Expert Session on Smart Agriculture in Arid Regions, Khartoum 2018

19 November 2018

The COSIMENA Agriculture Cluster brought together a group of experts to discuss “Smart Agriculture in Arid Regions” on the 19th of November 2018.

Under the new directorship of Ms. Isabell Mering, the DAAD Regional Office Cairo’s latest project COSIMENA organised the first Agriculture Cluster event in Sudan where a group of experts and policy makers from Germany, Egypt and Sudan gathered at the University of Khartoum to exchange their expertise on the latest research in the field of agriculture and how this can help Sudan move forward with their agricultural challenges.

In Sudan, Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy. It contributes about 41 per cent of GDP and 80 per cent of exports; it employs more than 65 per cent of the labour force and provides 50 per cent of raw materials for the industrial sector. Yet it remains far from achieving its full potential. Adding to that, the ongoing challenges in the African continent of water scarcity, this puts a direct threat on food production and translates to a loss of food security. According to the UN Economic Commission for Africa and New Partnership for Africa's Development, "irrigation is key to achieving increased agricultural production that is important for economic development and for attaining food security". The doubling of Africa's irrigated land is currently high on many political agendas, which can potentially be addressed through markets, commodity selection, ownership, land tenure, reliable water storage, and international agreements.

The Expert Session started with a greeting word by Dr. Elhadi Ali Ibrahim, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Khartoum in which he welcomed the DAAD team and the speakers to the campus and stressed on the importance of such events that bridge the academia and research of both countries in order to stimulate further cooperation and joint research. This was also in line with what Ms. Isabell Mering stated in her following greeting word where she discussed how the DAAD Regional Office Cairo, which is responsible for both Egypt and Sudan, is working on the scientific front via several formats to contribute positively to the research in this field. She explained that through formats like COSIMENA, the DAAD aims to bring together experts from Germany and the Arab countries in events like today to stimulate innovative strategies and scientific collaboration which can leverage the potential of food systems as one example to become the engine of inclusive economic development in rural as well as urban settings.

The first keynote on Sustainable Agro Eco-Systems in Arid Regions was then held by Mr. Hany El Kateb, a Senior Scientist at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), Germany and an international senior consultant. Mr. El Kateb, who is also a Member of the Presidential Advisory Council of Scientists and Experts, first gave an overview about the challenges the world is facing nowadays mainly in the rising number of world population living in unhealthy and unsustainable living conditions. He stated how the current natural resources that provide means of survival for the people are now heavily polluted. Moreover, the energy resources that have been used by humans in the past are now a huge source of damage for both humans and the environment. This has caused a direct imbalance in the ecosystem and its natural diversity. In terms of unnatural resources, Mr. El Kateb stated also that it doesn’t help the out of balance distribution of wealth in the world where for example 82 per cent of the wealth generated last year went to the richest 1 per cent of the global population and that 80 per cent of global resource use, including fossil fuels, metals, wood, minerals and others, is used by only 20 per cent of the world population who reside in richer countries. This introduction laid the foundation to the main topic on how the solution resides in utilising the appropriate knowledge and technology currently available to man by proper management of the available resources in a sustainable way. Mr. El Kateb went on to discuss the five key principles of sustainable farming that need to be in focus for the future of agriculture in both Egypt and Sudan. These principles revolved around improving efficiency in the use of resources, direct action to conserve, protect and enhance natural resources in addition to adapting responsible and effective governance mechanisms to maintain sustainable food and agriculture in the region. Mr. El Kateb presented his work of research as an example of sustainable strategies for agriculture in arid regions. Forest plantations can fulfil numerous ecological roles, the most evident being their CO2 absorption capacity, and wood production. They can also be used as a source of renewable energy, can fixate dunes and prevent soil erosion, while protecting human settlements from wind and sand gusts. In terms of food security, agroforestry’s largest contribution would be to shield crops from shifting and encroaching desert sands, particularly in the reclaimed lands.

Next spoke Dr. Eltahir Harbi, a renowned national consultant on agriculture in Sudan, where he gave a keynote on Precision Farming Technology’s Applications in Sudan. Dr. Harbi talked about how smart technology like precision farming has huge potential in a country like Sudan with its vast resources. He saw that adapting this technology would combat the current poor productivity and production status and would be able to answer for the high demand for agriculture crops for export and local consumption. The keynote of Dr. Harbi came at a contrast with the prior narrative on the best way forward for agriculture in the region, where Dr. Harbi advocated for adopting the latest technologies as an investment priority as opposed to focusing on achieving optimal efficiency with old school farming techniques that haven’t been sufficient so far.

Nicolai Dellmann at the Expert Session on Smart Agriculture in Arid Regions

The third talk came from Mr. Nicolai Dellmann from Philipps-Universität Marburg (UMR), who has been keen on being part of this expert session and initiated his request to join the event to the COSIMENA team from the get go. Mr. Dellmann talked about examples on smart farming in Europe as a best practice. Over the past 24 years, Germany has witnessed a huge decrease in the number of agricultural workers, however through innovative smart technology, the yields of the crops have only gone higher; four times higher like in the case of wheat for example, where the yield per hectare was 18.5 quintals 100 years ago. Today (average 2006 to 2011), the yield per hectare is at 73.9 decitonnes according to Mr. Dellmann. Mr. Dellmann then moved on to give an idea on the products used in Germany. “First stage is the use of a single ‘digital’ product. - Next level is a smarter product. This could for example be a tractor with various digital controllers. - Third stage is an intelligently networked product. Here, the tug is networked with management programs that can receive and process various data, for example. - Stage 4 of digitalisation describes a digitally networked production system. Here, not only the individual tractor is connected, but also the equipment required depending on the production system or work step. The highest level of digitalisation is a system where different systems communicate with each other”. Mr. Dellmann then recapped on the previous two presented narratives and stated that the direction in Germany viewed smart farming not as the “newest” technology but rather the most adequate. This meant that water supply innovatively has been diversified to be harvested for fog as an example of a water source. This maintained a form of water use efficiency.

In his presentation, Mr. Dellmann also presented the profile of the Faculty of Geography and the cooperation possibilities at UMR and alongside the current 39 ongoing partnerships and 27 other partnerships including former projects, joint studies.

The series of talks prior to the panel discussion was concluded by Dr. Asia Adlan from University of Khartoum, who talked about her work on Technology Needs Assessment (TNA) for adaptation to climate change in Sudan. The Technology Needs Assessment Project is done based on the agreement signed between the Republic of Sudan represented by the Higher Council for Environment and Natural Resources (HCENR) and the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) Risoe Centre (URC), Denmark, and supported by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) grant financing. TNA is a tool through which several countries could identify the most applicable technology required for adapting and mitigating to climate change.

The closing panel provided an interactive discussion between the experts and the audience on the future of agriculture in research and the cooperation opportunities. The panel, which was moderated by Dr. Sarra Saad from the National Centre for Research in Sudan (NCR), revealed two clear apart approaches/views to smart farming for Sudan. One view defined smart farming in the context of using smart technology to improve agricultural yield in Sudan. Another group discussed that smart farming is about an approach that uses the available practical resources to work for the benefit of the farmer and focusing less on spending large amount of capital on smart technology at this stage. The National Center of Research in Sudan was aligned with the second group and stated that the role of research now is to help the farmers make better use of available resources by advising on what fertilisers can be avoided and what can be used.

The event was rounded off by a dinner that allowed the experts to follow-up on the discussion as well as exchange contacts for potential future work together.