By Torben Timmermann for CCAFS

June 18, 2012

“Re-greening of dry lands is not expensive and it is not technically difficult. In fact it is being done and it is fundamental to make smallholder farmers more productive, profitable and more resilient”.

These were the opening words from Christopher Shore, Director of Natural Environment and Climate Issues at World Vision, at the start of a Rio+20 side event on “Re-greening for Resilient Landscapes”. The idea was to present concrete examples on re-greening for resilient landscapes and give suggestions on how these can be scaled-up to benefit more farmers and pastoralists around the world, who are now suffering from dryland degradation.  It is important that the international donor community stops reacting to crises. We know that events such as the 2011 drought and subsequent crisis in East Africa, and the current lack of rains in the Sahel region of West Africa, will continue to take place in other parts of the world. Providing emergency relief to every crisis is neither sustainable nor affordable. Instead, there is a need to secure resilience proactively.

Targeting drylands is important due to the strong connection between land degradation, desertification and other global issues such as climate change, droughts and floods, famine and poverty. Drylands, together with grazing systems and crop production, are home to almost two billion people globally and one billion in Africa alone. Up to one-third of the global drylands are degraded and 74 per cent are at risk of desertification, which poses threats to crops and livestock. Deforestation is also a huge concern, contributing desertification and land degradation. Given these threats, countries have a huge opportunity to re-green their land, which can help to increase agricultural production and enhance the resilience of local communities to droughts and other disasters.

There are many innovations that can raise productivity in the soils, such as tree plantation, agroforestry, soil management; the question is how these can be scaled-up to benefit more smallholder farmers and pastoralists.

“Ensuring the right collaboration among key stakeholders is crucial” said, Carlos Seré, Director for strategic planning at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The systems are highly complex so working in silos is not an option. Emergency relief resources and development investments must be brought together with scientific research, include funds for provision of information via communication technologies. “Only by ensuring this process will small-holder farmers become resilient in the long run”, said Seré. He pointed out that until recently there had been a tendency to view things from a technical perspective only. “It is now clear that this has to be mixed with financial cash transfers; payments for environmental services and wildlife management,” he said, including also “carbon sequestration, scaling-up index insurance, new ICT solutions and getting the policy dialogue right”.  There is also great potential in scaling-up work from emergency relief actions, where aid reaches the country, but is not really invested in long-term supporting activities or institutions.

Re-greening must take stock of already existing plants and biodiversity. Chris Shore presented a case of tree planting, where foreign trees where re-planted in the Sahel. Needless to say, only 5 – 20 percent of those trees grew to full size. Instead, what had brought real success, for example in the Sahel, was reforestation from the existing plantation. Carefully treated what seemed to be small bushes were in fact trees that could easily grow up to two-meters tall. The results were revolutionary. Five million hectares of land have been reforested to date, improving soil fertility, holding water better and increasing agricultural productivity. All these farmer-led activities helped increase household incomes, a clear incentive for farmers to adopt new practices. 

Dennis Garrity, former Director General at the World Agroforestry Centre, now leads a major Evergreen Agriculture initiative, which includes a number of African organizations working scale-up their efforts. Garrity pointed out that this low-cost and low-risk way of doing business is now at a tipping point. With the right up-scaling this can benefit tens of millions of smallholder farmers over the next few years. The dryland areas are moving towards a whole new future where crops are grown in association with trees and natural regeneration of the trees that increases productivity.

If governments do their part to help mobilize organizations and ensure up scaling, he emphasized, then this “evergreen” agriculture can be one of the world’s great success stories in the coming years.


This post was written by Torben Timmemann, Head of Program Coordination and Communications at the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

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