Leakey book says ‘trees of life’ could nourish the planet, build wealth

Maize growing under nitrogen fixing Faidherbia albidaA new book by prominent tree biologist and past director of research at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Roger Leakey boldly states that agroforestry might be the ticket out of some of the most vexing issues facing the planet today.

A new book by prominent tree biologist and past director of research at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Roger Leakey boldly states that agroforestry might be the ticket out of some of the most vexing issues facing the planet today.

In Living with the Trees of Life: Towards the Transformation of Tropical Agriculture, Professor Leakey argues that abject rural poverty, food insecurity, land degradation and climate change can all be “relatively easily addressed” through the widespread application of agroforestry, especially in the tropics and sub-tropics. And ‘The Convenient Truth’ he adds, is that we already know that agroforestry works, thanks to over three decades of research.

The publication, released 19 July 2012 by CABI, is based on Leakey’s firsthand experience working with rural farmers in Africa, Asia, Oceania and Latin America, where the devastating effects of environmental degradation, poverty, malnutrition and hunger are most acutely felt.

Leakey says a fresh approach both to food production and the use of natural resources is needed if we are to avoid the food crises expected to touch every country in the world by the middle of this century. How? “We need to rehabilitate degraded land, diversify farming systems and protect watersheds,” he states.

The book presents a three-point action plan to boost food and nutritional security, particularly in the world’s poorest regions. The approach involves tapping into the ecological power of trees to enrich, stabilize and intensify local farming systems. This approach will benefit from for a ‘new wave’ of crop domestication to introduce additional valuable tropical tree species into the farming landscape. The result will be diversified, multifunctional farmlands that better meet people’s food and other tree-product requirements, while at the same time restoring the planet’s ecological balance.

Leakey says agroforestry will not compete with, but rather build on the great progress made in crop and livestock improvement over the last 60 years – and it will correct some of the mistakes of modern agriculture. Done right, one mistake that the new brand of farming with trees could remedy is the marginalization of the poor in the tropics; Leakey is keen that the new business and employment opportunities generated by trees on farms empower local people to lift themselves out of poverty.

ICRAF director-general Professor Tony Simons said Leakey was the perfect author for Living with the Trees of Life. “If there is anyone who has worked on more tropical tree species, in more tropical countries and written more scientific articles on tropical development than Roger Leakey, then we have yet to meet them. So who better to compile this superb compendium of the experiences, ideas and impacts concerning the role of trees in tropical smallholders’ lives?” he says.

About the author:

Professor Roger Leakey is a member of the celebrated East African Leakey family of natural historians, paleontologists and environmentalists. He is currently vice chairman of the International Tree Foundation and vice president of the International Society of Tropical Foresters.  He worked with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) as director of research from 1993-1997, then went on to serve as head of tropical ecology at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Edinburgh, UK, and as professor at James Cook University in Australia.

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Daisy Ouya

Daisy Ouya is a science writer and communications specialist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Over the past 15 years she has been packaging and disseminating scientific knowledge in the fields of entomology, agriculture, health, HIV/AIDS research, and marine science. Daisy is a Board-certified Editor in the Life Sciences (bels.org) and has a Masters’ degree in chemistry from the University of Connecticut, USA. Her BSc is from the University of Nairobi in her native Kenya. She has worked as a journal editor, science writer, publisher, and communications strategist with various organizations. She joined ICRAF in July 2012. Twitter: @daisyouya

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