Drylands have been a hot topic over the past few months so this issue we feature a story on gathering momentum for regreening the Sahel. A recent gathering of academics in the UK to look at how research results can be translated into impact on food security and human health in sub-Saharan Africa is also highlighted. We boast about recent interactions with President Obama and Chancellor Merkel, and report on research into gender and agroforestry, a non-destructive technique for measuring biomass (and therefore carbon) in the landscape, how farmers are adapting to climate change, and lessons that can be learnt from RES projects.
While women are the backbone of agricultural production in Africa, they are not profiting nearly as much as they could from agroforestry, according to a new study by the Centre: Gender and Agroforestry in Africa: Are Women Participating? The study gives some examples where agroforestry is directly benefiting rural women, such as trees for firewood, soil fertility improvement and fruits, but greater and more targeted effort is needed to improve the situation.
Do Rewards for Environmental Services (RES) projects actually benefit the poor? What does it take to secure participation? How do you deal with uncertainty regarding the future of carbon markets? A recent study of RES projects from across the globe has identified several common challenges, such as ensuring sustainable funding, uncertainty over the future of regulatory carbon markets and the need to establish trust.
An expanding export market and greater urban demand has led to an increase in vegetable production in Africa. A new book Vegetable Production and Marketing in Africa: Socio-economic Research edited by Centre scientist, Dagmar Mithöfer, explores the potential for vegetable production to alleviate poverty through providing jobs in production, processing and trade. The book analyses growth in the sector and the marketing potential for different crops.
Horizons, a BBC World News series, has an episode dedicated to the issue of soil health in Kenya and how organizations are working to improve soil quality and crop yields. It profiles the work of scientists at the World Agroforestry Centre in digital mapping systems to help analyze the quality of the soil across the country, so that farmers will know what to grow and when to grow it.
Research in Western Kenya will help to develop quick and reliable method of predicting the amount of carbon stored in the landscape; essential if smallholder farmers are to benefit from carbon markets by growing trees on their farms. So far, a new equation is proving 90% effective in determining the biomass of trees both above the ground as well as in the roots. Once biomass is known, the amount of carbon stored by each tree or per hectare can be calculated.
Growing trees, it seems, is already a well-established strategy that poor farmers are using to help adapt to changes in climate. Studies in Ha Tinh province, Vietnam and Embu, Kenya used a similar methodology to look at what choices farmers make in response to changing weather patterns; do they grow different crops or different varieties, adjust seasonal calendars, improve the use of irrigation water or shift cultivation from one place to another?
The message that a multifunctional approach to REDD will be far more effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing food production than the practice of intensifying agriculture and sparing forests was put to participants during the UNFCCC climate change meeting in Bonn, Germany in June. The side event Sparing vs. Sharing: Addressing drivers of deforestation and forest degradation provided evidence from benchmark sites across the tropics to support the approach
The challenges of improving the use, yields, quality and conservation of indigenous fruit trees in West Africa are discussed in several articles by Centre scientist, Jules Bayala in a special issue of the journal, New Forests, devoted to ‘Food Tree Species and Poverty Alleviation’. While these trees play an important role in nutrition, poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation, they are threatened by degradation and limited knowledge about their domestication and preservation.
The battle against desertification in the Sahel might just have reached a tipping point.
“Tipping points – where gradual change becomes accelerated change - occur when influential people get committed to the cause and when there is a pool of connectors and networkers that build partnerships and bring peoples’ common interests together,” said Dr Dennis Garrity, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre, as he addressed the First African Drylands Week in Dakar, Senegal in June.
“That seems to be what’s happening judging by the accounts we’ve heard this week of how ‘working trees’ are being regenerated by farmers across the region to renew land health and transform environments.”
In Niger, more than 5 million hectares of farmland are covered predominantly by the fertilizer and fodder tree, Faidherbia albida, and in the Seno Plains of Mali, grassroots efforts have resulted in half a million hectares of medium-to-high density tree cover. The agroforests of Ranawa in Burkino Faso that produce shea butter, an important ingredient in the international cosmetics market, were also applauded during the week, as was the assisted natural regeneration of traditional parklands in Senegal. Then there was the announcement that Ethiopia plans to develop 15 million hectares of land using farmer-managed natural regeneration.
A similar sentiment was expressed by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, in his message on the World Day to Combat Desertification (17 June): “The ongoing greening of the Sahel and other success stories around the world show that degraded lands can be reclaimed by agroforestry and other sustainable practices. We need to scale up these interventions”.
While drylands make up 40% of the world’s land area, cover more than 100 countries and are the basis for the livelihoods of 2 billion people, Garrity said desertification is still a process that is remote from most people, especially the powerful and wealthy.
“The people most affected are the poor and faceless in developing countries. It is a huge challenge to have the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) appreciated in the same way as the conventions on climate change and biodiversity.”
At the centre of discussions in Dakar was the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative. This bold program, backed by the African Union, aims to regreen Sahelian countries from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east; providing hope for poor farmers and their communities to increase food production and incomes, and at the same time better adapt to future climate variability.
“The Great Green Wall will be far more than just a strip of trees,” commented Garrity. “It is envisioned to encompass agriculture, livestock, forestry and agroforestry in a sustainable system.”
“At the core will be trees that increase soil fertility by fixing nitrogen in their roots, and trees that provide more abundant fodder for livestock as well as fruits, medicines, timber and fuelwood,” continued Garrity.
The Global Environment Facility has committed more than US $100 million in support of the program. The World Bank, FAO, UNEP and other multilateral organizations are also engaged in complementary ways.
Garrity promised that the World Agroforestry Centre would provide technical and practical support to the initiative, including giving advice on tree species that will maximize livelihoods and income generation, and providing the best quality tree genetic material.
“We will increase our work on domestication of high value agroforestry species and building up information on soil and land health as well as collaborate on more conducive policies that provide farmers and communities with real incentives to establish trees on their land.”
Story by Kate Langford
Translating results into impact
The results of research can, and must, play a part in providing solutions to the challenge of achieving a food secure world in the face of climate change and feeding a population of 9 billion by 2050. Yet too often research results are not used to maximum effect in improving policies, developing better technologies, and benefiting peoples' lives. Excellence in research and science needs to be accompanied by excellence in impact.
Responding to this situation the Africa College of the University of Leeds, UK, in collaboration with IITA and ICIPE held an international knowledge-brokering conference in Leeds in June 2011. Entitled ”Food security, Health and Impact Knowledge Brokering”, the goal of the conference was to demonstrate and share lessons on how to translate research results into impact on food security and human health in sub-Saharan Africa.
Director General, Dennis Garrity, gave a keynote presentation on how research can help smallholders adapt to climate change as well increase their food supply and improve their livelihoods. Deputy Director General, Tony Simons, organized a well-attended workshop session: “How can reinventing agriculture with trees improve food security and livelihoods?”, which noted that finding the right social design for technology transfer is crucial, adoption decisions depend on farmers’ perceptions of rising income and risks, the media are a useful ally in encouraging adoption, and ensuring partnerships are dynamic and respond to changing is crucial.
The World Agroforestry Centre exhibition on the power of agroforestry, as part of the International Year of Forests efforts, was launched at a cocktail function and provoked a number of positive and interested comments from the mainly academic audience.
Many of the presentations are available on the conference website. Subsequent documentation of best practice and outcomes in terms of building partnerships, and sharing of knowledge and understanding, will lead to increased impact on people living in sub-Saharan Africa.
Story by Paul Stapleton
Transformations is produced by the World Agroforestry Centre Communications Unit.
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