Strengthening food production systems for sustainability – “Nets” in action

HealthyFoodAfrica’s thematic Work Package 3 promotes production of healthy and nutritious food products through resource-efficient, climate-resilient production systems including crop, aquaculture and integrated systems. The Work Package’s objective is to contribute to more sustainable, diverse, resilient and climate-smart food production systems and strategies with a focus on legumes, fish as well as vegetables and fruit.

For this purpose, the project’s Food System Labs have been categorized into four groups or “nets” based on their primary focus: Legnet for field crops, Fishnet for fish production, Vegnet for vegetable cultivation, and Fruitnet for fruit production. This categorization aims to foster peer interaction and information sharing among similar initiatives.

Legnet: Enhancing legume cultivation with inoculants and biofertilizers

The Food System Labs involved in Legnet are Bahir Dar, Tamale, Rwamjanja, and Fort Portal. In these locations, diverse legumes are cultivated and serve as essential sources of plant-based protein in their respective regions.

The Legnet initiative has been to enhance legume yields and farm productivity by applying high-quality rhizobia inoculants or biofertilizers composed of locally adapted, effective bacterial strains.

The biofertilizers are produced locally. In Tamale, the production and application of inoculants are in the hands of local experts. In Bahir Dar, experts from the University of Helsinki have provided the necessary training to researchers and laboratory technicians on the production of quality biofertilisers and legume inoculation methods. In fact, in Bahir Dar a new microbiology lab will be built to meet the increasing demand among local farmers for sustainable high-quality biofertilizer products. Makerere University produces inoculants for our Ugandan partners and provide a similar training for the Rwamwanja and Fort Portal Food System Labs.

In Bahir Dar and Tamale, pilot crops of common bean and soybean cultivations with application of biofertilizer have been successfully piloted for two years. The results of these pilots are promising, as the yields of food legumes that received the biofertilizer were significantly higher compared to those that did not receive the inoculants. This suggests that the use of biofertilizers has a positive impact on crop productivity.

In Fort Portal the use of biofertilizers in common bean production is being carried out at the moment. A similar pilot action involving common bean production is planned for Rwamwanja for the coming year.

These pilot actions showcasing ecologically sustainable food production systems have already now had a significant impact on the larger farming community in the surrounding areas. The demonstration of these methods has led to a spread of knowledge about sustainable agriculture practices. Farmers in the communities have become more interested in adopting these practices, particularly the use of biofertilizers, to increase their crop yields and enhance soil fertility for non-legume crops in subsequent seasons. This positive response from the farming community indicates a growing awareness and appreciation for environmentally friendly and sustainable farming methods, which contribute to both increased agricultural productivity and the long-term health of the soil.

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Cultivating legumes in Rwamwanja Photo: Heedo Lee


Vegnet & Fruitnet: Improving vegetable and fruit cultivation

The Food System Labs Bahir Dar, Chongwe, Cotonou, Nairobi, Kisumu and Fort Portal are involved in Vegnet and Fruitnet. These Food System Labs have implemented various strategies and new farming technologies to improve the quality, market accessibility, and shelf life of vegetables and fruits.

In this effort, model farmers, urban producers as well as school gardens have received valuable agronomic training and expert guidance. These trainings have facilitated the successful planting of high-quality avocado and mango seedlings in Bahir Dar and Tamale, respectively. Thanks to the careful application of appropriate agronomic practices by the producers, these fruit seedlings are successful both on the farms and within the school gardens. This initiative represents a promising step toward enhancing fruit production and promoting sustainable agriculture in the regions.

In Nairobi, Kisumu and Fort Portal, diverse vegetables are grown in urban informal settlements using recycled materials, e. g. sacks, bottles, and broken plastic.

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Cultivating vegetables and fruits in dense spaces utilizing recycled materials in Nairobi Photo: Heedo Lee

In Chongwe, organic farming methods are piloted, including a zero-energy cooler and improved bamboo baskets to minimize leafy vegetable spoilage.

In Bahir Dar, rain-shelter technology has been employed to cultivate tomatoes, protecting them from pests and diseases typically associated with the rainy season.

Additionally, field trials have been conducted in the Vegnet and Fruitnet locations to identify onion seeds that yield high and have an extended shelf life.

All pilot actions within Vegnet and Fruitnet have served as demonstration sites, offering the broader community awareness into new agronomic practices and farming methods. Given the increasing consumer preference for clean and organic products, Vegnet and Fruitnet are working towards publishing manuals that outline sustainable organic vegetable and fruit production methods developed in the Food System Labs. This initiative aligns with the growing demand for organic and environmentally friendly agricultural practices.

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Model vegetable farming nursery in Bahir Dar

Fishnet: Advancing aquaculture for sustainable fish production

Food System Labs Bahir Dar, Accra and Kisumu are involved in Fishnet focusing on sustainable fish production systems.

In Bahir Dar and Accra pilot fish activities have been carried out involving seed and fingerling production and multiplication systems in homestead aquaculture ponds using hapa net technology. A new aquaculture pond has been constructed on the Bahir Dar University campus, dedicated to fish fingerling production.

Smallholder farmers and urban residents engaged in fish farming have received training and guidance, along with fingerlings, for fish meat production.

In the upcoming year, all Fishnet locations are planning to implement aquaponic technology, an innovative approach that combines fish and vegetable production systems. Materials, including aquaponics tanks, are currently being prepared by the Food System Labs.

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Tilapia hatchery management in Accra


How the work continues?

HealthyFoodAfrica’s ongoing work in the “nets” has been spotlighted in a comprehensive study conducted in Work Package 3. The study, focusing on the various aspects of food production, sustainability, and innovative agricultural practices, sheds light on the progress made in the Food System Labs.

The results of this study will be communicated as soon as the article is published.


More information:

Aregu Aserse and Kristina Lindström

University of Helsinki