Farmers key in effort to avert African 2015 famine
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
In a recent presentation at the World Agroforestry Centre, renowned agronomist Roland Bunch put forward a case for an imminent widespread African famine by 2015 if steps are not taken to mitigate it. His predictions are based on soil degradation trends from the perspective of recent surveys he conducted with populations of farmers from Malawi, Zambia, Kenya, Uganda, Mali and Niger. The results of his survey are published in the latest WorldWatch Institute's '2011 State of the World' report.
Most smallholder farmers across Africa are very much aware of the poor fertility of their soils, claimed Mr Bunch, and that this knowledge can make farmers react in ways that exacerbate the onset of famine or it can be used to encourage farmer-driven mitigation solutions. His proposal was to encourage farmers to participate in Evergreen agriculture by intercropping nitrogen-fixing plants or trees with subsistence crops.
Underpinning his case is that African soils across the subhumid and semiarid lowlands not only have poor fertility, but also that soil fertility is rapidly deteriorating. Now more than ever is the time to disseminate technologies to help recovery efforts because most smallholder farmers have actually realised the major issue and understand the risk to their livelihoods.
In some of the worst-affected parts of Africa, the soil produces so little that some smallholders are forced to depend on food aid explained Mr Bunch. Since they cannot use food aid to generate income, this move has a profound impact on the livelihoods of farmers.
Traditionally, if a piece of land becomes unproductive, farmers and villages moved and resettled elsewhere. This would still be a viable option if as Bunch said; there were lands to resettle on. Due to several other factors, it is increasingly difficult for villagers to resettle on new lands. This brings the issue of land tenure to the fore as well as acting as a driver of further soil degradation. Farmers are forced to till land without giving adequate time for it to regenerate. Fallow times have been reduced substantially from 10-15 years to less than 3 years in many cases.
Some farms have had to reduce their livestock by selling or killing them because of unaffordable feed costs. This directly impacts soil fertility because there is no longer enough manure to fertilize an average size farm. Mr Bunch said farmers typically have less than 5 out of the ideal 15 head of cattle per household.
The CGIAR usually concentrates on the level of phosphur and potassium to monitor soil health, he said. He was more interested in emphasising that organic matter has a bigger role to play. He noted that as the rate of depletion of soil organic matter increases, soil fertility decreases very quickly. "My guess...is that even though the famine will become very serious by 2015, it will get worse and worse until at least 2018 or 2020” Mr Bunch continued, “By then a few farmers will have invented aspects of Evergreen agriculture themselves, and organizations like the World Agroforestry Centre will have made a fair amount of progress, but far more important, food aid and subsidized fertilizer will have taken care of many of the people who otherwise might have died.”
Mr Bunch said that even though the situation is dire, for some time, the situation will be masked by farmers having to farm more land to maintain the same level of productivity. Within a few years, this option will have run out and the consequences of soil infertility will be suddenly pronounced.
One practical solution would be to make fertilizer freely available to as many farmers as possible. The CGIAR for example is lobbying for subsidized input costs. Mr Bunch thought the idea of subsidising fertilizer costs for farmers may backfire in time since fertilizing does not add organic matter into the soils. Also cheap fertilizer encourages bad farming practises such as complacency towards the use of organic fertilizers.
Farmers must grow trees and plants that produce many leaves that drop and cover the land, argued Bunch. "Since there is no time for fallowing, growing fertilising trees and plants simultaneously with crops is the best solution," he added. When trees are planted with crops, the trees offer dispersed shade. Dispersed shade systems have been shown to increase yields by up to 50%. Bunch suggested that after 5 years of cover cropping, farmers should adopt zero-tilling farming methods to maintain soil fertility.
There is the realisation that, due to other contributing factors, farmers will unfortunately always need some amount of chemical fertilizers during adoption of cover crop systems in Evergreen agriculture. In particular, when new crop varieties are introduced to a new environment, sometimes inorganic fertilizers are needed to catalyse its transition into the new environment. Evergreen agriculture is also admittedly knowledge intensive and time consuming to disseminate. However, “Evergreen systems need not be too awfully knowledge-intensive." said Mr Bunch. "Part of our job in scaling up has to be to understand the ecological domains in which each practice or species works best, and then introduce one or two simple practices or species in each domain" he added.
