Yearly Archives: 2017

How do you stop the desert? Niger may have the answer

“I flew from Ethiopia, and you can see it when you fly over the border from Chad to Niger,” says Dr. Kelechi Eleanya, an instructor at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. “From the plane window I noticed the colors shift quite rapidly from warm reds to cool greens.”

Though Niger is currently facing slow growth in terms of the human development index, or literacy rate, it is a diamond in the rough for Forest and Landscape Restoration (FLR).

“Niger is an interesting country according to its existing experiences in landscape restoration, and also the dedication by the government on this topic,” adds Horst Freiberg, Co-Head of Forest Conservation and Sustainable Forest Management, Biological Diversity and Climate Change Division at the German Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB).

As a part of the Second Annual AFR100 Partnership meeting in Niamey, Niger, delegates visited local restoration sites: tributary projects that swell together to form a stunning five-million-hectare Nigerien success story in Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR). At these sites, the triumph of this people-centered approach is obvious.

The first site was Tchida village, 55 kilometers West of Niamey. Here, Programme d’Action Communautaire Phase 3 (PAC 3) — funded by the World Bank; Global Environment Facility (GEF), and the Government of Niger — rolled out in 2010 with an ambitious plan to green 120 hectares, primarily using the economically-versatile Gum arabic tree (Acacia senegal).

This sprawling project site was a first encounter with what the local community was calling — in translation — a “demi-lune” method for building up soil carbon and bolstering water infiltration. Also called zaï pits or tassa, this restoration method was detailed in the 2010 documentary film The Man Who Stopped the Desert.

Tchida is situated in a climate of extremes: historically the rainy season has flooded the village and carried away valuable soil carbon and biomass, while the dry season brings a “hunger gap” between the time food stocks run out and the next harvest. Thus a landscape-level solution for restoration on these lands must to address flooding, water infiltration, soil carbon capture and food security.

The answer to all of these woes is deceptively simple: digging shallow pits, filling them with biomass (dung, green compost), planting a nitrogen-fixing acacia in the middle, and surrounding everything with a crescent of sand and rock is enough to stop the floodwaters and force them to percolate down to nourish tree roots long after the rains stop. Whatever they are called in the local parlance, be it zaï, tassa or demi-lune pits, they have the potential to stop the desert.

Originally published on the Global Landscapes Forum website.

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EverGreen Agriculture: a solution to degraded landscapes

A visit to Embu County, Kenya, two years ago has birthed a very promising project to address the challenges emanating from land degradation. While visiting Purity Gachanga, an agroforestry champion, Dr. Roberto Ridolfi, Director for Sustainable Growth and Development at the Directorate General for Development and Cooperation, was impressed by the transformation that trees could bring to African farmers. Keen to see these benefits spread across the continent, and enjoyed by many millions of farmers, Dr. Ridolfi initiated the project dubbed ‘Reversing Land Degradation in Africa by Scaling-up EverGreen Agriculture’.

EverGreen Agriculture, which is a form of agroforestry, is an affordable solution that integrates trees with food crops and livestock to create more sustainable and productive agricultural systems for smallholder farming families. While positively transforming the lives of farmers in more than twenty African countries, trees on farms restore exhausted soils with richer sources of organic nutrients. This translates to increased crop yields, more fodder for livestock, and greater firewood supplies for household consumption, and increased income.

More than 80 experienced development professionals and scientists convened at the project’s inception workshop held at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) from 26-30 September, to map out the best approaches to scale-up these practices to reverse land degradation in eight countries in the Sahel and East Africa. Dennis Garrity, Drylands Ambassador to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and Chair of the EverGreen Agriculture Partnership said in his opening remarks that “Scaling up EverGreen Agriculture to 500,000 farmers across Africa will not be easy. In fact, it will be hard. But, we relish the fact that we have the partnership and the resources and skills to do it. And we are building on the successful efforts that are already underway in all of these eight countries.”

