KHATRE SY, Senegal (AlertNet) – Experts have been encouraging farmers in Africa’s aridest lands to undertake improved tree planting and management to help hold soils together and reverse the process of desertification.
Agro-forestry – the growing of trees on farms – will help the continent’s farmers adapt to the changing weather patterns that climate change could engender, they argue
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has noted that transforming degraded agricultural lands into agro-forestry has far greater potential to store carbon than any other managed land use change.
AlertNet spoke to two experts on the issue – Dennis Garrity, the director general of the World Agro-forestry Centre (ICRAF) and Constance Neely, an agro-ecologist who works for ICRAF and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.
On agro-forestry holding soils and reversing desertification
Dennis Garrity: For most people this is a very unusual thing to imagine, that farmers would grow trees at high densities among their crops, because most development specialists have always recommended removing the trees for farmland. Finally they are learning that by removing the trees they are removing soil fertility, they are causing soil erosion, they are causing the loss of fertility in the soil and the soil itself degrades so the farmers themselves can no longer even raise minimal yields on these kinds of sandy soils that you find in the Sahel (the semi-arid region south of the Sahara desert).
Constance Neely: The nice thing is that if you’ve got the trees you are protecting the land from erosion and from hot winds. It forms a micro-climate to protect the crops. It is a strategy that allows you to have fruitful agriculture in a sustainable way for many years
On agro-forestry and climate change
Dennis Garrity: As we look at the future where we see in many parts of Africa, perhaps, a drier climate than we have today, integrating systems into farming that include livestock, crops and trees will help farmers in Africa adapt to changing weather patterns because such systems increase the soil’s nutrients, water holding capacity and productivity. A successful intensification and expansion of agro-forestry will help remove tonnes and tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere.
Constance Neely: When we can’t predict the rainfall, if we can capture what water … comes here into the soil because we have built up the organic matter, this is very critical and it comes down to the carbon cycle which climate change is all about. These trees and plants are getting more root systems in the soil, are bringing carbon into the soil and sequestering carbon, which is both mitigation and adaptation.
On the cost and feasibility of agro-forestry
Dennis Garrity: This is a technology that does not cost the farmer any money. It does not involve the investment of capital. These farmers have no capital; they cannot afford to spend money to buy agricultural inputs and other types of technology. It is not highly expensive because the resources are already in the villages; it is a matter of spreading knowledge. What we ask international development agencies and governments of countries like Senegal is to consider how to spread the knowledge by informing farmers all over the country about the great successes that have occurred in some places, that can be extended to all of the farmland everywhere in the country. We can use the radio, the TV, the extension services and develop ways of organising farmers to share experiences.