Cool insights for a hot world: trees and forests recycle water

Anyone who has walked outside on a sunny day knows that forests and trees matter for temperature, humidity and wind speed. Planting trees speaks to concerns about climate change, but the directly important aspects of the tree-climate relationships have so far been overlooked in climate policy where it relates to forest.

That, at least, is the conclusion of a new review. The authors suggest that the global conversation on trees, forests and climate needs to be turned on its head: the direct effects via rainfall and cooling may be more important than the well-studied effects through the global carbon balance.

Yet, current climate policy only recognizes the latter. While farmers understand that trees cool their homes, livestock and crops, they had to learn the complex and abstract language of greenhouse gasses and carbon stocks if they wanted to be part of climate mitigation efforts. Not anymore, if the new perspectives become widely accepted.Read more

‘Tis the season for frankincense, a suitable restoration tree for the Horn of Africa

There’s one more reason to be jolly this season: the frankincense tree—source of one of the precious gifts of the Magi in the Christmas story—is being called “a suitable tree species for use in dryland restoration under a changing climate.”

Bag of Frankincense at Spice Souk. Photo by Liz Lawley via Wikimedia Commons

Based on studies on frankincense trees (Bosweillia neglecta) from southern Ethiopia, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and partner researchers are calling for this tree’s expanded application in the restoration of drylands in the Horn of Africa.

In this region, covering Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, and parts of northern Kenya, frankincense is tapped from Bosweillia and several other dryland trees found naturally in dry tropical forests and woodlands. When injured, the bark exudes a fragrant watery sap, which is collected and left to harden into the frankincense resin. Bosweillia neglecta tree produces a particular, earthy frankincense known as ‘Borena type’.

An important commodity, frankincense is used in pharmacology, as a flavouring, in cosmetics and in perfumery, and is traded locally and internationally. The incense is used in many religious and cultural ceremonies around the world; indeed, no Ethiopian coffee ceremony is complete without the sweet, heady aroma frankincense releases when heated over hot coals.Read more

 

Research cuts a potential new path to faster, cheaper tropical forest restoration: Thinning

A perfusion of pioneers in a regenerating part of the Harapan Rainforest in Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo By Rhett Harrison/ICRAF
A perfusion of pioneers in a regenerating part of the Harapan Rainforest in Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo By Rhett Harrison/ICRAF

A common way to restore a degraded forest is to plant seedlings and nurture these into full trees. Indeed, to most people restoration and tree-planting (with native species) are virtually synonymous. Planting and nurturing tree seedlings over a wide area, however, can be an expensive and labour-intensive affair. Not to mention the decades or even centuries it takes before seedlings grow into trees.

Another common path to restoration is to simply protect a degraded forest from further degradation, often by fencing it off. Over time, lost tree cover will return through natural regeneration. This option is a relatively inexpensive, but it can also take centuries to achieve full restoration and the environmental benefits it brings.

Read more. . .

Fig trees throw down a lifeline to a healthier planet

Fig trees were here when dinosaurs first roamed the planet. And today, just as they did 80 million years ago, Ficus species continue to bring nourishment, shade, water and numerous other gifts to people and plants. What’s more, these trees may help us claw our way out of the ecological conundrums we currently find ourselves in—deforestation, species loss, and even climate change.

In a gripping 224 pages of eloquent writing, Mike Shanahan’s first book, ‘Ladders to Heaven: How fig trees shaped our history, fed our imaginations and can enrich our future’, brings us the fascinating story of fig trees. From the age of dinosaurs, to pre-history and the age of exploration, and into the present times, the reader learns how these trees shaped the planet and fascinated philosophers, conquerors and commoners alike. Read more. . .

What will it take to restore 100 million hectares of land in Africa?

The challenge is massive, but so is the promise. Healing 100 million hectares of degraded and deforested land in Africa will bring countless benefits: fresh air and water, food and energy —the very stuff of survival. It will also build people’s climate resilience, and contribute in a big way to global climate change mitigation goals.

