Monthly Archives: November 2015

Restoration agriculture in the corn belt

Picture4I’ve got to admit that the Corn Belt of the USA was probably the last place in the world where I thought that EverGreen Agriculture could take root. I knew that the historical trajectory of bigger farms, bigger equipment, extremely simplified maize-soybeans cropping systems, and an industrial approach to farming, all present real challenges to the integration of trees in farming systems. Thus, it was exhilarating to learn that there are pioneers out there who are grappling with these challenges, envisioning fresh, new ways of addressing them, and succeeding. And that they are also writing elegantly about their experiences to guide others along the pathways to the perennialization of agriculture.
Mark Shepard runs a 106-acre farm in southern Wisconsin, that he converted from a row-crop grain enterprise into a commercial-scale perennial-annual agricultural ecosystem. He started from the perspective of combining ecological theory with hard-nosed economics. And in the process he has created a profitable farm based on the concept of developing a farmscape that mimics the original oak-savanna ecology of Richland County, Wisconsin. In his new book, Restoration Agriculture, Real-World Permaculture for Farmers, Mark lays out the theory and the practice. And he has made the effort to show in detail how it works, and how others can do it, too.
Mark’s oak-savanna agroecosystem mimic produces a diversified range of food products that are processed and marketed through the farmer-owned 1600-member Organic Valley cooperative. His book describes the journey, and along the way he shares invaluable tips and insights for all those that might contemplate stepping into the world of a more perennial agriculture, that makes it profitable to produce our staple foods by integrating trees and shrubs into annual crop systems. And doing so in commercial, mechanized farming systems that also dramatically improve the quality of the environment. Such a trajectory could fundamentally change the face of agriculture, and the ecological health of the entire planet.
Diversity, succession and a vertical structure of up to four layers of productive annuals, shrubs and trees are the tools in Mark’s arsenal to use the land effectively and increase profit per acre. He notes that “since farmers and ranchers are in the business of capturing solar energy, wouldn’t it make sense to utilize systems that have as large a surface area as possible in order to capture as much solar energy as they can?”

Picture3Woody crops are able to use an extra two to three months’ worth of sunlight before and after annual plants are able to do this. Their longevity is another obvious advantage. Mark discusses all the ins and outs of growing taller trees, including oaks, chestnuts, beeches, in a four-story structure with understories of woody perennial crops such as apples, hazelnuts, cherries, raspberries and blackberries, and grapes, along with ground-hugging shade-tolerant crops of mushrooms, with the more sun-loving annual crops and forages occupying the alleyways. These are integrated with various livestock enterprises right in the mix. And his restoration agriculture savanna silvo-pastoral systems produce a dappled shade where forage crops have more optimal temperature and light levels for longer periods of time throughout the year.
Mark emphasizes that the perennial polyculture farmer is not striving to get the most out of any one crop. Rather, he is striving to manage and optimize an ecological system: A system modeled after nature. A system designed to optimize its total system yield. He notes that the restoration agriculture farmer is practicing an agroforestry where perennials are directly integrated with annual crops (or what we may also refer to as evergreen agriculture). He emphasizes that the difference between a USDA-approved agroforestry of simplified practices (such as windbreaks or riparian buffers) and restoration agriculture is that the latter is the practice of agroforestry on ecological steroids. Indeed.

The latter chapters of the book advise fellow farmers on getting started in creating a permanent agriculture. They contain abundant practical information about the technical aspects, and about making a profit. It all winds up with a chapter that is ‘A Call for New Pioneers’. The frontispiece of that chapter evokes the words of J Russell Smith, who was the pioneer of a century ago that wrote the classic book, Tree Crops, A Sustainable Agriculture:

“I see a million hills green with crop-yielding trees and million neat farm hmes snuggled in the hills. These beautiful tree farms hold the hills from Boston to Austin, from Atlanta to Des Moines. The hills of my vision have farming that fits them and replaces the poor pasture, the gullies, and the abandoned lands that characterize today so large a part of these hills.”

“The unplowed lands are partly shaded by cropping trees – mulberries, persimmons, honey locust, grafted black walnut, grafted heart nut, grafted hickory, grafted oak, and other harvest-yielding trees. There is better grass beneath these trees than covers the hills today.”

