Farmers in sub-Saharan Africa Regenerate Land to Beat Famine

By Elizabeth Kahurani, ASB Communications

Maize grown in Zai-pits in Yatta, one of sites for the field trip during the Beating Famine Conference

At the opening of Beating Famine: Sustainable Food Security through Land Regeneration in a Changing Climate conference in Nairobi, participants heard that land degradation is a major factor responsible for increased frequency of drought spells in sub-Saharan Africa. The drivers are many and varied. For example, it was noted that 80% of farmers in Africa own less than 2 hectares of land, making it impossible for them to fallow to allow soil fertility. In addition, the price of fertilizer is high and unaffordable for most farmers. But is there a way out?

The afternoon parallel session on Land regeneration for climate change adaptation offered a glimmer of hope with a showcase of natural resource management (NRM) techniques and innovations that farmers across sub-Saharan Africa are using to regenerate degraded land and enhance food security.

In Ethiopia, communities have been mobilized to implement watershed management and water harvesting systems which have resulted in more than 80% of the farming communities gaining access to reliable water supply for irrigation. Other activities initiated include gully management, natural forest and area enclosure management, new plantation and agroforestry; all of which have yielded significant production levels in a short span of time. The Northern Tigray region of the country is one of the highly drought prone areas facing rapid land degradation and depletion of natural resources. However, NRM practices have turned this semi-arid region into an oasis.

For instance, the area under irrigation in 1996 was estimated to be 11,673 hectares but with NRM, the irrigation coverage area shot up to 125,558 hectares by 2003. The yield also increased up from 67,358 to 18,000,000 quintals within the same period. With slides illustrating photos of the landscape before and after the various interventions, Belete Tafere representing Ethiopia government at the conference said that farmers in Tigray now not only have enough food to eat but they also have a wide variety of nutritional foods to choose from and they even export to other countries.

“The case of Tigray can only prove that, when the effort and work is great, the land is honest and paying!” He added.

In Kenya, World Vision is working with farmers to implement technologies that reinforce water harvesting in the Arid and Semi-arid Lands (ASALs). These include Subsoilers which break the hardpan formed as a result of frequent oxen ploughing. Breaking the hardpan improves water infiltration into the soil for use by crops. Others are on farm water reservoirs that harvest run-off water; Zai-pits and sunken beds -well fertilized holes with deeply loosened soil for intense farming with high yields from a small land area.

These, combined with organic farming that involves planting of drought tolerant food crops such as Sorghum, Millets, Cowpeas, Pigeon peas and Green-grams are helping to regenerate land in the Kenya ASALs. Lawrence Kiguro, who is working on the project also talked of other mitigation measures being undertaken in the area such as the introduction of energy saving cooking stoves.

It is also important to note that the Kenya government has put in place policy measures and strategies to help recover forest cover.

“Currently, the implementation of the 10% rule for forest cover in all agricultural land is underway,” said Ben Chikamai of the Kenya Forest Research Institute (KEFRI) during the session.

One of the KEFRI projects is based at the arid Northeastern part of the country where the institute is working with farmers to promote agroforestry and a good example of this are farms where cowpeas are intercropped with Melia Volkensii tree.

Pastoralism is an area often ignored but critical in efforts to adapt and mitigate climate change. According to Constance Neely of the World Agroforestry Center, grazing lands make up 40% of Kenya’s total land area and therein lies a huge potential to mitigate climate change as dry land grazing systems under sustainable grazing practices can sequester 0.05 – 0.7 Tonnes of carbon per hectare per year.

“Good grassland management practices are those that also improve soil carbon sequestration. Carbon sequestration is inhibited by loss of groundcover, bare fallows, burning and continuous grazing,” Constance noted.

“Biomass burning from the savannas contributes 42% of gross carbon dioxide to global emissions, ” She added.

To help pastoralists cope with daunting climatic and natural resource challenges, Susan Karimi of World Vision explained the importance of giving communities control over the management of existing resources, providing them with alternative livelihoods and extending rigorous research, extension services for pastoral systems which include providing these communities with fodder varieties.

Towards the end of the session, discussions among participants highlighted the need for putting in place strong government policies and extensive networks that ensure best practices are scaled up to national and regional levels.

Click link for more on fodder crops and how agroforestry is helping to improve the lives of small scale dairy farmers in East Africa.

See related articles

Upcoming Beating Famine Conference set to encourage Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration

Be a profit in your own land

Land regeneration for food security 

Edited by Yvonne Otieno

Yvonne Otieno Yvonne Otieno

Yvonne works as Communications Officer at the World Agroforestry Centre. She has 11 years’ experience in communication, writing, editing, and media management and is a social media enthusiast. Yvonne has a Diploma in Broadcast Journalism from the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication and a Degree in Journalism and Media Studies (Development Communication) from the University of Nairobi, and is an active member of the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK). She is currently undertaking a Masters in Development Communication

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Farmers in sub-Saharan Africa Regenerate Land to Beat Famine
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