It’s more than about trees at the World Agroforestry Centre

(From left to right) Frank, Dennis Garrity, Danielle Nierenberg, Delia, Melusa, and Bernard Pollack

(From left to right) Dr. Frank Place, Dr. Dennis Garrity, Danielle Nierenberg, Dr. Delia Catacutan, Dr. Maimbo Malesu, and Bernard Pollack.

This is the second in a two-part series about my visit to the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi, Kenya.

I’m always excited to meet with researchers who are passionate about their work. Dr. Dennis Garrity, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre, assembled three members of his team to meet with me last week to talk about some of the innovations the Centre is helping support in Africa.

Dr. Maimbo Malesu, the director of Water Management Research, described the Centre’s work on water. “One of the biggest challenges in Africa,” says Maimbo, “is the lack of rainwater harvesting.” Many countries, he says, are only utilizing 2 to 5 percent of their rainwater potential. To help reverse this, the World Agroforestry Centre is helping train farmers and agricultural extension officers in places like Rwanda to build lined ponds that can catch and store rainwater. In 2007, there were just 65 of these demonstration ponds in Rwanda; now there are more than 400.

About 40 kilometers outside of Nairobi, the Centre is working with UNEP on a multidisciplinary project that incorporates water storage tanks, agroforestry, more efficient stoves, and microfinance projects to help communities deal with water shortages, deforestation, fuel shortages, and lack of credit for women.

Dr. Frank Place, an economist and head of impact assessment, explained the World Agroforestry Centre’s research on fertilizer trees—leguminous trees and shrubs that are grown along with or before or after crops—can improve soil, increase yields, and eliminate the need for artificial fertilizers. In some places, intercropping fertilizer trees with crops can be most beneficial for farmers who want to add nutrients to maize and other crops that need fertilizer, while in other areas indigenous trees that shed their nitrogen-rich leaves during the rainy season are the best way of increasing yields.

In addition, Dr. Place explained how fodder shrubs can help increase milk production in Kenya. There are nearly two million small dairy farmers in the country and lack of high quality food is their biggest challenge. And concentrated grain feeds are too expensive for most producers. But growing nitrogen-fixing fodder shrubs can provide a nutritious—and inexpensive—feed that helps dairy producers increase their income. Five hundred shrubs can feed a cow for a whole season and increase daily milk production by one to two liters a day, which, says Dr. Place, results in an additional income of $USD .50 per day and $USD 100 per year.

Dr. Delia Catacutan, a social scientist, is working with the Centre and Landcare International to help farmer and community groups work together to decide how land should be managed. In Uganda, Land Care has helped 40 different community-based organizations to negotiate and access services from the government. In addition, they’ve helped with conflict resolution and eased the tension between farming and wildlife. “Innovations,” Dr. Catacutan said, “don’t walk by themselves.” But by helping farmers work together and giving them a greater voice in decision-making, agricultural innovations such as agroforestry, are more likely to spread, as well as raise farmer income and protect the environment.

Stay tuned for more stories about how agroforestry can help improve food security in Africa.

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