Click here to access the State of the World report.
Visit this page for more on Evergreen agriculture.
Agroforestry Food Security Programme (AFSP) in Malawi
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) with funding from the Irish Aid Malawi, has been implementing a four-year nation-wide programme known as the Agroforestry Food Security Programme (AFSP) in 11 districts and eight Agricultural Development Divisions (ADDs): Shire Valley, Blantyre, Machinga, Lilongwe, Salima, Kasungu, Mzuzu, and Karonga ADDs since its inception in January 2007. ICRAF is maintaining the existing national partnership arrangement initiated in the first year. Partners included government departments, research institutions, Universities and national farmers organisation (namely: DAES, DARS, LRCD, DAHLD, FORESTRY DEPT, MZUNI, UNIMA, and NASFAM). Project funds and resources are directly shared with the partners receiving approximately 60% of the operational budget, and additional field support.
There are some challenges experienced in the AFSP implementation such as dry spells, wild fire, overriding government priorities and reduced funding that affected some activities.
Fig 1: Map showing the Districts where AFSP is working in Mala
The Community Agroforestry Bank (CATS Bank)
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Community Agroforestry Tree Seed Banks (CATS Banks): Building Agroforestry Scaling up Platform for Diversifying Livelihoods Opportunities in Malawi and Mozambique is a project funded by the Flemish Government, Brussels, Belgium. It is being implemented by World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) with backstopping from Katholieke Universiteit Celestijnenlaan Leuven, Belgium. It is a 3 year project to rum from 2009 – 2012.
In order to institutionalize sustainable market-driven farmer-led supply and delivery systems of quality agroforestry tree germplasm to meet massive demand by smallholder farmers, a win-win CATS Bank approach (Figure 1) is being tested in Malawi (Kasungu and Mzimba districts) and Mozambique (Angonia and Tsangano districts). A CATS Bank Committee is set up at village and district levels. Membership comprises of extension staff, village chief, farmer group chair, and at least 20-30 farmers. Initially, this community-run CATS Banks approach is being tested in two districts in Malawi and two districts in Mozambique. In this approach, agroforestry tree seed financing facilities is being established in partnership with seed agri-dealers and extension in the selected sites, and funded by the project. Seed vouchers are being used as tradable inputs. Through the CATS banks facility, starter tree seed loans are given to farmer groups through a team of extension agents, agri-dealers and farmer association leaders. The seed financing facility is being reimbursed with seed interests based on seed vouchers loaned out. Farmers are able to sell and or re-use their seed profits.
Long-term benefits and potential impact (long-term)
A boost for landscapes and livelihoods during CBD meeting
Monday, May 17, 2010
Plans to establish a new international partnership for socio-ecological production landscapes that provide for human well-being while conserving biodiversity have been announced.
The Government of Japan together with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) committed to collaborating on a financial programme and knowledge mechanism during a side event to a meeting of the scientific body of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nairobi, Kenya on 10 May 2010.
The new partnership is expected to be formally launched during the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to be held in Nagoya, Japan in October.
An introduction to the Satoyama Initiative was a key feature of the side event during which the announcement was made. Satoyama is a Japanese traditional farming system that includes interactions between people and nature in ways that maintain biodiversity and provide humans with goods and services needed for their wellbeing.
The Satoyama Initiative promotes sustainable use of natural resources in human-influenced natural environments (or socio-ecological production landscape) such as agricultural fields and secondary forests. It ultimately contributes to achieving the objectives of CBD.
During a presentation at the event, Dr Dennis Garrity, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre noted that socio‐ecological production landscapes (SEPLs) exist all over the world and are beneficial to biodiversity and, yet in many places they are threatened.
"The Satoyama Initiative aims to enhance understanding and support for SEPLs and raise awareness of their importance," Dr Garrity said.
He cited areas where similar systems are practiced, including in West Java in Indonesia, among the Chagga community in Tanzania and the Kagogo in Rwanda.
Dr Garrity discussed the linkages between Satoyama and the Landcare approach which is a viable model for environment and resource conservation and community action. The World Agroforestry Centre hosts the secretariat of Landcare International, a professional association which aims to enhance worldwide recognition and adoption of Landcare.