It is gratifying that serious research is now getting under way at universities throughout the Corn Belt to further evaluate and expand on Mark’s ideas. As a complement to reading the book, you will want to pull up some of Mark’s videos on YouTube for further inspiration.

New land degradation neutrality goal to accelerate global restoration efforts

Michelle030The global community has set forth a new goal to tackle the scourge of land degradation and desertification. It could be real breakthrough.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) had a ‘breakthrough moment’ after two weeks of discussions and negotiations in Ankara, Turkey in October. The 195 parties to the Convention agreed to a global deal that set a new environmental target: Achieving “land degradation neutrality” by 2030, and thus maintaining the world’s stock of healthy, productive land at a stable level.

Currently, 12 million hectares of land is being degraded annually via deforestation and forest degradation, the degradation and loss of agricultural land, and rampant infrastructural development. But the new deal at Ankara commits the UN’s members, albeit on a voluntary basis, to restore or rehabilitate at least that much land area every year, which at least will keep things from getting worse. If that goal can be achieved by 2030, then the global community can look toward an even more ambitious target to gradually enable a major net increase in healthy land in future decades.

The Land Degradation Neutrality target had already been included in the Sustainability Development Goals that were agreed by the UN General Assembly this past September. But the UNCCD decision takes that a major step further by setting in motion a framework whereby the target can be achieved through practical actions on the ground by virtually all countries.

The endorsement also entails an expansion in the role of the UNCCD. The Convention had previously focused on attempting to counter the rapid degradation or desertification of productive drylands, especially in Africa. It will now actively promote and assist land degradation neutrality in non-arid areas across the world as well. The scientific definition of land degradation neutrality that was adopted by the conference applies universally to all countries, and thus a significant shift has occurred.

“That is the fundamental change that has taken place,” noted UNCCD executive secretary Monique Barbut.

The agreement is likely to have an impact on the UN climate change conference that is convening in Paris in early December, following close on the heels of the UNCCD meetings. Ms Barbut stressed the enormous climate benefits of reclaiming degraded land. These include not only making farming more resilient to climate change through the adoption of such practices as agroforestry, and evergreen agriculture in particular, and increasing food production in rainfed environments, particularly on millions of smallholder farms, but also in sequestering huge amounts of carbon dioxide.

She noted that the full achievement of the land restoration target could reduce global warming by half a degree C. This will help substantially to close the gap between the sum of what countries have so far voluntarily committed to reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases, and the level of emissions reduction that is needed to limit global warming to 2 degrees C: The level currently estimated to be essential to avoid catastrophic climatic consequences.

The new global deal opens a wide new window of opportunity for EverGreen Agriculture impact in the coming years.

Eastern and Southern African countries establish initiative to scale-up fertilizer tree technologies as a component of fertilizer subsidy programs

