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. . .

Resilient landscapes need the involvement of local people

Communities hold a crucial piece of the resilient-landscapes puzzle, say experts.

Community members have much to offer in the design of resilient landscapes. Photo by Sammy Carsan/ICRAF

Speaking on 17 November at a discussion session titled ‘Building resilient landscapes for food security and sustainable livelihoods,’ Tony Simons, Director-General of World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), advocated for an approach that includes, involves and learns from the custodians of landscapes—the local communities living in them. He said we need to better “understand the needs, resources needed, and opportunity costs of natural resource management,” for resilient, climate smart landscapes.

Simons also discussed carbon markets, which put a price on a tonne of  carbon dioxide (CO2) captured (see Africa’s Biocarbon Experience [PDF]). “Carbon is the most variably priced commodity on earth, from $50 per tonne as firewood, to $100 million per tonne as diamond. We need to move beyond putting a price on carbon, and consider instead the value of trees in the landscape, as providers of essential ecosystem services,” he stated.Read more. . .

Seeds of hope emerge across the world’s drylands

Drylands occupy 40% of the earth’s land area and are home to 2.5 billion people – nearly a third of the world’s population. People in dry areas are forced to contend with severe environmental degradation and increasing climate variability, as population soars. A groundbreaking paper heralding a new integrated systems approach to agricultural research in the drylands, was published in the journal Food Security this week .

This is good news for 400 million people in the developing world who depend on dryland agriculture for their livelihoods. But what is new?Read more. . .

Climate smart agriculture must be farmer-smart, gender-smart and equity-smart too

A farmer who is part of a tree planting scheme in the Mount Kenya region. Photo by Neil Palmer (CIAT) via Flikr

High hopes are pinned on the agriculture sector to play its part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, through undergoing a deep transformation to become climate smart. Agriculture is considered to be “climate-smart” when it contributes to increasing food security, and raises climate adaptation and mitigation in a sustainable way.

According to the recently released UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2013, agriculture has the potential to contribute to reducing global emissions to the tune of between 1.1 and 4.3 gigatonnes annually. Merlyn Van Voore, Adaptation Fund Coordinator at UNEP, said reductions in emissions from all sectors are urgently needed if we are to avert a rise in temperature this century that will have catastrophic effects on people and the environment. Van Voore was speaking on 12 November 2013, at an  event held on the sidelines of the ongoing UNFCC climate change conference in Warsaw.Read more. . .

Unpacking the evidence on firewood and charcoal in Africa

Charcoal sellers in Mozambique.World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) archives
Charcoal sellers in Mozambique.World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) archives

Woodfuel meets around a tenth of the world’s energy demand, with its users overwhelmingly found in sub-Saharan Africa. Here, nine out of ten people—around 760  million individuals—rely on firewood and charcoal as their primary source of energy for cooking, heating and other uses.

In 2007 charcoal was a US$8-billion industry, employing more than 7 million people in the sub-region, according to World Bank estimates. The  sector has been growing by around 3 percent annually since the turn of the 21st century, according to FAO data. Woodfuel as a source of energy, commerce and employment makes it an important socioeconomic asset to the continent. But woodfuels, and particularly charcoal, are also clouded by controversy and obscure regulation.Read more. . .