For more information on Satoyama visit http://satoyama-initiative.org/en/
The side event was jointly organized by the Government of Japan, the Institute of Advanced Studies of the United Nations University, United Nations Development Program, United Nations Environment Program, the World Agroforestry Centre, Bioversity International and the Secretariat of the CBD.
Are biofuels worth the investment in East Africa?
Friday, April 23, 2010
A new study shows that investment in jatropha for biofuel in Northern Tanzania is a risky venture.
A cost-benefit analysis reveals that farmers will only start earning money after yields of around 3,000 kilograms per hectare of jatropha seed. And this is considerably more than is currently being harvested in the regions studied.
Nepomuk Wahl, principal author of the study, says the results suggest fertile land in Northern Tanzania should not be sacrificed to grow the oil-rich jatropha. "It is still a rather risky and long-term investment with insecure prospects and high opportunity costs," he says.
"However, we believe the traditional growing of jatropha in hedge rows combined with local processing of the oil for local use make jatropha viable for rural communities in the short-term," Nepomuk adds.
Jatropha curcas L. is prevalent in many African countries and is one of several biofuel sources being considered as the world searches for alternatives to fossil fuels.
When energy prices soared in 2007, many companies, private investors, NGOs, farmers and national as well as local governments from developed and developing countries embarked on jatropha ventures.
But as this study notes, the viability of jatropha seed production is yet to be thoroughly assessed. While there have been some investigations into its feasibility in East Africa, these have been largely based on assumptions or extrapolations of data from elsewhere.
Despite the lack of data, more than 10,000 smallholder famers in Tanzania, and many more in East Africa, are establishing jatropha plantations.
This study set out to determine whether jatropha is a viable venture in Northern Tanzania. Using a combination of interviews with farmers growing jatropha and conservative assumptions based on a review of the literature, it aims to provide reliable data that smallholder farmers, investors, development agencies and the government can rely on for further decision making.
The results show that jatropha cultivation is only profitable under certain conditions and unlikely to substantially increase employment and income in rural areas.
The situation is worsened by the fact that many farmers tend to intercrop jatropha with food crops on arable land thus reducing food production for little or no gain.
Dr Ramni Jamnadass, Co-leader of the World Agroforestry Centre's research into agroforestry germplasm notes that jatropha is still a wild species and farmers lack the knowledge required to apply best practice which would provide the most efficient methods of production.
"Intensive research and experimentation is required to tackle the numerous problems that affect economic viability," Dr Jamnadass remarked.
Among these problems is how to reduce production costs and increase seed yields. One option might be to breed high yielding varieties but this is a long-term undertaking and will not benefit farmers who have already invested in jatropha plantations.
Another problem is that the management and harvesting of jatropha requires considerable labour input. The development of pruning techniques for an easy-to-harvest canopy and a small picking tool to speed up harvesting could be the way forward.
So does this mean the end to immediate cultivation of jatropha? According to the authors of this study "not at all." They believe there is one way to avoid high opportunity costs for land and labour without the need to grow jatropha on less suitable land, and that is to optimize the traditional use of jatropha as hedges and fences.
"Hedges can be established almost anywhere without taking up valuable land that could be used for food crops," Nepomuk explains. "They are currently the only proven system when it comes to economically viable jatropha seed production and trade, and if their use is optimized they may encourage the development of a jatropha value chain."
The report also suggests exploration of a Multi Functional Platform in order to offer different energy related services to rural communities such as electricity for lighting and mobile phone charging and milling. This would include a mechanized oil expeller to enable higher quantities of oil to be extracted locally for local use.
The full study, published in the World Agroforestry Centre's working paper series, can be downloaded from our website: Economic viability of Jatropha curcas L. plantations in Northern Tanzania: Assessing farmers' prospects via cost-benefit analysis.
New short film for International Women's Day
Monday, March 8, 2010
The World Agroforestry Centre and the International Livestock Research Centre (ILRI) have produced a short film, titled Four days with Mary.
Set in rural Malawi, the six minute film follows the life of Mary, a widow with 8 children. Her struggles are struggles of millions of women throughout the world.
