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Dr. Dennis Garrity, Drylands Ambassador for the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), Distinguished Senior Research Fellow, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), and Chair of the EverGreen Agriculture Partnership, speaking on bringing together land restoration and peacebuilding for a sustainable future in conflict-prone drylands.

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wwwWould you quit your current position at your place of work to venture out on your own? If so, would you consider yourself to have acquired all the skills and expertise necessary to be successful? According to Samuel, a champion farmer of the Trees for Food Security (T4FS) Project, it was about time he developed his own tree nursery. Having worked as a casual for the Elgon Trust Women Group under T4FS, Samuel used to pot seedlings, maintain the tree nursery as well as collect tree seeds. The returns were however not as good compared to the benefits enjoyed by his employers.

Samuel therefore resolved to quit his job and start his own nursery, banking on the knowledge and skills he acquired over the years. One main hurdle however, potting tubes, stood in his way as they are quite expensive. This however did not deter him from making the bold move. Instead, Samuel would set out on specific days, go around restaurants and bars in the area, to collect milk and beer sachets, which he would use as potting materials. With this innovation and the support of his wife, Samuel was off to a good start on his own.

Acquiring tree seeds was not a big challenge as Samuel had already spotted mature trees in the area. Through past experiences working for the group, Samuel was able to monitor seed maturity period and this would help him plan as to when and how he would collect the seeds. He would therefore move around the community, climb the trees and harvest the seeds.

In order to improve and increase the survival rates of his Eucalyptus seedlings, Samuel introduced a technique where he would place dry banana leaves over a nursery soil mixture and burn to provide  a covering for the nursery beds. This innovation greatly improves the germination and performance of his seedlings. The Trees for Food Security Project has also built my capacity in tree seed collection and maintaining nursery records.

Samuel's innovative and affordable way of potting trees. Photo May MuthuriIn a year, Samuel highlighted that he makes between UGX 500,000 (USD 152) and UGX 1 million (USD 303), depending on the season and orders he receives from projects and local organizations. Pests have however been a challenge as this affects the number of seedlings ready for sale.

Noting his efforts and interests, the Trees for Food Security Project came in to support Samuel by providing the polythene tubes. “I have four children whom I enrolled in a private school which is way more expensive than public schools and I haven’t lacked fees to support them. I also use the proceeds from to purchase household items and sustain my family’s needs. I owe my success to knowledge and skills got from the Elgon Trust Women Group and additional skills and support from the Trees for Food Security Project,” stated Samuel.

Project team and reviewers posing for a group photo with Elgon Trust Women Group. Photo Catherine Muthuri

A number of women in Manafwa District, Uganda, sought to establish a group that would create a joint income generating platform through nurseries, dubbed Elgon Trust Women group. The group started with 8 members and currently has 22members. Challenges arising from harsh weather conditions (mainly having to carry water from a steam to water the seedlings during the dry season) and lack of support from husbands forced some members to opt out. However, knowing the benefits of trees in curbing soil erosion, which was a prevalent challenge in the area
, encouraged the remaining members to stay on, doing the best they could. The group also allows the enrolment (hires) of young men who mainly assist in fetching water to water the seedlings during the dry season. Carolyne, the group leader, highlighted that the Trees for Food Security (T4FS) Project reversed the named challenges through supply of quality seeds and trainings on potting, nursery management, and suitable tree species based on their needs and record keeping.

Members now enjoy diverse benefits such as increased income from the sale of seedlings which enables them to provide loans amongst themselves as well as offer support when one is bereaved or ailing. The group’s success is also hinged on recommendations from the District Forestry Officer, and support from community based organizations, created opportunities to supply seedlings to local Non-Governmental Organizations. The group therefore gets to supply huge orders of between 1,000 – 5,000 seedlings. Furthermore, the group acquires quality seeds and seedlings through the project, wheelbarrows, nails, watering cans and polythene tubes, keeping them afloat at all times.

