Yearly Archives: 2018

Agroforestry gives Kenyan indigenous community a lifeline

The Cherangani people, an indigenous community in Kenya’s Rift Valley, have always called the Cherangani Hills Forest their ancestral home.

Also known locally as the Sengwer, they were traditionally reliant on the forest for hunting and gathering, herbal medicines, honey, and sorghum and millet farming. Then the colonial government evicted them from the forest, only permitting them access to medicinal plants; gathering and hunting in the forest is still prohibited.

Their gardening of the forest required that they regularly rotate homestead areas, about every two years, to protect them from degeneration.

“The forest was our source of honey, hunting animals, and wild fruits for food. Seeds from some fruits found far away from the homesteads would be dispersed closer to the homestead to allow the children and the elderly access,” says Abraham Mworor Maina, a 94-year-old former assistant chief and father of 16.

Mworor says his community, dependent on sorghum and millet, used shovels curved with stones for minimal soil disturbance, and intercropped the grains with trees in an agroforestry system. “We also farmed between trees, as [they] provided shade. We also relied on the decayed trees’ leaves for soil health.”

“Agroforestry has been with us ever since before man discovered agriculture,” says Jonathan Muriuki, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) country representative for Kenya. “As a hunter-gatherer, man would harvest fruits from the forest he was living [in] and at some time started domesticating some crops and animals, and clearing space to grow these crops. That’s where it all started.”

Muriuki says agroforestry tries to improve agriculture and productivity by having many components on the farm. “Several crops [like] cereals and legumes are intercropped with trees interspersed on the farm: the trees were either used for livestock fodder production, timber, fruit, [or] soil improvement, but the more species you have on the farm, the more ecologically balanced a farm becomes.”

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Originally published by Mongabay

How to plant a trillion trees

As projects to restore woodlands accelerate, researchers are looking for ways to avoid repeating past failures.

When the Philippines opened its first school of forestry in 1910, the institute’s leaders hatched a plan to restore degraded woodlands surrounding the campus outside Manila. They planted dozens of tree varieties, both native and exotic. In 1913, the school received 1,012 mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) seeds from a botanical garden in Calcutta, India, and started growing them around the grounds. The American hardwood became such a staple of reforestation efforts in the country that it spread throughout natural areas, so much so that it eventually proved a nuisance. The trees create veritable green deserts: their tannin-rich leaves are unpalatable to local animals and seem to stifle the growth of other plants where they fall. They also produce seeds annually, giving them an advantage over native hardwoods, which do so at intervals of five years or more.

It’s hardly history’s only forestry folly. “The whole notion of what species should be used in restoration tends not to receive, I would say, adequate attention,” says Douglas McGuire, coordinator of the Forest and Landscape Restoration Mechanism at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome.

Many projects fail because they choose the wrong trees, use too few species or are not managed for the long term. Foresters and ecologists are realizing that for restoration efforts to succeed, they need to think more broadly — about matching trees to their location, about the effects on nearby insects and other animals and about relationships with soil and the changing climate. In other words: the ecosystem.

Scientists are now testing and comparing strategies that range from letting nature take its course, to forest-management approaches that look a lot like farming. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but the work exposes some philosophical friction. Ecologists seeking to increase biodiversity might champion a broad range of species, whereas sustainable-development advocates could back exotic fruit-bearing trees that benefit local people. And researchers seeking to mitigate climate change might push for a single fast-growing variety.

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Originally published by Nature

Perennial versions of conventional crops offer benefits to the environment – but are they — BUT ARE THEY READY FOR PRIME TIME?

Crops that don’t need to be planted every year can reduce soil erosion and nutrient runoff, but currently have lower yields. These researchers and businesses are working to fix that.

In 2000, noted crop breeder Stan Cox was weary of the Sisyphean task of incorporating new disease resistance traits into wheat varieties. Fumbling to explain his malaise to a colleague, he recalls typing, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to do something crazy like work for the Land Institute.”

At the time, the Land Institute — a nonprofit that develops alternative farming practices they hope will displace destructive, industrial monocultures — was pursuing what many considered a quixotic endeavor: working with wild plants to create perennial varieties of wheat, legumes or sorghum. Such perennial crops could be harvested for multiple years without the need to cultivate the soil. By maintaining root systems year-round, there would be less soil erosion, more soil carbon and less fertilizer making its way into waterways— a problem that leads to harmful algal blooms and coastal dead zones.

Thirty seconds later, Cox deleted that sentence and instead wrote an email to Land Institute founder Wes Jackson, asking if he had any open positions.

“There was a time in the 1980s, when these efforts were in their infancy, that a lot of seasoned agronomists rejected the idea outright,” says Tim Crews, the Land Institute’s research director. Why, the thinking went, would anyone essentially start over at the dawn of agriculture to create perennial varieties of conventional crops using wild material — especially when it would take decades to match modern yields? Crews, rather, turns that on its head and questions the destructive impact of modern food production instead.

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Originally published by Ensia


Afforestation: EU, Oxfam distribute 760,000 tree seedlings in Katsina

An EU agro-forestry programme known as Fuel Wood Balance (FUWOBA) has commenced distribution of 760,000 additional free tree seedlings in seven local governments in Katsina State.

