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In Niger, the encroaching Sahel is a daily constraint for farmers – the wind, sand, dust, soil degradation, water scarcity, and recurring drought make it hard for farmers to provide for their families.

In the northeastern part of Niger, in the Maradi Region, World Vision works with local farmers on Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) to combat the encroaching Sahel. FMNR is part agro-forestry, part environmental conservation, part Disaster Risk Reduction, and part economic driver. It works by finding indigenous tree species, once abundant in Niger but decimated by drought and human population pressure in the 1970s and 80s, and teaching farmers about pruning methodologies to allow those trees to regrow. The regrowth of the trees has shown to reduce surface wind speeds, increase soil fertility, increase ground water availability, increase yields, and reduce surface temperatures.

Since the inception of FMNR in the 1980s, its growth throughout the country cannot be understated. Currently, there is roughly 5 million hectares of land re-greened through FMNR, with approximately 200 million indigenous trees. In some of World Vision’s project sites, there is a 250 percent increase in tree/shrub density on FMNR sites and the average tree density increased from 35.57 trees per hectare in 2014 to 123 trees per hectare in 2017. This increase in density is helping farmers increase their staple crop production, primarily millet, by 58 percent due to soil revitalization, increased ground water availability, reduced wind speeds that take top soil away, and reduced surface temperatures in this very arid environment.

Champion Farmer Model

One farmer stands out among the rest – Yaouza Harouna. After incorporating FMNR on his 4.5-hectare rain-fed and 0.5-hectare irrigated land in 2013, he now can fully provide for his family. Yaouza has re-grown roughly 310 new trees, including 60 Sahel apple trees. By implementing FMNR, Yaouza increased the productive capacity of his land and became a sustainable farmer. In the Guidan-Roumdji district where he lives, the average millet yield is 547 kg/hectare,—he produced 937 kg/hectare by planting nearest the bases of his trees. He also produced 450 kgs of peanuts, 250 kgs of cowpeas, 375 kgs of sorghum, 2,000 watermelons, and 833 kgs of Sahel apples from his new trees.

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Originally published on the Farming First website.

The World Bank just released a drylands research study on Friday June 1 and one of the most exciting findings was the positive correlation between tree density and resilience to drought.

“Crop modeling carried out for this study helped provide orders of magnitude of the benefits of FMNR in terms of reduction of drought impacts. When FMNR of native species is added to the other productivity-enhancing technologies discussed in this book, the effects are impressiveIn a group of 10 countries in East and West Africa, the projected number of poor, drought-affected people living in drylands in 2030 fell—compared to the Business As Usual scenario—by 13 percent with low density tree systems and by more than 50 percent with high-density [10 trees/ha] tree systems”. (p73 – table below).

The ramifications are significant for how we think about FMNR and disaster risk reduction. Using FMNR to increase tree density in these dryland countries could reduce the number of people impacted by drought by 50% by 2030. To put this in perspective in the Republic of the Niger, farmers practicing FMNR have an average of 40 trees per hectare, which according to this study would give farmers even greater resilience to shocks.

We know from Niger that wide scale land restoration using FMNR is possible: as of 2016 there have been some 240 million trees regenerated across six million hectares. This report gives even more rationale to suggest widescale restoration through FMNR could, and should, be replicated in other dryland contexts in Africa.

Indeed, the Africa Union’s 2nd African Drylands Week held in Ndjamena (August, 2014) called for massive scale up of FMNR in the conference declaration: “(We) recommend and propose 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 everyvillage across the drylands of Africa to be practicing FMNR and ANR by the year 2025,“. Furthermore, 25 African countries have committed to restoring over 80 million hectares to help reach the target of the AFR100 initiative. This initiative is calling for the restoration of 100 million hectares of degraded land across Africa by 2030.

Originally published on the FMNR Hub.

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African farmers are successfully tackling the environmental dilemma that Western experts couldn’t – and the results can be seen from space!

Just weeks ago I walked through Uganda’s largest refugee camp, Bidi Bidi, where more than 270,000 survivors of war, persecution and famine are struggling to rebuild their lives. Every week more people arrive. And every week, more trees are cut down for firewood and shelter.

What was once more than 250 square kilometres of bushland, with scattered villages, is now an ever-growing dustbowl.

It’s a dilemma that aid organisations grapple with across the world.

With the average refugee using more than 3.5 kilograms of wood a day, every last tree at Bidi Bidi will be gone within three years.

Some suggest planting more trees, but I know from hard experience that this, on its own, is rarely the answer. I was among those who planted thousands of trees in Niger in the 1970s, only for the majority to die in the scorching heat, or to be used for fuel and housing. It was an expensive failure.

