Posts Tagged ‘Agroforestry’

Sep22

Innovation of the Week: A Low-Cost Composting Toilet

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By Sarah Alvarez

Across the Asia-Pacific region, millions of people have inadequate access to sustainable sanitation infrastructure—in other words, they don’t have a safe and sanitary place to go to the bathroom. In the Philippines alone, 28 million people do not have access to the sanitation services needed to prevent contamination and disease. As a result, millions of people suffer from preventable diseases like dysentery.

Low-cost composting toilets can improve sanitation in less developed areas. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

The Water, Agroforestry, Nutrition and Development Foundation (WAND), a Philippine-based organization focused on eco-based solutions to human development challenges, has developed a low-cost composting toilet called Ecosan (Ecological Sanitation) that uses local materials to minimize water contamination and create fertilizers from human waste.

The WAND Foundation has developed several dry composting toilet models, some of which were recognized at the 2011 Tech Awards at Santa Clara University. At the conference, Cora Zayas-Sayre, executive director of the WAND Foundation, explained that by using local materials, the organization has been able to build 275 toilets at a cost of US$30 per toilet. She added that this innovation has already impacted the lives of 3,000 people.

This innovation simultaneously addresses two challenges that prevail in developing countries: the unsustainable and costly use of water-sealed toilets, and the hygienic management of human waste. Water-sealed toilets require pumping mechanisms to transport water and sewage between 300 and 500 meters away from the home, a method that is economically and environmentally unsustainable. Inadequate management of human waste can lead to a host of health problems in developing areas, and dramatically impact quality of life.

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Mar11

Argan Oil: Too Much of a Good Thing?

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By Carol Dreibelbis

Most people have heard of the health benefits of using olive oil instead of butter or other saturated animal fats. The monounsaturated fats in olive oil have been shown to reduce levels of harmful cholesterol, and as a result nutrition experts have touted it and other aspects of the Mediterranean Diet as heart healthy.

Photo Credit: Jane Alexander

But olive oil isn’t the only celebrated oil from that region of the world. In Morocco, argan oil has been consumed by the Berber people for centuries. Berbers add the deep yellow, toasty-flavored oil to couscous, serve it alongside bread, or eat it on its own. Argan oil has been shown to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, and recent research by France’s Institut Pasteur, Morocco’s Lipoproteins and Atherosclerosis Research Laboratory, and others suggests that it might contribute to the prevention of various cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes.

Beyond the health benefits of consuming argan oil, there are also important environmental benefits associated with its production. The same deep root systems that make argan trees well adapted to heat and frequent drought in southwestern Morocco also protect the land against soil erosion and desertification. Meanwhile, argan trees provide shade and protection for crops or pastureland, presenting opportunities for agroforestry.

Arguably, however, the most noteworthy impact of argan oil production is social. This rare oil has captivated a global audience, primarily because of its use in cosmetics. As a result, market prices have been on the rise (making it the most expensive edible oil in the world), and argan oil producers—largely local Moroccan women—have been reaping the benefits.

Because the process of extracting argan oil is extremely labor intensive (it can take 50 kilograms of seeds to produce just half a liter of oil), the women who produce it by hand are frequently part of production co-operatives, such as the UCFA (Union des Cooperatives des Femmes de l’Arganeraie). Founded in 1999, this innovative co-operative produces and markets argan oil and is supported by the Moroccan government as both a conservation and development strategy. Today, the UCFA unites 22 smaller women’s co-operatives. The women who make up these groups gain status, a steady income, and, in some cases, an education through their work.

Yet the argan oil boom has been a double-edged sword. Argan trees and the area in which they grow are threatened by overuse and deforestation. A study by the University of California, Davis finds that “the boom has predictably made households vigilant guardians of fruit on the tree, but it has not incited investments in longer term tree and forest health.” While the development of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Morocco is a step in the right direction, it will be both economically and environmentally critical for the same non-governmental groups, development agencies, and government offices that supported argan oil production in the first place to keep sustainability in mind.

Carol Dreibelbis is a research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet Project.

