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Capacity building in multi-disciplinary scientific methods for improved understanding of the impact of conservation agriculture on groundwater resources in Africa

IWRA 2021 Online Conference One Water, One Health
Theme 5: How can science better inform public policy, governance and capacity building for water, food and health?
Author(s): Daina Mudimbu, Kawawa Banda, Bentje Brauns, Dan J. Lapworth, Alan M. MacDonald, Willy Namaona, Richard Owen, Mabvuso Sinda

Daina Mudimbu1 *, Kawawa Banda2, Bentje Brauns3, Dan J. Lapworth4, Alan M. MacDonald5, Willy Namaona6, Richard Owen7 and Mabvuso Sinda8
1 Department of Chemistry and Earth Sciences, Faculty of Science, University of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe
2 Department of Geology, School of Mines, University of Zambia, P.O. Box 32379, Lusaka, Zambia
3 British Geological Survey, Keyworth, NG12 5GG, UK
4 British Geological Survey, Wallingford, OX10 8BB, UK
5 British Geological Survey, Edinburgh, EH14 4AP, UK
6 Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Malawi
7 Department of Civil Engineering, School of Engineering, University of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe
8 Department of Soil Science, School of Agricultural Sciences, University of Zambia, P.O. Box 32379, Lusaka, Zambia

Keyword(s): Conservation Agriculture, Groundwater recharge, Capacity building, Multi-disciplinary, Policy


Building regional and national inter-disciplinary research teams with enhanced technical and analytical capacities can lead to the development of better-informed government and public policies to address food and water insecurities in water scarce countries of sub-Saharan Africa. With up to 70% of the populations in the sub-Saharan countries relying on groundwater resources, the development of groundwater systems is instrumental in food security and access to safe water. Due to growing populations and an increased demand for food, governments have turned to increasing agricultural production by adopting policies that promote climate smart agriculture and groundwater irrigation to supplement the rainfed food crop production. Conservation agriculture (CA) has been promoted by many sub-Saharan governments and NGOs over the last two decades as a tool to obtain reliable crop yields through adopting three main principles of minimum soil disturbance or no tillage, crop or surface residue retention, and crop diversification or rotation. Despite the reliance on groundwater resources, there is limited understanding on the impacts of the promoted changes in land-use and agricultural systems on groundwater resources. Establishing and capacitating multi-disciplinary research teams to collect and analyze data is necessary to build this understanding and better inform policy makers. The CEPHaS project is a network of seasoned and early career researchers from Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and the United
Kingdom that was established in October 2017 as a project funded by the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund, to address the development of capacity in soil physics, geophysics, hydrogeology and statistics to study CA and its impact on soil moisture, crop yield, drought resilience and groundwater fluxes. CEPHaS is derived from the full project title of “Strengthening Capacity in Environmental Physics, Hydrogeology and Statistics for Conservation Agriculture Research” and in the network are soil scientists, agronomists, agricultural economists, social scientists, geophysicists, hydrogeologists and statisticians. Experimental field sites established in the three African partner countries were instrumented with soil moisture monitoring probes, automated pressure transducers to log groundwater level fluctuations and electrical-resistivity tomography (ERT) equipment. Training workshops (physical and virtual) were utilized for capacity building and network meetings in the participating countries were used for practical in-field and laboratory exchanges. CEPHaS activities have resulted in a cross-pollination of ideas and the generation of innovative methods and solutions that can better inform policies. The CEPHaS international network lends itself to use not in only in the current project but future collaborations of national and regional significance.

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