A Travellerspoint blog

“Re-Greening” the Sahel

Through Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

For centuries, farmers in the Sahel—a band of land that crosses Africa at the southern fringe of the Sahara Desert—used rotational tree farming to provide year-round harvests and a consistent source of food, fuel, and fertilizer. But severe droughts and rapid population growth in the 1970s and 80s significantly degraded the Sahel’s farmland, leading to the loss of many indigenous tree species and leaving the soil barren and eroded. With the loss of the trees went the knowledge, traditions, and practices that had kept the region fertile for hundreds of years.

To save the land as well as local livelihoods, many traditional management practices are now being revived. One inexpensive method of farming that helps to restore the Sahel’s degraded land is so-called Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) (see also Millions Fed: “Re-Greening the Sahel: Farmer-led Innovation in Burkina Faso and Niger”). By pruning shoots that periodically and naturally sprout from below-ground root webs, farmers can promote forest growth and take advantage of a naturally occurring source of fuel, food, or animal fodder.

The trees produce fruit rich in nutrients and help to restore the soil by releasing nitrogen and protecting the ground from erosion by wind and rain. The cultivated but naturally occurring forest also creates a local source of firewood and mulch, reducing the time spent in gathering fuel for cooking meals and cleaning households (see Reducing the Things They Carry). The practice also cuts down on deforestation as the trees that are used for fuel are replaced with seedlings and tended by farmers.

“Farmer-managed natural regeneration is a fairly simple technique, but it produces multiple benefits,” explained Chris Reij, a natural resources management specialist with the Center for International Cooperation (and advisor to the Nourishing the Planet Project), at an Oxfam-hosted panel on locally driven agriculture innovations in Washington, D.C., last October. “Sometimes planting trees make sense, but in terms of costs and long-time success, in many cases it makes more sense to use natural regeneration.”

As important as the technique itself is, even more important is making sure that farmers in the Sahel know about it. When farmers learn how they can benefit from the practice, they are quick to adopt it, improving their own livelihoods and food security while regenerating local forests. Reij attributes the overwhelming success of FMNR in Niger—where many villages have 10–20 times more trees than 20 years ago—to the reduced central-government presence in rural areas. With the government distracted by political conflict, forest management now belongs almost completely to the local farmers who benefit from FMNR the most. (See also Aid Groups, Farmers Collaborate to Re-Green Sahel.)

To ensure that even more farmers know about FMNR and its benefits, the Web Alliance for the Re-Greening in Africa (W4RA), a joint project between African Re-Greening Initiatives (ARI), the Web Foundation, and VU Amsterdam, is helping to create web-based information exchanges between farmers. Meanwhile, the organization SahelEco has initiated two projects, Trees Outside the Forest and the Re-Greening the Sahel Initiative, to encourage policymakers, farmers’ organizations, and government leaders throughout the region to provide the support and legislation needed to put the responsibility of managing trees on agricultural land into the hands of farmers.

To read more about agroforestry and other ways that agriculture can restore degraded land, see: An Evergreen Revolution? Using Trees to Nourish the Planet, It’s About More Than Trees at the World Agroforestry Centre, Trees as Crops in Africa, and Mitigating Climate Change Through Food and Land Use.

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Posted by BorderJump 10:57 Comments (0)

Reducing Food Waste in the Event of An Erupting Volcano

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

As Iceland’s erupting volcano strands thousands of air travelers across Europe and worldwide, a less publicized but arguably more costly catastrophe is mounting 15,000 miles away: piles of gourmet produce and cut flowers, some of Kenya’s chief exports, are rotting in limbo. Meant to be shipped to upscale grocery stores throughout Europe, lilies, roses, carnations, carrots, onions, baby sweet corn, and sugar snap peas are going bad in heaps, on the vine, and in the ground because airport warehouses are already full and there’s no local market for the expensive produce in a country where half the population lives on less than a dollar a day.

As food prices continue to rise worldwide, reducing food waste will be a critical element in alleviating hunger and poverty worldwide. Already, Nourishing the Planet has highlighted the many ways that growing indigenous vegetables for local markets and improving storage techniques can help to both reduce food waste and improve access to food, in Kenya and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa.

To read more about food waste and ways it can be prevented, see: Reducing Food Waste, Finding Creative Ways to Grow Food in Kibera, Farming on the Urban Fringe, and Investing in Better Food Storage in Africa. Also, stay tuned for an entire chapter on the subject, written by Tristram Stuart, in State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved:
1. Comment on our daily posts-we check comments everyday and look forward to a regular ongoing discussion with you.
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Posted by BorderJump 06:53 Comments (0)

Hundreds of Promising Little Projects Bring Hope to Africa

Originally featured in the Montreal Gazette. Cross posted from Border Jumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.

I grew up in Westmount as an only child with a relatively privileged middle-class life. I attended Selwyn House elementary, and we had season tickets to the Canadiens at the old Forum.

