Soil sampling (photo cred: Kate Kuntu-Blankson).
As a scientist, a question often asked by my colleagues and friends is: does my day-to-day research contribute to transforming society, and if so, how? This question can be challenging to answer, as researchers tend to be caught up in interpreting their scientific results and doing science for the sake of satisfying their curiosity. Too little effort is put into communicating and discussing the implications of their results with the broader non-scientific community.
My expertise is in analyzing the changes that soils and ecosystems undergo when certain management practices are implemented. Soil carbon is the basis for soil fertility and hence a key factor influencing agricultural production. I do a lot of scenario analysis – asking what if farmers could adopt practices that increase inputs to the soils, for example, through manure addition, crop residue retention and fertilizer application? Yet, whether or not the best practices ever see broader adoption depends on a lot of other things. Policy interventions play a significant role in achieving sustainable soil management in most countries. However, in the East Africa region, direct channels of communication between soil scientists and policy makers are limited and in some cases nonexistent. Due to this, soil carbon research results are hardly used in the development of key environmental and agricultural policies, which influence the viability of sustainable soil management practices. More efforts are needed to narrow this gap by identifying the areas to be improved or changed for our research to be considered in the policy- and decision-making processes.
Participants to the East Africa Soil carbon workshop – Science to Inform Policy, Nairobi, 17-18 April 2018.
The “East Africa Soil carbon workshop – Science to Inform Policy” held in Nairobi for the first time provided an opportunity for soil carbon experts in the region to brainstorm on how to address this critical issue. Emphasis was laid on highlighting key action points to be addressed by the various research organizations and institutions in the region, universities and the ongoing global soil carbon initiatives and projects. These points are summarized as follows.
- Research institutions and universities should support more long-term trial experiments in the region to address the limited evidence of the impact of agricultural land use on soil carbon.
- The methods for quantifying soil carbon in the different countries should be standardized.
- Scientists and policy makers need to collaborate more closely to make research, tools, and maps more demand driven and to illustrate how scientific results can be used for informing policy- and decision-making processes.
- Soil carbon initiatives and projects, such as CASA, CIRCASA, and 4 per 1000, should motivate and support increased participation of target countries and organizations.
- East African countries should support open access by endorsing data sharing among the national research centers. International donors should demand open data access in projects that they fund.
- East African research organizations – including CGIAR centers – and institutions of higher learning need to organize more frequent networking events and specific workshops offering adequate knowledge exchange and training on latest methods, tools, and models.
Details of the workshop presentations and discussions have now been published in a report which is available under https://wle.cgiar.org/east-africa-soil-carbon-workshop-science-inform-policy.
In conclusion, scientists in the East Africa region need to be more proactive in emphasizing the urgent need to address the above action points. This is a key prerequisite for our research to play a meaningful role in influencing the adoption of effective soil-carbon-related policies.