Climbing fig trees to heaven on earth

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.

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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. . .

Two books launched at ICRAF Science Week 2016

Kimutai Maritim, the Assistant Director of Veterinary Services in Kenya, was the chief guest at the launch of Traditional ethnoveterinary medicine in East Africa: a manual on the use of medicinal plants.

A veterinary epidemiologist with long experience in the Kenya livestock sector, Maritim congratulated the authors on the publication. He said the book was timely and important, and it described important plant species, some of which may be facing local extinction in Kenya. 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. . .

In Kenya, farmers see early rewards from adding legumes and trees to their farms

Jane Achieng displays bean varieties at Piny Oyie market at the Suna West site, Kenya. Photo by Danyell Odhiambo/ICRAF
Jane Achieng displays bean varieties at Piny Oyie market at the Suna West site, Kenya. Photo by Danyell Odhiambo/ICRAF

Less than a year after supplying farmers with legume seeds and fertilizer tree seedlings, the Legume CHOICE project team caught up with farmers and traders in Kisii and Migori counties of Kenya. The farmers were already enjoying the benefits and were keen to scale up.

Legume crops like beans and peas (known collectively as pulses when dry) are a versatile and affordable source of protein and other important nutrients. A mainstay of vegetarian diets, legumes play a critical role in meeting the protein needs of people who cannot access animal proteins such as meat and eggs. Read more. . .

Soil inhabitants hold together the planet’s food system

At the launch of the Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas, experts shone a spotlight on the astonishing biodiversity in the soil, which supports food production, clean water, human health, and environmental sustainability.

The Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas— the outstanding reward of a 3-year global collaboration—was launched on 25 May 2016 in Nairobi. The launch, part of a symposium of the Second United Nations Environment Assembly, provided an opportunity for eminent speakers in the field to discuss the central role soil biodiversity plays in food security, environmental health, and the global sustainable development agenda. 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. . .

Same shore, different scales

While in Mombasa on the Kenyan coast recently, I got up super-early to catch the rising sun (on camera).

Close to shore was a small ‘glass boat’ – ready to take tourists later in the day to look at colourful reef fish through its see-through floor.

At first I missed the flicker of distant lights beyond the reef, but with a zoom lens and slow shutter, two commercial liners came into view. They moved slowly towards one another, then crossed paths.

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Oil cake from biofuel extraction further supports India’s ‘smokeless’ villages

In partnership with the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS) in Bangalore and the District Panchayath of Hassan in India, a program to support the integration of oil-bearing trees in agricultural landscapes1 is contributing to energy security amongst communities in five villages in more than one way.

The Biofuels project, led by World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) is providing smallholder farmers in energy-stressed villages with quality plant material and technical assistance to grow native or locally adapted oilseed trees such as pongamia (Pongamia pinnata), simarouba (Simarouba glauca), mahua (Madhuca longifolia), neem (Azadirachta indica), and other suitable species. The oil-bearing seeds are extracted for their oil, a biofuel which is used to run generators and other machinery. Expelling oil from seeds leaves behind an oil-rich fibrous mass known as an oil cake. Read more. . .