My upbringing seems a long way from the sidewalks of Antanarivo, Kampala, Lusaka, or the cities of any of the dozen or so African countries where I've been travelling the last six months.

It's a little embarrassing, but these are the only images of Africa I had as a child:

When I turned up my nose at broccoli at the dinner table, my mom would guilt me into eating everything on the plate, "because people were starving in Ethiopia."

While watching The Wonder Years, I saw commercials of B-list celebrities pleading for people to send money to feed emaciated children in Africa.

As I grew older, my view of Africa didn't really change. It seemed that no good news came out of the continent. Everything I read and saw was about conflict, famine, HIV/AIDS, or disease. And for many of us, that's all we know about Africa.

I felt, as most people do, powerless about the problems there. Most of us think of Africa as a lost cause.

It wasn't until my partner, Danielle Nierenberg, received a grant through the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet (www.nourishingtheplanet.com) to travel across the continent visiting innovations that offered sustainable ways of reducing hunger and poverty, that everything I thought I knew about the continent began to change. The grant culminates next year with the release of State of the World 2011, Worldwatch's flagship publication, which will serve as a road map for the funding and donor community on projects working on the ground. I decided to take a leave of absence from my job to travel with her and learn as much as I could.

We started in Ethiopia in October 2009, and after six months visiting 120 projects, I quickly began to realize how much these individuals and organizations were doing with minimal resources. And that the news media seem to miss the real story: underneath the very real problems they were covering were hundreds of exciting innovations that were protecting the environment and improving people's lives.

So let me share some examples of "good news" taking place across the continent - people and places that Danielle and I saw firsthand that gave us hope.

In Ethiopia, we met Kes Malede Abreha, a farmer-priest living near Aksum who, as part of a farmers' group supported by the non-government organization Prolinnova is now a leading agricultural innovator in his neighbourhood.

In Kenya, we visited Kibera - one of the largest slums in sub-Saharan Africa, home to almost a million people. There, travelling with Urban Harvest, we met members of a women's co-operative who are raising vegetables on "vertical farms" by poking holes in sacks, filling them with soil, and planting seeds.

In Tanzania, we visited the World Vegetable Centre in Arusha, where researchers and farmers are working together to improve diets and livelihoods.

In Uganda, we met with an organization run by two 20-year old volunteers that built school gardens to teach children about nutrition. It's called Project DISC (part of Slow Food International).

In Rwanda, we met with families outside Kigali benefiting from a donation of small livestock from Heifer International.

In Mozambique, we attended a training session in which farmers were brought in from across the country to share with each other what was working. This will culminate in a free book of best practices, published in multiple indigenous languages.

In Zambia, we visited COMACO, whose sustainable, high-wage, non-profit peanut butter, organic rice, and honey under the label It's Wild, were selling in major grocery stores across the country.

In Ghana, we met with a women's co-operative that was processing palm oil.

As our plane landed at Dorval this week, we were filled with optimism and the African continent seemed not so far away, and much less hopeless. What we loved about many of the projects we visited is that they were Africa-led, often by local volunteers, and with very modest resources.

Bernard Pollack is travel blogging from Africa with his partner Danielle Nierenberg. You can follow them online at BorderJumpers (www.borderjumpers.org).

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Posted by BorderJump 07:34 Comments (0)

Helping Farmers Benefit From Wildlife Conservation

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

Wildlife conservation and sustainable farming practices are becoming increasing prevalent across sub-Saharan Africa (see Protecting Wildlife While Improving Food Security, Health, and Livelihoods, Helping Conserve Wildlife–and Agriculture–in Mozambique, and In Botswana, Cultivating an Interest in Agriculture and Conservation). Yet efforts to preserve elephants, rhinos, and other wildlife are difficult in countries plagued by political unrest and conflict.

In Zimbabwe, for example, “it’s pretty hard to get anything done,” says Raol du Toit, Director of the Rhino Conservation Trust. Although a new president, Morgan Tsvangirai, was elected in 2008, Zimbabwe’s 86-year-old dictator Robert Mugabe, who has ruled the country for more than 30 years, refused to cede power. A “power-sharing agreement” between the two leaders allows the country to function, but just barely. Unemployment rates are over 90 percent, and people who voice public opposition to Mugabe are often jailed and even tortured.

Despite these obstacles, du Toit is helping farming communities benefit economically from efforts to save dwindling populations of rhinos and other wildlife. While many conservation groups seek to protect wildlife from farmers, the Rhino Conservation Trust has a very different approach. Rather than telling farmers not to farm in areas where wildlife are present, they help communities realize that protecting wildlife can be in their own best interest.

“Wildlife is like a herd of cattle,” says du Toit, and farmers “will get benefits” if they manage and conserve local wildlife species. This “horns and thorns” approach gives farmers an opportunity to be paid for the ecosystem services they provide through more sustainable farming practices—including protecting wildlife, conserving water, preventing deforestation, and sequestering carbon in the soil. The solution is to help farmers practice agriculture “in appropriate areas, using appropriate practices.”

