“Evergreen agriculture allows us to glimpse a future of more environmentally benign farming where much of our annual food crop production occurs under a full canopy of trees.” Dr Dennis Garrity, UN Drylands Ambassador and Senior Fellow at World Agroforestry Centre
Photo: Maize growing under a full canopy of Faidherbia albida in southern Tanzania
Evergreen Agriculture - the combination of trees in farming systems (agroforestry) with the principles of conservation farming - is emerging as an affordable and accessible science-based solution to caring better for the land and increasing smallholder food production.
The World Agroforestry Centre has compiled this web page to consolidate information available on Evergreen Agriculture into a central location.
For an overview of Evergreen Agriculture and the Centre’s vision, download Creating an Evergreen Agriculture in Africa for food security and environmental resilience. World Agroforestry Centre 2009, Nairobi Kenya.
Links to additional resources are provided on this page.
For any further enquires, email email@example.com
What is Evergreen Agriculture?
Put simply, Evergreen Agriculture combines agroforestry with the principles of conservation farming.
Conservation farming is already practiced on around 100 million hectares of land worldwide. It involves three well-established principles:
The addition of agroforestry offers multiple livelihood benefits to farmers, including sources of green fertilizer to build healthier soils and enhance crop production, and providing fruits, medicines, livestock fodder, timber and fuelwood. There are environmental benefits too, in the form of shelter, erosion control, more effective water cycles and watershed protection, increased biodiversity, greater resilience to climate change, and carbon storage and accumulation. In fact, one tropical tree can sequester at least 22.6 kg of carbon from the atmosphere each year.
Meeting the challenges facing agriculture
Throughout the world, agriculture is faced with an immense challenge: how to increase yields to feed a growing population from depleted soils and in the face of climate change?
Can this be achieved in a way that is sustainable, affordable and does not further threaten biodiversity?
In Africa, twice as much food must be produced by 2050 to avoid widespread starvation amongst an expected population of 1.8 billion. But, food production per capita has been declining and cereals yields have remained stagnant since the 1960s.
Thousands of famers in Zambia, Malawi, Niger and Burkina Faso are meeting this challenge through the adoption of Evergreen Agriculture. They are restoring exhausted soils and dramatically increasing both crop yields and incomes with this approach.
The most promising results in Evergreen Agriculture are coming from the integration of fertilizer trees into cropping systems. These trees improve soil fertility by drawing nitrogen from the air and transferring it to the soil through their roots and leaf litter. Scientists have been evaluating various species of fertilizer trees for many years, including Sesbania, Gliricidia and Tephrosia. Currently, Faidherbia albida is showing promise as the possiblecornerstone of Evergreen Agriculture in the future for the tropics.
This indigenous African acacia is already a natural component of farming systems across much of the continent. Unlike most other trees, Faidherbia sheds its nitrogen-rich leaves during the early rainy season and remains dormant throughout the crop-growing period: the leaves grow again when the dry season begins. This makes it highly compatible with food crops, because it does not compete with them for light, nutrients, or water during the growing season: only its bare branches spread overhead while the food crops grow to maturity.
In Zambia, more than 160,000 farmers have extended their conservation farming practices to include the cultivation of food crops within agroforests of Faidherbia trees over an area of 300,000 hectares. Zambia’s Conservation Farming Unit has observed that unfertilized maize yields in the vicinity of Faidherbia trees averaged 4.1 t/ha, compared to 1.3 t/ha nearby but beyond the tree canopy.
Similar promising results have emerged from Malawi where maize yields increased up to 280% in the zone under the canopy of Faidherbia trees compared with the zone outside the tree canopy.
In Niger, there are now more than 4.8 million hectares of Faidherbia-dominated agroforests enhancing millet and sorghum production.
Promising results have also been observed in research conducted in India and Bangladesh.
A broad alliance is emerging of governments, research institutions, and international and local development partners committed to expanding Evergreen Agriculture to farming across Africa. Interest in Evergreen Agriculture is also developing in South Asia and Australia.
Widespread support will be essential to spreading this technology to more than 50 million farmers who desperately need home-grown solutions to their food production problems while adapting to the unpredictable impacts of climate change.
Hope is Evergreen
Maize Grown on Trees
Turning the tide on farm productivity in Africa: An agroforestry solution
A green salvation for poor farmers
Achieving food security and climate change adaptation through agroforestry-based conservation agriculture
Barnes, RD and Fagg, CW. 2003. Faidherbia albida. Monograph and Annotated Bibliography. Tropical Forestry Papers No 41, Oxford Forestry Institute, Oxford, UK.
Boffa, JM. 1999. Agroforestry Parklands in sub-Saharan Africa. FAO Conservation
Saka AR, Bunderson WT, Itimu OA, Phombeya HSK, Mbekeani Y (1994) The effects of Acacia albida on soils and maize grain yields under smallholder farm conditions in Malawi. Forest Ecol Manage 64: 217-230.
Sileshi G, Akinnifesi FK, Ajayi OC, Place F (2009). Evidence for impact of green fertilizers on maize production in sub-Saharan Africa: a meta-analysis. ICRAF Occasional Paper No. 10. Nairobi: World Agroforestry Centre.
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