Members also noted they sell firewood or poles to other farmers and earn some income to takwwe them through a number of days. The poles are usually in demand after harvesting periods as they are used for drying beans. Moreover, the women get to make charcoal from the trees they have planted on their farms and earn income through the surplus. Members stated that they no longer have to necessarily rely on their husbands to meet all their household needs such as paying school fees for their children.

Operating like a cooperative, members are encouraged to acquire extra income for their own use, by collecting seeds on behalf of the group as well as potting coffee in plantations nearby. The youngest member of the group highlighted that he can now pay his own school fees from income he has accrued over the months, by collecting seeds for the members. For a while, his parents could not afford to cater for his fees and that is when he considered joining the group, having noted the benefits members enjoy.

Women are also able to sustaiwwen themselves, not borrowing money from their husbands all the time as was the norm. “Courtesy of the Project, all members are smartly dressed, have neat hair and still have some income left to cater for personal needs. Moreover, since its women’s role to fetch firewood, it’s much easier now as we have them readily available in our farms hence don’t have to travel distances for the same,” stated Carolyne.

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“It’s better to have a team of good farmers than good researchers, in terms of impacts.” These were Tony Bartlett’s remarks during the Trees for Food Security (T4FS) Project review in Uganda. Richard Namunyu, a lead farmer of the Project wowed reviewers with his vast knowledge of trees and farming, as well as the extensive work carried out on his 10 acre farm. Through a tour around the farm, reviewers got to sample most of the participatory trials he hosted such as fodder banks, tree diversity, trees for shade and food, firewood, boundary planting as well as the sap flow biophysical experiments.

During the tour Namunyu was keen to highlight the benefits and income earning opportunities opened up by the project including fodder, firewood, charcoal, mulch, high crop and milk yields, fruits, supportive function for Matoke and climbing plants like yams, knowledge on tree planting, management and nursery development.  “I am earning more through this project than I used to before. I now earn UGX 200,000 from each acre of beans in each harvesting period, and through sale of timber, I get an average annual income of UGX 3 million. My 6 children have never been sent home for lack of fees or study materials,”stated Namunyu.

These benefits are incurred through various tree and shrub species on his farm, some of which were introduced by the project, including: Calliandra Calothyrsus, Maesopsis eminii,Neolamarckia cadamba, Eucalyptus grandis, Mahogany, Cordia africana, Melia volkensii, Neem, Alnus acuminata and Leucaena leucocephala. “The project has issued seedlings in 2 phases, 500 in each, and in the past year, I have planted 1,500 trees on my farm. It’s also my policy to plant ten (10) more trees once I cut one for charcoal production.”

Discussions with Butta sub-county farmers participating in the project's long-term trials. Photo May MuthuriIn addition to the planting recommendations made by the project, Namunyu created diverse innovations to not only suit his needs but also double his benefits. The scientific recommendation as to the appropriate height to cut Calliandra is 50cm, but Namunyu choses to cut at 20cm, noting his innovation increases chances of other branches and leaves to sprout, retain the lower leaves and ensure the tree doesn’t dry up. Mr Namunyu also noted that he has introduced another innovation to his farm which entails reducing the spacing between the trees, applying a space of 1ft between the Calliandra seedlings, prior to the recommended spacing of 2ft by the Project. This innovation came about when he realized wider spacing of Calliandra translates to a bigger stump and roots hence a challenge in uprooting the shrubs when he needed to utilise the space. . However, with a smaller stump courtesy of the smaller spacing, once the shrub is mature, it’s easy to uproot and no extra labour or machinery is required for the same, thus cutting on costs.

In the case of Melia volkensii, Namunyu opts to space at 2 metres (instead of 4m) since it is a fast growing tree and he will require it for various uses therefore when pruning he wouldn’t want the process to interfere with the next tree. Namunyu also noted that he opted to plant some Calliandra trees vertically (along his farm) instead of horizontally so as to form a hedge and clearly define the entrance and boundaries to his homestead and farm. Catherine Muthuri, T4FS project leader, noted appropriate synchrony between trees and coffee on Namunyu’s farm, which he attributed to trimming of the top coffee branches to avoid them getting too close to those of the tree. This ensured each gets ample nutrients and light hence minimising competition.

