At the 2011 Global Science Conference on Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) in Wageningen, participants took stock of global science and best practices concerning climate smart agriculture worldwide. Participants agreed on a broad agenda for action for science and policy to strengthen food security, adaptation and mitigation (Wageningen Declaration). The 2013 Conference agenda builds on that consensus focusing on three main themes: farm and food systems, landscape and regional issues, and the integrative and transformative institutional and policy aspects that will bridge across scales to link science and practice to ensure food security, poverty alleviation and multiple ecosystem services.
Agroforestry – the integration of trees and shrubs with crops and livestock systems – has strong potential in addressing problems of food insecurity in developing countries. Done well, it allows producers to make the best use of their land, can boost field crop yields, diversify income, and increase resilience to climate change.
The term ‘agroforestry’ is one of the newest buzzwords circulating in the organic sector at the moment. It is an integrated land use system that combines elements of agriculture and forestry in a sustainable production system. It could be said that Irish farms already incorporate a certain amount of agroforestry, with plenty of hedgerows that have a practical function as field and farm boundaries.
However, the practice of agroforestry is not simply having trees or woodland on the farm. It differentiates itself as a farming system because trees are grown as a specific crop for harvesting, in addition to, and in close proximity to, tillage crops or livestock.
In Africa’s Sahel region, agroforestry techniques using traditional plantings known as “fertiliser trees” to increase soil fertility, as well as harvesting and grazing regulations, are offering new solutions to both food and human security.
Such approaches were nearly lost in recent decades following devastating droughts in the Sahel. Now they are making a belated but welcome comeback. According to a 2012 U.S. Geological Survey, “regeneration agroforestry” in the Sahel stands at over 5 million hectares of agricultural fields newly covered by trees – and growing.
Can the practice known as evergreen agriculture deliver both increased food and nutritional security to millions across Africa, and also have the potential to re-green the continent? Tony Barlett, the Forestry Research Program Manager with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, thinks so.
Scientists have reported in Nature that the agroforestry approach of planting nutrient-fixing trees with food crops could help replenish Africa’s poor quality soils, tackling one of the biggest threats to food security on the continent.
Planting certain perennial trees together with food crops can more than double yields for maize and millet, which are among Sub-Saharan Africa’s staple foods, scientists say.