Monthly Archives: April 2012

Land regeneration for food security

By Mieke Bourne and Yvonne Otieno for Agroforestry World

April 14, 2012


Environmental degradation can only be reversed by addressing direct and indirect drivers of change. The said drivers of change include public participation in decision-making, cultural factors and technological change. Collectively these factors influence the level of production and consumption of ecosystem services and sustainability of the production base.

This was said by participants at the Beating Famine Conference who were speaking during a panel discussion that sought to address the issue of land regeneration for food security. During this panel session, different presenters from World Vision and the World Agroforestry Centre made presentations on approaches that had worked in different areas.

The major limiting factor to food security in Africa may be based on land health. Other impacts of shocks on food production such as weeds and drought can be increased by building resistance into the systems. This was according to Douglas Brown, Director, Agriculture and Food Security, World Vision International who made a presentation titled The foundations for resilient livelihoods: soils, savings and trees.

He observed how the systems around livelihoods of smallholder farmers are complex and interlinked with   many aspects from labour availability, land resources and food consumption variations.

“By understanding the system you can effect change and for World Vision the main areas that have been identified for investment as a foundation for resilient livelihoods are soils, savings and trees,” he said. He proposed that while there are many other important factors in land regeneration, if these three factors are not considered, then building resilience in the system would be a great challenge.

“These three areas of investment are activities that smallholder farmers can undertake on their own farms that contribute to resilience in a positive way,” he added.

Picking up on the issue of challenges, the second presentation focused on how Landcare programmes are working to address some of the institutional challenges that have led to land degradation within East Africa.

According to Joseph Tanui from World Agroforestry Centre, Landcare has worked in the region using an action research approach and has linked individuals and groups to address issues at landscape level while ensuring that individuals still benefit.

“We present Landcare as an ethic and a philosophy that enables individuals and communities to approach agriculture in a nurturing way,” said Tanui.

“Landcare often uses a community identified need as an entry point activity. It seeks to develop innovative platforms to represent a number of groups to influence policy and negotiate by-law creation on behalf of the community,” he added.

Tanui explained that Landcare works through principles that ensure participation, ownership and demand-driven development and use of multi-institutional strategies. Additionally it involves understanding and managing trade-offs with the community, enhancing the role of local government and building on past experiences.

Tanui’s presentation focused on Grassroots participation in land regeneration through the Landcare approach. Landcare is defined as a movement of autonomous farmer-led organizations; it is an extension approach that inexpensively disseminates agroforestry and other technologies as a set of appropriate land management practices.

Some preliminary results indicate that improved water and soil conservation and knowledge management and access was reported by those participating in the Landcare programme. A table was presented demonstrating how Landcare programmes have been funded and launched in different countries in unique ways. Of particular interest is the case of South Africa where the programme was mainstreamed into the Ministry of Agriculture compared to East Africa where a combination of donor, the World Agroforestry Centre and NGO support laid the foundation for Landcare activities.

Rowland Bunch, Agroecologist  (and author of Two Ears of Corn: A Guide to People–Centered   Agricultural) Improvement changed the focus of the session to the subject of soil by making a presentation on Green manure: soil recuperation at zero cost. According to him, experience from Central America in the 1970s and 80s has shown dramatic improvement of the soil using mulch and then green manure. Composting had a large impact however, for cereal production the cost of its production exceeded its benefits. Green manure cover crops for this purpose include trees and bushes and can be cut down at any stage of growth and are often left on the soil surface to be broken down by natural processes including worms and termites.

Rowland explained how hundreds of thousands of farmers in Latin America are using a variety of green mulch systems and incorporating zero tillage once the soil biomass is sufficient. Green manure in addition to improving soil biomass can control weeds, improve fertility and can be used as food. For many farmers there are edible leaves or beans that are consumed before the green manure crop is incorporated into the soil. He also noted that within the semi-arid and arid areas the green mulch system is almost exclusively dominated by woody perennials. He recommended that since green manure crops do not occupy space that the farmer uses for crops, they must not incur cash costs and they must not increase labour costs.

Triple bottom line of Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) was the subject of the fourth presentation made by Rowan Reid, Project Manager- FMNR,  World Vision Australia and Rob Francis Coordinator, Australian Master TreeGrower Program. According to the presenters, the FMNR technology is considered simple and effective, and since it conveys knowledge and not materials, it is affordable. They explained that though there is little data and impact, what is available suggests about a 70% increase in yield and farmer accounts.