 

Dec04

Supporting Climate-Friendly Food Production

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By Laura Reynolds

This summer, record temperatures and limited rainfall parched vast areas of U.S. cropland, and with Earth’s surface air temperature projected to rise 0.69 degrees Celsius by 2030, global food production will be even more unpredictable. Although agriculture is a major driver of human-caused climate change, contributing an estimated 25 to 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, when done sustainably it can be an important key to mitigating climate change.

Agroforestry is one practice that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions while adapting to the effects of climate change. (Photo credit: Christensen Fund)

Because of its reliance on healthy soil, adequate water, and a delicate balance of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, farming is the human endeavor most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. But agriculture’s strong interrelationships with both climatic and environmental variables also make it a significant player in reducing climate-altering emissions as well as helping the world adapt to the realities of a warming planet.

The good news is that agriculture can hold an important key to mitigating climate change. Practices such as using animal manure rather than artificial fertilizer, planting trees on farms to reduce soil erosion and sequester carbon, and growing food in cities all hold huge potential for reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the global agricultural sector could potentially reduce and remove 80 to 88 percent of the carbon dioxide that it currently emits. By adopting more-sustainable approaches, small-scale agriculture in developing countries has the potential to contribute 70 percent of agriculture’s global mitigation of climate change. And many of these innovations have the potential to be replicated, adapted, and scaled up for application on larger farms, helping to improve water availability, increase diversity, and improve soil quality, as well as mitigate climate change. (more…)

Aug28

Five Holistic Alternative Farming Methods: Agroecology at its Best

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By Ioulia Fenton

In March 2011, the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Olivier De Schutter, presented a report highlighting how agroecology holds promise for alleviating hunger, reducing poverty, preserving the environment, and fighting climate change.

Polyface Farms uses an agricultural system that tries to imitate the diversity of a natural ecosystem by using multiple crop and animal species in the same space (Photo Credit: Glory Bea)

“The core principles of agroecology include recycling nutrients and energy on the farm, rather than introducing external inputs; integrating crops and livestock; diversifying species and genetic resources in agroecosystems over time and space; and focusing on interactions and productivity across the agricultural system, rather than focusing on individual species,” says the report.

Today, Nourishing the Planet presents five ways in which different agroecological methods are being practiced to varying degrees around the world:

1.      Duck attack on the rice paddies of Asia. Asian farmers cultivating organic rice have adapted an ingenious way to cut out pesticide and herbicide use—ducks. Two or three weeks after rice seedlings have been planted, ducks patrol paddy waters and happily feed on unwanted pests, such as the golden snail and a host of insect species that feed on the rice plants. The ducks’ feces enhance the soil, which they stir up with their beaks and feet, a process that also helps enrich the paddies with the oxygen that plants need to thrive (soil oxygenation). The feathered army also feeds on weeds, which eliminates the need for pesticides and for the manual labor associated with manual weeding. The ducks also provide an additional means of income, for farmers can sell them at harvest time. According to an article by the Japan Information Network, the method, which originated in Japan, has now spread to South Korea, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, and even as far as Iran.

2.      It is all about the bushes and the bees in Canada. Bees are vital to agriculture and natural biodiversity—according to the Royal Society, 76 percent of the world’s most widely used food crops require pollination to be productive. A new Canadian initiative is looking to put bees to work to help conserve a fragile area.

Trees are needed to protect watersheds—delicate areas of land that form the drainage systems for streams and rivers in which many plant and animal species thrive. Trees and shrubs help filter pollutants from storm water runoff and anchor the soil with their roots, which reduces erosion. With a grant from the British Columbia Agroforestry Industry Development Initiative, the Murray family aims to use their small woodland plot located in the West Kootenay region near Slocan Lake to blend apiculture (bee keeping) with integrated agroforestry (agriculture that incorporates the cultivation and conservation of trees). In this system, the bees will pollinate the shrubs and the shrubs and the plethora of small private woodlands and streams found in the area will, in turn, provide the surface water and natural windbreak protection required by the bees.

3.      Ancient and modern aquaponics around the world. According to the Centre for Sustainable Aquaponics, part of the solution to the global search for greener fish and crop production that does not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides can be found in aquaponics—a combination of aquaculture (the cultivation of aquatic animals and plants for food) and soilless plant agriculture known as hydroponics. The combined technique, where crops are grown in a body of water that contains fish, has been used by ancient Aztecs and the ancestors of Far East countries like China. It is increasingly being used all over the world today. The process renders needless the use of chemicals since, in a seamless aquatic dance, the fish-waste fertilizes the plants, which, in turn, cleanse the water of toxins that would be dangerous for the fish.

