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The East African : Jun 14th 2015
The EastAfrican 36 OUTLOOK JUNE 13-19,2015 D E VE LO PME N T How ‘underground forests’ can help battle desertification, boost yields By managing the t≥ee cove≥ on thei≥ fa≥ms, fa≥me≥s in Af≥ica a≥e gaining mo≥e By CLIFFORD GIKUNDA Special Correspondent T ony Rinaudo, an Australian missionary, left for Niger in West Africa in 1980. When he arrived there, he wanted to plant some crops as he sowed the word of God. “I was interested in dry- land agriculture and so I introduced some exotic trees to the vast empty land. Unfortunately, they all dried up,” recalls the missionary who now works with World Vision Australia. After failing for a few years, he noticed something unusual: There were tree stumps in the ground but most farmers chopped them for wood fuel. “I thought we should re- generate the stumps, starting with a few farmers,” said Rinaudo. “We did, and today, the forest cover in Niger has grown from near non-existent to some 5,000,000 hectares. A farmer-managed natural regeneration is important to farming communities and families,” he said. Farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR) is the systematic rejuvenation and management of the “underground forest” [which lies beneath most soils]. “These forests are mainly suppressed by farming activities, mostly through slashing and burning or clearing the land ahead of the planting season,” said Caroline Njiru, World Vision FMNR project country manager in Kenya. Naturally adaptive indig- enous trees in Africa lie under the ground and if given the opportunity they emerge, bringing many benefits to the farmer, she said. Indigenous tree agrofor- estry has spread in Niger through farmers, with key benefits for households, Mr Rinaudo said. “The average millet yield per hectare, for example, has increased to between 600 and 750kg/ha from 250kg/ha annually,” he said. In Malawi, the FMNR pro- gramme is gaining momentum. Bethwel Kaphesi, a 72- year-old farmer living in Ndoa district, some 100kms from of the capital Lilongwe, is a smallholder farmer who When given the chance, naturally adaptive indigenous trees emerge, bringing lots of benefits to the farmer.” Caroline Njiru, World Vision Kenya grows maize and intercrops it with tobacco on the family’s 1.4 acre piece of land. The yields were minimal until he learnt how to manage old tree stumps in 2001. “Today, all my land is cov- ered with different kinds of indigenous trees, and my maize production has increased from 3-5 bags to over 30 bags today,” said Mr Kaphesi. His wife Zabeta too is no longer forced to walk long distances to fetch firewood. Revolutionised farming In Kenya, the farmer-man- aged regeneration of indigenous trees is revolutionising farming in rural areas such as Kongasisi village of Ol-Jurai location in Nakuru County, in the Rift Valley. For example, by managing the trees on his six-acre farm, Musa Chelelgo has been able to increase his maize yields from six to 30 bags on an acre, without the use of chemical fertilisers. He also keeps over 10 beehives which earn him more than $200 per year. His wife Susan Chelelgo supplies firewood to other Women carry firewood in the Imenti forest, Eastern Kenya on April 29. In some countries, deforestation has denuded much of the arable land. Picture: File farmers in the village, from which she made $100 in sales last year. “We don’t fell trees, we prune and manage them; from the pruning we get enough firewood for our use and for sale,” she said. According to Dennis Gar- rity, a special ambassador to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), and senior fellow at the World Agroforestry Centre, the leaves of indigenous adaptive trees provide organic matter on farms and give soils much-needed fertiliser like nitrogen. “Their deep roots suck wa- ter from the ground aquifers and it evaporates through the leaves, contributing greatly to the rain cycle,” said Dr Garrity, adding that without trees in the arid and semi arid areas, the temperatures of the soil could soar to over 70 degrees, making the environment harsh for plants, animals and micro-organisms. The shade of the trees pro- vide micro-proofing which helps temperatures decline, meaning there is less stress for animals and plants. According to scientists, intercropping of fertiliser trees into the cropping systems improves soil fertility by drawing nitrogen from the air and transferring it to the soil through their leaves and roots, while the fodder from the trees provides enough pasture to livestock all year round. “In most cases we hardly need to buy any fertiliser; the biomass on our farms is enough to give our crops the needed nutrients and the litter has helped our farms retain more water and contain run off and soil erosion,” said Eliud Oyaro, a farmer in OlJurai location in Kenya’s Na- kuru County. Another farmer, Nelson Morogo, said that through farmer management and regeneration of trees on his farm, he was able to reduce running water that had created gullies making it difficult to cultivate the land. “I learnt about pruning and placing the branches and DEFORESTATION IN AFRICA RANGELANDS AND RAINFED CROPLANDS: Seventy four per cent of rangelands and 61 per cent of rainfed croplands in Africa’s drier regions are damaged by moderate to severe desertification. LIMITED ARABLE LAND: In some countries, deforestation rates exceed planting rates by 3,000 per cent. The need for timber — to cook, keep warm, for dwellings — plus unsustainable farming techniques have denuded much of the arable land. BARE LAND: Without tree cover and vegetation to hold the soil together, floods and wind erosion have swept away layers of precious topsoil, leaching nutrients from whatever is left of the soil, and leaving whole regions unable to sustain food crops. leaves along the waterways, and three years later, all the gullies have disappeared,” said Mr Morogo. He has increased his live- stock to over 30 dairy cows and where the gullies ran, grass is growing in abundance. According to scientists, the trees identified as being able to give farmers key benefits include Feirdhebia Albida, Tephrossia, the Pilliostigma Thionningi in Southern Africa, and a variety of acacias in East Africa. The list also includes indigenous trees like the Tarchonanthus Camphoretus (Leleshwa), Olea Africana and Dombea Dolido. Water-scarce regions About 40 per cent of the world’s population, or 2.8 billion people, are living in water-scarce regions, with some 900 million lacking access to safe water. By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population or 5.3 billion people could be living under water stressed conditions, according to UNCCDS. The organisation says that for an estimated world population of 9 billion people by the year 2050, agricultural production must increase by about 70 per cent globally and 100 per cent in developing countries. An estimated six million hectares of land would need to be converted to agricultural production every year until at least 2030 to satisfy the growing demand, UNCCD notes. “By securing land as a vital natural capital, we can make a positive impact on food and water security while coping with a changing climate,” said Monique Barbut, executive secretary of UNCCD. “By adopting sustainable land management practices, we can further build the resilience of millions of people in every corner of the earth.” In Africa — the continent most affected by climate change — two-thirds of the land is desert and dryland. This land is vital for agriculture and food production. However, nearly threefourths of it is estimated to be degraded to varying degrees. The region is affected by frequent and severe droughts, which have been particularly severe in recent years in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel region. Poverty and difficult socio-economic conditions are widespread. As a result, many people are dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods. Therefore, for many Afri- A village spiritual leader shows indigenous trees cut down by a private developer on the idyllic Chale Island on Kenya’s South Coast. Picture: File can countries, fighting land degradation and desertification and mitigating the effects of drought are prerequisites for economic and social progress.
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