Through working groups and learning exchange bazaars over the span of four days, participants discussed the development of appropriate interventions and scaling-up methodologies, based on the successful experiences and evidence shared by the various implementing partners, including World Vision, CRS, OxFam and CARE. These will guide the project during its five-year lifespan. “Implementation of Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration is important because without implementation we have no evidence, and without evidence, we have nothing to communicate. We therefore need to have a good mix of the these for us to spread the practices of EverGreen Agriculture,” noted Lawrence Kiguro, Associate Director, Livelihoods and Resiliency – World Vision, Kenya

 

Listening to our land

“…With the knowledge we are gaining, we will become better land and natural resource managers, because we’re understanding how we need to treat our land, and the plants and animals on it.”

These are the words of Rinouzeu Karizembi, one of only two women in the nine-member management committee of the Wild Dog Conservancy from the Otjozondjupa Region in eastern Namibia. Rinozeu and her friend Jaqueline Tjaimi are pastoralists who hope one day to make a better living from raising livestock, but, they are also acutely aware of the constraints presented by the arid Kalahari landscape which is their home, the impacts of their livestock, and the effects of a changing climate. With the support their community has  received through the GEF-financed, UNDP-supported project on Sustainable Management of Namibia’s Forest Land (NAFOLA),  these pioneering young women  envision creating a diversified, communally-managed landscape that supports sustainable use of local natural resources for subsistence livelihoods, and provides a safe habitat for plants and wildlife, for the benefit of people and the land.

Rinouzeu and Jaqueline’s story is one of eight included in a new publication, titled Listening to our Land: Stories of Resilience,”launched by UNDP, Global Environment Facility (GEF), Government of Namibia and the Secretariat for the UN Convention on Combatting Desertification (UNCCD) at the 13th Conference of the Parties to UNCCD being held in Ordos, China from 6 to 16 September, 2017. This publication features a selection of stories that demonstrate how sustainable land management (SLM) addresses land degradation, and promotes the achievement of multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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Originally published on the UNCCD Knowledge Hub

Climate Change Affects Every Step of the Food Value Chain

Researchers from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) have published an extensive report highlighting the effects of climate change on agriculture and global nutrition. The report, Climate Change and Variability: What are the Risks for Nutrition, Diets, and Food Systems?, compiles evidence-based research to provide a detailed look at food security, agriculture, and food systems in relation to climate change. The authors also examine future projections in these areas, seeking to acknowledge the complexity and importance of those relationships as both global population and global temperatures rise.

The report frames the food system as both a victim and a driver of climate change: while climate change negatively affects agriculture and the ability to feed the world, the food system intensifies climate change by significantly contributing to global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

In an introductory post, the reports’ authors urge more research and action, calling the task of ensuring adequate global nutrition for all “the challenge of our lifetime.” The authors cite research projecting that at current rates of climate change, “it is likely that global food production will decline by two percent every decade until at least 2050, just as the world’s population is expected to reach 9.7 billion people.”

Persistent drought and other changes in weather patterns are already resulting in famine for millions of vulnerable people.

A 2016 report modeled the effects of this climate change on global health, estimating “excess mortality attributable to agriculturally mediated changes in dietary and weight-related risk factors,” and predicted half a million agricultural climate-related deaths in this time period.

The IFPRI authors state that nutritional status, ultimately leading to morbidity and mortality, “can be exacerbated by the effects of climate change at all stages of the food value chain.”

Featuring seven focal areas through a food system lens, the report brings together research on each piece of the food value chain and anticipated challenges posed by climate change. The authors suggests both climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies using a nutrition-sensitive approach that is also climate-aware.

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Originally published on the Food Tank Website

Meet the Aussie who breathes life back into the dessert

How does a guy from a sleepy country town in Victoria end up pioneering a way to transform the drought-ravaged land into ribbons of greenery?

Three decades ago Tony Rinaudo was hurtling across the sandy plains of Niger in a clapped-out ute with a trailer-load of trees.

The Victorian man was in the west African country to manage a tree planting project.

“Basically it was a failure. We were only planting 6,000 trees per year, most of them died, and people were not interested. I was very frustrated. I felt I was just wasting my time and others’ money in a project that would never have an impact,” he says.