4.      “Do nothing but microorganisms” farming in Thailand. According to a report by Horizon Solutions, in Thailand, over 20,000 farmers have now adopted an integrated farming system known as “do nothing farming”—they cultivate crops with minimal interference in nature: “namely no ploughing, no weeding, no chemical pesticides, no chemical fertilizers, and no pruning.” They do, however, use effective microorganisms (EMs) that were developed by Dr. Teruo Higa from the agricultural department at the University of Ryukyu, Japan. EMs are a combination of microorganisms that readily exist in nature and have not been interfered with in any way, merely added to the fields. By enriching the soil and stimulating plant growth, EMs increase crop yields whilst allowing the farmer to maintain the balance of the ecosystem—a complex set of relationships among plants, animals, and non-living materials of an area.

5.      Grass farming in the United States. Joel Salatin calls himself a grass farmer. His Polyface Farms, in Swoope, Virginia, were made famous by appearances in Michael Pollan’s book An Omnivore’s Dilemma and the documentaries Food Inc. and Fresh. The hilly homestead is set on 100 acres of grass, surrounded by 400 acres of woodland. It is a polyculture—an agricultural system that tries to imitate the diversity of a natural ecosystem by using multiple crop and animal species in the same space. It includes chickens, cows, turkeys, rabbits, and pigs.

Salatin carefully orchestrates all the elements in an intricate symbiosis—every being follows its natural instincts to contribute an ecosystem service (benefit) that maintains the overall health of the pasture. For example, his large herd of cows feeds on a different quarter acre of grass every day and contributes manure. Three days later, three hundred laying hens—Polyface Farms’ “sanitation crew”—are let loose to gorge on the fat fly larvae that have grown in the cowpats. This gives the chickens an important source of rich protein, while helping to spread manure and further fertilize the paddock with their own very rich nitrogen-laden excrement.

The farm’s closed loop, natural system is highly successful, producing 40,000 pounds of beef, 30,000 pounds of pork, 10,000 broilers, 1,200 turkeys, 1,000 rabbits, and 35,000 dozen eggs on just 100 acres. And, as Pollan writes, “at the end of the year, there is more biodiversity not less, more fertility not less, and more soil, not less.”

Do you know of other agroecological farming methods being practiced around the world? Share them in the comments below.

Ioulia Fenton is a Food and Agriculture Research Intern at Nourishing the Planet.

Check out other Nourishing the Planet posts that highlight alternative agricultural methods: Aquaponics: An Overview, What Works: Aquaculture, Five Ways to Get Rid of Pests Without Using Chemicals, Five Sustainable Innovations in Aquaculture, Five Agricultural Innovations to Improve Biodiversity, The Birds, the Bees….and Plants, and Five Innovations that are Boosting Soil Fertility.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

Aug20

Aguaje: the Amazon’s New Superfruit Secret Is Out

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By Carly Chaapel

Researchers have stumbled upon yet another reason to save the Amazon rainforest. The aguaje fruit is just another nutrient-rich, pulpy gem with the potential to gain as much popularity as the now familiar acai berry or guarana extract. Local people living within the Peruvian Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve have cultivated this fruit, and a variety of others, as part of their culture. At the local market in the city of Iquitos, this small, scaly fruit generates US$4.6 million every year. But as global trends continue to rise in favor of unique, healthful food choices, the aguaje holds the capability to generate income for local growers and amp up Vitamin A intake for consumers around the world.

Aguaje is peeled and juiced for sale at the market. (Photo credit: Juan Forero, The Washington Post)

The aguaje fruit ripens on a palm tree, and when it is ready to eat, one must peel back the maroon scales before munching on the crisp yellow flesh inside. Tasters have compared the aguaje fruit to a carrot, although it boasts three times the amount of Vitamin A than this familiar orange root vegetable. Aguaje oil is also high in beta-carotene, oleic acid (also found in olive oil), and essential fatty acids that the human body cannot synthesize on its own. Amazingly, the oil also contains a naturally-occurring SPF that can filter ultraviolet rays and treat burns when applied topically.

