Native trees in African drylands serve as water harvesters

Native trees that dot African dryland areas bring a welcome respite from the tropical sun. In addition, and contrary to old assumptions, they “… may function as water harvesters, contributing to deeper drainage and recharge.” They might thereby help recharge groundwater bodies.

These findings by researchers from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), recently published in the journal Water Resources Research, refute the commonly held notion that trees in drylands worsen water scarcity.Read more. . .

Sustainable land management depends heavily on a farmer’s overall income

Faced with the unreliable weather patterns in a changing climate, high population, and shrinking farm sizes, subsistence farmers in Africa are turning to various coping mechanisms in order to ensure a crop and some income.

A survey in Western Kenya found that sustainable land management methods, such as terracing to control soil erosion, agroforestry, and using manure to improve soil fertility, were being financed with income from off-farm activities. Farmers often raised the money by exploiting communal land to obtain products for sale (so-called ‘Natural Resource Management-based income-generation’), or by working on others’ farms as paid labour.Read more. . .

‘Don’t throw money at farmers’, and other lessons in sustainable multi-functional agriculture

To overcome poverty, hunger and malnutrition as well as their close bedfellow environmental degradation, we would all do well to heed the dozen principles discussed in a new article by Roger B. Leakey. Instead of giving farmers cash handouts, for instance, we would empower them with skills and knowledge. And instead of telling them what to do, we would ask them what it was they needed.

The 12 principles are distilled from the operations of a long-term, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)-led project in Cameroon, West Africa. Initiated in 1998, the project revolves around training communities in agroforestry for the rehabilitation of degraded land, and participatory domestication and commercialization of fruits and nuts from indigenous trees. The project won the prestigious Equator prize in 2012.Read more. . .

How research can improve people’s lives: An interview with Mary Njenga

By Arsene, Ahijah, Hubert, Inna, Mélodie and Sabrina (students at Lycée Denis Diderot, Nairobi).

On 21 March 2014, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) researcher Mary Njenga visited Lycée Denis Diderot (LDD), the French School in Nairobi, and gave a talk at an inter-school conference titled “How to Feed Humanity.”  About 200 students and teachers from three schools including LLD attended this conference. Dr Njenga then sat and answered the students’ many questions about her studies, her achievements and her vision on how research can impact people’s lives. Read more. . .

Kenya’s southwest Mau and Vietnam’s highland regions set to become models in sustainable landscape management

Looking out over tea fields to the Mau Forest. Photo courtesy of BBC World Service: One Planet via Flik.
Looking out over tea fields to the Mau Forest. Photo courtesy of BBC World Service: One Planet via Flik.

A new initiative launched on 28 February 2014 will be carry out projects in Kenya and Vietnam, projects whose success could serve as an example for integrated and sustainable land and water management for productive landscapes.

The initiative, called the Sustainable Land and Water Program, will seek to address the joint challenges associated with water, erosion, land, climate and food security. The two project areas are the tea-growing Southwest Mau Forest region of Kenya and the coffee-growing Central highlands of Vietnam. These were selected because they are important for commodity production, but they also provide critically important environmental services beyond their immediate boundaries.Read more. . .

Innovations for organized and profitable produce markets: The Lake Kivu Pilot Learning Site

Alice Mukamana (R) and Claudine Uwase adding value to potatoes by washing, grading and packing them at Josephine Mukankusi’s house in Rwanda. Photo by Pascal Habumugisha.
Alice Mukamana (R) and Claudine Uwase adding value to potatoes by washing, grading and packing them at Josephine Mukankusi’s washing station in Rwanda. Photo by Pascal Habumugisha.

By Rebecca Selvarajah

Two new articles in the African Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics highlight the role of the ‘Integrated Agricultural Research for Development (IAR4D)’ approach in Africa. The approach integrates markets and innovation platforms (IPs).

FARA, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, commissioned a pilot study to understand the role of markets and marketing systems in African agriculture. The study also sought to test the effectiveness of  the Integrated Agricultural Research for Development (IAR4D)  approach and its ‘innovation platforms’ as a strategy for poverty alleviation.Read more. . .

Complexity lives at the tree–people–planet interface

Photo montage by World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) via Flikr
ICRAF photo montage via Flikr

In their editorial review for a special edition of the journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, Mark Stafford Smith of CSIRO and Cheikh Mbow of World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) give compelling examples of the complex challenges the agroforestry researcher works through in analyzing the interactions between people, trees and agriculture. The complexity arises in large part because the interactions happen within dynamic landscapes that are also influenced by policy decisions, market forces, and climate change.

“These social–ecological interactions are not mutually exclusive and require systemic approaches,” say the authors, who based the editorial on the 23 articles published in the special journal edition.Read more. . .

Unity is strength in the marketing of smallholder farm produce

Delivering Allanblackia seeds to a collection centre in Tanzania. Photo by Charlie Pye-Smith
Delivering Allanblackia seeds to a collection centre in Tanzania. Photo by Charlie Pye-Smith/ICRAF via Flikr

Farmers producing small quantities of a particular crop or tree product face the challenge of selling it at fair prices, and one effective way to improve matters is ‘collective action’ for marketing. If done right, much can be gained in terms of increased income and food security when smallholder farmers come together and pool their harvest, selling it in bulk.

Nonetheless, collective action in marketing, particularly for small-scale farmers in Africa, is not as simple as it seems at first glance, as a new article shows. The review, published in the journal Current Opinions on Environmental Sustainability, synthesizes some of the lessons learned over two decades of implementing collective action, and provides some pointers for success.Read more. . .

ICRAF and partners launch first African Plant Breeding Academy

Hearty applaus­­e mingled with the sound of drumbeat at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) as the African Plant Breeding Academy came into being shortly after midday on 3 December 2013. The Academy, an initiative of the African Orphan Crops Consortium (AOCC),[1] is hosted by ICRAF and will be used to train around 250 African scientists in the latest biotechnological techniques to optimize the yield and nutritional content of 100 important but little-researched edible crops and trees native to Africa. Grown widely on farms, the improved varieties will help address the serious challenge of poor health caused by chronic malnutrition and recurrent episodes of hunger among Africa’s populations, especially the rural poor.Read more. . .

Agroforestry front and centre at UN nutrition seminar

Vietnam farmer cooperator in the AFLI project watering Son tra seedlings. Photo By Nhung Bui/ICRAF
Vietnam farmer cooperator in the AFLI project watering Son tra seedlings. Photo By Nhung Bui/ICRAF

Two centuries ago, Thomas Malthus famously predicted a Hobbesian world of runaway population growth outstripping food supplies, with mass starvation as the ultimate sanction for human profligacy. That he has so far been proven wrong is surely humanity’s most wondrous achievement. Today, over 7 billion of us are alive and fed. Yes, far too many are still not enjoying three square meals a day. But few are threatened with Malthus’ horrible death – even as about 870 million are still chronically food insecure.

But the way many of our bellies get filled is far from ideal. The UN reckons about 2 billion people are missing essential micronutrients such as minerals and vitamins. The abundant availability of cheap, nutrient-poor carbohydrates and our age-old craving for sugars and fats are leading to an explosion of metabolic diseases. The World Health Organization estimates that 347 million people suffer from diabetes, over 500 million are obese, and one in three adults has high blood pressure. And this does not just strike the rich world anymore. “In some African countries, as much as half the adult population has high blood pressure,” Margaret Chan, the WHO’s Director-General, said last year. Both under- and malnutrition increasingly affect the same countries. Take India. It has one-third of the world’s under-nourished children – while 10% of its adult population has raised blood glucose levels.Read more. . .