“Farmers don’t need an economist, if the technology matches their immediate needs, capability and resources; perception of risks and aspirations then it is common sense,” said Rowan.

FMNR takes away the risk of planting trees and losing them, a good entry-point and advantages for scaling up. FMNR is a good idea, the question now is how do you introduce a simple idea and scale it up?

The final presentation during this session was by Jonathan Muriuki who focused on Evergreen Agriculture in East Africa. In his presentation, he described how the highlands of East Africa are characterized by steep slopes with erosion threats while the drylands are generally overgrazed and degraded. The area is subject to conventional farming practices with intensive tillage that destroys the biological and ecological integrity of the soil system.

One way to help regeneration was through Conservation Agriculture. Conservation Agriculture involves the application of three principles – permanent soil cover, minimum soil disturbance and crop rotations and associations.  Conservation Agriculture with Trees  (CAWT) is one of the three forms of Evergreen Agriculture. The other forms are regeneration practice/method and trees in conventional agriculture. Evergreen Agriculture is a type of agroforestry in which trees are intercropped with field crops.

According to Jonathan, when trees are integrated into the Conservation Agriculture system, one sees increased benefit in the three principles. Tree roots and soil fauna take over the tillage function, the increased biomass from trees protects the soil and feeds the soil biota and reduce weeds, pests and diseases.

However, three things; right germplasm, proper practices and enabling environment are needed to scale up CAWT. There are plans to implement three Evergreen Agriculture projects in the East Africa region. One of the projects will be implemented in Machakos in Kenya and Mbarali in Tanzania. This project will focus on characterization of typologies, germplasm distribution systems, approaches for extension, demonstration and participatory trials and knowledge management and communication.

Other parallel sessions focused on land regeneration for climate change adaption and  Carbon sequestration, sustainable water & water energy for land regeneration.

Useful Resources

Biographies of experts at the Beating Famine Conference

Paper by Joseph Tanui, Diane Russell, Delia Catacutan, and Thomas Yatich Landcare in East Africa

A short history of FMNR by Tony Rinuado

Watch videos Landcare in Kenya, Uganda and  Tanzania

Evergreen agriculture can build resilience and increase food security in the face of climate change

By Paul Stapleton for Agroforestry World

Originally published on December 6, 2011

A learning event at the Agriculture and Rural Development Day held in association with United Nations climate change talks in Durban, South Africa discussed how to raise awareness of the potential for Evergreen Agriculture as an approach to improve livelihoods, adaptation and mitigation in the tropics, and its successful expansion in Africa.

The event, which was organized by the World Agroforestry Centre, IFAD, UNEP and the African Development Bank, also looked at how to identify elements for actions for Evergreen Agriculture to achieve greater prominence and eligibility in the adaptation and mitigation policies of developing countries and globally. The questions were particularly relevant as a broad alliance is now emerging amongst governments, research institutions and development agencies to expand Evergreen Agriculture across hundreds of millions of hectares in Africa and Asia.

Evergreen Agriculture combines agroforestry with the principles of conservation farming. The addition of agroforestry offers multiple livelihood benefits to farmers, including sources of green (organic) fertilizer to build healthier soils and enhance crop yields, and providing fruits, medicines, livestock fodder, and fuelwood. Environmental benefits include land rehabilitation, a more effective water cycle and watershed protection, increased biodiversity, increased carbon accumulation and storage and greater resilience to climate change; addressing mitigation and adaptation.

Dennis Garrity, Senior Research Fellow at the World Agroforestry Centre, and a key proponent of the approach, noted that there were two systems of Evergreen Agriculture emerging in Africa. In western Africa, farmer-managed natural regeneration of indigenous trees in farmlands is spreading across the semiarid farmlands in the region, especially in Niger, where medium to high density systems of Faidherbia albida and annual crops occupy over 5 million hectares, and they are rapidly diffusing across the country. “Farmers are also using the approach in Burkina Faso, Mali and other countries,” said Garrity. This clear impact has stimulated a new commitment to the regreening of the Sahel among donors and countries.