3The Member States of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa have approved a resolution to set up a new initiative to enable their countries to build their capacity to link the upscaling of fertilizer tree technologies with their fertilizer subsidy programs. The initiative will enable COMESA Member States to regenerate their soils and create a more sustainable agricultural system for farmers, particularly the small-scale farmers who are currently benefiting from their input subsidies programmes. At the national level such an initiative can significantly reduce fertilizer importation bills, and save considerable foreign exchange in fertilizer importation, while increasing food crop yields and production, thus generating more rural employment and contributing to food security, particularly for the rural poor, and contributing to more sustainable economic growth and national prosperity.
Fertilizer Subsidy Programmes (FSPs) are a visible means for governments to show support for farmers. But these programs are expensive. Currently, ten African governments spend an estimated US$1.05 billion annually—an average of 30 percent of their agriculture budgets—on FSPs (IFPRI, 2014). COMESA Member States with FSPs include Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia, and Malawi. This number will likely increase given that many governments plan to further scale-up their FSP programs.
These FSP programmes were meant to help smallholder farmers invest in fertilizer inputs, overcome limited access to input markets, and ultimately, to increase production. In some countries the FSPs were meant to be temporary, i.e. the subsidy was meant to help farmers out of perpetual poverty and then graduate them; but the hard reality is that most FSPs have not been successful in that respect.
Governments face many choices on how to best spend their limited resources on development projects. FSPs tend to crowd out investment in other important areas of agricultural development, especially in agricultural research, which have proven to have a very high rate of return on investment. But ISPs are politically popular and are thus predicted to be here to stay. However, governments can achieve far greater benefits from these programmes by investing in complementary areas, such as programs to improve soil fertility in an integrated manner, so that the returns to fertilizer use are higher and more sustainable. This will make buying and applying fertilizers more profitable for farmers, which is the rationale for the new EverGreen Fertilizers Initiative.
Agroforestry is the integration of trees into crop and livestock systems. It is one of the most promising approaches to addressing climate change and evolving a climate smart agriculture (CSA) in Africa. It achieves this objective because it increases agricultural production, enhances the resilience of the farming system, and sequesters more carbon in the biomass and soil than other agricultural practices. It is also one of the most effective ways for smallholder farmers to reverse land degradation on their farms, and to regenerate their soils in a manner that requires little or no cash investment.
Practical systems for intercropping fertilizer trees in maize farming have been developed and are being extended to hundreds of thousands of farmers in Malawi, Zambia and other COMESA member countries. The portfolio of options includes intercropping maize with coppicing, fast-growing N-fixing trees, such as Gliricidia sepium, or integrating full-canopy fertilizer trees such as Faidherbia albida into the cropping system. Faidherbia is an indigenous tree that is widespread on millions of farmers’ fields throughout the eastern, western, and southern subregions of the continent. It is highly compatible with food crops because it is physiologically dormant during the rainy season. It sheds its nitrogen-rich foliage at the beginning of the wet season, and only re-foliates at the beginning of the dry season. Thus, it exhibits minimal competition with food crops grown in association with it, while enhancing their yields and improving soil health. Fertilizer trees can be established at medium-to-high densities in crop fields by planting the seedlings, or by farmer-managed natural regeneration of trees that are nurtured from trees that sprout from tree stumps, roots or germinating tree seed in the fields’ soil bank. A meta-analysis of studies on the effects of fertilizer trees on maize yields found that they have significant positive effects. The doubling of yields is not uncommon (Sileshi et al 2008).
The upscaling of these practices will contribute substantively toward meeting the commitment of the African Heads of State in Malabo to ensure that 30% more households in Africa are resilient to climate change-related risks (Malabo Decision, June 2014), and to achieving the 25by25 vision within the context of the Africa CSA Alliance and the CAADP Climate Change Programme (25 million farmers practicing CSA by 2005).
Fertilizer tree technologies (FTTs) have been scaled-up so far mainly through conventional extension programs. However, interest is rapidly developing to further incentivize agroforestry investments on the farm by linking them to government fertilizer subsidy programs in the region. By linking the adoption of fertilizer trees with fertilizer subsidies, countries can provide for long-term sustainability in fertilizer nutrient supply at reduced cost, and build up soil health as the basis for sustained yields and improved fertilizer response efficiency. This will enhance farmer investment in the purchase of inorganic fertilizer. Furthermore, most of the mineral fertilizer received by farmers is usually applied over a far bigger area than that recommended by the extension agents resulting in mineral fertilizer application rates as low as a quarter of the recommended rates. In such situations fertilizer trees complement these small doses of mineral fertilizers.
The establishment of these biological fertilizer factories on the farm will enhance the impact of the input subsidies. Farmers would be encouraged to produce more of the nitrogen required by their crops on their own farms, increasing and sustaining their crop yields and improving their soils. This can foster a gradual shift of investments from short-term fertilizer subsidies to sustainable on-farm fertility regeneration, opening up a subsidy to sustainability pathway.
A successful pilot project to scale-up fertilizer tree technologies is currently being implemented in Malawi that involves 10,000 small-scale farmers. Plans are under way to expand the program to 30,000 farmers by 2016. This is part of the Malawi’s National Agroforestry Food Security Programme that has been implemented in districts across the country for many years. In Zambia, fertilizer tree technologies have been extended on a large scale through the Conservation Farming Unit’s extension programme, and through private sector-sponsored extension programmes, particularly in Eastern Province. Research and extension programmes on fertilizer tree technologies have also been promoted in Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia. These provide the base and experience for creating the appropriate models for connecting with the FSPs in these countries.

