Call open: Research on scaling up soil moisture retention in rainfed agriculture Sub-Saharan Africa

With the predicted increased severity of dry spells in Sub-Saharan Africa, the moisture holding capacity of the soil as buffer against agricultural production losses becomes more important. The NL-CGIAR call The Water-Food nexus in rainfed agri-food systems in Sub-Saharan Africa: socio-economics and governance aims to enable scaling-up of soil moisture retention practices among smallholder farmers in rainfed agri-food systems.

Aim of the call

The majority of Sub-Saharan smallholder farmers depend on rainfed agriculture. The new climate dynamics cause change in rainfall and evapotranspiration patterns, negatively affecting crop yields and smallholder farmers’ food and nutrition security. Over the past decades, much work has been done on improving the moisture holding capacity of the soil in agricultural landscapes. Yet, there has been little scaling of soil moisture retention practices beyond specific projects, because (on the short term) it has often not been profitable, desirable or simply not possible from a farmer’s perspective to invest in the moisture holding capacity of the soil.

Enabling scaling-up of soil moisture retention practices helps to mitigate negative effects from increased severity of dry spells on agricultural production. The specific research objectives are:

  • Gain insights in the socio-economic barriers and opportunities in the enabling environment for scaling of water retention practices with a changing climate;
  • Gain insights in and provide options for governance functions and governance attributes that support scaling-up of moisture retention practices;
  • To strengthen cooperation among CGIAR researchers, Dutch researchers and local partners.

For this call, rainfed agri-food systems include: cropping systems, mixed farming systems (e.g. with food-fodder-livestock) and pastoralist systems. Projects can focus on either the first or the second objective, always in combination with the third objective, or focus on all three objectives at the same time.

Consortia with researchers from CGIAR centres, Sub-Saharan African knowledge institutes and Dutch knowledge institutes (including universities of applied sciences), as well as stakeholders from National Agricultural Research and Extension Services (NARES) and cooperation partners from local/regional/national governments are invited to submit a research proposal to the Dutch research council (NWO).

Socio-economics and governance

This call for proposals builds on the attention for the water-food nexus generated during the UN Water Conference of 2023 and on the work of the Global Commission on the Economics of Water. It focuses on better understanding the socio-economics and governance of rainfed agri-food systems, such that scaling of practices that make these systems resilient to changes in the water cycle can take place. The call will explicitly not focus on developing technological solutions.

Geographical focus

Research projects are to be executed in Sub-Sahara Africa. Projects that focus on one country need to take place in one of the Dutch MoFA focus countries/regions. Multi-country projects need to include at least one of the Dutch MoFA focus countries/regions. The Dutch MoFA focus countries/regions are: Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Ethiopia, Great Lakes Region (eastern DRC, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda), Kenya, Mali, Niger, Mozambique, Sudan, Uganda, South Sudan. Because of the importance of scale, projects will have a landscape or regional focus, in an area that forms either a physical, social or political unity.

Information session

8 July 2024, from 13:00-15:00 CEST, NWO organises an online information meeting to provide more information on the call, to answer questions and to provide an option for attendees to meet each other. Please register below for the information meeting.



Gerrie Tuitert

Senior Policy Officer - International Relations at NWO

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