BLEANSA: The makings of an evergreen agriculture info hub for Southern Africa

A farmer walks through his distinct gardens: the left side he had incorporated fertilizer tree biomass, Tephrosia, for three years and the right he is yet to start. He does not apply fertiliser nor does he use improved seed on either field. Photo by Godfrey Chisusu/ICRAF

A farmer in Malawi walks through his distinct gardens: on the left side he had incorporated fertilizer tree (Tephrosia) biomass for three years and on the right he has not. He does not apply fertilizer nor does he use improved seed on either field. Photo by Godfrey Chisusu/ICRAF-Malawi

At a session of the recent Beating Famine Southern Africa Conference, Isaac Nyoka, Coordinator of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Southern Africa Node, discussed BLEANSA, short for Building a Large Evergreen Agriculture Network for Southern Africa.

BLEANSA is a network of organizations and innovation platforms aimed at seeing EverGreen Agriculture spread across the region.

“The network reviews experiences gained from past research, refines and optimizes Evergreen agriculture, and distils the experiences into policy recommendations. These recommendations are then shared widely,” said Nyoka.

The network is working to sensitize policy makers to develop policies which facilitate the wide-scale promotion and adoption of EverGreen agriculture and mobilizing extension staff, farmers and other land users and scale-up this type of climate smart farming in Southern Africa.

It is also investigating and piloting alternative farm income streams from trees to optimize the economic, environmental and social outcomes of evergreen agriculture application.

BLEANSA is currently building the research and development (R&D) capacity in EverGreen agriculture of the national institutions in Botswana, South Africa (Limpopo province), Mozambique and Malawi, with intentions to cover the entire Southern African Region.

BLEANSA’s long-term goal is to be an Evergreen agriculture and agroforestry information hub for southern Africa, a goal that will take concerted efforts and coordination to achieve.

According to Joyce Lepetu from College of Agriculture in Botswana, a network member, a lot of information on agroforestry has been produced over the years and is available in manuals, publications, research papers, etc. However, it is not accessible to farmers in formats or through platforms that they can access.

Hamilton Chimala, Deputy Director-Communication at the Department of Agricultural Extension Services, Malawi opined that the region will need to come up with innovative solutions that will avail agricultural information to farmers easily, in their local languages.

“We need to provide farmers with the right tools and knowledge that will help them improve productivity and income on their farms,” Mr. Chimala stated, adding that the Malawi Department of Agricultural Extension Services is currently developing an agroforestry information sharing model that farmers can access through dedicated television and radio channels.

“In Malawi, as in most Southern Africa countries, information on agroforestry is inaccessible or obsolete where available. Farmers are still using knowledge shared 20 years ago, yet new knowledge has been generated to mitigate new challenges, such as climate change, affecting farmers. It is this new knowledge that many smallholder farmers need to access to cushion themselves against effects of climate change and improve their productivity,” said Chilama.

The participants offered some recommendations on growing the BLEANSA network.

  • Firstly, the network must facilitate the development of national agroforestry policies in the member countries; this will place BLEANSA right at the heart of all agroforestry dialogues.
  • Secondly, agroforestry information should be synthesized for easy comprehension by farmers. This will demand innovative ideas and a departure from past thinking. Social networking platforms should be harnessed.
  • Thirdly, the network should broaden its membership to include NGOs, farmer groups, private sector, and the media.
  • Fourthly, the network should also start addressing national and regional initiatives and seek synergies with these.

BLEANSA is funded by the Government of Flanders through the Flemish International Cooperation Agency (FICA). It is managed by a Project Steering Committee, a Technical Advisory Group, and its secretariat is hosted at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Southern Africa office in Lilongwe, Malawi.

Blog by Albert Mwangi

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Twitter: #beatingfamine

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Beating Famine conference tackles food insecurity in Southern Africa

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