Wake up now to make agriculture sustainable

UNCTAD Trade and Environment Review 2013
UNCTAD Trade and Environment Review 2013

“The world needs a paradigm shift in agricultural development … to an ‘ecological intensification’ approach,” states the UNCTAD Trade and Environment Review 2013 released yesterday (18 September 2013) in Geneva. “The required transformation is much more profound than simply tweaking the existing industrial agricultural system.”

The new report, titled Wake up before it is too late: Make agriculture truly sustainable now for food security in a changing climate,” is a clarion call for drastic changes to agriculture globally in order to combat hunger and curb further damage to the environment in the face of a changing climate. Read more. . .

United for soil health

Indicator plants are widely used by farmers to judge the health of soils. Photo by E. Barrios/ICRAF

Combating land degradation and building soil health needs a holistic approach that brings scientific findings together with the knowledge held by farmers.

For instance, to judge soil health, scientists typically analyse it for organic matter content, levels of nutrients available to plants, acidity or alkalinity, texture, and so forth. To determine the same thing, farmers often use the look and feel of the soil, how easy it is to plough, and the types of native plants and small organisms living in it. Read more. . .

Biodegradable seedling bags could grow stronger trees, but can they replace polythene?

Biodegradable (centre) and polythene seedling bags (L&R). Photo by SherryOdeyo/ICRAF
Biodegradable (centre) and polythene seedling bags (L&R). Photo by Sherry Odeyo/ICRAF

Grandma was right to raise her tree seedlings in that broken old gourd; this biodegradable container helped her saplings establish more successfully on the farm.

A new article in the journal Small-scale Forestry confirms the superiority of biodegradable bags over polythene ones in easing a seedling’s transition from the nursery to the farm. Upon transplanting, tree seedlings grown in biodegradable bags established with more vigour, says the article by researchers from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and partners. The authors note, however, that the adoption of biodegradable seedling bags is not a straightforward proposition for small-scale tree nursery operators in Kenya and similar African countries. Read more. . .

New X-ray technology to reveal the makeup of Africa soils

This work paves the way for the development of environmental quality guidelines for the continent’s soils.

Soil samples

Scientists at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and partners have adapted a technique commonly used in clinical, archeological, and other applications so it can be used to determine the total chemical composition of the soils of sub-Saharan Africa.

Using the technique, total X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (TXRF), it is now possible to quantify with good accuracy—and with time and cost savings—the concentration of most of the major and trace elements in soils. This work paves the way for the development of environmental quality guidelines (EQGs) for tropical Africa soils, which would allow better-informed land use planning, as reports a new article in the journal Science of the Total Environment. Read more. . .

Scaling Up Sustainable Land Management

Handbook cover

Handbook cover

A new handbook  on scaling up sustainable land management practices is now available online. The 45-page how-to guide is aimed primarily at the densely populated East African highlands, where the best practices garnered from the African Highlands Initiative—a project implemented by World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and partners—are being spread through ‘Innovation Platforms.’

The ‘Innovation Platforms’ approach is hinged on creating forums that facilitate interaction and learning among stakeholders with a common challenge—in the current case land degradation. This interaction and joint learning helps foster buy-in as communities move towards a more sustainable model of land management. Read more. . .

The little-understood indigenous African fruit trees

What do ‘monkey bread’, desert date, and jujube have in common?

For one, they are fruit trees native to sub-Saharan Africa, mostly known only in their immediate localities. They are also united by a severe shortage of research data on their nutritional composition. As researchers from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) discovered, information on the composition of these, and seven similar indigenous African tree species, is “limited and fragmented.” Read more. . .

New technologies for cocoa farming pull youth, secure chocolate

Refreshing cocoa farms can attract youth
Refreshing cocoa orchards can attract youth to farming

“In one of our project sites in Cote d’Ivoire, a university graduate recently went back to his family’s cocoa farm of his own accord,” Christophe Kouamé said, to make the point that new technologies can make farming more appealing to young people.

The senior scientist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and manager of the public-private partnership called Vision for Change was speaking at an ICRAF side event at the Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW6) in Accra, a city with a large interchange (roundabout) named after Tete Kwashi, the man who first introduced cocoa in Ghana in 1879. Read more. . .

More people, more trees: the pathway to food and nutritional security in Africa

Evergreen farming for food and nutritional security in Africa
Evergreen farming for food and nutritional security in Africa

It is not a very old term, yet a google search of Evergreen Agriculture returns over 10 million hits. What exactly does it involve?

“Evergreen Agriculture is a form of intensive farming of crops with the right trees,” explained Jonathan Muriuki, a Scientist at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). “The ‘doublestory’ system has both food crops and trees, and means higher crop productivity and a diversified income base for farmers. It brings numerous environmental benefits too.”

Muriuki was speaking on 15 July at an ICRAF side event at the  Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW6) in Accra. Read more. . .

Trees and food security in Africa; what’s the link?

Fruits as a result of agroforestry. Photo by Charlie Pye-Smith/ICRAF

The right trees, coupled with the right varieties of crops, rural advisory services, and a supportive policy environment can have a huge impact on crop yields, nutrition and income in Africa. And because smallholder farmers feed and nourish most of Africa’s 1 billion population, this is where we must start.

Agroforestry systems in Africa range from open parkland assemblages, home gardens, mixtures of trees with one or several crops, and trees planted in hedges and boundaries of fields and farms. Thanks to a rich body of science-based knowledge that brings the best in ‘agro’ and ‘forest’ together, farmers can select the right tree and crop associations for the right place. Well designed agroforestry systems provide benefits that cannot be attained from monocrops. Read more. . .

Climate justice conference report published

climate-justice-reportThe Hunger, Nutrition and Climate Justice Conference held in Dublin mid-April 2013 promised to be different. And as the conference’s newly published report shows, the meeting lived up to this expectation.

The main objective of the 2-day gathering on 15 and 16 April was to lead the way in ensuring that future international policy processes are grounded in the realities of people’s lives—in particular smallholders who produce the bulk of the world’s food supply amidst growing resource pressures and a changing climate. To this end, the meeting facilitated global decision makers to have open discussions with farmers from marginalized areas affected by hunger, under-nutrition and climate change. Read more. . .