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Reporting period: 2020-11-01 to 2022-04-30

Closing the yield gap in African smallholder agriculture is a critical challenge which must be met in order to achieve food security goals for millions of farmers. In sub-Saharan Africa, this challenge is compounded by the need to adapt cultivation practices to extreme dryness and ongoing climate change, and by the recognition that conventional methods of agricultural intensification are environmentally costly, unsustainable, and poorly adapted to low-income farming.

Nature-based solutions that harness the benefits of biodiversity and the environment for productive, low input and climate-resilient agriculture are increasingly suggested as promising avenues for sustainable intensification of agriculture in Africa and beyond. Push-pull is an integrated cropping system that involves driving pests away from the main crop using a repellent intercrop (the push) while attracting them out of the crop with trap plants. Push-pull also improves soil health and water retention, provides economic and high-value livestock fodder, and a recently developed climate-smart variant making use of traditional cereal varieties (sorghum, finger millet) increases system resilience to climate change. Through its growing success in staple cereal crops, push-pull has enormous potential to be the most important discovery for food security and environmentally friendly agricultural management of the 21st century.

The UPSCALE project aims to take key steps to realize the transformative potential of push-pull technology by expanding its scope and applicability from individual fields to whole landscapes and regions, and from cereal to other important crops and cultivation systems. The overall goal is to address food security, livelihoods and climate change resilience in the sub-Saharan region of East Africa, while reducing the environmental impact of agricultural practices. To achieve this, the project will foster design, adaptation and adoption of strategies for integrated agro-ecological management based on push-pull technology for wide-spread and climate-resilient sustainable intensification in East Africa.

UPSCALE is active in five countries of East Africa where the push-pull technology is practiced: Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania.
Multi-actor Communities of practice (MACs) for upscaling push-pull technology in East Africa were formed in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia. Synthetic guidelines and advice are being derived on best practices to accomplish transformative impact on agricultural practices, policy and stakeholder perspectives. Transdisciplinarity has been embraced to diffuse barriers and bring to the view of agriculture a coordinated knowledge, skill and practice platform to promote sustainable agricultural production.

A socioeconomic baseline survey was performed in over 1500 households to evaluate the critical factors which may promote or hinder adoption and upscaling of push-pull technology. 160 field sites and 60 grasslands were mapped and ground-truthed for a joint agroecological study design. Field protocols to assess the determinants of pest control and other functions in maize push-pull and non push-pull systems, including methods for remotely sensing the distribution of plant volatiles and optical properties, are developed and the first season of fieldwork is under way.

Maps of biophysical and climatic conditions, social and farming systems to identify optimal target regions for push-pull upscaling are under development. Climate models are being formed as a basis for scenarios. Existing frameworks of analyzing social-ecological systems were reviewed and their applicability in modelling the push-pull system was assessed.

A synthetic review of the options for expansion of push-pull and integration with other crops and practices as well as multi-actor needs assessment to identify priority crops and systems for integration were performed. Field experiments and trials are underway to test the identified options and the efficacy of push-pull integration.

To ensure that farmers are linked to the main value chain players in the market, a value chain analysis for push-pull products was carried out. Insights from the MACs and ongoing partnerships are being synthesized to develop policy guidelines and advocacy for high-level push-pull integration.

Communication materials are developed along with the project website and Knowledge Exchange Hub (KEH). Farmer mobilization is using cost-effective dissemination pathways developed in connection with MACs. 78 demonstration plots have been set up, training materials are developed and farmer trainings are underway. To date 15,069 farmers were reached with material on push-pull and 4,637 farmers and 176 extension staff were trained to implement the technology.

Efficient project and data management structures and Ethical guidelines are in place including a project management platform and a database for FAIR archiving of the data generated in UPSCALE.
UPSCALE is a highly ambitious project that advances both science and technology beyond the state-of-the-art, addressing and involving ‘critical levers’ at all levels and scales of society including applied research, policy and multi-actor value chains in Africa and Europe. In practice, UPSCALE introduces a novel application of ecological methods, modelling tools and social-ecological approaches to the barely explored ground of providing data-driven, quantitative and qualitative tools to assess and improve social-ecological resilience of ecosystem services and farms. UPSCALE examines this under state-of-the-art scenarios of climate change, closing the gap between small-scale models and coarser large-scale models, to build an improved cross-scale social and ecological modelling framework which yields key information for management, dissemination and policy decisions. Moreover, UPSCALE is developing and adapting dissemination toolboxes including a Knowledge Exchange Hub, mobile app, interactive integrative maps for spatial targeting of dissemination as well as long-lasting MACs. Multi-actor design and integration of empirical models for push-pull adoption and effectiveness are the basis for targeted and rapid spread of push-pull and sustainable intensification information to key stakeholders, thus ensuring the relevance of research, as well as the feasibility and increased uptake of proposed solutions and implementation of results.
Push-pull field integrated with vegetables in Kenya. Photo credit: (c)icipe