By Chris Mesiku and Yvonne Otieno
The question that was on everyone’s mind as soon as the Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre announced the phrase was how can anyone be a profit to their own land? He was speaking at the opening of the Beating Famine Conference which aimed at addressing food security through land regeneration. His phrase captured the idea of helping farmers to be a profit to their own land by equipping them with sustainable means of farming. Indeed as Rio+20 draws near, sustainable agriculture is a phrase that is also on the mind of many policymakers, funding bodies and government representatives. A growing number of stakeholders are realizing the crucial role trees play within the new climate smart agriculture.
Dr. Charles Owubah, Regional Leader of World Vision East Africa, Reverend Tim Costello, CEO World Vision Australia and Dr. Tony Simons, World Agroforestry Centre’s Director General, who were keynote speakers during the opening session of the conference, which was jointly sponsored by World Vision Australia and World Agroforestry Centre, all touched on the importance of eliminating famine through sustainable agriculture.
The conference whose theme was Beating Famine; Sustainable Food Security through Land Regeneration in a Changing Climate focused on practical, low-cost and proven techniques to reverse land degradation and deforestation, lift incomes, adapt to and mitigate against climate change and ultimately prevent famine.
The first speaker began and ended with the message that a rapid and cost effective way of regenerating African landscapes is needed. “When forests go, the water goes carrying with it soil fertility leading to famine and drought,” said Dr. Owubah.
He explained how World Vision implemented Africa’s first community-based forest regeneration where it helped plant 1 million trees in Ethiopia. He was emphasizing the important role World Vision plays in keeping trees on landscapes by using a number of techniques including the Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) process.
During his opening address, Tony Simons added to this by emphasizing the importance of beating famine by putting in place sustainable systems such as agroforestry that can help increase food productivity. He underscored the challenges needed to achieve this goal by stating that, “In the next 40 years, we have to produce as much food as we produced in the last thousands of years.”
“Most of this food will have to be produced by smallholder farmers who are mostly women,” Tony added. He also made it clear that producing so much food requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders, stressing the importance of working together to find lasting solutions to famine.
“We must accept and recognize that governments, civil society organizations and research institutions need to work together to achieve the goal of beating hunger,” he said. Tony was alluding to the importance of the Centre’s partnership with World Vision and other organizations in the realization of sustainable food security solutions.
Dr. Tony Simons outlined six ways through which the Centre contributes to meeting the challenge of food security. These include production of the needed tools and appropriate farming methods, providing robust evidence to drive policy and to support private investors willing to invest in sustainable agriculture, capacity building, proof of application through scaling up and playing the role of convening and facilitating different stakeholders.
“We must provide actionable knowledge that NGOs, farmers and the private sector can use,” said Tony. He revealed that over its many years of research specialization into trees on farms, the Centre is now actively pursuing what he called the “proof of application” process. The process explores ways to upscale proven research findings from small demonstration farms to larger farms comprising millions of farmers with millions of hectares.
Tony also outlined how evergreen agriculture comprising FMNR and other techniques can transform landscapes and buffer smallholder farmers against droughts and famine.
Dr. Wilson Songa, Agricultural Secretary, from the Ministry of Agriculture in Kenya stated how only 17% of total land in Kenya is viable for agriculture. To increase this percentage, he noted that, “We need to encourage the private sector to participate more in getting farmers to achieve the proposed 10% tree cover in agricultural landscapes through agroforestry developments.”
Dr. Songa expressed his support for what the Centre was doing saying, “Farmers need more indigenous tree species to plant but for them, seedlings are hard to find. Research organizations like the World Agroforestry Centre help to make appropriate seedlings available.”
A similar point was raised by Reverend Tim Costello who said, “FMNR gives hope to those on the verge of despair and hope opens ways of finding new synergies.” He was calling on conference participants to be proactive in lobbying policymakers and funding bodies to support sustainable food security through low-cost and high-impact land regeneration.
In his parting shot, Tony rallied conference participants to work together to come up with viable ways of beating famine. “All deliberations should aim to lead to actionable conclusions at the end of the conference.” Playing on the biblical phrase found in John 4:44, he concluded that, “At the end of the day, the hope is for rural farmers to be profits to their own lands.”
The three-day conference continues with presentations by high-level delegates, as well field trips and demonstrations. Participants will also be encouraged to develop action plans for their country or region.
A demonstration of Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) will be conducted by FMNR pioneer Tony Rinaudo on Friday, April 13th in Kijabe, Kenya. FMNR has helped make great advances for the food security and economic sustainability of farmers in eight countries across Africa and three in Asia.