Q&A with ARN Researcher John Olwande

Tell us about yourself

OlwandeI have over ten years of experience in economic and policy research in agriculture and rural sector. I have worked in building household survey databases to monitor changes in the agricultural sector from household and national perspectives and provided analyses and insights to shape policy direction in agriculture and rural sectors in Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). My training is in sustainability and agricultural & applied economics.

Research interests

My areas of research include agricultural technology adoption and sustainable intensification, food and nutrition security, agricultural markets and impact evaluation. I am passionate about resilience and sustainability of food systems. My current research aims at identifying and influencing policy and investment by governments, development organizations and private sector for increasing fertilizer use and improving soil health in SSA as part of the efforts towards building resilience and sustainability in agricultural production systems in the region. Two of my research engagements support this endeavor.

The first is the research I am doing through the ALL-IN grant – Demand for Soil Testing Services and Amendments on Smallholder Farmers in Kenya. The second is the collaborative work with colleagues at the ReNAPRI, AAP, IFDC, FAO and FARA to provide technical support to the African Union in organizing an Africa Fertilizer and Soil Health Summit to be held in June 2023 and for which the key outcome will be an Africa Fertilizer and Soil Health Action Plan. 

Research findings

One of the emerging findings from several studies in SSA is that much of the agricultural growth that has been witnessed in the region in the past two decades has been due to expansion of land under cultivation rather than improvement in yields, and the main culprit for lack of yield growth is widespread poor soil health. The poor health of soils makes crops response to external inputs (e.g. fertilizer and improved seed varieties) sub optimal. 

Industry challenges

One of the major challenges for the agricultural sector in SSA is governments’ low funding to the sector, which has not been commensurate with the sector’s contribution to the economy for the region. This low funding has affected adaptive research and innovation, and subsequently the pace of technology generation and adoption, and agricultural and economic transformation in the region. 

Promising/exciting

The most exciting part of my research work is collaboration and partnerships across disciplines and geographical space. Collaboration broadens my view about a research problem and helps me learn about and have better understanding regarding possible approaches to solving the problem.

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