Yearly Archives: 2017

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

Learning journey inspires farmers to prepare for the future climate

In order to prepare for climate change, farmers need to understand what their future climate is likely to be. As 70% of expected future climates already exist somewhere else on the globe, farmers can start preparing for their future by learning from sites with similar climates.

Connecting farmers to their possible future climates

The Climate Analogues Tool developed by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) takes climate and rainfall predictions for a particular site and searches for places with similar conditions at present. Comparing present-day farming systems to their future analogues can facilitate the exchange of knowledge between farmers in different locations who share common climate interests and allows adaptation strategies and technologies to be tested and validated. The Farms of the Future (FotF) approach uses the CCAFS Climate Analogues Tool to connect farmers to their possible future climates through farmer-to-farmer exchanges between spatial analogue sites.

CCAFS has been organizing farmer learning exchange visits in East Africa for many years to help farmers to learn, share, and adapt new climate-resilient agricultural practices and technologies. A recently published paper co-authored by CCAFS scientists assesses farmer adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices and innovation after being exposed to the Farms of the Future approach. The 2015 study is based on a learning journey in Tanzania that aimed to identify plausible alternative future climate (spatial analogue) sites for Lushoto, Tanzania; sites with a current climate similar to the projected future climate in Lushoto.

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Originally published on the CCAFS Website

EverGreening India

ICRAF’s South Asia Programme and the EverGreen Agriculture Partnership convened a two-day meeting dubbed EverGreening India on 31 August and 1 September 2017, at the NASC Complex, Pusa, New Delhi. This discussion was a follow-up to an initial meeting held in February 2015. The event brought together 40 scientists from the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Government of India, national research institutions, universities, NGOs and international research organizations.

Prof. MS Swaminathan, patron of the concept of launching an evergreen revolution in India, was the chief guest and keynote speaker. He shared histhoughts on “From Green to Nutrition Revolution,” emphasizing that EverGreen Agriculture and Agroforestry are one of the ways to make the country free from malnutrition. In his talk, he showcased the importance of creating a) Genetic garden of biofortified crops, b) Culinary diversity, and c) Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Sites (GIAHS) in the country. The talk was concluded with the thought that in order to make the technologies and innovations sustainable, it is essential that the social engineering aspects of programme design and implementation, are given due attention.

Other presenters drawn from the EverGreen Network, the Government of India, national and international research institutions, ICRAF South Asia and other NGOs discussed the current implementation status of key elements in the National Agroforestry Policy and the recently launched National Agroforestry Mission in India. They also covered the potential of farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR), land rehabilitation, the wadi system, policy and different agroforestry systems in major ecologies in the country.

The group deliberated on the possibility of accelerating the scaling up of agroforestry in India, with emphasis on EverGreen Agricultural practices, including FMNR, and the creation of a major national agroforestry movement, through EverGreening India, that would build upon and synergize the strengths of the development and research communities, government and the private sector.

The participants formed four sub-groups; 1) Policy land rehabilitation and mapping, 2) Agroforestry models in five major ecologies, value chain, nursery and extension systems, 3) FMNR, 4) Communications. The group strongly felt the need for creating or identifying the champions for mainstreaming the scaling up of agroforestry.


How Filipino Farmers Cope With Climate Change Through Conservation Agriculture With Trees

The areas with degraded landscapes in Southeast Asia are expanding rapidly. The Conservation Agriculture with Trees (CAWT) strategy is the best “tool box” for sustainable crop production intensification. CAWT follows the Landcare approach, with principles and practices founded on minimal soil disturbance, continuous mulching, pests and nutrients management, species rotations, integration of trees, and rainwater harvesting.

This case story presents the outcomes of a project conducted in the municipality of Claveria in Misamis Oriental province, Philippines. Specifically, this chapter presents how the interplanting of maize with cowpea and then relayed with upland rice has ensured the food and nutritional security and has improved the incomes of smallholder upland farmers in the municipality. Arachis pintoi grown with maize has provided farmers with the inputs to produce feeds for livestock. Likewise, the cropping system has provided better groundcover for protecting soil against erosion, eliminated the use of herbicides, and increased farmers’ crop yields.

The project also identified promising varieties of maize, upland rice, cowpea, forage grasses, forage legumes, sweet potato, cassava, and sorghum that provide better economic and biomass yield. These crops produced higher yields than the locally grown varieties and are also suitable for conservation agriculture production systems.

The project implementers also identified a cost-effective wayS of creating rainwater harvesting system through animal-built embankment. Establishing a series of ponds can mitigate severe runoff during heavy rainfall events by increasing water infiltration, and thus mitigate flooding. Accordingly, rainwater-harvesting ponds has provided the farmers with an opportunity to grow fish, ducks, and other aquatic animals, which enhanced household food and nutritional security of farm households. The pond water enriched with nutrients could also be used to irrigate trees and crops during dry spells. The research results of the project have been extrapolated to other upland areas in the Philippines through the Landcare approach.

Through the active participation of farmer groups, local government units, and technical facilitators that constitute the Landcare approach, farmers were able to achieve rapid and inexpensive method of expanding the use of technologies in the Philippine uplands. These technologies can also be used in other areas in Southeast Asia with similar biophysical and socioeconomic environments.

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Kenya making progress on climate change goals faster than expected

Kenya is on course to reduce the effects of climate change, the Government has said. Environment Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu listed banning of plastic bags, planned restoration of 5.1 hectares of land under forest and promotion of renewable energy as some of the measures the Government had taken to reduce carbon emissions.

“The Government is undertaking these measures, jointly with the private sector, to help communities cope with the effects of climate change while developing a low carbon infrastructure,” Prof Wakhungu said Wednesday.

Through Gazette Notice 2356, the ministry proscribed the manufacture, use and importation of plastics bags. The ban was however met with uproar, especially from manufacturers. This was the third attempt by Kenya, since 2005, to ban the use of polythene bags below 30 micron.

“For a long time, the country suffered greatly from the negative effects of plastic bags, which have clogged drains and rivers and contributed to floods in different parts of the country,” Wakhungu said. “Floods have killed people, marine life as well as domestic animals. They are also the breeding grounds for malaria-causing mosquitoes.” A recent report by the World Economic Forum noted that unless decisive measures were taken, there would be more plastic bags in the ocean than fish by 2050.

“The 5.1 million hectares of land we have resolved to commit to forest is nearly nine per cent of Kenya’s total land mass and makes us the first African country to take such a step,” the CS said. Through this initiative, Kenya is now the 13th African country to commit to bringing over 46 million hectares of land under forests by 2030.

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Originally published on the Standard media website