Catalyzing adoption of trees for food security in southern Africa: Some lessons from eastern Africa

Groundnuts and trees on a farm in Kwindanguwo Village, Dowa, Malawi. Photo by D. Ouya/ICRAF

Groundnuts and trees on a farm in Kwindanguwo Village, Dowa, Malawi. Photo by D. Ouya/ICRAF

The importance of trees to farming systems in sub-Saharan Africa cannot be overstated. Challenges of soil degradation, low use of inputs like inorganic fertilizers, population pressure, poor agricultural practices and climate change have negatively impacted on food security in Southern Africa countries.

Agroforestry is one climate-smart technology that offers an effective solution to land degradation. Agroforestry solutions, besides, can provide a source of income (from the sale of tree products or wood) and improve of crop yields on farms (through improving the soil).

In Malawi the Agroforestry for Food Security (AFSP) project, which started in 2007, aims at bringing positive impact on the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in the southern, central and northern regions of Malawi.

The big question that arises is how to increase the adoption of agroforestry solutions and natural resource management interventions in crop production systems in Southern Africa?

These were the discussion points for a Trees for food security session on the first day of the Beating Famine conference. The session was chaired by Catherine Muthuri and Isaac Nyoka of ICRAF with presentations from Jonathan Muriuki, Jeanne Coulibaly, Joyce Njoloma and Patricia Masikati, also of ICRAF.

The case of Eastern Africa

According to Jonathan Muriuki, 81% percent of Eastern Africa is dryland with both rainfed and irrigated agriculture. Evergreen agriculture is an intervention being implemented in Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania. Evergreen agriculture is an intensive farming system that integrates trees with annual crops, maintaining a green cover on the land throughout the year. In Machakos in Kenya, ICRAF has built the capacity of smallholder farmers in accessing evergreen agriculture practises through establishing demonstration plots at farmers training centers and training of farmers through four different approaches – government extension, farmers field schools, landcare and volunteer farmer trainers. This has led to successes such as increase in tree biomass, raised yields and higher farmers’ capacity to diagnose natural resource management issues.

Partnerships are key to sustainability, while encouraging co-learning and interdisciplinary studies, including participatory trials that involve working closely with farmers.

According to Catherine Muthuri, recommendations for trees on farm need to consider context. “There is no silver bullet for adoption. Whatever works for Ethiopia may not necessarily work for Malawi,” she told the forum.

“For example, the impetus for adoption for trees on farm in Ethiopia was not soil fertility; it was fodder for livestock and firewood.”

—Blog by Albert Mwangi


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