The approach in eastern and southern Africa is different; trees are being integrated into farming systems by active planting. Zambia is recommending the planting of 100 trees per hectare of farmland. Malawi has extended Evergreen Agriculture through village movements to over 200 000 farmers in the past 5 years, with maize yields more than doubling in these multi-trees species systems, including Sesbania sesban, Gliricidia sepium and Tephrosia candida. Kenya has enacted a bold policy of achieving 10 percent tree cover on all farmlands, and Ethiopia, where F. albida is common, is starting a program to distribute 100 million seedlings to 1 million farmers.

Mario Boccucci, representing UNEP, explained why Evergreen Agriculture must be included in the revitalization of agriculture in a green economy. “Evergreen Agriculture works,” he said, “It is a matter of scaling it up.” Clearly there is a need to transform how we approach our land production systems in the next 50 years. We need another 120 million hectares of arable land to be put into production to meet future demand. We need mechanisms to work together to deliver this transformation and the information and the data available for the decision makers to use. There is an urgent need to work together to accomplish these challenges. In Rio+20, leaders will be looking for the opportunity to make major decisions, and revitalizing agriculture can be one of them. We need to develop a powerful, meaningful strategy for action with a powerful constituency behind it.

Prince Kampondamgaga of the Farmers Union of Malawi described his experiences from Malawi. “There has been a very clear policy direction in rolling out Evergreen Agriculture across the country,” he said. “Key issues include food security, pest management, water management and market management.” The two types of Evergreen Agriculture have been adopted, farmer-managed and tree-planted annual cropping systems. Farmer organizations are playing a key part, especially in defining conservation agriculture and its applications, as well as engaging the farmers.

Dr Elwyn Grainger Jones of IFAD talked about how Evergreen Agriculture can be mainstreamed within loan and grant programs for scaling-up for smallholders. IFAD started engaging in Evergreen Agriculture as far back as the mid-1980s, when their project staff noted how effective farmer-managed natural regeneration was in the field. The approach was folded into subsequent projects of broader natural landscape regeneration. “Farmer to farmer communication worked really well,” he said. “But to be successful at the local level needed individual champions and village community groups, knowledge and clear tenure and rights over the trees.” He also noted that the interests of forestry departments do not always line up with agroforestry and natural regeneration, especially in terms of ownership of the trees.

Selling trees to conservation agriculture enthusiasts

By Kate Langford for Agroforestry World

Originally published October 7, 2011

“If you choose the right species of trees and manage them in the right way, they can be compatible with agriculture and provide many benefits,” said Dennis Garrity in addressing the World Congress of Conservation Agriculture during his last week as Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre.

Garrity outlined examples of how trees are transforming the livelihoods of many African farmers and at the same time improving exhausted soils.

While attending the conference in Brisbane, Australia, Garrity was interviewed on QUT News and by Radio Australia. In the latter interview he discusses the challenges of disseminating the message about the benefits of trees on farms to farmers in Africa.

“Nut trees and other cash crops are a source of food as well as cash to farmers,” explains Garrity. “You tend to get a greater income per square metre with tree-based systems,”

While conservation agriculture techniques are increasingly popular in countries like Australia, smallholder farmers in Africa face many hurdles to adopting the practice. One of the key principles in conservation agriculture is retaining crop residues. But in Africa, most smallholder farmers have both crops and livestock so they tend to use all available crop residues to feed their livestock.

Garrity points to examples of how Evergreen Agriculture –incorporating trees into crop production systems – has boosted crop production by up to 200 percent. One form of Evergreen Agriculture, known as Conservation Agriculture with Trees or CAWT, keeps the emphasis on reduced tillage, but expands the principle of residue retention to include the integration of trees and shrubs in crop fields.

Of particular importance to African farmers are fertilizer trees. These trees improve soil fertility by drawing nitrogen from the air and transferring it to the soil through their roots and leaf litter. In a region where two-thirds of farmers cannot afford to buy mineral fertilizers, the trees provide an inexpensive organic solution.

Feeding a hungry world with trees

By Dennis Garrity for Agroforestry World

Originally published September 16, 2011
[Reproduced from Reuters alertnet]

A couple of decades ago, when my colleagues began urging African farmers to plant trees in the middle of their maize fields, many agricultural development specialists thought we were a bit deranged.

People can’t eat trees. So what good would planting one do for the food security of rural families and villages?

Before long, though, many of the farmers who had planted the soil-replenishing “fertilizer trees” that the World Agroforestry Centre had identified, were proving that all this made good sense. Within only a few years of planting these trees and shrubs, farmers were reaping abundant harvests of maize from fields whose exhausted soil had previously produced almost nothing.

