A multifunctional landscape containing a large number of different crops
A practical, appropriate and effective solution to Africa’s food and nutritional insecurity has alluded everyone for over 100 years1. Since colonial days, conventional thinking has been based on the misconception that what works in temperate latitudes must work in the tropics and sub-tropics. This thinking fails to understand the very different biophysical, social and economic conditions in these different regions. There are two critical issues here: firstly, hundreds of millions of smallholder households live in severe poverty and so are unable to purchase the essential technical inputs needed to cultivate monocultures of staple food crops. Consequently, the soils become increasingly degraded and infertile – trapping farmers in hunger and poverty2.
Secondly, the practice of high-input, intensive monocultures of these crops sees trees as a hindrance to cultivation – which should be removed – rather than as a natural resource to be nurtured. This flawed thinking fails to recognize that trees play a keystone role both ecologically and socially, especially in the tropics and sub-tropics. Trees in the diverse and fragile ecology of Africa, are critically important for the maintenance of soil fertility and agroecosystem health. Additionally, they are the source of culturally-important food and non-food products greatly appreciated and widely used by local people3.
This story was first published on www.elsevier.com