SIMLESA – Increasing Food Security through Sustainable Agriculture Initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa
March 18, 2011 | Robert Puro
SIMLESA, which stands for Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume Cropping Systems for Food Security in Eastern and Southern Africa, is a four-year program whose overall objective is to sustainably increase the productivity of selected maize-legume systems in eastern and southern Africa by 30% from the 2009 average for each target country by the year 2020. The program with funding from the Australian government is comprised of scientists from Malawi, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Kenya.
It is no accident that the program’s name so closely connects legumes and maize. That is because legumes such as soybeans, the common bean, chickpeas, and other groundnuts are uniquely capable of fixing atmospheric nitrogen into soil. This nitrogen can in turn act as a natural fertilizer for maize that is planted subsequently. Thus, the emphasis on legume planting in the SIMLESA program will promote sustainable agriculture by allowing farmers to reduce their overhead on chemical fertilizer thereby increasing margins, by eliminating harm done to the surrounding environment from chemical fertilizer use.
Additionally, according to a VOA news article entitled “Researchers Developing New Techniques to Improve Food Security in Africa,” South Asia represents a major legume importer to whom growers could sell their crop.
SIMLESA is introducing the sustainable agriculture practice known as “no till,” where no plow or soil disturbing implements is used. Through “No till” farming, farmers in sub-Saharan Africa will increase moisture in the soil and decrease erosion of precious topsoil.
One of the other core objectives of the program is to develop drought-tolerant breeds of Maize for the sub-Saharan environment. In order to accomplish this feet, scientists will investigate genetic markers (A genetic marker is a gene or DNA sequence with a known location on a chromosome that can be used to identify cells, individuals or species.) in various plants to determine which ones are most resistant to disease and which ones require the least amount of water. Breeders will use these genetic markers to develop maize and other crops that possess the desirable characteristics necessary to thrive in the climate. It should be noted that the process of using genetic markers for plant breeding in this program neither involves nor employs any genetically engineered materials.
Taken together, the program components and objectives seek to promote and embrace sustainable intensification, which is defined as defined as “producing more output from the same area of land while reducing the negative environmental impacts and at the same time increasing contributions to natural capital and the flow of environmental services”.
The program began on January 1, 2010 and will conclude on December 31, 2013.
Below is the full list of specific objectives for the program are as noted on the CGIAR website:
- Objective 1: To characterize maize-legume production and input and output value chain systems and impact pathways, and identify broad systemic constraints and options for field testing.
- Objective 2: To test and develop productive, resilient and sustainable smallholder maize-legume cropping systems and innovation systems for local scaling out.
- Objective 3: To increase the range of maize and legume varieties available for smallholders through accelerated breeding, regional testing and release, and availability of performance data.
- Objective 4: To support the development of regional and local innovations systems.
- Objective 5: Capacity building to increase the efficiency of agricultural research today and in the future.