Namunyu highlighted that farmers usually plant trees without prior knowledge of how they behave towards other crops and the environment as a whole. Through his brief experience with the sap flow instruments, Namunyu explained the tree water uptake, and leafing phenology (shedding and flushing) of the tree solely depends on seasons, knowledge he didn’t have before. “It sure has been a challenge hosting the sap flow instruments as some farmers considered the trees with the instruments as bad. It has therefore taken me time to go around homesteads and LLCs, informing them of the benefits of the instruments, which will guide them in future while purchasing and planting trees, on the suitability of each species on the farm,” noted Namunyu. Through this, farmers around the area have been keen to learn more from him as well as take part in project activities.

“I am very proud of the project and that is why I don’t want it to just be about the activities and recommendations highlighted, but also about a learning and exploring opportunity for my family and I, before the Project comes to an end. I want to enjoy the process as well as reap maximum benefits, and that is why I have tweaked some of the ideas given. Farmers in this area tell me I have more than enough, why work so hard? I however say, I am not satisfied, and since I have the energy and land, there is no reason to stop,” justified Namunyu.

evergreenworldIn today’s world, EverGreen Agriculture is a pretty unconventional concept. Agricultural cropland covers 1.3 billion hectares globally. But these croplands are generally seen as mono-cultures of annual species, such as maize or wheat, with no role for trees or other perennials in these systems. But the evidence has been rapidly accumulating on many continents that the integration of trees into crop fields (i.e. EverGreen Agriculture) may produce all sorts of benefits to farmers, And there is increasing recognition that it could contribute enormously to addressing the big global challenges of rural poverty alleviation, restoring infertile and degraded farmlands to greater productivity, and making farming more resilient to climate change. These systems also have much greater potential for pulling carbon out of the atmosphere than conventional farming practices, and could thus contribute enormously to reducing atmospheric carbon and to significantly enhancing the biodiversity of agricultural systems.

Gradually, skepticism by agriculturists to the notion that trees could play a much greater role in crop production systems is giving way to greater acceptance that such a concept is not far-fetched, but rather that it could be a basis for redesigning global agriculture for the better. Millions of farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America are already practicing EverGreen Agriculture, and monitoring the spread of their successful efforts has shown that the practice is spreading rapidly. Pioneering work in Europe and North America has also demonstrated that the practice is suitable for larger-scale commercial farming operations as well.

Picture1The EverGreen Agriculture Partnership is challenging the conventional wisdom. It is taking the notion of integrating trees and shrubs in croplands into the mainstream. Its purpose is to connect the many ongoing efforts around the world to create an EverGreen Agriculture, from global to local.

The goal of this new newsletter is to keep you informed you about these developments in the realms of policy, technology and development. It seeks to highlight the connections, and to keep you up-to-date on this transformation, engaged in the debate, and appraised of its relevance to your work in government, the private sector, non-governmental development organizations, in the education and research communities.

The launch of the newsletter is timely, in light of the adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals in September, the decision of the UNCCD in November to achieve a Land Degradation Neutral World by 2030, and the upcoming Climate Change Convention in Paris in December, where the contributions of agriculture to become a major part of solution to global warming will be vigorously discussed. How we can better care for the land as we intensify efforts to increase its bounty is becoming an issue and an aspiration shared by all of us, both urban and rural.

Thus, we invite you to the community that is seeking to create a more EverGreen World. And we urge your active engagement by contributing your feedback: By sharing your views, blogs and news posts to the web site (evergreenagriculture.net and to our future quarterly issues.

CLICK HERE TO ACCESS EVERGREEN WORLD NEWSLETTER
Dennis Garrity

Dennis Garrity
Chair, EverGreen Agriculture Partnership
EverGreenAgriculture.net

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