University of Florida geographer and Professor Nigel Smith has devoted much of his career to research in the Amazon. In addition to its health benefits and pleasing taste, he believes that cultivation of the aguaje fruit by small farmers may play a part in the survival of a healthy rainforest ecosystem. Commercial farmers in the Amazon are often demonized for their large clear-cuts of monocropped staples such as coffee, soy, and rubber. However, small-scale farmers can actually play a positive role in maintaining a biologically diverse landscape that benefits both the natural ecosystem and the people living within it.

By encouraging a variety of edible plants to grow within the forest, these small-scale farmers are engaging in a form of agroforestry that uses the complex forest ecosystem as a model for highly productive food gardens. As one more element of a forest garden that flourishes in vertical layers of plant diversity, the aquaje provides another form of sustenance, should other crops fail due to pest damage, a disease outbreak, or severe weather.

Will the aguaje fruit become the next trend in exotic health food? It is already popular among local consumers, and value can be easily added by processing the fruit into juice, jam, or ice cream. If harvested sustainably, this humble tropical plant could boost the health of both the Amazon rainforest and a planet of 7 billion.

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Aug18

Saturday Series: An Interview with Diane Ragone

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By Carly Chaapel

In our new Saturday Series, we interview inspiring people that our readers have nominated. These people are working on the frontlines to improve the global food and agricultural systems. Want to nominate someone? E-mail your suggestions to Danielle Nierenberg!

Name: Diane Ragone

Location/Affiliation: The Breadfruit Institute of the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG)

Dr. Diane Ragone, Director of the Breadfruit Institute
(Photo credit: Julia Flynn Siler)

Bio: Dr. Diane Ragone is the Director of the Breadfruit Institute, headquartered on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The institute promotes the conservation and use of breadfruit, a tropical starchy tree fruit, for both reforestation and food.

What sparked your interest in breadfruit cultivation in the first place?

I’ve been interested in breadfruit since I began my graduate work in 1983. I was mainly interested in traditional fruit trees in the Pacific Islands. Then, I wrote a term paper on breadfruit, and I became really interested in its importance to plant diversity and food security. I set out to collect samples of each variety and study them from a conservation perspective. I lived in Samoa for a year, which is a center for breadfruit diversity. From there, I started traveling and eventually collected breadfruit varieties from over 50 tropical islands.

We are a private nonprofit organization that is headquartered in Hawaii. We have four gardens across the Hawaiian Islands and one in southern Florida. For me, the garden is the ideal place to be, as breadfruit is an important collection focus. I connected with NTBG for a partnership as a graduate student because I could help the garden accomplish their mission to discover, research, conserve, and educate people about tropical plants with my own work. I have worked there since 1989 in various programs, and in 2003, the garden created the Breadfruit Institute. Our main breadfruit collection is on Maui, and all the gardens are open to visitors for self-guided tours.

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Aug10

“Living with the Trees of Life:” Innovative Solutions to Solve the Food Crisis

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By Katie Spoden

Dr. Roger Leakey, an expert in tropical agroforestry, recently published a new book titled, Living with the Trees of Life, Towards the Transformation of Tropical Agriculture. A mixture of personal narrative and scientific research, Living with the Trees of Life presents a roadmap of simple and inexpensive solutions to hunger and poverty. The world’s population will reach 9 billion by 2050; with 1 billion people currently malnourished and another billion overweight or obese, the global system of food production would benefit from solutions like the ones proposed by Dr. Leakey.

Living with the Trees of Life: Towards the Transformation of Tropical Agriculture, a book written by Dr. Roger Leakey, explores the evolution of agroforestry and the possibility to use trees to nourish the planet. (Photo credit: Centre for Environmental Living & Training)

In his book, Dr. Leakey explores a particularly promising innovation—agroforestry. Agroforestry consists of a wide range of practices that integrate trees in farming systems.

Agroforestry is already practiced around the globe. In the mountains of Costa Rica, trees are used as living fences. Live trees replace their dead wood counterparts to serve as shade for livestock and increase biodiversity. In the mountainous area between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, a nonprofit environmental organization began the Tree Bank to encourage local farmers to participate in conservation practices to restore native forests, while cultivating shade-grown coffee exclusively grown by farmers involved with the program. And in Jamaica, Trees That Feed is reforesting areas with trees that produce edible fruit, primarily breadfruit. Breadfruit trees provide both a nutritious potato-like product and provide economic opportunity through the production and sale of breadfruit flour.