Land restoration aims to bring back ecological functionality to degraded ecosystems. It can be achieved by introducing or allowing trees to grow on landscapes and using sustainable land management techniques such as terracing steep hillsides, minimizing tillage and building structures to stop soil erosion. Curbing free-grazing of livestock and managing water also support land restoration. Read more. . .

What makes a farmer grow a tree? It depends.

Is it enough to recommend tree species to farmers? Or even to supply them with the right seedlings and advice on growing them?

Across Africa bold campaigns, such as the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), are underway to get more trees into farming landscapes, as a means to restore land, protect watersheds, and meet people’s food and energy demands sustainably. The success of these programs will be greatly influenced by farmers’ decisions to plant, keep and nurture the trees for the long haul. And as it turns out, these decisions depend heavily on the ecological and socio-economic realities farmers find themselves in, which vary widely. Read more. . .

Success factors for land and water management in Africa

At present, large expanses of land in rural Africa are degraded as a result of over extraction of trees for timber, firewood and charcoal. The problem is exacerbated by poor crop and animal husbandry practices, such as growing crops in unsuitable ecological zones and on steep slopes, as well as unplanned grazing on Africa’s vast rangelands. Soils in degraded landscapes erode and lose their biodiversity and fertility, and the hydrologic functions of surrounding watersheds are diminished, leading to loss of water quantity and quality; land and water management, after all, are two sides of the same coin.

Immaculée Nyirahabimana is a farmer from Cyuve district-CIAT
Immaculée Nyirahabimana is a farmer from Cyuve district-CIAT. Photo by Stephanie Malyon / CIAT. www.ciatnews.cgiar.org/?p=7981

A side event convened by the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) at the seventh Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW7) sought to share knowledge on how to better manage the continent’s water and land resources, as a means to support higher and more sustainable agricultural productivity and better livelihoods for people. The session contributed recommendations to the just-ended conference convened in Kigali by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, FARA, the apex continental organization responsible for coordinating and advocating for agricultural research-for-development. Read more. . .

The A to Z of soil biodiversity

The soil is the “living, breathing skin of our planet.” It is the basis of food production and essential for clean water, health, greenhouse gas capture and numerous other functions that support life on earth.

Soil biodiversity is intimately connected with all terrestrial life. Thanks to advances in technology and global scientific cooperation, huge strides have been made in our understanding of the dazzling diversity of life forms beneath our feet; and especially that of microscopic bacteria, fungi, and nematodes that are invisible to the naked eye. Read more…

Data revolution needs decision science for sustainable development

Never in the history of humankind has so much data been available; from research and surveillance data to crowd-sourced and citizen data, a staggering and growing number of digital datasets are

available, often free online.

Photo from India by Amber Peterman, IFPRI. See original
Photo from India by Amber Peterman, IFPRI. See original

But according to World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) research leader Dr Keith Shepherd, for this surfeit of data to serve sustainable development, robotic data mining to will not do; the data must be translated—using decision science—into useful knowledge that helps guide decision making, from the farm to policy-making levels.

Decision science can also be used to decide what type and how much data to collect to answer particular questions, thus saving time and resources. Read more. .

With trees on farms, climate-change mitigation is a co-benefit of broader socioeconomic gains

In a ‘Letter to the Editor’ published in the Guardian Development Blog, Professor Roger Leakey urges a closer look at agroforestry’s potential as a pathway for both mitigating climate change and fighting hunger, malnutrition and poverty.

Part of ICRAF's tree domestication and experimentation nursery in Yaoundé, Cameroon. Photo by Daisy Ouya/ICRAF
Part of ICRAF’s tree domestication and experimentation nursery in Yaoundé, Cameroon. Photo by Daisy Ouya/ICRAF

Leakey, who serves as the vice-chair of the International Tree Foundation, outlines a three-step action plan that involves:

  1. Using simple biological approaches to rehabilitate degraded farm land and improve crop yields;
  2. Planting local, highly favoured, traditionally important food trees to reduce hunger and malnutrition; and
  3. Setting up new cottage industries to process and add value to these products, creating business and job opportunities to further improve household livelihoods. Read more. . .
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