IEE Newsletter No. 20

Research Activities: Urban Food Plus summer school in Tamale, Ghana

More than 60 international researchers convene to discuss on-going research and preliminary results of the interdisciplinary research project.

This year's Summer School of the BMBF-funded research project Urban Food Plus (UFP) took place from 30 September to 5 October 2014 in Tamale, Ghana. The Summer School was hosted by the University for Development Studies (UDS), one of the African partners within the UFP project that aims to enhance resource use efficiency and improve food security in urban and peri-urban agriculture of West African cities. Wilhelm Löwenstein, Martina Shakya, Marc Hansen and Lesley Hope attended the Summer School on behalf of the IEE, which is implementing one sub-project of UFP.

International Audience

The Summer School in Tamale was attended by more than 60 researchers, students, NGO representatives and other stakeholders from Austria, Britain, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Germany, Ghana, the Netherlands, Togo and Zimbabwe. The Summer School was officially opened by Prof. Haruna Yakubu, Vice Chancellor of the UDS, followed by welcome addresses and public lectures on urban farming systems, vegetable cropping, irrigation and animal husbandry. On the second day, UFP's postdoctoral researchers presented a summary of findings from the exploratory survey and participatory appraisals on urban and peri-urban agriculture, which were conducted in Tamale (Ghana) and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) between September and November 2013 (cf. IEE News 19).

On-Going Research and Preliminary Results

The remaining days of the Summer School were devoted to the presentation of on-going research activities and preliminary results of the diverse UFP sub-projects. Spanning the broad range of academic disciplines represented in the UFP partnership, thematic sessions focused on anthropological, economic, agronomic, engineering and geographic/spatial perspectives on urban and peri-urban agriculture. The stock of data and complementary knowledge generated by the various sub-projects only one year after the official start of the project in 2013 was indeed impressive.
The economics session was jointly conducted by the IEE team. Principal Investigator Wilhelm Löwenstein gave an overview of sub-project Economics, which aims to assess the impact of improved wastewater irrigation and optimised soil fertility on the incomes, expenditure and the food security of urban farming households. Thereafter, Lesley Hope presented her PhD project, which is intended to give an economic evaluation of the planned UFP interventions (biochar application, safer irrigation options) from the perspective of urban vegetable farmers.Foto3 UFP
PhD IDS candidate Lesley Hope at the UFP Summer School (photo: private)

Building on Lesley's work on the productivity effects as well as on secondary data, Marc Hansen went on to explain how his PhD research will assess market price effects of the UFP interventions due to the expected changes in supply and demand on urban vegetable markets. Postdoctoral Fellow Martina Shakya concluded the session by outlining intersections between the IEE contribution and other UFP sub-projects. She also highlighted the mutual benefits of and the potentials for trans-disciplinary research collaboration.

Focus on Biochar

The thematic focus of this year's Summer School was on biochar research, and a special one-day workshop was devoted to this topic. More than 20 scholars from Ghana, Togo and Germany presented the results of their current research into potential effects of biochar in West Africa, sharing insights from their respective work on biochar production, properties, technology and effects. Biochar is created when biomass (e.g. from unused crop residues such as maize stalks and rice husks) is charred in a process called pyrolysis, resulting in a conversion of the biomass into a persistently non-degradable form. Previous research, especially on so-called "terra preta" (= black soils) in Latin America revealed the beneficial effects of biochar on soil properties and plant productivity. More recently, biochar has also been at the centre of discussions as an appropriate method for carbon sequestration in the global discourse on climate change. Very little is known, however, on the effects and application potentials of biochar in the West African context. The properties of biochar can vary considerably, depending, inter alia, on the biomass feedstock, the technology used for charring, the local climatic conditions and the quality of the soils to which it is applied.
This lack of scientific knowledge on biochar in West Africa, more specifically in the context of urban and peri-urban agriculture, is one important rationale of the Urban Food Plus project. Biochar, therefore, is a product that UFP researchers of every sub-project are interested in, albeit from different perspectives. The soil scientists and agronomists in the UFP team are systematically investigating the potentials and effects of biochar as a soil amendment in a controlled experimental setting, e. g. by determining the properties of various feedstocks and by assessing the impacts of biochar addition on soil nutrient leaching, on the water retention capacity and gaseous emissions. In contrast, the engineering sub-project of UFP is exploring the potential of biochar as a filter medium to develop an appropriate and affordable technology for improved wastewater irrigation. The social scientists in the team have completely different research interests related to biochar. While the anthropologists are investigating the social and cultural determinants of technology adaptation, the economists (i. e. the IEE team) are exploring the economic costs and benefits of biochar adaptation from the perspectives of urban farmers and consumers.
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Field visit to the central experiment site during the UFP summer school in Tamale (photo: private)

During a field trip to the central experiment site in Tamale, which was jointly organised by the soil science and agronomy sub-projects of the UFP, the Summer School participants got first-hand insights into the different treatments and research methods used for assessing the effects of biochar as a soil amendment. Although the field experiments have only recently started after a thorough preparation phase, the participants already got a first visual impression of the productivity-enhancing effect of biochar in urban vegetable production. To complement the central experiment, on-farm field trials which will be carried out in cooperation with local farmers are scheduled to start in the forthcoming months.
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Urban Vegetable Farm in Kumasi, Ghana (photo: Private)

Forging Partnerships and Trans-disciplinary Collaboration

Apart from the official Summer School programme, the UFP researchers from the African partner organisations, the four participating German universities and the two international CGIAR institutions (AVDRC, IWMI) made use of the opportunity to discuss academic as well as administrative matters face to face, thereby intensifying already existing and forging new institutional ties among the UFP partners and between sub-projects. It was unanimously felt that this year's summer school had been a big leap towards closer African-German research ties and trans-disciplinary collaboration across the UFP partnership. Thanks a lot to Prof. Gordana Kranjac-Berisavljevic (UDS), Prof. Bernd Marschner and Dr. Volker Häring (both of the RUB Geography Institute, Chair for Soil Sciences) for organising the Summer School on behalf of UFP's International Graduate School and bringing us all together in a constructive dialogue!

Empirical Data Collection Started

Immediately after the Summer School in Tamale, a crucial phase began for the IEE-based researchers in the Urban Food Plus project. After more than one year of preparations, PhD IDS candidate Lesley Hope embarked on her productivity survey among urban farming households in Ouagadougou and Tamale, while IEE research fellow Marc Hansen spent several weeks in West Africa to collect secondary data for his PhD project. As an associate to the IEE's UFP contribution, Carla Swertz, a Master student at the Faculty of Management and Economics at the RUB, is currently conducting a household survey among urban farmers in Tamale to assess the opportunity costs of illness. Further Master theses are planned in the near future to complement the work packages of the IEE researchers within the UFP. We will be excited to learn more about the economic effects of agricultural innovations on the lives of urban and peri-urban farmers and consumers, once the data collection of the IEE-UFP team is completed and first analyses can be conducted.

For more information:

ShakyaDr. Martina Shakya
Postdoctoral Fellow, Urban Food Plus
Phone +49-(0)234-32 25149
eMail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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