km North of River Niger and on the Southern edge of the Sahara Desert, Timbuktu is presently a desert. Historically, it was founded in the 11th century, starting out as a seasonal settlement, and then becoming a permanent settlement in the 12th century following a shift in trading routes. It then started flourishing from the trade in salt, gold, ivory and slaves. The place became part of the Mali Empire early in the 14th century. Archaeological research, however, claim that Timbuktu dates back to Iron age, with evidence of being occupied during the 5th century BC, thriving throughout the second half of the 1st millennium AD and eventually collapsing sometime during the late 10th or early 11th century AD.
I am particularly drawn to Timbuktu’s connection with the Islamic religion and being a world centre of Islamic learning from the 13th to the 17th century. This is chronicled in the Timbuktu Manuscripts  on art, medicine, philosophy, and science, and several priceless copies of the Quran. According to Wikipedia, ‘Timbuktu's rapid economic growth in the 13th and 14th centuries drew many scholars from nearby Walata (today in Mauretania), leading up to the city's golden age in the 15th and 16th centuries that proved fertile ground for scholarship of religions, arts and sciences. An active trade in books between Timbuktu and other parts of the Islamic world, and with Emperor Askia Mohammed's strong support, led to the writing of thousands of manuscripts’. However, following several invasions of Timbuktu and later the French colonization, Timbuktu lost its economic and scholarship strongholds. As a result, traditional architecture of mosques and other buildings as well as the manuscripts have been destroyed, or failed to be preserved over the centuries. Most of the manuscripts still remain unstudied and uncatalogued, and some lost or sold off, partly due to the demise of Arabic education in Mali under French colonial rule resulting in a decline of appreciation for the medieval manuscripts.
Luckily, Timbuktu old town including some buildings, mosques and remaining manuscripts are now preserved under the UNESCO world heritage sites convention. To try and bring Timbuktu back into the world picture, several movies, films and features have been produced to challenge the idea of Timbuktu as a distant  (sometimes, non-existent) place. For instance, the ‘Manuscripts of Timbuktu’ demonstrates how the region was once a leading cultural, economic, scientific, and religious centre that made a significant and lasting impact on Africa and the entire world. Another feature series has been produced on Timbuktu manuscripts (in French and Dutch). Through these films, Timbuktu can now be traced on the map of advanced civilization in Africa as the manuscripts offer evidence that the continent had vibrant scholarly institutions and written cultures long before the European intervention. It's perhaps for such reasons that my Timbuktu Cafe experience remains vivid in my memories. 

Source: Scribes of Timbuktu Archives
As a recipient of education introduced by the colonialists, who claimed that the first education institutions were somewhere in Europe,  (without mentioning the exceptions of Timbuktu or the University of Karueein, founded in 859 AD in Fez, Morocco and still in operation), I genuinely wonder, at what point did Africa become ‘uneducated’, ‘illiterate’ and non-religious. It is evident from the story of Timbuktu and Fez that indeed the Islamic religion has deep roots on several African countries, and on which learning was introduced through Madarasa. What exactly then shall we say of civilization introduced by the colonial powers years after the fall of Timbuktu? Or even, how much more don’t we know of the scholarship of the African people thousands of years before the introduction of western education. If I think of Timbuktu and of the Nok culture in Nigeria, and many other medieval African stories untold, I am convinced that beneath the surface of everything known, there lies incredible ingenuity of the African people that has been lost over the centuries, but also that is harboured by the same people. Shall we take this as the starting point of innovation that is required to transform our thinking on educating the continent? What should we actually be educating this and other generations to come of Africa? Just questions to ponder.

