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 at enhancing resource use efficiency and improving 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.
Visit of the central experiment during the UFP summer school in Tamale (photo: private)
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.
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 project’s official start 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 at assessing the impacts of improved wastewater irrigation and optimized soil fertility on income, expenditure, and food security of urban farming households. Thereafter, Lesley Hope presented her PhD project, which is an economic evaluation of the planned UFP interventions (biochar application, safer irrigation options) from the perspective of urban vegetable farmers. Building on Lesley’s work on productivity effects as well as secondary data, Marc Hansen went on to explain how his PhD research will assess market price effects of the UFP interventions due to 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 potentials for trans-disciplinary research collaboration.
Focus on Biochar
The thematic focus of this year’s Summer School was on biochar research, reflected in a special one-day workshop. More than 20 scholars from Ghana, Togo and Germany presented the state of the art on biochar research in West Africa, sharing insights from their own 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 has revealed the beneficial effects of biochar on soil properties and plant productivity. More recently, biochar is also being discussed 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. Properties of biochar can vary considerably, depending, inter alia, on the biomass feedstock, the technology used for charring, 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, concerns UFP researchers of every sub-project, 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 properties of various feedstocks and assessing impacts of biochar addition on soil nutrient leaching, water retention capacity and gaseous emissions. In contrast, the engineering sub-project of UFP explores the potential of biochar as a filter medium to develop an appropriate and affordable filtering technology for improved wastewater irrigation. Yet, the social scientists in the team have completely different research interests related to biochar. While the anthropologists investigate social and cultural determinants of technology adaptation, the economists (i.e. the IEE team) is exploring the economic costs and benefits of biochar adaptation from the perspectives of urban farmers and consumers.
During a field trip to the central experiment site in Tamale, which was jointly organised by the soil science and agronomy sub-projects of 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. Complementing the central experiment, on-farm field trials in cooperation with local farmers are scheduled to start in the coming months.
Forging Partnerships and Trans-disciplinary Collaboration
Apart from the official Summer School programme, the UFP researchers from the African partner organizations, 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, 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 has 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 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 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 has started 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. An associate to the IEE’s UFP contribution is Carla Swertz, a Master student at RUB’s Faculty of Management and Economics. Carla 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 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:
Dr. Martina Shakya
Postdoctoral Fellow, Urban Food Plus
Phone +49-(0)234-32 25149