Evergreen, Nipa and ‘push-pull’ presented at global innovations forum 2015

Mangrove palms Nypa fruticans. Photo courtesy of Craig Jaimeson/ICRAF

Mangrove palms Nypa fruticans. Photo courtesy of Craig Jaimeson/ICRAF

Agriculture as practiced in most parts of the world today will simply not feed a human population of 9 billion by 2050. Innovation in food production is needed, and it needs to be adopted on a wide scale.

Indeed, the purpose of the ongoing Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture (GFIA) 2015 has been to bring together global leaders, policy makers, researchers, manufacturers and community leaders to showcase and discuss the best agricultural innovations.The high-profile event was opened with keynote speeches by HH Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al-Nayan of the United Arab Emirates, HRH King George Rukidi IV of Toro, Uganda, HRH Charles, the Prince of Wales,  and US Vice President John Kerry.

The agricultural innovations needed will necessarily raise productivity and water-use efficiency of crops, while protecting the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from farming.

Dr. Dennis Garrity facilitates GFIA  agroforestry innovation session, 9 March 2015, Abu Dhabi. Photo by Daisy Ouya/ICRAF

Dr. Dennis Garrity facilitates GFIA agroforestry innovation session, 9 March 2015, Abu Dhabi. Photo by Daisy Ouya/ICRAF

At a GFIA Innovators Session on agroforestry, organized by Dr Dennis Garrity, Senior Fellow at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), several such innovations were presented. These low-cost and highly effective innovations promise higher crop yields, healthier soils and higher incomes for farmers, particularly the poorest smallholders in the developing world. The innovations also contribute to climate resilience for people and the planet.

Southeast Asia

Craig Jamieson, Agroforestry Scientist with ICRAF-Philippines presented an ongoing study on the mangrove palm nipa, Nypa fruticans, which has been tapped since antiquity for its sugary sap in the Philippines. The palm is a very efficient converter of solar energy to sugar and has excellent water and nutrient use efficiency, thanks to its deep roots.

Nypa fruticans sap, which contains 10-20% sugar, readily converts to ethanol, and is used to produce food products and also fed to livestock. It is ideal for generate energy production, yielding 12,000 litres of ethanol per hectare, double that of sugar cane. Using Nypa fruticans is an evergreen innovation that is is low input, suitable for smallholders and Climate-smart, said Jamieson.

He outlined the research needs for Nypa fruticans, which includ developing technologies to reduce the (labour) cost of tapping; designing methods of stabilizing the sap to avoid fermentation; demonstrating nipa cultivatio in agroforestry systems; and identify a suitable protein source for co-feeding to livestock together with nipa.

Agustin Mercado Senior Agroforestry Scientist, with ICRAF-Philippines, spoke on the results of an agroforestry system known as Conservation Agriculture with Trees (CAT) in the Tropical Uplands of the Philippines and Southeast Asia.

This research has found that CAWT landscapes were more resilient than monocultures to extreme weather events like typhoons. Furthermore, they produced more crop per hectare.

“By incorporating the tropical forage Arachis pintoi into annual crops, a farmer can harvest can harvest 5,250 kg/ha of fresh herbage at 21-day pruning intervals. This can support 4-6 cows,” said Mercado.

Other climate-smart practices being scaled up in the region, he added, include rainwater harvesting through animal built embankment; vegetable agroforestry, and composting to make organic fertilizer.

“Government, non-government organizations and private companies should address the barriers to CAT research and development,” said Mercado.


Isaac Nyoka's conclusions on Evergreen agriculture. GFIA 2015. Photo by Daisy Ouya/ICRAF

Isaac Nyoka’s conclusions on Evergreen agriculture. GFIA 2015. Photo by Daisy Ouya/ICRAF

Isaac Nyoka, a researcher with ICRAF Malawi, presented on long-term trials of an agroforestry system involving maize and the nitrogen fixing shrub Gliricidia sepium in Malawi.

With this evergreen agroforestry system, farmers can double maize yields, and also do away with the need for large amounts of mineral fertilizers,” said Nyoka.

Using field data, Nyoka argued that the Malawi government could reach double the farmers with its fertilizer subsidy programme, if it promoted the use of Gliricidia trees on maize farms to supplement fertilizer.

He said agroforestry was no more labour-intensive than any other landcare system that farmers may use.


Dale Lewis, Founder and President of Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO) in Zambia, presented the results of Gliricidia agroforestry, a system that is yielding food, fuel and bringing livelihood benefits to arout 100,000 small farmers in Zambia. With extension and practical support from COMACO, these farmers have integrated millions of trees on their farms. COMACO also purchases, processes and markets an array of natural healthy food products from their produce of these farmers, paying them good prices.

Lewis said a farmer can produce enough fuelwood for 4-5 months from a quarter acre of land planted with maize and Gliricidia sepium. This saves the natural environment from destruction, and protects wildlife, one of the key values of COMACO.

“If you want to conserve elephants, work with small farmers to increase crop yields,” said Lewis.

The Sahel

Richard Dick, Professor of Soil Microbiology at Ohio State University, presented results of studies on shrub rhizospheres to increase crop productivity and stability in the Sahel.

Dick and colleagues found that incorporating the leguminous shrub Guiera senegalensis into farms produces dramatic improvements in millet yields in the Peanut Basin, Senegal. The agroforestry system, furthermore, improves water usage, and increases soil organic matter and nutrient availability. The shrubs, furthermore, behave like a valve in the soil.

“Shrubs do hydraulic lift – during night when photosynthesis stops, water keeps moving up through roots because of low water potential in the surface and high water potential in the subsoil,” explained Dick.

“When there is excess rain or water, shrubs facilitate drainage and recharge the ground water; when it is dry they pump water up and when it is too wet they put water into sub soil.”

East and West Africa

Zeyaur Khan, Senior Scientist with the International Centre for Insect Physiology (ICIPE) in Kenya, described the “climate-smart ‘push-pull’”, an innovative pest management technology that uses a repellent intercrop and an attractive trap plant in a particular arrangement on farms.

Insect pests are repelled from the food crop and are simultaneously attracted to the trap crop. The repellent crop also attracts natural enemies. This protects the crop from insect attack without the use of chemical pesticides.

“Push-pull effectively controls striga weed and stemborers, and improves soil fertility. Over 96,000 farmers have adopted the technology in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Somaliland and Nigeria,” said Khan.

Sixty percent of adopters are women farmers, because of its ease of use,” he added.

Innovations such as those presented in the Agroforestry Session at the GFIA are among the techniques that if scaled up, will give us a real chance of feeding the world’s growing population with minimum further damage to the environment.

They will also help us look after Earth’s more precious resource—water.

Related story:

Landscape restoration talks at global innovations forum, GFIA 2015

See innovations  at the GFIA website

See photos from GFIA 2015

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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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