Beating Famine Conference seeks a bold vision for Southern Africa

Hon. Dr Allan Chiyembezkeza, Minister of Agriculture, Malawi, opened the conference. Photo by Daisy Ouya/ICRAF

Hon. Dr Allan Chiyembezkeza, Minister of Agriculture, Malawi, opened the conference. Photo by Daisy Ouya/ICRAF

More than 400 participants from 38 countries are gathered in Malawi’s capital Lilongwe on the opening day of the Beating Famine Southern Africa conference, a four-day event that is tackling the region’s widespread crisis of land degradation.

“What we do here will be remembered as the launching pad for many new partnerships, initiatives, programs, projects, and action plans to reverse the alarming trends in land degradation in southern Africa,” said Dr. Dennis Garrity, UN Drylands Ambassador and Senior Fellow at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), in the conference’s opening session on Tuesday, 14 April 2015.

“Southern Africa has been experiencing an alarming downward trend in land degradation over the past 25 years,” he added. “The real issue is assisting the rural poor to increase their own productivity, so they can grow more for the family and sell more on the market to purchase their basic needs.”

Dr Dennis Garrity, UNCCD and ICRAF, makes a keynote speech at the opening session. photo by D. Ouya/ICRAF

Dr Dennis Garrity, UNCCD and ICRAF, makes a keynote speech at the opening session. Photo by D. Ouya/ICRAF

The Beating Famine conference, which will go through 17 April, aims to spread the word about conservation agriculture, agroforestry, and other sustainable farming techniques that can put an end to Southern Africa’s land degradation crisis. Co-hosted by ICRAF and World Vision Australia, Beating Famine is bringing together scientists, government officials, farmers, and civil society representatives from more than 100 organizations across the region and around the world.

In addition to Garrity, the conference’s opening session also featured remarks by Tony Rinaudo of World Vision Australia; Grace Malinidi, the former Director of Agricultural Extension for Malawi and Advisor at UN Women.

The Honourable Dr. Allan Chiyembezkeza, Malawi’s Minister of Agriculture, was chief guest and opened the conference.

The speakers addressed the many challenges facing farmers in Southern Africa: soil fertility is declining, rainfall is becoming more erratic, temperatures are rising, and inorganic fertilizers are becoming riskier and more expensive to use. At the same time, population growth rates remain very high.

“Reports have shown that between 1990 and 2005, Malawi lost nearly 13% of its total forest cover due to fuelwood collection as well as the expansion of agricultural land,” Dr. Chiyembezkeza, a scientist who previously worked as a researcher within the CGIAR, told those assembled for the opening session.

“Here in Malawi we started a program on the farmer-managed natural regeneration of trees. It is an indigenous movement and it is gaining momentum, regenerating perhaps millions of trees across the environment… It is my expectation that this conference will come up with the solutions to upscale the implementation of this system in Malawi and the region,” the minister added. “The success of this conference will be manifested at the community level.”

Farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR) is a major theme of the conference, alongside conservation agriculture, agroforestry, and other sustainable and scalable ways to help smallholder farmers boost their productivity and build their resilience to climate change.

“Do we have to wait until the last tree is cut down, all the wildlife disappear, the rivers dry up and the soil blows away and people suffer before we act? I think not,” Tony Rinaudo of World Vision Australia told the conference.

“We do not have to wait until people are dying, before adopting FMNR and the suite of low-cost, sustainable approaches to landscape management to be presented at this conference.”

—By Paige McClanahan

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Twitter: #beatingfamine


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