A productive career building productive soils: celebrating the work of Professor Tekalign Mamo

On March 28, 2012, Professor Tekalign Mamo sat in front of a roomful of participants at the Planet Under Pressure conference in London. He was there to present the policy recommendations of the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change, together with Sir John Beddington and other Commission colleagues. This report offered a holistic vision for achieving food security in the face of climate change and became a touchstone for the newly launched Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) Program of the CGIAR.

When CCAFS and the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development convened the Commission, they scanned the globe for leading scientists who had unique insight into critical aspects of our linked global food and climate systems. Professor Mamo, who was serving as Minister's Advisor (with the rank of State Minister) in the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture, stood out for his expertise in building systems for sustainable natural resource management. He had championed ground-breaking work in community-based participatory watershed management, which reversed soil degradation and turned millions of hectares of land into productive assets that benefit smallholder farmers and jobless rural youth.

As a soil chemist trained at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, Professor Mamo specialized in management of Vertisols and sustainable cropping systems. He has published more than 75 research articles and books, has been on the faculty of Addis Ababa University and Haramaya University in Ethiopia, is a founding fellow of the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences, and founded the Ethiopian Journal of Natural Resources, among an array of other scientific accomplishments and affiliations. In recent years, he spearheaded transformative initiatives for national soil fertility mapping and introduction of improved fertilization schemes, including 40,000 demonstration projects.

In addition to his work on the Commission, Professor Mamo was also a key contributor to a 2013 CCAFS study of climate-smart national policies, which featured Ethiopia as one of three case studies. He co-authored a journal article emerging from this work, which offered insights for how countries can build climate-smart agriculture into their policy mix.

In 2014, Professor Mamo was recognized for his achievements with award of the prestigious Yara Prize for an African Green Revolution based on his leadership as a scientist, a practitioner, and a role model for innovative and inclusive approaches to improving the lives of farmers. The committee particularly commended his contributions in “developing targeted interventions for management of waterlogged soils, rehabilitating acidic soils and degraded landscapes, winning farmer acceptance of technologies and modernizing Ethiopia's fertilizer advisory service.” In 2015, Professor Mamo was designated as a FAO Special Global Ambassador for the International Year of Soils and, in 2016, he received the Norman Borlaug award, which recognizes research or extension work leading to significant advances in crop nutrition.

In 2017, Professor Mamo joined the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University in Morocco to launch and head the Center for Soil and Fertilizer Research in Africa. Very sadly, in September 2017, he passed away at the age of 61, leaving a rich legacy of achievement in soil fertility, natural resources conservation, and community engagement that has benefited some 11 million small-scale farmers.