The wise use of trees

Patrick Worms, our Senior Science Policy Adviser, is based in Europe and is working especially on building up our Evergreen Agriculture platform. Below he has written a summary of some interesting developments, which are especially apposite given the fact that the “Green Economy” is actually featured in the final Rio+20 document. Patrick writes:

Acacia brevispica pods. Image by the World Agroforestry Centre

FAO State of the Forests Report: Use trees wisely, whether they be in forests or on farms, is the core message contained in the FAO’s newly issued report, “The State of the World’s Forests 2012′. Hundreds of millions depend on trees for food, fruit, fodder, medicine and soil fertility; billions more on the timber and fiber trees produce. And, argues the FAO, if trees are properly managed, they can provide all this and more while restoring land, capturing carbon and reversing biodiversity loss. What’s not to like?

Bangladesh, the FAO survey reveals, has among the world’s lowest rate of forest coverage, at 6.7%. The world’s largest mangroves, found in its delta region, are being cut back. The lack of trees exacerbates the devastating floods this low-lying, densely populated country is exposed to (see here). Yet it need not be this wayPakistan’s Adbul Qadir Shah is a Sindi cotton farmer whose date palm, neem and mango trees allowed him to feed his family, rebuilt the capital stock and cotton crop ruined in last year’s devastating floods, and resume farming (his story is here).

Evidence of trees’ usefulness is also coming from Senegal’s peanut basin, reports The Guardian. That is smack in the Sahel  zone, in the grip of its third drought in a decade. Yet peanut farmer Abdou Sall is cheerful: his trees have shielded him from hunger. “Last year there was lack of rain, but I had fewer problems than others. When it rained, the humidity stayed longer on my fields.” Sall has allowed trees on his fields since 2009, using farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR; protecting tree seedlings and pruning sprouting stumps so they rapidly grow into trees). “I do not need fertiliser now,” says Sall. Der Spiegel agrees, building a detailed profile (in German) of FMNR in this week’s issue around the career of World Vision’s Tony Rinaudo, who developed FMNR in Niger in the 1980s. The figures speak for themselves, argues Der Spiegel: Niger’s FMNR farmers generated a 14 000-tonne cereal surplus, despite the drought. In Mali’s Dogon agroforestry lands, the surplus was even more surprising: 50 000 tonnes.

Now busy introducing FMNR to Ethiopia’s Humbo plateau, Rinaudo has made a huge difference to the life of local farmer Thomas Hera. He has bought himself an oxen, rebuilt his house, and can finally send all his kids to school. “My life has improved dramatically,” says Hera.

How to grow more food is a crucial worry for the bone-dry Gulf states – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Emirates. Salon has a good review of what this has meant over decades, from the now out-of-favour desert farms watered from declining aquifers to today’s huge land deals. A brand new report by the World Agroforesrty Centre’s Frank Place and others sets out how some do land investment right, using agroforestry to manage sustainability and social elements and thus being able to generate higher incomes for all, from smallholders to investors.'

Christopher Mesiku

Chris Mesiku is a science communicator volunteering at the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. In the last 5 years, he has worked as a communicator for various scientific institutions. He holds a Bachelor of Science, Graduate Diploma in Science Communication (ANU) and a Masters in Philosophy of Science (UQ).

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