Monday, 29 February 2016

#Collections: The Nile Project- The Alternative Approach to Transboundary Conflicts

Source: Facebook

Only a week since I started my #Collections blog series, and I have today discovered a new addition: African music as a platform for transboundary conflict resolution! The Nile Project has officially joined my list of #Collections for two reasons: their mission is so profound I can't help but like them; and secondly, I am so in love with live music. 
To the latter, well, truth is, I really don't know any music, and most friends know I have two left feet; however, I am a big fan of live concerts, especially where it involves a band. It is usually my time to choose and pick crashes from the band. It has always happened that I pick someone on an unusual instrument or with an unusual dancing style. In Yod Abyssinia in Addis Ababa, my favourite dancer even noticed how excited I get that he once dragged on stage to dance with him. This place has become a ‘must go’ whenever I am in town. In Ghent, I spent almost twelve hours at a live concert with Lenny and Walter making my night. I recall how women in their thirties and forties went wild as these men performed and so did I, even though I understood none of the Flemish music! And in Nairobi a few years ago, I really did have a crash on Baaba Maal's drummer! Poor him, I didn't speak any French then. 
Back to the mission of the Nile Project that beats all of the previous crashes. The Nile Project is transforming the Nile conflict by inspiring, educating, and empowering an international network of musicians and university students from six countries to cultivate the sustainability of their ecosystem. Based on the eleven Nile countries which are always at conflict on the use of River Nile, the project’s model integrates programs in music, education, dialogue, leadership, and innovation to engage musicians, civil society, private sector, and students across disciplines and geographies. The project proposes a new model of hydro-diplomacy that uses music to transform cross-cultural attitudes, generate political will, and foster citizen dialogues and collaborations. It further tackles food challenges across the Nile Basin by engaging an international network of private sector, civil society leaders, and university students.
What intrigues me most is that The Nile Project touches on two of my dearest passions: working with university students and collaborative networks. That combined with quality live music is even more thrilling for me. I thoroughly enjoyed their music, most of which I could not understand the language, but still had so much pleasure listening to their vocals, dancing and clapping along. Of course, like any other concert, I had my picks for the day: Ahmed Omar, an Egyptian/Eritrean on an Egyptian guitar (and who composed one of my favorite songs at the concert), Kasiva Mutua the Kenyan percussionist (who moved the crowd to dance to Singalala a Luo song) and of course the beautiful voice of Adeha Mekha to which I was astonished how beautiful that man could sing and move the crowd!!! 
This concert and project has taught me the power and beauty of embracing diversity in conflict resolution. Never before had I listened to such diversity of music with such harmony and high levels of energy. I hope the next phase of this project grows bigger and better, and in particular in working with university students and showcasing conflict resolution to other parts of the continent with transboundary natural resource conflicts.

My Collections journey continues! Look out for the next post on Timbuktu, the place of African scholarship that we rarely hear about!

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

#Collections: Civilization stories as a pointer to untapped Africa's Ingenuity

Nok terracota. Source: Wikipedia
While reading around the civilization of the African people and the continent, I am amazed by some of the facts on the existence of life and civilization in Africa. For instance, The Nok Culture appeared in Northern Nigeria around 1000 BC and vanished under unknown circumstances around 300 AD in the region of West Africa. According to Wikipedia, the Nok's social system is thought to have been highly advanced. The Nok culture was considered to be one of the earliest African producer of life-sized Terracotta (left). Archeologists in Nigeria have e discovered not just the terracotta, but also iron furnaces and other objects that indicate signs of organized worship. It's such ingenuity of the 'early Africa' that I marvel at and wonder how much more we have lost or gained over the centuries. Looking at the details of the Terracotta, i can't help to imagine that some years BC there were people living on this continent and creative enough to go into details of producing such artefacts. Such records of civilization remind us that, fundamentally, we are far from discovering the true potential for Africa based on her history. 

Friday, 19 February 2016

#Find yourself. There is nothing ‘abnormal’ about life

The past decade has taught me that perceptions and attitudes can really influence how my everyday life shapes. Sometimes for the better, getting new wings and flying like an eagle, but also many times, for the worse, assuming abnormality and ‘pause’ conditions of life based on the challenges we (must) face as living beings. However, I have also come to learn that in every stage of life, you will meet someone who inspires you, who reminds you the purpose for which you are alive today, and for that reason, you keep fighting.
Particularly, I remember a wonderful lady I interviewed last year at the Tropentag Conference. What an impact she had on my life just at a time when I was quite unsure of whether I would make to submit my thesis on time, wait for my viva, and eventually resume what I thought then, was 'normal life'. There is nothing 'normal' about life after completing a doctorate because that's actually when you start reading even more, asking more questions, writing more. But even more abnormally, in such precarious economies, it is the time you are in that category of 'educated, unemployed'. You may choose to accept the lie that you might soon become disenfranchised if you don't find something 'useful' to do (which is never the case, just a constant worry), but in reality you are constantly working towards something. You are living. Full life. As one good friend has always reminded, 'the only thing we are certain about in this life, it is the uncertainty of life itself'.
And for that reason, I have purposed to constantly find myself, especially those times I feel lost in the chaos of life. When I have an endless list of ‘To Do’, the only thing I want to constantly choose to do is to, Stop; Find myself; Reconnect with my purpose; Remind myself that I am actually living a full life; and Celebrate life! Because life is a journey…

