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Reforestation, Agroforestry Key to Stopping Cycle of Famine & Drought in Africa’s Horn

September 28, 2011 |

To prevent the recurrence of famine that continues to threaten millions in the Horn of Africa, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research’s (CGIAR) forestry experts say that steps must be taken to restore and conserve dryland forests, plant trees on small farms and harvest them for food, fodder and fertilizer.

Governments and International aid agencies continue to try to alleviate pain and suffering in the Horn of Africa, as the effects of devastating drought exacerbate other food security problems — ecological, political, religious and economic — across the region.  To help them achieve these aims, the CGIAR is working to help restore the natural resources and ecosystem services upon which people living in Somalia, Ethiopia and neighboring countries depend.

Deforestation and other types of land degradation “have done far more than the drought to turn vast areas of once grazable and farmable land into a lunar-like landscape,” according to a CGIAR press release.

“Forests and trees frequently form the basis of livelihood diversification, risk-minimization and coping strategies, especially for the most vulnerable households such as those led by women,” said Frances Seymour, director general of the CGIAR’s Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

“However, deforestation and land degradation have hindered capacities to cope with disasters and adapt to climate variability and change in the long-term.”

Recent research carried out by CIFOR across 25 countries around the world has shown that forests are a crucial defense against poverty.  CIFOR’s research team found that forests account for approximately 25% of household income for people living in or near them.

Forests, including dryland forest, not only help soils retain moisture and nutrients and protection from wind erosion, but are also sources of food, fuel and raw materials.

“There is a mistaken view that because these are dry areas, they are destined to provide little in the way of food and are simply destined to endure frequent famines,” said Dennis Garrity, director general of the World Agroforestry Centre. “But drylands can and do support significant crop and livestock production. In fact, the famine we are seeing today is mainly a product of neglect, not nature.”

Forestry experts are calling on and working with governments as well as aid organizations to increase investment in proven reforestation and agroforestry methods and techniques in the Horn of Africa. A number of effective projects are already underway in the region and across the continent.

CGIAR cites the example of a program launched in Niger in 1983 that has transformed 5 million hectares (~12.35 million acres) of barren land into agroforests.  When drought affected Niger in 2005, those farmers who were practicing agroforestry were able to sell trees for timber in order to buy food.  They also supplemented their diets with fruits, leaves and nuts harvested from the drought-resistant trees.

In Ethiopia, local farmers and agroforestry specialists are carrying out the Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) project, which aims to restore around 2,700 hectares (~6,670 acres) of degraded land by planting trees whose wood and other products can be sold on local markets.  For reference, Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration involves selecting and pruning stems that grow from the stumps of previously felled, but still living trees.

In Zambia, Niger, Malawi, Kenya, Tanzania, and Burkina Faso so-called “fertilizer” trees that capture nitrogen from the atmosphere and transfer it to the soil are being planted on farmland.

“We need to pay far more attention to the role of forests and trees to serve both as protectors of productive farm lands and as ways to sustainably and substantially increase food security in the Horn,” said Lloyd Le Page, CEO of the CGIAR Consortium.

Le Page “sees the food crisis in the region as a call to action for agricultural innovation.” He noted that CGIAR’s intensified focus on the link between forests and food security is part of a wider effort to approach farms as agriculture ecosystems that depend upon and contribute to the health of broader landscapes.


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