Yearly Archives: 2012

Grow vegetables under trees

Written by Daisy Ouya on October 3, 2012

Vegetables do well under trees. They can help smallholding farmers earn a good income and transform low-production farms into purposely managed, diversified and ecologically robust agroforestry systems.

The argument was made in a new book, Vegetable agroforestry systems in Indonesia, which details action research with farmers to develop sustainable tree and vegetable systems for steeply sloping hillsides.

According to James M. Roshetko, co-author of the book and a senior scientist with Winrock International and the World Agroforestry Centre, farmers in Nanggung, West Java, who traditionally grew vegetables in full sunlight, were delighted to find that they could successfully cultivate vegetables under a canopy of trees.

The seven vegetables he and his team tested did as well or better in medium shade than under full sunlight.

‘In the understory of mixed trees with medium-light levels, the production per plant of amaranth, ‘kangkung’, eggplant, chili, tomato and “katuk” was around 100 to 300% superior to production under full sunlight. Even in understory with heavy shade, those seven vegetables produced up to 139% more than those in full sunlight”, he said

An array of vegetables was tested, including common ones like eggplant, chili, tomato, green bean and long bean, as well as indigenous Indonesian vegetables like amaranth (Amaranthus), ‘katuk’ (Sauropus androgynous), ‘kangkung’ (Ipomoea aquatica), ‘kemangi’ (Ocimum americanum), ‘honje’ (Etlingera giseke), ‘kucai’ (Allium tuberosum), ‘legetan’ (Spilanthes iabadicensis), ‘pegagan’ (Centella asiatica), ‘beluntas’ (Pluchea indica), ‘kenikir’ (Cosmos caudatus), ‘sambung nyawa’ (Gynura procumbens), and ‘terubuk’ (Saccharum edule).

The indigenous vegetables fetched higher prices in the market than the others. They were highly nutritious and many had medicinal or other valuable properties. For instance, katuk is used to improve the flow of milk in breastfeeding mothers, kenikir has beautiful flowers used for decoration, while the flowers of honje are edible.

However, the transformation of traditional, subsistence agriculture into market-oriented production is a formidable task, particularly if the benefits and risks are unclear.

In particular, the researchers found that farmers’ weak links with traders and their post-harvest handling and processing were potential bottlenecks to increasing vegetable production.

For instance, a large and ready market for fresh katuk leaves existed in the cities of Jakarta and Tangerang, with daily demand from farmers in nearby Ciampea alone exceeding 15 tonne, worth US$2935 per day at a farmgate price of US$0.20 per kilogram.

Pharmaceutical companies were able to buy 5 tonnnes of dried katuk leaves from the farmers every day, at US$1.20 to 1.80 per kilogram. It took about 4 kilogram of fresh leaves to make 1 kilogram of dried.

So, economically, drying the leaves should have been attractive, increasing price margins several-fold. However, the researchers found that farmers often sold the leaves fresh because they lacked the experience, capital, technology and confidence to efficiently dry them.

‘To capitalize on lucrative markets, farmers as well as traders needed to improve post-harvest handling and storage. Farmers, in particular, had to combine improved production and processing to increase the quantity and quality of yields. Once they achieved the standards needed for commercial orders, they could command premium prices in lucrative markets. Understory vegetable farming allowed them to intensify their farming by adding another, valuable “story” to their farms, without needing to expand their land area’, said Roshetko.

Ujjwal Pradhan, the regional coordinator of the World Agroforestry Centre’s Southeast Asia Program, said the research had helped improve farmers’ incomes and also protect the environment.

‘Because their land was under-productive, many local communities were forced to utilise the neighbouring Gunung Halimun National Park, a major watershed for Jakarta, leading to environmental degradation.

‘Through intensifying vegetable production on the farmers’ own plots, without clearing any new land, benefits flowed not only to the farmers of Nanggung but downstream as well, in the form of improved water quality’, Pradhan said.


Bit by bit, East African smallholder farmers adapting to climate change

Bit by bit, East African smallholder farmers adapting to climate change

Submitted by Vanessa on 7th September 2012

Adaptation to climate change on smallholder farms is taking root, according to a

Farmers worldwide have always faced challenges related to weather variability, and have necessarily adapted their farming practises in order to survive. But as variability increases to to climate change, and rainfall patterns and average temperatures shift dramatically, farmers may need to change more rapidly and in unexpected ways.

The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) led an extensive survey of farmers at sites across East Africa, to discover what kind of changes farmers have already made to deal with variability. The goal was to understand what kind of changes are possible in the future, and what compels farmers to make these changes, in order to deal with climate change.

The results of the survey, which were published in the journal Food Security, found that many smallholders have started to embrace climate-resilient farming approaches and technologies. These include strategies that improve crop production such as using improved seed varieties, agroforestry and intercropping, and better livestock management. But many farming approaches, the kind that would actually transform the way smallholders farm, have yet to be adopted. The infographic here illustrates what has, and has not, been commonly adopted.

The researchers also found a link between farmers’ food insecurity and adoption of climate-adapted approaches. The least food-secure households are also those the least likely to innovate. But it’s unclear whether one causes the other or whether they are mutually-reinforcing.

“It stands to reason that households struggling to feed their families throughout the year are not in a good position to invest in new practices that include higher costs and risks,” said Patti Kristjanson, a researcher “Yet not adapting is certainly contributing to food insecurity. Food insecurity means lower adaptive capacity to deal with all kinds of change.”

“So it is critical that we learn more about both the factors that enable and facilitate innovation, and how to lower the often hidden costs and barriers associated with changing agricultural practices,” she added.

Click here to read more on CCAFs blog

Kenya: Resource-saving Agriculture

“Living with the Trees of Life:” Innovative Solutions to Solve the Food Crisis

Dr. Roger Leakey, an expert in tropical agroforestry, recently published a new book titled, Living with the Trees of Life, Towards the Transformation of Tropical Agriculture. A mixture of personal narrative and scientific research, Living with the Trees of Life presents a roadmap of simple and inexpensive solutions to hunger and poverty. The world’s population will reach 9 billion by 2050; with 1 billion people currently malnourished and another billion overweight or obese, the global system of food production would benefit from solutions like the ones proposed by Dr. Leakey.

In his book, Dr. Leakey explores a particularly promising innovation—agroforestry. Agroforestry consists of a wide range of practices that integrate trees in farming systems.

Click here to read more.

Australia backs Trees-For-Food campaign

Feed the Soil, Feed the Crops

Studies show farmland in Africa is often lacking in important nutrients. But researchers say a combination of farming methods may help.

Since the world food crisis several years ago, researchers have directed more of their attention to small farms. Most farms in areas south of the Sahara Desert are only about one or two hectares. One of the goals is to increase production without necessarily clearing more land to grow additional crops.

Click here to read more.