Re-growing forests is essential to the well-being of humans and ecosystems. Not only do forests provide fuel and building materials, they buffer us from the extremes of climate change. Moist forest floors retain water and help protect us from drought and flood. Trees on farms even improve soil fertility and the microclimate, increasing crop yields, fodder availability and livestock productivity.

But how do you convince some of the poorest people in famine-prone areas that they shouldn’t chop down trees, when they need firewood to cook today, otherwise their families won’t eat?

And what do you do when extensive tree planting doesn’t work?

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Originally published on the Ten Daily website.

Agriculture could pull carbon out of the air and into the soil — but it would mean a whole new way of thinking about how to tend the land.

When John Wick and his wife, Peggy Rathmann, bought their ranch in Marin County, Calif., in 1998, it was mostly because they needed more space. Rathmann is an acclaimed children’s book author — “Officer Buckle and Gloria” won a Caldecott Medal in 1996 — and their apartment in San Francisco had become cluttered with her illustrations. They picked out the 540-acre ranch in Nicasio mostly for its large barn, which they planned to remake into a spacious studio. Wick, a former construction foreman — they met when he oversaw a renovation of her bathroom — was eager to tackle the project. He knew the area well, having grown up one town away, in Woodacre, where he had what he describes as a “free-range” childhood: little supervision and lots of biking, rope-swinging and playing in the area’s fields and glens.

The couple quickly settled into their bucolic new surroundings. Wick began fixing leaks in the barn. Rathmann loved watching the many animals, including ravens, deer and the occasional gopher, from the large porch. She even trained the resident towhees, small brown birds, to eat seed from her hand. So smitten were they with the wildlife, in fact, that they decided to return their ranch to a wilder state. For nearly a century, this had been dairy country, and the rounded, coastal hills were terraced from decades of grazing. Wick and Rathmann would often come home and find, to their annoyance, cows standing on their porch. The first step they took toward what they imagined would be a more pristine state was to revoke the access enjoyed by the rancher whose cows wandered their property.

Within months of the herd’s departure, the landscape began to change. Brush encroached on meadow. Dried-out, uneaten grass hindered new growth. A mysterious disease struck their oak trees. The land seemed to be losing its vitality. “Our vision of wilderness was failing,” Wick told me recently. “Our naïve idea was not working out so well.”

Wick was especially bothered by the advance of a prickly, yellow-flowered invasive weed called the woolly distaff thistle. He pulled it, mowed it, doused it with herbicides. But the distaff kept moving into what had been pasture. He thought about renting goats to eat the weeds and brush, but they were too expensive. He even considered introducing wild elk, but the bureaucratic hurdles seemed too onerous.

Then Wick and Rathmann met a rangeland ecologist named Jeff Creque. Instead of fighting against what you dislike, Creque suggested, focus on cultivating what you want. Squeeze out weeds by fostering conditions that favor grasses. Creque, who spent 25 years as an organic-pear-and-apple farmer in Northern California before earning a Ph.D. in rangeland ecology, also recommended that they bring back the cows. Grasslands and grazing animals, he pointed out, had evolved together. Unlike trees, grasses don’t shed their leaves at the end of the growing season; they depend on animals for defoliation and the recycling of nutrients. The manure and urine from grazing animals fuels healthy growth. If done right, Creque said, grazing could be restorative.

This view ran counter to a lot of conservationist thought, as well as a great deal of evidence. Grazing has been blamed for turning vast swaths of the world into deserts. But from Creque’s perspective, how you graze makes all the difference. If the ruminants move like wild buffalo, in dense herds, never staying in one place for too long, the land benefits from the momentary disturbance. If you simply let them loose and then round them up a few months later — often called the “Columbus method” — your land is more likely to end up hard-packed and barren.

Wick was persuaded. He began preparing for the cows’ return. He dug wells for water, pounded in steel posts and strung nonbarbed wire. He even bought a molasses lick to supplement the animals’ diet of dry thatch. He didn’t want medicated livestock excreting drugs that might harm the worms and insects living in his soil — most cows are routinely dewormed — so he tracked down a herd of untreated cows and borrowed them for the summer of 2005.

The cows beat back the encroaching brush. Within weeks of their arrival, new and different kinds of grass began sprouting. Shallow-rooted annuals, which die once they’re chewed on, gave way to deep-rooted perennials, which can recover after moderate grazing. By summer’s end, the cows, which had arrived shaggy and wild-eyed after a winter spent near the sea, were fat with shiny coats. When Wick returned the herd to its owner that fall, collectively it had gained about 50,000 pounds. Wick needed to take an extra trip with his trailer to cart the cows away. That struck him as remarkable. The land seemed richer than before, the grass lusher. Meadowlarks and other animals were more abundant. Where had that additional truckload of animal flesh come from?