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Trees, Agroforestry, and the possibilities for new/young farmers in the twenty first century

In the past five years or so, there has been an emphasis for African countries to create opportunities for young people in farming, mainly for employment and food security purposes. Many 'youth in agriculture' narratives have advanced the notion that, given the high levels of education among youth, coupled with their numbers, there is a high likelihood that they could drive agricultural transformation by adopting new and sustainable agricultural innovations among them, organic farming, agroforestry, and climate-smart agriculture (CSA) among others. In fact, the establishment of the Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture was consequently followed by massive mobilization of young people to engage in CSA, resulting in initiatives by organizations such as FANRPAN, FARA, SNV, among others. 
Given the increasing impacts of development on the agricultural sector, the declining land productivity, effects of climate change on agriculture, and the increasing demand for high value foods due to rising middle class in the urban areas, how practical are these claims on the African continent. To what extent can new/young farmers engage in sustainable practices such as agroforestry to drive agricultural transformation while improving their economic and social well-being? Some countries like Kenya and Nigeria have massively increased their campaigns and investments towards youth in agriculture programmes such as, Mkulima Young, YFarm, AgriVijana Loans Programme, IITA Youth Agripreneurs among many others listed here. These programmes address attitude change; showcase success stories of young farmers; provide agricultural information sharing platforms; facilitate access to input and output markets; facilitate savings and cooperative organizations; and offer technical and business skills training and innovative means of accessing agricultural land. 
However, in my 2014 doctoral fieldwork, I found out that the adoption and/or transition of young farmers into agroforestry was inhibited by several factors. Firstly, in addition to shrinking agricultural land sizes, most young farmers lack land tenure rights which is a pre-requisite to their choice of agricultural practices. Tree growing and agroforestry were only practiced by young farmers (mostly male and married) who either owned land or had inherited land from their parents. Secondly, profit maximization overrode the sustainability goal leading young people to opt for approaches that guaranteed quick returns in short period of time over the long-term consequences of their practices on the agricultural productive resources (land, soil, water, biodiversity etc). In addition, their choice of farming practices directly linked to anticipated market value, availability, and accessibility. Thirdly, the lack of technical knowledge and skills in agroforestry practices is a major factor limiting extent to which young people consider adopting these approaches.  These and other factors such as financing, the availability for the germplasm, suitability of land for certain agroforestry practices and social factors among others, made the probability of adopting agroforestry among young farmers very low low.
Whereas agroforestry promises increased crop productivity, enhances land fertility, agro-biodiversity,  and resilience of agro-ecosystems, most of these practices require a land tenure rights of which most young people lack. Even among older farmers, land tenure remains a significant challenge in the extent to which they adopt certain agricultural practices. On the other hand, most young people engage in agriculture as a survival strategy during periods of un(der)employment, and as such, profits from agroforestry products such as fruits, timber, fodder, and firewood do not fall in their category of short-term investment period of three to five months. Furthermore, most agroforestry practices are labour intensive and take long before any products can be harvested and profits realized. This renders agroforestry, often an unsustainable first priority agricultural investment. Thirdly, there is limited knowledge among most new/young farmers on agroforestry and thus, they often to opt for conventional practices involving intensified use of resources- water, insecticides, pesticides and mono-cropping. All these limitations pose a huge challenge to the future of agroforestry and that of youth livelihoods. 
Therefore, our critical question should be addressed through policy and structural changes on how to resolve these systemic challenges so that more young people have access to an enabling environment through which they can adopt agroforestry practices as viable agribusiness models. Understanding both the policy interplays and socio-economic factors inhibiting meaningful investments of young people in the agriculture/agroforestry sector is then a priority.