Millions of farmers from around Africa have improved their soils and boosted their livelihoods by culturing nitrogen-fixing species such the indigenous African acacia, Faidherbia albida, or others like Gliricidia selum or Calliandra calothyrsus, introduced from Central America.

The usefulness of trees to agriculture has now caught on with African governments, as well.


Eleven countries in the Sahel, at the heart of the continent, are creating a Great Green Wall, a monumental agroforestry programme working toward environmental and development transformation in the region. The heart of this programme is the vast expansion of agroforestry parklands on farmers’ fields, where their food crops grow under the canopy of a forest of compatible trees.

This vast belt of evergreen agriculture, stretching from Dakar, Senegal, to Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, will employ the best of farmer-proven and scientifically-confirmed agroforestry techniques to halt desertification while alleviating poverty for thousands of local towns and villages.

This effort builds directly on the demonstrated success of the millions of farmers across this region who are already using fertilizer trees and shrubs to replenish soil nutrients on their farms. In the process, they are boosting the food security of their households and nations, while improving their livelihoods and “re-greening” the environment.

Fertilizer trees represent a long-term and sustainable solution for the declining agricultural yields that have plagued Africa. And, by the way, they are a solution that costs the farm family practically zero cash investment, and minimal risk. The current practice of government subsidies for mineral fertilizer helps in the short term. But what happens when the subsidies stop?


When I met Mariko Majoni, a Malawian farmer, a few years ago, he had exhausted his pension money on mineral fertilizers, which had increased his maize yields, but left his soil poor again when the money ran out. However, after he had acquired Gliricidia seeds from a local agroforestry research station, the health of his soil dramatically improved, and it became much better at retaining nutrients and moisture. Within two years of planting these trees, his maize yields had increased eightfold.

Planting fertilizer trees in cropland is an example of “evergreen agriculture” – an environmentally-sound farming system where food crops and trees grow harmoniously together. The practice reduces poverty, increases agricultural production, and contributes to environmental sustainability by conserving water and soil fertility, while enabling communities to adapt to drought and climate change.

Evergreen agriculture is primed to spearhead a transformative renaissance in agriculture. It has already regenerated millions of hectares of degraded land in the Sahel, as well as parts of East and Southern Africa, dramatically enhancing productivity and improving smallholder livelihoods.

The Great Green Wall, to which donors meeting in Germany this year committed $3 billion, will further the cause, while slowing desertification that affects millions.

Agroforestry makes farms more productive, restoring degraded lands while diversifying diets, providing wood fuel and animal feed. Wild food species such as the Sahelian apple, the bush mango and the African plum have been brought out of forests, domesticated, and are now grown on farmland, providing a resilient source of food to sustain families during periods of hunger and lessening reliance on expensive food imports.

In Guinea, villagers who once eked out a living in the forests now have a reliable food source and dramatically higher incomes. Meanwhile, tree cover is increasing and biodiversity is returning.


Agroforestry also helps combat climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the transformation of degraded agricultural lands to agroforestry is a promising way to sequester carbon. Agroforestry investments over the next 50 years could remove 50 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

To feed an escalating global population, we must invest in pro-poor, anti-hunger, sustainable agricultural growth. And there are innovative solutions – like agroforestry – that are ready to roll out now.

What we need is more incentives and support for poor countries to transfer these truly practical and low-cost solutions to tens of millions more farms across Africa. The key is building awareness that there is another way, agroforestry for food security, and that it mainly involves the wider sharing of knowledge and good quality tree seeds.

I’m sure Mr. Majoni would agree.

New network to promote “Re-greening Africa”

Participants at the Beating Famine: Sustainable Food Security through Land Regeneration in a Changing Climate conference in Nairobi from 10-13 April have proposed a fifty million US dollars (USD) fund to promote agriculture and end Africa’s cycle of drought and food insecurity.

Click here to read more

The baffling simplicity of FMNR

When the pioneer of Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR), Tony Rinaudo held a workshop in Kijabe, Kenya, the invited participants from the Beating Famine conference were baffled by the simplicity of what they heard and saw. During the FMNR tour, the message was clear and simple. That the best thing to do when confronted with a barren land crying out for regreening is to simply leave it alone and just wait for trees to regenerate from remnant  tree root systems.

Click here to read more.