The Project Manager, Dr Chris Udokang, said the gesture was to promote afforestation and environmental conservation.

Udokang made the disclosure during the “National Annual Review Seminar on Improving Fuel Wood Balance’’ in the seven participating local governments in Katsina, the state capital, on Wednesday, September 5, 2018.

He said the seedlings were produced during the agency’s 2018 nursery activity through the “Farmer Manage Tree Regeneration Programme’’.

According to him, 7.09 million trees have been planted and maintained by farmers across the seven local government areas in the last three years under the FUWOBA.

He said that the trees planted represented 129.92 per cent of the target value trees set under the programme.

The project manager explained that 5 million trees representing 143.0 per cent of the target were also generated through “farmer managed regeneration approach’’ and two million seedlings through nursery approach.

He said the survival count conducted in December last year indicated that 4.5 million trees planted and maintained had achieved 69.48 per cent survival rate.

Udokang said 55, 638 farmers representing 101.16 per cent of the target households covering 147,355.92 hectare of land had been achieved since inception of the project four years ago.

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Originally published by Enviro News Nigeria

A Wondrous Journey

Rare is the map that would label the stretch of Interstate 80 running through Iowa as a “scenic route.”  To most drivers, it is a straight, flat, smooth track to test speed limits and challenge radar devices; for many passengers, it is a time to nod off.

But, really, cruising down I-80 in the summer is one of the most wondrous, and paradoxical, drives in the country.

It can be a journey of inspiration, traveling over the rich soil, past the verdant fields of corn and soybeans and all manner of crops and livestock. The drive provides abundant time to admire the work of the state’s farmers, scientists, researchers and advocates who share a hunger-fighting kinship with Norman Borlaug, the Iowan whose leadership of the Green Revolution earned him the Nobel Peace Prize.

But it is also a journey of outrage. For who can look out the window and not wonder: my goodness, all this bounty and we still have hunger and malnutrition in the 21st century? How can one in every four children under five years old in our world today be stunted? How can one in six children in our own communities live in food insecure households, with families struggling to provide three sufficiently nutritious meals a day?

I have traversed this trail of irony often,  first as a student at the University of Iowa, and then as a journalist, having visited the farms and the agriculture labs – as well as the soup kitchens and food pantries – of this state and the Midwest. Every exit through the cornfields reveals something new about our great challenge to nourish the world.

Particularly memorable have been the journeys to the World Food Prize festivities, where the annual Borlaug Dialogue celebrates advances and examines setbacks in the global fight against hunger. And there was the reporting trip that took me to a food pantry in a church hall. The food was arranged on shelves, like a grocery store. The signs on the shelves weren’t prices but rather instructions on how many items each food pantry patron could take. I squeezed my eyes tight to hold back tears as a mother and her children discussed their choices.  A loaf of bread or a box of pasta. Peanut butter or jelly. A can of corn or a bag of rice. Such heartbreaking decisions, in the world’s breadbasket.

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Originally published by World Food Price


Nature’s Make or Break Potential for Climate Change

Though his business card says Director of Forest Carbon Science at The Nature Conservancy, Bronson Griscom introduces himself as an ecological accountant. Griscom radiates an optimism somewhat rare in seasoned environmentalists, especially when he discusses the “carbon economy” of nature: the everyday role that trees, grasslands and coastal habitats play in the carbon cycle. Griscom can measure the carbon impact of logging in old growth forests, or how well different forest ecosystems work as sinks for absorbing and storing carbon from the atmosphere. He helps link our economy with the economy of the biosphere.

Key Takeaways

  • Research by The Nature Conservancy and 15 other institutions, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, demonstrates that nature-based solutions provide up to 37 percent of the emission reductions needed by 2030 to keep global temperature increases under 2 degrees celsius-30 percent more than previously estimated.
  • Additionally, using only cost-effective solutions, nature’s mitigation potential is estimated at 11.3 billion tons in 2030—the equivalent of stopping burning oil globally.
  • Many natural climate solutions offer additional benefits, such as water filtration, flood buffering, improved soil health, protection of habitat and enhanced climate resilience.

In recent decades, forest use—Griscom’s area of expertise—has been widely studied for its climate impacts. Forest loss accounts for 8 to 10 percent of carbon emissions globally; tropical rainforests like the Amazon have become almost synonymous with land conservation, largely because they work as massive carbon sinks and are home to many of the world’s indigenous people and endangered species.

But other global ecosystems and managed lands—from farmlands and peatlands to seagrass and tidal marshes—have garnered less attention from climate regulators, both as a source of emissions and a potential mitigation solution. In fact, until recently no one had ever integrated the raw data on all the carbon that all ecosystems were already sequestering, and what the potential was for increasing carbon storage among all these habitats together, as Griscom and his team studied.

“I thought we would review a few papers and take an average to answer the question,” he says. “We were shocked to find that important gaps remained in answering the question: how much can lands contribute to solving climate change? So we took it upon ourselves to convene a large group of scientists across 15 research institutions to take a comprehensive look at this question.”

Answering that question became the highest priority for Bronson’s team, and the foundation for what has become the most comprehensive study on the role that nature can play in keeping global temperature increases to 2°C or below. They found that, with the right management, nature can play a bigger role than we realized.

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Originally published by Global Nature