‘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


Private companies partner with small producers to create sustainable supply chains of the future

Leveraging their buying power and financial resources, companies are working to create the sustainable supply chains we need in a changing climate. Ones in which farmers and companies prosper together. Where farmers will produce more using ecologically sound practices, and earn decent incomes for their production.

An estimated half a billion smallholder farmers produce 70% of the world’s raw materials and are the pillar of the food industry. Their sustainability is tied together with that of the companies—large and small— that buy this produce, process and market foods and natural products. Read more. . .

Why food waste is a concern for tropical forest conservation

Does wasting food lead to the loss of tropical forests?

Sacred wood in Cote d'Ivoire. Photo by Emilie Smith/ICRAF
Sacred wood in Cote d’Ivoire. Photo by Emilie Smith/ICRAF

Though not obvious at first glance, researchers say clear links exist between food loss and wastage, and deforestation. This is because clearing intact forests to produce both commodity crops and subsistence crops is one of the main factors (or drivers) that lead to their depletion, particularly in the tropics and subtropics.

“If food waste is not abated, then the land required to produce food is going to increase, especially in view of a sharply increasing global population,” warned Lalisa Duguma, scientist, Sustainable Landscapes and Integrated Climate Actions, at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the ASB Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins. Lalisa was presenting at a well attended side event of the XIV World Forestry Congress, Durban, 7-11 September 2015. Read more. . .

Empowering farmers with knowledge and skills changes lives

To visit with Cameroonian farmer Louis-Marie Atangana is to witness first hand how farmers’ empowerment with knowledge and skills can change lives and landscapes.

Cameroonian farmer and nursery owner Louis-Marie Atangana checks allanblackia seeds he plans to grow into seedlings. Photo by Daisy Ouya/ICRAF

Until 4 years ago Atangana, 45, was a cassava farmer struggling to feed his family of 14 children. But in 2010 he and several members from his village self-help group decided to join an agroforestry training offered by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)-Cameroon, through a Rural Resource Centre. He has had three such trainings to date, dealing with different aspects of tree nursery establishment and management.

He has put the knowledge and skills gained to good use, establishing a tree nursery next to his house soon after his first training. Atangana’s home nursery in Nkenlikok village, deep inside the forest zone that surrounds Yaounde, Cameroon’s capital city, is now serving his community’s needs for accessible and affordable good quality tree seedlings. 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. . .

Transforming cocoa with seedlings and services for farmers

Hélène and Elyse, the first two women to graduate as cocoa village centre operators, are all smiles at the CVC graduation ceremony on 23 May 2014. Photo by Claude Adjehi/ICRAF
Hélène and Elyse, the first two women to graduate as cocoa village centre operators, pose with the governor of Soubré on 23 May 2014. Photo by Claude Adjehi/ICRAF

Clutching her certificate, Hélène Kla Amenan was all smiles at her graduation ceremony on 23 May 2014. After a seven-week intensive training, Hélène was now equipped with the skills to set up a Cocoa Village Centre in her village. Here, she will offer cocoa farmers the services, advice and products they need to rejuvenate their farms for better and more sustainable productivity.

Hélène and the 52 other youthful graduates will run their village centres as independent businesses, but will be supported closely by the Vision for Change (V4C) project. This public-private partnership funded by Mars Chocolate is implemented in Côte d’Ivoire by World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) with national partners[1], and brings farmers together with services, products and know-how to boost cocoa yields and build sustainable cocoa communities. By 2020 the project aims to reach 100,000 cocoa producers in Soubré, one of the highest cocoa-producing areas of the country.Read more. . .

Partnerships for Fairtrade coffee supply: What works?

Fairtrade coffee is big business. In the UK people drank 2 billion cups of Fairtrade coffee in 2012 and over a quarter of all roast and ground coffee sold was Fairtrade-certified.

In addition to assuring coffee aficionados of a high quality and ethically sourced brew, Fairtrade for coffee has a development agenda: Coffee buyers, cooperatives, and smallholder producers work together with NGOs and development agencies; this partnership tries to ensure that coffee farmers earn a just livelihood from their work of producing the world’s most widely traded agricultural commodity. Attention to higher quality by buyers has led to a robust spread and growth of Fairtrade since the early 1990s.

Fairtrade business relations seek win-win outcomes: access to high quality coffee beans for buyers in major coffee markets in the US and Europe, and better markets for small farmers in coffee-producing countries of the Global South.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.  http://bit.ly/1jM61cW
Looking out over tea fields to the Mau Forest. Photo courtesy of BBC World Service: One Planet via Flik. http://bit.ly/1jM61cW

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. . .

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. . .