Only out of the box practices can ‘green’ Africa
By Isaiah Esipisu
As the curtains close for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a top agroforestry expert Dr. Dennis Garrity, has urged African farmers, experts and leaders to consider out-of-the-box practices to keep the continent green.
“Food per capita production in Africa has been declining since 1960s, yet population is increasing each year. Farm sizes are now rapidly declining. This means that there is a perfect storm of further challenges other than just climate change,” said Dr Garrity, the Distinguished Board of Research Fellow and the former Director General at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).
Prof Garrity was speaking at a side event alongside the Rio +20 conference organized by the United Nations and the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
He said that Africa must find extra ordinary agricultural solutions, since it was no longer ‘business as usual.’
“To save the situation, African agriculture must be transformed in the coming decades. With a population burgeoning to 1.8 billion people, at least twice as much food must be produced per year by 2050 to avoid wide spread starvation,” said Prof Garrity.
In Kenya for example, a team of 3000 households, all residents of Yatta in Eastern part of the country have managed to pull themselves out of hunger despite the drought in the semi-arid region.
In a movement known as Operation Mwolyo (food aid) Out (OMO), the farmers are using out-of-the-box practices to solve their problems. As a result, in the past two years, they have become food secure, where they are now exporting high value agricultural products to the outside world.
“We are using both ordinary and extraordinary methods of farming to extradite the ‘alien’ food-aid from our community. But most importantly, we first put any new method on trials, then modify them to fit local situations,” said Dr Bishop Titus Masika, the founder of the Christian Impact Mission, which is spearheading the OMO initiative.
Instead of planting maize seeds in a furrow land as it has been a tradition, farmers in Yatta first plant the seeds in a nursery (for easy watering), and transplant them later to Zai-pits. (Zai pits are square holes about two feet wide and a foot deep, filled with a mixture of manure and top soil. When it rains or rather when the pit is watered, experts say it can retain water for as long as two weeks. This is a technology borrowed from Burkina Faso).
“EverGreen agriculture is emerging as an affordable and accessible science-based solution to regenerate land on small scale farms, and to increase family food production and cash income,” said Dr Garrity.
In this practice, farmers must plant both perennial and annual species consisting of trees and food crops. This according to experts, increases the soul fertility, retains moisture in the soil thus building the resilience of the farm enterprise to a variety of shocks – particularly in the changing climatic conditions.
“Millions of women and men farmers in Zambia, Malawi, Niger, Burkina Faso, and other countries are practicing the EverGreen agriculture. As a result, they are successfully restoring their exhausted soils with richer sources of organic nutrients, and dramatically increasing their crop yields and income,” Prof Garity told delegates at the Rio +20 conference.
Some of the most promising results according to the expert are coming from the integration of the trees that help in nitrogen fixation into cropping systems. “Such trees improve the soil by drawing nitrogen from the air and transferring it to the soil through their leave litter and roots,” said Prof Garrity.
For several years, scientists have been evaluating a variety of trees suitable for nitrogen fixation, and they found out that Caliandra, Sesbania, Yephrosia and Gricidia were some of the best placed trees for improving soil fertility.
The indigenous African acacia has also been found to be another good tree integrated in many African farming systems.
“African farmers must wake up and face the reality, or face a perfect storm of challenges just ahead,” warned Dr Garrity.
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Isaiah Esipisu is a freelance journalist who was contracted by ICARF to write this story.
Editing and additional links compiled by Yvonne Otieno