Writer or Robot? A Meeting of Minds at 54 Side Events

The AFSH Summit side events were not to be missed! Some of the conversations outside of the tents were as interesting as the sessions themselves. In tents on the lawn outside the Kenya International Convention Centre, delegates leaned in to the panel discussions and congregated together outside – heads together – continuing the conversations started by the panelists. 

These smaller events were intimate with powerful questions from the audience and generative discussions. Discussion was lively with panelists building on each other’s ideas. Leveraging data is a key part of many levers discussed on the first afternoon. The mood was positive and the discussions insightful, ranging from integrated soil health management, financing mechanisms for fertilizers, and creating stronger soil information systems. Talking about a Pan-African soil information system, Dr. Manyewu Mutamba highlighted the importance of “making sure that the data is meaningful for the people who use it.” He continued, “I’m seeing active engagement and seeing the opportunity for us to move forward.” He described the current state as “a convergence of common purpose and interest”. 

In the context of providing inputs that smallholder farmers can use, Talash Huijbers, the founder of Insectipro, highlighted that “sometimes what’s coming out of the lab is not the data we need… we need to collaborate and work with researchers so that SMEs and farmers can be included in the research process.” Dr. Manyewu Mutamba synthesized the matter of collecting and leveraging data succinctly by describing the need to be “converting data sets … for wisdom.” Across the conversations about data and soil fertility, the wisdom and the centrality of the smallholder farmer was a consistent theme. Leveraging insights from data is only one element of the work, and there was discussion across many sessions about how to bring the insights and hard work of AU member states directly to the smallholder farmers who will translate them into increased crop yields and sustainable soil practices. 

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