Let’s green our farms to save the earth, say experts at the Paris COP21

Massive erosion in Ethiopia caused by poor farming practices and tree clearance. Photo/ICRAF

Massive erosion in Ethiopia caused by poor farming practices and tree clearance. Photo/ICRAF

12 million hectares of land are lost globally to degradation and deforestation annually. Africa has not been spared from this destruction, putting at risk food security and livelihoods. A side event hosted by the World Agroforestry Centre at the UN climate conference (Paris COP21) discussed different land restoration initiatives in Africa and the potential they present in improving food security and livelihoods on the continent.

2015 has been an exciting year with the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals in September. Of notable interest is Goal 15 that targets land degradation neutrality by 2030. With 12 million hectares of land lost annually to degradation and deforestation globally

and a growing population that will need food, it is time to take action.

Weeks after the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals, a headway agreement was reached at the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification with targets to combat desertification and restore degraded land and soils by the year 2030. This demonstrates global commitment and goodwill towards the attainment of Goal 15.

Land degradation in Africa

Africa has the world's largest restoration opportunity.

Africa has the world’s largest restoration opportunity.

Africa is facing a massive land degradation challenge particularly affecting regions towards the south. The continent has the world’s largest restoration potential, posing both a challenge and an opportunity.

Various initiatives targeting millions of farmers throughout the continent have commenced in an effort to reverse land degradation.

These include the Africa Restoration Initiative’s 100 million hectare target and the Africa Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance target of reaching 25 farms with climate smart agriculture practices by 2025. Others are Africa Union programme on scaling-up farmer-managed natural regeneration in the drylands, and the COMESA-led EverGreen Fertilizer Subsidies Initiative.

Evergreen agriculture and land restoration

Evergreen agriculture, an agroforestry practice of maintaining green cover on farmlands throughout the year offers a pathway to land restoration. Three types of EverGreen agriculture include farmer-managed natural regeneration of trees, conservation agriculture with trees and conventional agriculture inter-planted with trees.

What is the role of evergreen agriculture in achieving these four initiatives?

There is a connection between land degradation and land rehabilitation, climate change and biodiversity. Land restoration efforts such as agroforestry offer benefits for carbon sequestration, with the potential to contribute to a reduction of up to 25% greenhouse gas emissions, as well as improve food security and create jobs.

Examples of land restoration efforts in Africa

Political commitment towards lands restoration efforts is mounting. Already, Rwanda has created a border-to-border land restoration programme with 80% to be done with farmers using agroforestry systems. Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo have stated their commitments, with other countries expected to join in land restoration efforts at the Paris COP21.

“Some successful land restoration efforts have been registered. For example, the Parkland Reinaissance on Niger Farmlands has taken place over the past odd 20 years,” said Dennis Garrity, Drylands Ambassador of the UNCCD and senior fellow at the World Agroforestry Centre.

Parklands in Niger. By increasing farmers’ incomes, agroforestry can help farmers adapt to climate change. Photo/ICRAF

Parklands in Niger. By increasing farmers’ incomes, agroforestry can help farmers adapt to climate change. Photo/ICRAF

Farmland is now filled with trees selected by farmers and regenerated by seedlings that came up naturally. A significant increase of trees was registered from the period 1975 to 2005. Farmers have done this their own effort using the acacia species of Faidherbia albida that increases soil fertility and create microclimates.

“Expansion of farmer managed natural regeneration has been massively expanded in the croplands of Niger. Five million hectares of land have been restores, with over 200 million trees re-established,” added Garrity.

The Government of Ethiopia is sponsoring a national programme to enable farmer-managed natural regeneration of trees targeting 15 million hectares of degraded land. The practice is also expanding widely in Malawi’s maize fields. At continent level, the Africa Union targets to enable every family to practice farmer-managed natural regeneration of trees.

The COMESA-led Fertilizer Subsidies Programme assists countries in east and southern Africa to scale-up fertilizer tree technologies within their input subsidy programs. For example, in Zambia, nitrogen-fixing trees are incorporated with commercial farming systems, while Malawi has a high density of leguminous trees in the maize system.

A fMalawian armer in his maize field intercropped with trees. Photo ICRAF/Martin Ndipita

A fMalawian armer in his maize field intercropped with trees. Photo ICRAF/Martin Ndipita

The Africa Climate Smart Alliance aims to empower six million farmers by 2021 through various technologies such as agroforestry and evergreen agriculture.

Evergreen agriculture has potential for millions of tons for carbon sequestration in Africa. The land under cultivation has more potential for carbon storage than forests that are already stable.

“If we manage to rehabilitate 12 million hectares of degraded land annually for the next 15 years, we will make a significant contribution to closing the emissions gap. With a small investment, the returns are very high,” said Louise Baker of the UNCCCD at the side event.

Existing knowledge can applied quickly and affordably to the current realities to reach several communities. Organizations with diverse reach can team up to scale-up the rehabilitation of abandoned agricultural land and reach Africa’s target to restore degraded land throughout the continent. This will have a lasting impact on food security and livelihoods.

The EverGreen Agriculture Partnership led by the World Agroforestry Centre, brings together different actors to support information needs, build capacity and generate knowledge to assist nations around the globe to scale up evergreen agriculture.

The event Evergreen Agriculture and Land Restoration was hosted by the World Agroforestry Centre on 2 December from 12:20 -13:50, as part of the Paris COP21.

Also see:

Presentation by Dennis Garrity: Evergreen agriculture and land restoration


Susan Onyango

Susan Onyango is the Global Communications Coordinator at the World Agroforestry Centre and is based at the headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. With over 15 year’s experience in communication, she ensures efficient and effective coordination of communication support to units and regions at ICRAF. She joined ICRAF in 2014 as communications specialist for the Climate Change Unit. Susan holds a MA communication studies and a BA in English. Twitter: @susanonyango

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