COMESA Ministers discussed the issue at their meeting in Lusaka in February, 2015, and noted the major economic and financial advantages of scaling-up fertilizer tree technologies. Their resolution stated that:

“It is recommended that COMESA strengthen awareness among member countries of the major economic and financial advantages of scaling-up fertilizer tree technologies, and develop an initiative to assist countries to share their experiences in developing input subsidy to sustainability pathways that will significantly enhance the impact and welfare benefits of input subsidy programs.”

In April, 2015, the Southern Africa Beating Famine Conference ( convened a special event to to share and discuss the vision and ideas surrounding the initiative, discuss the best approaches to developing the initiative, and to encourage participation in the planning activities to carry the agenda forward.

The key activities envisioned to assist countries in linking their FSPs with the scaling-up of fertilizer tree technologies for soil fertility are:
· Policy analysis and formulation, and policy support to national FSPs in creating links to the scaling-up of fertilizer tree technologies
· Providing technical support to COMESA Member Countries interested to develop EverGreen Fertilizer Subsidy models adapted to their unique conditions.
· Research on the development of EverGreen Fertilizer Subsidy models, pilots and programs suited to the unique contexts of each interested Member Country, including appropriate incentives to accelerate adoption and integration of fertilizer trees and mineral fertilizers.

A number of countries have expressed interest in getting engaged in the initiative. Efforts are now under way to set up the mechanisms to support them and to strengthen the ability to provide support to many others. For more information on the development of the initiative, and to get engaged in it, contact Dennis Garrity at

For more background on fertilizer tree technologies see (weblinks on EVA brief and Garrity et al 2010 and

All-Africa goal proposed for scaling-up farmer-managed natural regeneration of trees on farmland

FMNR-2-Malawi-Oct-2014-e1428739225809Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) is the fastest-growing form of EverGreen Agriculture in Africa. It is especially popular in the drylands where droughts are frequent and intense. Because it requires minimal or no cash investment, it can expand rapidly through farmer-to-farmer and village-to-village diffusion. A dramatic case in point is Niger, where more than 5 million hectares of medium-to-high density tree cover has been regenerated on croplands over just a couple of decades (see photo). But Niger is just the tip of the iceberg. A recent study carried out in Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Senegal found that almost all farmers are actively regenerating trees on their farms. FMNR is also widespread in Ethiopia and Malawi, and is now being promoted in many other countries through various initiatives and development projects.
This phenomenon is examined in a new book just released by the World Bank that examined this trend and looked at what it means for farmers (insert web site here). More than 100 woody species are currently being managed by Sahelian farmers through natural regeneration. The benefits from FMNR vary from location to location, depending on which tree species are present in the area, and what products and services are valued locally. They contribute products for human consumption (more than $200 per household per year) which is a major part of overall income, and they provide feed for livestock during the dry season, and increase crop yields by 20-25 percent.
These tree-based systems enhance the capacity of households to cope the effects of shocks. Trees are assets that can be cut and sold for cash in times of need. In south-central Niger, where 1.2 million households now sustain many trees on their crop fields, farmers cut tree branches on a continuous cycle for household fuel wood supplies and for sale. Some mature trees are cut down and sold in local wood markets. Export markets are active in shipping wood south to Nigeria. During prolonged drought periods these tree assets may be gradually liquidated to supply the household with cash for food purchases. This process was observed to be an important source of coping capacity during recent droughts.
The accumulating evidence about the role of FMNR as a foundational practice in dryland agriculture was reviewed at the 2nd African Drylands Week Conference that was convened by the African Union. The results prompted the body to propose that the AU establish and achieve an ambitious goal to scale-up FMNR throughout the continent. The declaration recommended and proposed that:

“The drylands development community, through the African Union, and all collaborating and supporting organizations, commit seriously to achieving the goal of enabling EVERY farm family and EVERY village across the drylands of Africa to be practicing Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration and Assisted Natural Regeneration by the year 2025.”

