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Exploring tradeoffs around farming livelihoods and the environment: the AfricaNUANCES framework

Final Report Summary - AFRICANUANCES (Exploring tradeoffs around farming livelihoods and the environment: the AfricaNUANCES framework)

Agricultural productivity in Africa has to be increased to meet the demands of a rapidly urbanised population and to support sustainable rural livelihoods. Nevertheless, the significant heterogeneity of African farming systems posed hurdles in the development of solutions for productivity augmentation, because of the presence of numerous parameters and complex links between them.

The AFRICANUANCES framework aimed to incorporate deviating variances in order to determine best practices suitable for different farms and varying conditions within them. The project targeted humid and semi-humid ecosystems and developed a modelling framework, consisting of simple solutions, to explore tradeoffs around farming livelihoods and the environment in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The strategic objectives of AFRICANUANCES were to:
1. increase understanding of spatial and temporal dynamics of rural livelihoods and their relationships with the food security, sustainability and resilience of the natural resources in selected regions;
2. identify measures to promote sustainable development of agricultural smallholder farming systems in the areas of interest;
3. build capacity in integrated systems analysis so as to evaluate approaches for sustainable intensification of smallholder agriculture in Africa.

The developed modelling tool included modules for the simulation of different system components, such as crop production in relation to the status of the soil and livestock production for different livestock systems and manure handling. At the farm level, balances in feed, organic material and labour flows were taken into consideration, so that effects of particular strategies in allocation of resources could be followed over the years. The tool was particularly flexible, offering a variety of modelling and output options.

AFRICANUANCES observed recognisable patterns in diversity between farmers, their aspirations and resources' allocation across farms. Thus the possibility of targeting technologies to specific farm types was investigated. The elaborated analyses were primarily related to factors resulting in spatial heterogeneity in farms and fields. Emphasis was given on ensuring efficient targeting and use of nutrients as well as on soil improving technologies. Relevant data was evaluated in terms of costs, benefits and compromises in productivity, economics and environmental services.

The implemented approach was highly innovative since the project developed for the first time simulation models which incorporated agro-ecological and socioeconomic parameters while taking into account the interactions with other land uses and ecosystem services. Moreover, the dynamic interactions between production, consumption and resource management were analysed in detail.

Although the project focused mainly on soil fertility management, many of its results could be broadly applied for integrated analysis of agricultural processes in terms of both methods and principles. AFRICANUANCES outcomes were shared with local farmers and extension workers, so as to assist individuals in improving farms' productivity. In addition, the acquired knowledge was utilised in academia via the involvement of numerous students in the project completion. Publications were a principal dissemination activity, along with organisation of conferences and symposia. Finally, the project website contained all related information and provided free access to the modelling framework and the complete databases.