As he adjusted the pressure of his tyres in preparation for the sandy road ahead, Rinuado surveyed the land stretching out in all directions: scorched and drought-ridden. He’d witnessed how farmers struggled to put enough food on the table even in ‘good’ years. 

He was almost ready to pack his bags and leave.

But something caught his eye: a tiny shrub, feebly fluttering its leaves in the glare of the sun. On closer inspection, he noticed it wasn’t a shrub; it was a tree attempting to re-grow. This little tree got his mind ticking over: perhaps he was thinking about the revegetation issue all wrong. Instead of planting more trees, why not take advantage of sprouting root systems or seeds that lie underground?

From this simple idea, he developed the “Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration”(FMNR), a method of taking advantage of root systems – memories of their former tree selves – that lie dormant beneath the ground. He’s quick to clarify he didn’t actually invent FMNR, it was more of a “rediscovery” of a traditional practice that dates back centuries.

Rinuado says the result of this radical approach to land management has been “quite amazing”. Hundreds of thousands of farmers embraced this agricultural practice, transforming large swaths into productive land, improving food and fuel production for their communities. Once the revegetation takes off, the farmers just need to protect the tiny, growing tree shoots from theft, fire and livestock. And the results speak for themselves: satellite images show how far FMNR has spread across Africa’s desert plains: Niger boasts vast swathes of vegetation, whereas in Nigeria, just across the border where FMNR hasn’t been introduced, it’s strikingly barren.

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Originally published on News.Com.Au

Combating desertification: Why we must take up this challenge

Much news reporting disregards one of the most serious environmental challenges of our time: desertification and land degradation. As Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) says: “Desertification is a silent, invisible crisis.”

Desertification threatens the water and food security, livelihoods and health of hundreds of millions of people: 52% of land used for agriculture is moderately or severely affected by soil degradation, according to the United Nations. UN Water warns that 40 per cent of the world’s population or up to 2.8 billion people are now living in water-scarce regions. Droughts cost more lives than any other natural disaster and drylands are the most conflict-prone regions of the world. An estimated 135 million people are at risk of being displaced by desertification. Land and soil degradation undermine the security and development of all countries and climate change is in many places already accelerating drylands expansion.

Not tackling desertification and land degradation leads to humanitarian disasters. But if we restore the 12 million hectares of productive land that become barren every year due to desertification and drought, we could produce 20 million additional tons of grain and increase food production. Land is the earth’s main fresh water store. Land captures rainwater and filters it, allowing depleted groundwater aquifers to replenish. Unless we change the way we manage our land we may leave a billion or more of the vulnerable poor with little choice but to fight or flee. Hunger and water scarcity cause fragile states and regional conflicts and is at the origin of large cross-border migration flows and abandoned lands. Restoring degraded land can also help it to withstand the impacts of climate change and, according to Prof. Rattan Lal, has the potential to store up to 3 billion tons of carbon annually.

The remarkable benefits of land restoration are little known, as are available effective policy measures to stop land degradation. As government negotiators, NGO representatives and business delegates are assembling at the COP13 of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) to discuss action to achieve a land degradation neutral world, we need to highlight policy measures that have been successful in reaching this goal.

The Ethiopian Tigray region has made momentous progress in restoring its degraded lands and improving its food and water security. The impressive results have been achieved by local communities and the regional government. Key to this success is Tigray’s regional development strategy, known as Conservation-Based Agricultural Development-Led Industrialization, which focuses on achieving food self-sufficiency by conserving land and promoting sustainable agriculture. Thanks to a unique combination of collective action, voluntary labour and the involvement of young people, the people of Tigray are restoring land on a massive scale. On mountains and hillsides, constructing with stone walls and pits helped recharge groundwater levels. Land degradation has been curbed and erosion has decreased significantly, despite very harsh conditions the. The World Resources Institute (WRI) concludes that “The Tigray region of Ethiopia is now greener than it has ever been during the last 145 years.”

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Originally published on the Huffington Post website