What’s needed, according to du Toit, is more “landscape-level planning” that takes into account the needs of wildlife, the environment, and farming communities. Rather than relying on development agencies and governments to decide where cattle fences should go or where farmers should plant their crops, local communities and stakeholders need to be part of the process. Development aid, says du Toit, should follow what local stakeholders need and perceive, not the other way around. “We need to trust people on the ground, rather than just planning for them.”

More locally based partnership arrangements, such as the Laikipia Wildlife Forum developed in Kenya, can help both farmers and wildlife survive. The Forum has united the community, from smallholder farmers to tourism ventures, in the fight to preserve wildlife and manage natural resources, helping to improve local livelihoods.

Educating children early about the benefits of wildlife is also important. The Rhino Conservation Trust has developed a school materials project that teaches children the importance of conserving rhinos.

And despite the political turmoil in Zimbabwe, the country still has wildlife resources that other countries don’t have, giving it the opportunity to both protect these assets and profit from their conservation.

For more about rhino conservation in Zimbabwe, see Raol du Toit’s presentation at the AHEAD workshop last year.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved:
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Posted by BorderJump 07:07 Comments (0)

A Conversation with Jacob Wanyama from African LIFE Network

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

In this regular series, we profile advisors to the Nourishing the Planet project. This week, we feature Jacob Wanyama, coordinator with the African LIFE Network.

Dani_and_Jacob.jpgName: Jacob Wanyama

Affiliation: African LIFE Network

Location: Nairobi, Kenya

Bio: Jacob Wanyama is a coordinator with the African LIFE Network in Kenya, an organization that works to increase rights for pastoralist communities. He has been working for pastoralist peoples for nearly two decades with organizations such as Practical Action (formerly ITDG) and Veternaires Sans Frontiers (VSF).

What is the nature of the problem that you and the LIFE Network are dealing with in pastoralist communities? Pastoralists mostly depend on producing livestock. These communities have produced certain breeds for centuries. These animals are suited to the environment and they are critical to the cultural and economic survival of the pastoralists in these harsh environments. But because of conflict, drought, and other environmental problems in the area, it is becoming harder for pastoralists to maintain their way of life. There is a lack of services and infrastructure in these communities. They are very low on the opportunity ladder, and in Kenya especially the pastoralist communities don’t get government services or support.

Another problem is that government programs in these areas have often discouraged or destroyed what communities have been doing. Because of the need to produce food quickly, many governments have promoted replacing indigenous breeds that are considered to be inferior because they don’t produce a lot of meat. The government has encouraged pastoralists to breed local breeds with exotic breeds or to just replace the local breed. The problem is that the new breed is not used to the region. This has gone on for many years, so now many indigenous breeds are disappearing. The world is losing roughly one livestock breed every week.

This is the case in many areas where livestock are kept. In Africa, India, Mongolia, pastoralists are not given a chance to maintain their breeds of indigenous livestock, and therefore the world is losing many sources of animal genetic diversity. These animals are the only way of using these very dry and harsh areas, which otherwise could not support communities. So, many pastoralists are giving up their way of life. They can’t feed their families anymore.

What are some of the grassroots strategies the LIFE Network has used to help these communities? We try to create awareness among pastoralists. They have been getting misinformation and discouragement from the government. So we spend time with them and tell them, “what you have and what you had is very valuable. You are providing an important service not just to yourself but to the world. You have the right to demand recognition.” We also tell them that they should base decisions about what types of livestock they breed on knowledge. We need to strengthen these communities and give them the tools to make their own decisions. We also assist pastoralists in documenting what they have and then we work with lawyers to formulate statements that demand government development in their communities.

How do you attract national or international attention to these issues? We try to raise this issue with different governments. We’ve been able to speak to the governments of Kenya, Botswana, and Uganda. These governments, though, don’t seem to understand the unique position of the pastoralists and where they need to be. Some countries have moved a step forward, though. Kenya, Uganda, and India have developed institutions and ministries that are mandated to address pastoralists. But that has not meant that things have changed in terms of food and conservation. These governments are still focused on settled people. In Tanzania, the situation is even worse. The Tanzanian government says that it is difficult to provide services to pastoralists, since they move around so much, and encourages pastoralists to settle. But, if you settle them and reduce the number of livestock they have, you have a situation in which pastoralists have nothing to do. A lot of them end up destitute.

But we look for ways to ensure that people’s rights are assured. We want to facilitate the market for livestock keepers and figure out how to document their breeds as a way of making the governments pay attention. One of the things communities need to do is set up their rules and demands to their countries and the international community. They need to say what action they think is appropriate for these communities to be respected.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved:
1. Comment on our daily posts-we check comments everyday and look forward to a regular ongoing discussion with you.
2. Receive weekly updates-Sign up for our "Nourishing the Planet" weekly newsletter at the blog by clicking here and receive regular blog and travel updates.

Posted by BorderJump 10:38 Comments (0)

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