Monthly Archives: May 2016

Starting small, thinking big: seven ingredients that help smart agriculture thrive


Rural farmers in many parts of the world are already using ‘smart’ agricultural practices like intercropping, agroforestry and rainwater harvesting.

But what if those practices benefitted the livelihoods and landscapes of millions more?

Climate-smart agriculture, the raft of sustainable agricultural practices designed to help farmers overcome hunger, adapt to climate change, manage their natural resources and curb rising temperatures, is a hot development theme worldwide. But its success will be measured not only in local benefits, but its ability to adapt and spread as resource demands grow and global challenges intensify.

Getting to scale

Scaling up climate-smart agriculture means replicating, spreading or adapting technologies and practices that secure more food on less land and in more sustainable ways.

This is more complex than scaling up straightforward technological innovations, such as new grain varieties, because it requires much more profound change. Integrating appropriate trees into complex agricultural systems, for example, involves training farmers, developing new supply chains, modifying current farming practices and then managing trees for competition with crops.

According to the World Bank, those who live in rural areas – a staggering 70% of the world’s poor – will be most vulnerable to more variable and extreme weather. They often lack the governance, assets and technical capacity to innovate and adapt.

Scaling up climate-smart agriculture takes not only the right practices, technologies or models, but the right conditions to make it happen, which may include incentives and insurance schemes for farmers, consumer demand and of course, the political will from their governments.

Building on a series of workshops and eight of the latest climate-smart agriculture case studies from South Asia, a new World Agroforestry Centre working paper, Scaling up climate-smart agriculture: lessons learned from South Asia and pathways for success, identifies seven key ‘ingredients’ and several pathways for successfully scaling up climate-smart agriculture.

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While raising crop yields, African thorn tree Faidherbia albida captures large amounts of carbon


A large, old Faidherbia albida tree with a metre-plus diameter stored the equivalent of the CO2 emitted by 8 cars over one year. These useful trees play an important role in carbon sequestration, a critical part of the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change.

People in many areas of Africa gain numerous benefits from the leaves, branches and trunks of the dryland thorn tree Faidherbia albida.

The tree’s spreading roots conserve the soil from wind and water erosion. Its roots fix atmospheric nitrogen which then passes to the leaves, which fertilize the topsoil when they fall, leading to higher crop yields. Faidherbia’s wide canopy provides shade as well as leaves and pods that serve as nutritious fodder for sheep and goats. And for people living around lakes, the trunk has light yet strong wood perfect for traditional dugout fishing canoes. The multipurpose tree is ideal for evergreen agriculture.

And now, carbon credits could join the list of benefits Faidherbia albida brings to communities.

Research by World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and partners, reported in a recent article in the journal Agroforestry Systems, has come up with formulae that allow us, for the first time, to accurately calculate the ‘total above-ground biomass’ of F. albida. This value indicates the amount of carbon sequestered by the tree. Working out the carbon stored in trees is the starting point for entering the global carbon credits markets, in which payments are based on the amount of the carbon in standing trees.

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A game changer: learning and adapting to climate change in Ghana


Can a boardgame simulate reality in how farmers adapt to a changing climate as well as inspire social learning?

Scientists from the University of Bonn, Germany and Kwara State University, Nigeria have used a role playing game to gain useful insights into strategies used by farmers in semiarid Ghana to cope with increasing climatic variability.

They say the ‘grazing game’ they developed gives farmers an opportunity to observe how land-use decisions impact on their livelihoods. It has also given researchers a greater understanding of the rich ecological knowledge held by farmers.

A study on the effectiveness of the grazing game, in both identifying coping strategies in response to climate variability and as a learning tool among both researchers and farmers, has recently been published in the scientific journal, Ecology and Society.

The scientists found that the game was able to identify a wide range of coping strategies, such as selling livestock during the dry season, using crop residues to feed cows to maintain grass availability in other areas, seeking government assistance and engaging in alternative livelihood activities.

In terms of learning, the game helped farmers to recognize the consequences of their actions, better understand processes and interactions, and collectively examine issues and responses. It also aided researchers’ understanding of local systems and perspectives.

“With climate change predicted to have a significant impact on grassland areas in West Africa, local people need to adapt to increasing uncertainty and may not be able to rely on traditional methods of predicting rainfall,” explains Grace Villamor, senior researcher and lead author of the study.

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Using Agroforestry to save the planet

Using Agroforestry to Save the PlanetAgroforestry—the use of trees in farming—benefits both farmers and the environment.

According to a recent report by Biodiversity International, the Center for International Forestry Research, the World Agroforestry Centre, and Charles Sturt University, forests contribute to the livelihoods of more than 1.6 billion people. Yet, 30 percent of the world’s forests are used primarily for the production of wood products.

Agroforestry is defined as the integration of trees and shrubs into crop and animal farming systems. These practices can help landowners diversify products and create social, economic, and environmental benefits.

Trees and forests provide more than just food—they can enhance soils, protect biodiversity, preserve precious water supplies, and even help reduce the impacts of climate change.

According to the World Agroforestry Centre, agroforestry is uniquely suited to address the need to grow more food and biomass for fuel while sustainably managing agricultural landscapes for the critical ecosystem services they provide.

Agroforestry efforts in Niger, for example, have resulted in 200 million trees being planted on over 5 million hectares of farmland. This has impacted an estimated 2.5 million people by improving soil, increasing yields, and creating resilience against climate change.

This week, Food Tank is highlighting 16 organizations and projects that are using agroforestry principles to bring benefits to farmers, communities, and the environment.

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