The film is adapted from Trees for Life which was screened during the opening of the 2nd World Congress of Agroforestry.
Severing links in Mengsong - the impact of land-use change in Southwest China
Monday, November 2, 2009
Centre scientist, Jianchu Xu, is among the authors of a study about the links between livelihoods, biodiversity and culture created by swidden agriculture.
Published in Ecology and Society, the study documents how the Hani people in Mengsong, southwest China have adjusted their livelihoods over the years, in response to new policies, markets, and technologies, and the consequences for biodiversity conservation.
Practiced for many years, swidden agriculture has created mosaics which have sustained the landscape in a particular configuration. Linked to this are complex interactions between livelihoods, biodiversity and culture that can be highly resilient. Yet significant landscape changes in recent times, such as conversion to tea and rubber plantations and policies aimed at biodiversity conservation, have forced the people of Mengsong to alter their livelihoods and disrupted these linkages.
The study investigated land use and land cover changes in Mengsong between 1994 and 1995 and between 2005 and 2007, and assessed biological diversity. Socio-cultural studies were carried out through interviews with key informants to understand local governance. Household surveys were used to gather socio-economic data.
The changes to land use and livelihoods resulting from different policies and markets are chronicled in the study along with the affects of these on biodiversity, including:
A high diversity of species recorded in 1997 was related to diverse livelihoods and cultural practices. At this time, farmers were managing swidden fallows for plant species that supplied them with food, timber and other essentials. But, according to the authors, the government overlooked the ecosystem services provided by the Mengsong over decades and centuries. Forest conservation and an increase in forest cover came at the expense of local swidden livelihoods.
Under traditional Hani culture and community institutions, forests were managed for timber, fire-breaks, ancestral or cemetery areas and for watershed protection. The Hani had well-established social networks and local ecological knowledge. But this was not static, and they were able to acquire new knowledge and technologies and adapt to new policies, laws and market opportunities.
For example, in the 1980s villagers changed their land management practices considerable. They went from wet rice farming in the lowlands to supplying tin miners with swidden products and selling to markets, the border army and crossing trucks. Access to markets combined with a ban on hunting then led to increased livestock farming. After mining ceased, production was intensified with shorter fallow periods and increased use of herbicides. Cash crops such as tea and fruit trees soon became predominant.
Diversification became a livelihood strategy for the Hani. Previously, swidden agriculture had created a landscape mosaic with patches in different succession stages. With no more swidden, the landscape became homogenous. Biodiversity was no longer linked to daily life and activities and the links between sustainable livelihoods, culture and biodiversity were severed.
While the authors acknowledge that a return to traditional swidden systems is unlikely, they believe there is a need to devise ways of maintaining and rebuilding these links in new dynamic landscapes and development contexts. Diverse upland gardens, agroforestry and improved fallows may hold promise. The challenge lies in having the policies, resources and capacity in place so that such promising initiatives can be up scaled.
The full article can be downloaded from Ecology and Society:
A new oil boom
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Around 10,000 farmers in Africa are benefiting from the emerging trade in Allanblackia oil and this is set to significantly increase through an innovative public-private partnership.
Commonly found in the moist rainforests which stretch across Africa from Liberia to Tanzania, the Allanblackia tree has been used by villagers for centuries for cooking oil, medicine and timber.
In 2000, Unilever began using Allanblackia oil (extracted from the seeds of the tree) to make small quantities of soap in Ghana. When a sample was sent to their Dutch laboratory it caused great excitement. The oil was found to stay solid at room temperature but dissolve at 34 degrees; perfect for ‘melt in the mouth' spreads such as margarine.
Unilever wanted to obtain a regular and plentiful supply of this ‘dream' ingredient and so the Novella Project was established in 2002. The aim was to promote the sustainable harvesting of Allanblackia and create the organizations and infrastructure needed to collect, transport and process the seeds.
As Tony Simons, Deputy Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre (a partner in the Novella project) explains, "Very little was known about the biology and distribution of Allanblackia". To meet the demand, Allanblackia had to be brought out of the forest and on to farmers' fields.
