SSI Research Programme

The Smallholder Systems Innovations in Watershed Management research programme (SSI) is a multi-disciplinary initiative aimed at improving the livelihood of rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa.  It studies the potential of indigenous and exogenous water system innovations in smallholder farms for improved land and water productivity.  These innovations can range from in situ practices such as deep tillage and zero tillage to infrastructural interventions such as underground storage tanks and small storage structures.  The programme not only aims to achieve excellence in scientific research but also deliver results that are of practical use to development planners to improve the livelihoods of rural communities and to disseminate the research findings across sub-Saharan Africa.
 The second phase of SSI focuses on moving towards sustainability and livelihood improvements through upscaling land and water systems innovations - especially those developed in the first phase of SSI.
This research project is concerned with the semi-arid areas of sub-Saharan Africa, where 95% of all agricultural land is used for rainfed agriculture, water availability is scarce and highly variable, average yields often still remain below 1 ton/ha and crop failure occurs frequently. Water availability is a key entry point to improved crop productivity and poverty alleviation. SSI focuses on how smallholder farmers can lift themselves out of poverty by assisting them to develop, implement, monitor and disseminate innovative soil and water technologies and land and water management practices that increase food security. The impact of these innovations on food production and ecosystems has been studied at field and watershed level by the Smallholder System Innovations in Integrated Watershed Management project (SSI Phase 1, 2004-2008).
The Phase 2 project (SSI-2) focuses on the socio-economic and bio-physical conditions and impacts of upscaling these innovations. Entire farming systems need to be equipped with
improved land and water management techniques and practices before a real transformation of the countryside will take place: from the current position of marginalization and poverty to a motor of socio-economic development. However, the conditions under which such a transformation may occur, as well as the potential impact at different scales, are still ill-understood. The project thus covers the multidisciplinary fields of farming systems research, agronomy, ecology, hydrology, institutional analysis and knowledge science. It focuses on the conditions for upscaling of innovations as well as their subsequent socio-economic and biophysical impact, and how this knowledge can inform policies and improve institutions.

The following research themes will be addressed:

  1. Social learning: Farming learner schools, outreach and the impact of participatory action research
  2. Driving forces and tipping points in development of smallholder farming systems and large scale energy crops on marginal lands
  3. Water processes at different spatial scales
  4. 4. Water, ecosystems & multifunctional landscapes 5. Managing interdependencies: understanding tradeoffs and synergies

SSI Phase 1 project partners are:

  2. International Water Management Institute
  3. University of KwaZulu-Natal
  4. School of Bioresources Engineering and Environmental Hydrology
  5. Sokoine University of Agriculture, Soil and Water Management Research Group
  6. Stockholm University, Department of Systems Ecology

Of the PhD students, Dr Victor Kongo’s thesis and Dr Marloes Mul’s thesis were approved. Mr Job Rotich submitted his PhD dissertation.  Ms Elin Enfors and Eng Hodson Makurira are expected to finalise their dissertations in the first half of 2010.  Only Mr Hans Komakech’s research has funds extending to 2010. 
SSI Phase 2 project partners are:
UNESCO-IHE, the University of Dar-es-Salaam, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Delft University of Technology, Sokoine University of Agriculture, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and the Stockholm Resilience Centre.