In this working paper, Installment 4 of Creating a Sustainable Food Future, we examine the role of four improved land and water management practices and the effect they could have on smallholder crop yields and livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa. We then provide a series of recommendations for how to scale up these practices.

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Executive Summary

The world’s food production systems face enormous challenges. Millions of farmers in developing countries are struggling to feed their families as they contend with land degradation, land use pressures, and climate change. Many smallholder farmers must deal with low and unpredictable crop yields and incomes, as well as chronic food insecurity. These challenges are particularly acute in Sub-Saharan Africa’s drylands, where land degradation, depleted soil fertility, water stress, and high costs for fertilizers contribute to low crop yields and associated poverty and hunger.

Farmers and scientists have identified a wide range of land and water management practices that can address land degradation and increase long-term agricultural productivity. The benefits of these improved land and water management practices to farmers and rural economies include higher crop yields, increased supplies of other valuable goods such as firewood and fodder, increased income and employment opportunities, and increased resilience to climate change.

In this paper, we profile four of the most promising improved land and water management practices that are particularly relevant to the drylands of Sub-Saharan Africa: agroforestry, conservation agriculture, rainwater harvesting, and integrated soil fertility management. These four improved land and water management practices, used separately or together, can help smallholders boost crop yields and provide other benefits on individual farms.

This working paper also proposes seven pathways to accelerate scale-up of these improved practices:

  1. Strengthen knowledge management systems and access to information.
  2. Increase communication and outreach in ways that amplify the voices of champions and leverage direct engagement with farmers.
  3. Support institutional and policy reforms, particularly for strengthening property rights.
  4. Support capacity building, particularly in community-based management of natural resources.
  5. Increase support for integrated landscape management.
  6. Reinforce economic incentives and private sector engagement.
  7. Mainstream investments in improved land and water management to catalyze adoption of these practices as a strategic component of food security and climate change adaptation programs.

By following these pathways, the public and private sectors can take these improved practices to scale, which will help restore agricultural productivity, enhance rural livelihoods, and contribute to a sustainable food future.