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Originally published on the New York Times Magazine.



The Evergreen Agriculture Partnership was launched in 2009 to build the capacity of smallholder farmers to integrate trees in their cropping systems in order to increase productivity and incomes, while making farming systems more resilient in the context of climate change.

How is Evergreen Agriculture different to agroforestry?

Evergreen Agriculture re-branded what had been known as ‘tree-crop intercropping’. Agroforestry has too often been considered a type of forestry and the agricultural community has tended to ignore the potential of trees when grown in association with crops. But when grown among crops and properly managed, trees provide a source of biofertilisers, reduce temperatures, conserve rainwater in the soil, and produce abundant wood for cooking fuel and construction and nutritious fodder for livestock.

Evergreen Agriculture is a type of more intensive farming that integrates trees into crop and livestock production systems, to sustain a green cover on the land throughout the year. It is a matter of choosing and incorporating the right kinds of trees with crops, and managing them for optimal benefits. There are three main types of Evergreen Agriculture: farmer managed natural regeneration (farmers select trees that come up naturally in their cropland), conservation agriculture (zero tillage) with trees, and incorporating trees within conventional agriculture.

What are the main obstacles and drivers of success for this initiative?

Evergreen Agriculture is an under-appreciated but truly ecological approach. It is all the more relevant when climate change endangers world food security and the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. The main challenges are conventional attitudes and technical constraints. Models of ‘modern’ agriculture typically promote a trend toward monoculture, which goes in the opposite direction to an ecologically-sane agriculture for the future.

How can the approach be scaled up and what support will be needed?

About 1.2 million farmers in Niger have established Evergreen Agriculture systems across 5 million ha of farmland. Evergreen Agriculture is also practised in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mali, Senegal and Zambia, amongst others. Inspired by these successes, many international and national organisations, NGOs and governments are now working to scale-up Evergreen Agriculture systems. The research community is working to fill knowledge gaps and provide practical recommendations for this. Due to climate change, the world is realising that it needs to rethink how agriculture will be practised in the future. The most favourable option to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture is to sequester much more carbon in agricultural systems, and the expansion of trees on farms is an obvious option to do this while achieving production, profit and environmental co-benefits.

Can Evergreen Agriculture increase food and nutrition security?

Food security is a major challenge since climate change is already affecting farmers across the world. Building more climate-resilient farming systems is key to overcoming this challenge. This is why the Evergreen Agriculture Partnership is deeply engaged in creating ‘climate smart agriculture’. Recently the World Agroforestry Centre hosted a workshop in Nairobi, gathering together the African Union, the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme, major development NGOs and many other organisations working in Africa, as well as country representatives. This meeting conceived an African Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance, with a target of enabling 25 million African farmers to practise climate smart agriculture by 2025. I am a strong believer in the importance of creating a continent-wide movement to achieve this ambitious target and see that Evergreen Agriculture contributes to a more sustainable future for the entire planet.

Originally published on the Spore Website.



Trees on farms in Uganda are the focus of a new strategy aimed at increasing biodiversity on agricultural land

Expansion of agriculture is one of the main drivers of global deforestation and loss of habitat. Like many other countries in the world, Uganda has experienced severe deforestation, with forest cover declining by nearly 60 percent from about 5 million hectares in 1990 to just under 2 million in 2015.

While the country is now making progress in conserving the remaining state-owned forest areas, tree cover on private land continues to decline at an alarming rate. Seemingly in contradiction, Uganda’s biodiversity, which relies on trees for its very survival, forms the backbone of a flourishing tourism industry that is a major contributor to the economy. Yet without the trees on farms and in privately-owned forests that allow a wide diversity of animals and plants to flourish and spread outside protected areas, this rich heritage is under grave threat, with associated ramifications not only for tourism.

The nations of the world have committed to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. Part of this commitment is to ensure that benefits from conserving biodiversity are equitably shared. Uganda ratified the convention in 1993 and has since put in place mechanisms for implementation, including legislation and a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan. One of the key instruments is sustainable management of entire landscapes, including agricultural areas, which also supports the country’s commitments to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

To support Uganda in its efforts, the country was selected to take part in a global project supported by Germany’s Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety through the International Climate Initiative. The project, Harnessing the Potential of Trees on Farms for Meeting National and Global Biodiversity Targets, also includes Costa Rica, Honduras, Indonesia, Peru and Rwanda.

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Originally published on the ICRAF site.