Working with farmers, scientists undertook a domestication process to produce ‘superior trees' that combine the best traits found in wild species: vigorous growth, regular fruiting and large fruit with many seeds.
Already, 100,000 of these ‘superior' Allanblackia trees have been planted by smallholder farmers, mostly in Ghana and Tanzania. Millions more are expected to be planted over coming decades, with expansion into Liberia and Nigeria planned.
Says Unilever's Harrie Hendrikx, "We wanted to make Allanblackia a crop which would benefit large numbers of African farmers and biodiversity at the same time".
With demand expected to grow to over 200,000 tonnes a year, smallholders in Africa could eventually earn USD 2 billion a year from the crop.
"Allanblackia is making a big difference to my family. With the money I've made, I've been able to buy things I could never afford before," explains Wallace Kimweri from Kwezitu in Tanzania, who has bought a cow and an iron roof for his house.
There are environmental benefits too. The project has been careful to ensure wild harvesting does not harm the environment and that domestication enhances biodiversity. Planting on open farmland is attracting more wildlife as the seeds are favoured by many species.
The Novella Project is very much an African venture, with African research institutes, universities and NGOs playing a key role. It is showcasing how big business can profit from indigenous species without exploiting the environment or local communities.
The new Seeds of Hope booklet chronicles this project and the Novella Africa websites http://www.worldagroforestry.org/treesandmarkets/allanblackia/ and http://www.allanblackia.info/ contain a wealth of additional information.
17 years strong in the Amazon
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Since establishing our office in Peru in 1992, we've worked on improved agroforestry tree species, cacao systems that enable farmers to access organic markets and collected data to support climate change negotiations.
When the Centre began working in the Amazon, much of the focus was on reconciling environmental efforts with the needs of a growing Amazonian population.
One such project has been the domestication of key tree products such as white bolaina lumber, a low-cost construction material ready for harvest in just five to six years. The tree provides a sustainable option for meeting the high construction demand of many Amazonian cities while generating income for local smallholders. Through this project, producers and researchers have identified, collected, evaluated, selected and multiplied improved seeds and seedlings of nine agroforestry timber and fruit species.
From selection and improvement of agroforestry tree species, work in Peru has expanded into contributions to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Considerable work is being done to develop methods to calculate carbon stocks on smallholdings as well as on developing REDD schemes and methodologies.
With world markets now demanding chocolate made from certified organic cacao, the World Agroforestry Centre has been working with the Association of Cacao Growers of Padre Abad (ACATPA) to facilitate Amazonian grower's transition into the production of more environmentally-friendly cacao.
Over the years, the Centre has collaborated with partners including Peruvian Amazon Research Institute (IIAP) University of North Carolina and Peru's National Institute for Agrarian Innovation (INIA).
After 17 years, the future of agroforestry in Peru is bright, especially as it is proving to be a more profitable alternative to the high-risk monoculture practices of many of the region's smallholders.
For more information, read the brochure: ICRAF in Peru - putting down roots in Amazonia.
New Landcare International book
Friday, September 4, 2009
Launched during the 2nd World Congress of Agroforestry, the book chronicles the experiences of 28 authors from across the globe on how local action is addressing environmental issues.
Landcare began in Australia more than 20 years ago as a grass-roots movement to 'do something practical' about protecting and repairing the environment. Landcare operates as a partnership between community, government and business to tackle degradation on farmland, bushland, in urban environments, on coastlines and along rivers and streams.
: local action - global progress is published by the World Agroforestry Centre and illustrates how sustainability and learning challenges of natural resource management have already been taken up by the Philippines, Iceland, South Africa, East Africa, Germany and the USA under the broad banner of Landcare.
Through the authors' varied contributions, the book helps the reader to better understand and appreciate the philosophy behind the Landcare concept.
Despite Landcare's diversity, and how it has evolved from a wide range of contexts, similar themes emerge across each Landcare story.
The final chapter in the book, What is the future of Landcare? is written by Dennis Garrity, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre. Garrity asks: Is Landcare relevant to, and adaptable to, the world's vast landscape of ecosystems, farming systems, and social, economic, and political conditions? He goes on to discuss the huge challenges faced by Landcare and how it can be mainstreamed into key global organizations.
The book can be downloaded from