The EverGreen Agriculture Partnership is currently working with the AU Commission to develop a platform that could facilitate, support and better coordinate the many efforts at the regional, national and local levels that are now under way to realize this goal. Such a platform could inspire deeper political commitment to the goal, and provide a mechanism to underpin greater investments to accelerate the process of scaling-up.
For more background the practice of FMNR see: FMNR Hub Website and
For more information and to get engaged in the initiative contact Dennis Garrity at

Iowa’s climate-change wisdom

21biggers-articleLargeNegotiators en route to the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris, scheduled to begin later this month, should take a detour on rural roads here in Johnson County. A new climate narrative is emerging among farmers in the American heartland that transcends a lot of the old story lines of denial and cynicism, and offers an updated tale of climate hope.

Click here for the full story


Creating an Evergreen food-energy system for rural electrification

All of the planet’s energy originally derives from solar radiation. Trees are one of the most effective ways of harnessing the sun and turning it into usable energy, and trees can do this in a truly renewable way.’ Philip Dobie and Navin Sharma. World Agroforestry Centre

Electrical Power with Food Security Benefits
Six hundred million people, two-thirds of the population of sub-Saharan Africa, are still without electricity. In Malawi, for example, only 7% of the population has access to electrical power. This is an enormous drag on rural economic growth, and on improved outcomes in food production, health, and education. Ninety-percent of the sub-Saharan African population currently relies on firewood and charcoal as their primary source of energy for cooking, heating and other uses.
Experience now shows that tree-based systems can simultaneously provide electrical and bioenergy for the home and for industry, while also providing biofertilizers for crop production, and better-quality fodder for livestock production. These systems have the potential to transform livelihoods and food security, and enhance economic development while conserving the environment.
The approach overcomes concerns that growing crops for bioenergy might compete for resources with food production. On the contrary, through the concept of EverGreen Energy, fertilizer-fodder-fuel wood trees are incorporated into crop fields to provide the feedstock for power generation, while at the same time they directly increase crop yields, provide enhanced high-quality livestock fodder, improve vegetative soil cover year-round, increase soil fertility, and buffer crop production from drought and higher temperatures due to climate change. They also store much greater quantities of carbon in the soil, and enhance biodiversity.
Proven successes with Integrated Energy Systems
Gliricidia power generating systems in Sri Lanka
Similar to Africa, much of Sri Lanka’s rural population is completely off-grid and without any electrical power. This situation has fostered a real innovation in the power sector. During the past 25 years, partners have worked to develop a dendro power industry, largely based on gliricidia as a feedstock. Gliricidia is so widely grown by Sri Lankan farmers that it is officially designated as the country’s fourth plantation crop (along with coconut, tea and rubber). Lanka Transformers Limited (LTL) installed a 35 kW generator operating exclusively on Gliricidia wood as a demonstration unit. Upon achieving operational success, LTL together with Ankur gasifier systems (Ankur Scientific Energy Technologies Pvt.Ltd) launched community-scale 4 KW and 9 KW systems using Gliricidia feedstock from smallholders for electricity generation.
The Ceylon Tobacco Company (CTC) then established a commercial-type 1MW power plant in Walapane. This plant demonstrated all aspects of converting gliricidia to supply the national electricity grid. The success of this plant sparked the interest of the private sector. The Bio-Energy Association of Sri Lanka was formed, and through the Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority, established the inclusion of dendro power to meet national energy demand.
In 2009, Tokyo Power constructed and commissioned a 10 MW gliricidia-fueled plant in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. Following its success, the company recently commissioned a second plant of 5 MW capacity in Mahiyanganaya early in 2014. There is a 500 kW plant in Thirappane (Anuradhapura) and a 15 MW plant in Embilipitiya.
Industrial Level Application
The Midas Safety factory in the Seethawaka Export Processing Zone in Avissawella, manufactures gloves for the export market, primarily Europe, and the factory has been using Gliricidia as a power source since 2007. They have two 400,000 BTU plants that use biomass as an energy source, and all energy generated from the plants are used to drive the machines within the factory. The factory has subcontracted the sourcing of Gliricidia to a local farmers’ organization, which in turn mobilizes farmers and farmer groups in the area to provide stalks to the factory. However, due to great demand in the area, particularly amongst other factories within the Export Processing Zone, coupled with the stagnant Gliricidia production levels, currently only about 10% of the biomass need is being met. The remaining is met using rubber wood, which according to estimates within the factory, will be sufficient until 2018.
Farm level application
A private farm has installed two gassifiers, of 3.5kv and 35kv capacities respectively that use Gliricidia as fuel source. The 3.5kv gasifier is used to power the drip irrigation system in the farm, and can power a further 5 houses. Primarily used at night for both the irrigation system and the houses, the gasssfier uses about 20kg of Gliricidia per hour. The larger 35kv gasifier is used to power a coir manufacturing plant and 10 houses, using electricity from the grid to start the machine. This cost LKR 400,000 upon installation and caters for maintenance costs (cleaning the machines after 100 hours of operation).
Household level application

