'Jali ardhi'

Socio-ecological resilience to soil erosion driven by extreme events: past, present and future challenges in East Africa

funded by
Global Challenges Research Fund

Aim and rationale:

The Jali ardhi project aims to evaluate the impact of soil erosion on both the environmental and social wellbeing of communities in East Africa. It is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council, as part of the Global Challenges Research Fund, a £1.5bn fund announced by the UK government in 2015 to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries.

With growing land-use pressures and consequent severe soil erosion, many East African socio-ecological systems are at a tipping point. Continued and accelerating soil erosion presents a credible threat to community and ecological resilience to future climate change shocks. Against this context, the project aims to demonstrate a novel interdisciplinary approach to develop knowledge of complex interlinkages between soil degradation, climate change, and community resilience in the East African Rift System region.

Through novel integration of environmental science, arts and humanities and social science evidence, the project aims to (a) evidence the need for land management adaption and (b) map out potential behavioural changes and how these can be embedded in the design and implementation of soil conservation and restoration strategies.

Facilitating a step change in land management practice to reduce complex soil erosion impacts is a fundamental target within the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (e.g. SDG15, target three reducing land degradation while enabling communities become more resilient e.g. SDG13. To bring about urgently needed change in land management practice behaviour, evidence is required to demonstrate how social resilience is intrinsically linked to landscape/ecological resilience through the coupled co-evolution of natural resource systems and dependent rural communities.

The interdisciplinary research team comprises:

  • Plymouth University: Will Blake (PI) (soil erosion), Neil Roberts (environmental change), Geoff Wilson (community resilience), Dave Gilvear (river restoration) with Clare Kelly and Maarten Wynants (Research Fellows).
  • Exeter University: Anna Rabinovich (social psychology)
  • Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (Tanzania): Patrick Ndamideki, Linus Munishi and Kelvin Mtei (agricultural science)

Supported by project partners:

  • Schumacher College (applied ecological design and cultural anthropology).
  • International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Nile Basin and East Africa Office, Ethiopia.
  • The wider EC Horizon 2020 IMIXSED project scientific team

Field-based research is being undertaken in the Moduli District of Lake Manyara catchment, Northern Tanzania. Working in collaboration with local council officers and Maasai communities, a combination of stakeholder interviews, soil degradation surveys, lake and floodplain sediment coring, mapping with satellite imagery and evaluation of past aerial photographs is being used to build a multidisciplinary evidence base of soil erosion challenges, past and present (see below).

Key findings will be shared within a stakeholder workshop and disseminated though infographics, models and experimental demonstrations. These, in combination with a photographic exhibition of the people and their landscape, will be used to stimulate knowledge exchange and support the first steps toward co-design of community-centred, sustainable land management strategies to increase environmental and community resilience.