May 10, 2024

VACS: Advancing the Soil Initiative for Africa through the Vision for Adapted Crops and Soil

Advancing the soil initiative for Africa

Leading development organisations have pledged to forge partnerships to expand the Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils (VACS), an initiative aimed at building resilient African food systems based on diverse, nutritious, and climate-adapted crops grown in healthy soils.

On the sidelines of the African Fertilizer and Soil Health Summit in Nairobi, the African Union’s Commissioner for Rural Development and Agriculture, Ambassador Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, African Development Bank Group Vice President Dr. Beth Dunford and other leaders called for African countries to join the VACS strategic partnership by aligning with the African Development Bank’s flagship initiative Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT)

Five of TAAT’s priority crops – cassava, orange-fleshed sweet potato, sorghum, millet and high-iron beans – are also targeted by VACS, which the U.S. Department of State, the African Union, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization launched in February 2023.

“I am excited to see how the Bank through its TAAT initiative, the United States Department of State, the African Union, IFAD [International Fund for Agricultural Development] and CGIAR centers are developing a relationship to advance the work of VACS, also Feed the Future and the African Union Fertilizer and Soil Health Action Plan, and the Soil Initiative for Africa,” Dunford, the Bank’s Vice President for Agriculture, Human and Social Development told participants.

TAAT, part of the Bank Group’s Feed Africa strategy, delivers heat-tolerant, drought-resistant, and other climate-smart certified seeds to millions of Africa’s smallholder farmers, with the goal to produce 120 million additional tons of food in Africa and lift 130 million people out of poverty.  

The African Union Commission-mandated Soil Initiative for Africa is a framework effort to systematically improve Africa’s soil health and productivity. The United States Government launched the Feed the Future initiative in 2010 to address global hunger and food insecurity.

“Working together under the umbrella of this plan embodies the aspirations and priorities of African nations in building a prosperous, food-secure future,” Dunford added.

Leaders issued the call during a side event titled Advancing the Soil Initiative for Africa through the Vision for Adapted Crops and Soil.  The summit closed on May 9 with leaders endorsing the African Union’s Soil Initiative for Africa framework statement and the Fertilizer and Soil Health Action Plan.   

“A Soil Initiative for Africa statement captures the urgency of the situation we face in Africa very well: ‘Since 2000 only 25% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural production growth came from crop yield improvement, while 75% resulted from expansion area under cropland.’ Clearly that’s not sustainable. The African Union’s Fertilizer and Soil Health Action Plan notes, ‘projections suggest that more than half of the currently arable land may be unusable by 2050’ – if that doesn’t concentrate our attention, I’m not sure what will,” U.S. Special Envoy for Food Security Dr. Cary Fowler said during the event panel discussion that identified partnership opportunities and explored potential areas of collaboration between the African Union, African Development Bank and VACS stakeholders.

“We know very clearly that for crops to be productive, need good soils. We also need to realize that soils, to be productive, need the right crops. The two are related,” Fowler added

“More than one billion [Africans] remain unable to afford a healthy diet,” said Commissioner Sacko in her remarks to event attendees. “We are really tired of one meeting after another – we want action…that is why I support this initiative because I believe concrete actions are tangible,” he added.

The event featured during a panel discussion to identify partnership opportunities and potential spheres of collaboration between the African Union, African Development Bank and VACS stakeholders.

Other participants included: Prof Lindiwe Sibanda, Chair of the CGIAR System Board; Malawi’s Minister for Agriculture Sam Kawale, MP; International Fund for Agricultural Development Vice President Dr. Gerardine Mukeshimana; Italy’s Ambassador to Kenya, Roberto Natali, who represented the G7 and Mildred Pita, Head of Public Affairs, Science and Sustainability for Africa at German chemical firm, Bayer, who announced a $1 million donation in kind to support VACS.

Wole Fatunbi, Agriculture Director of Research and Innovation with the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa moderated the Africa Fertilizer and Soil Health Summit side event.

The Summit, organized by the African Union, in collaboration with AUDA-NEPAD, regional economic communities and other partners, built consensus on an African Fertilizer and Soil Health Action Plan and the Soils Initiative for Africa, both of which aim to stem a widespread decline in soil quality of African farmland.