The Coconut Research Institute plantations have pioneered a model of using Gliricidia as cow feed mixed with straw. Currently operating using 6 cows, the cows are fed the mixture and their waste fed into a biogas chamber to generate electricity. 5.2 cubic meters of gas is produced by the cow waste in the biogas plant, which in turn supplies 1 house with enough electricity to run electric bulbs and a television. The system, when installed in 2005, cost LKR 500,000, primarily for the biogas chamber and the generator that is powered by the biogas.
An upcoming project
Vidul Biomass is currently constructing a 3MW Gliricidia powered power plant, at a cost of $12 million. In order to supply this plant, they have established a 100 acre plantation, and have also subcontracted 300 farmers to supply the biomass, using trees grown in their own fields. The plant is estimated to require 30,000 tons of Gliricidia per year, and Vidul Biomass is looking at establishing further plantations to supplement the above mentioned sources of supply.

Gliricidia intercropped with coconut in Sri Lanka. The trees are pruned every eight months to provide the biomass feedstock for electrical power generation


Gliricidia sepium








The Evergreen Food-Energy Initiative is focused on developing a scalable energy industry in rural Africa based on the existing successes with Gliricidia in Sri Lanka.

By integrating beneficial tree species directly into small holder farming systems, a range of energy needs from wood fuel to biodiesel to electrical power can be generated for rural communities without sacrificing crop area, but rather, in fact, enhancing crop production.

Now eight such Gliricidia-based power plants that were built and operated by private sector companies in operation in Sri Lanka, and that some 10 or more plants are under construction or in the feasibility stage.

A food-energy system for rural electrification has been commercially developed in Sri Lanka. Nitrogen-fixing trees of Gliricidia Sepium are the feedstock for electricity production, while providing a host of co-benefits:
• High growth rate and bulk density with pollarding ability
• Can be intercropped with various crops
• Fix nitrogen to the soil from the atmosphere
• Multiple uses – fodder, fertilizer and fuel
• Low susceptibility for pests and diseases
• High adaptability and drought tolerance


A 290 kW gliricidia fueled power plant in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan Carbon Fund is an entity engaged in developing new Gliricidia power projects. Bainton Capital Partners is actively seeking investors for new Gliricidia projects ( and The Biomass Group ( is an investment advisory company also focusing on developing new Gliricidia biomass projects.

Thus, conditions are ripe to forge collaborative relationships between Sri Lanka and Africa to forge ahead in exploiting the Sri Lankan experience in Africa through the World Agroforestry Centre’s presence and networks that span these countries, and that can build an evergreen agriculture energy industry based upon three decades of research in many countries, and the upscaling of gliricidia as a fertilizer tree that is already proceeding on a national level in Malawi and Zambia.

Gliricidia Systems in Southern Africa
Gliricidia is already widely distributed in farming systems throughout Africa, having been introduced four centuries ago. Research during the past three decades has demonstrated its value as a superb fast-growing nitrogen-fixing fertilizer tree. In Malawi, gliricidia is a major species underpinning the scaling-up of fertilizer trees for increasing crop yields in maize-based systems through the National Agroforestry Food Security Program. Practical systems for intercropping trees in maize farming have long been developed, and they are currently being extended to hundreds of thousands of farmers in Zambia and Malawi. They are being massively scaled-up in eastern Zambia, where 25 million trees were planted by smallholders during 2013 alone.

The development of food-energy electrification projects would be a natural extension of the type of crop production systems practiced in these two countries. The species has also been widely tested and is well-adapted for such food-energy systems in Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, and many other countries across the African continent.

Addressing a Perfect Storm of Challenges to Food Security
African agriculture must be transformed in the coming decades. With a population burgeoning to 2 billion people, at least twice as much food must be produced per year by 2050 to avoid widespread starvation. But food production per capita has been declining since the 1960s, and cereal crop yields have remained stagnant. In the face of this dire situation, observers are pointing to a perfect storm of further challenges.

EverGreen Agriculture is now emerging as an affordable and accessible science-based solution to regenerate the land on small-scale farms, and to increase family food production and cash income. EverGreen Agriculture is a form of more intensive farming that integrates trees into crop production systems at the field, farm, and landscape scales. The vision is sustaining a green cover on the land throughout the year. EverGreen farming systems feature both perennial and annual species (trees and food crops). The overall indicator of their effectiveness is building a healthy soil and environment, while increasing the resilience of the farm enterprise to a variety of shocks.

Millions of women and men farmers in Zambia, Malawi, Niger, Burkina Faso, and other countries are already practicing EverGreen Agriculture. They are successfully restoring their exhausted soils with richer sources of organic nutrients, and dramatically increasing their crop yields and incomes. The integration of appropriate fertilizer trees into agriculture is a promising, but underappreciated, approach. EverGreen Agriculture contributes to integrated soil fertility management. It emphasizes the application of sound, tree-based management practices, and the knowledge to adapt these to local conditions, in order to optimize fertilizer and organic resource-use efficiency for greater crop productivity.

How an integrated food-energy system worksenergy4
A 1-10 MW power plant is sited in a rural area composed of smallholder farmers who are predominantly growing food crops in a maize-mixed farming system. Gliricidia trees intercropped in the maize fields in a grid pattern. The trees produce wood and foliage that is harvested periodically during the year by pollarding the trees. The foliage is stripped from the branches for high-protein livestock fodder and/or biofertilizer for the crops. The branches are removed and transported to the power plant as feedstock for electrical power generation.


Such an integrated food-energy industry is envisioned to provide electrical power while at the same time enhancing food production and nutrition security, while improving livelihoods and advancing economic growth. Such systems can achieve these goals while conserving the environment and improving agricultural sustainability into the future.

The electricity is provided to local rural consumers while any excess is provided to the national grid. The diagram below illustrates how such as system would operate to provide benefits at a household, community and national scale.

A resource for firewood
The Gliricidia systems increase the on-farm production of firewood, a resource which is increasingly short supply in Africa smallholder agricultural systems. Farm production of adequate fuelwood saves the drudgery of women and children in travelling long distances to collect it, and this releases time and energy for other income-generating activities. It also reduces the destruction of natural forests by reducing the need to collect firewood from public lands. The increased supply of fuelwood that will be produced in association with the commercial production of glricidia for power generation will also ensure that the cooking and heating energy needs of the communities are amply met.

The Vision
Our vision is a fully-fledged, integrated and sustainable tree-based food-energy system (EverGreen Energy) that is operating and providing benefits to numerous communities across Eastern and Southern Africa. We envision that the systems will be providing rural electrification benefits to ‘powerless’ communities, enhanced income generation from growing the feedstock, increased crop production with enhanced soil fertility, and greater wood-fuel availability in rural areas.


A 1.5 MW gliricidia fueled power plant in Sri Lanka

The next step is to foster South–South learning as a means to generate viable and successful development initiatives. We aim to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and experiences from Sri Lanka with interested parties across Eastern and Southern Africa (governments, communities, investors and power plant developers). In so doing, strong relationships across national and intercontinental borders will be fostered, allowing for ongoing cross-country sharing and co-learning to occur in the future beyond the life of the project.
Feasibility analyses and public-private partnerships will be developed to pave the way for attracting and harnessing substantive levels of commercial and public sector investment in the development of an agroforestry-based energy industry in Eastern and Southern Africa, with an emphasis on implementing new commercial-scale projects that can fully demonstrate the potential for wide expansion.