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Aug09

Innovation of the Week: Living Trees as Fence Posts

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By: Molly Redfield

Drive around Costa Rica’s windy mountainous roads and you will see numerous trees, from those bearing colorful fruits to others sporting thick spines, planted about 1 to 3 meters apart. Connected by long lines of barbed wire, these rudimentary-looking arrangements, known as living fences, have both economic and environmental benefits over their dead wood counterparts.

Living fences have economic and environmental benefits (Photo Credit: Arborsmith Studios)

Farmers across Central America plant living fences because these green barriers are a more economically feasible and readily accessible method for containing livestock and protecting crops. For one, the main materials of living fences are the branches of tree species that root from sticks and grow into larger trees. Shared among neighbors or sold at local markets, these sticks are much cheaper and more common than manufactured posts. Without the need for paint or preservatives, which can add toxins into the environment, maintenance costs also remain low. Additionally, animals graze on living fences, saving farmers costs in livestock feed.

By providing some shade and serving as windbreaks, living fences can significantly decrease the amount of energy farm animals need to regulate their body temperatures. As livestock allot this extra energy to growth and, in dairy cows, producing milk, farmers experience higher yields, whether in meat or milk, for planting living fences.

These tree posts also offer farmers the additional benefits of firewood, timber, fruits, tanning astringents, and dyes. In Costa Rica, the federal government even provides payment for ecosystem services (PES) to farmers with living fences. A study on a region where a 2002 to 2007 World Bank project funded and monitored the building of living fences throughout Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Colombia, reports that small landholding producers rank the conversion of conventional fences into their living alternatives as a high priority.

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Aug02

12 Innovations to Combat Drought, Improve Food Security, and Stabilize Food Prices

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By Seyyada A. Burney

Soaring temperatures and low precipitation could not occur at a worse time for many farmers in the United States. Intensifying drought conditions are affecting corn and soybean crops throughout the Midwest, raising grain prices as well as concerns about future food prices. The U.S. Drought Monitor reports that 88 percent of this year’s corn crop and 77 percent of the soybean crop are now affected by the most severe drought since 1988. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing drought assistance to 1,584 counties across 32 states and warns of increased food prices in 2013 as a result of corn and soybean yield losses.

Drought is plaguing the United States, driving up food prices. (Photo credit: KPBS San Diego)

Corn is currently selling at around $9 a bushel, a 50 percent increase from June, while soybeans are selling at a record high of $17 a bushel as a result of drought-related losses in crop yields. The increased prices may benefit farmers in the short run, but consumers will experience the aftermath of price increases in the form of more money spent on poultry, beef, pork, and dairy products.

Nearly half of all domestic corn production is used as livestock feed, a trend that is now encouraging larger livestock producers to import corn from Brazil while smaller farmers must reduce herd sizes by sending more animals to the market. Most immediately, poultry prices are expected to rise 3.5 to 4.5 percent due to the animals’ more rapid growth and therefore more sudden response to higher feed prices. The price of beef is projected to rise the highest—4 to 5 percent by November—but at a slower rate, reflecting the longer growth period and higher feed requirements of beef cattle.

Higher U.S. grain prices could have an even greater impact worldwide. The United States is the world’s largest corn producer as well as a major exporter of crop-derived agricultural products. Declining domestic production could translate into exacerbated food security problems abroad. Countries that import corn and soybean byproducts or animal feed, such as Japan and Mexico, will be affected the most.

Climate change is making it increasingly important to protect local agriculture in the United States and address the issues underlying its vulnerability to natural disasters, such as drought.

The Nourishing the Planet (www.NourishingthePlanet.org) project highlights 12 agricultural innovations that can help make U.S. and global agriculture more drought resilient, as well as sustainable.

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Mar29

Innovation of the Week: Fertilizer Tree Systems enrich soils naturally

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By Isaac Hopkins

Among the most challenging long-term barriers to agricultural production and sustainability in Africa is poor and degrading soil quality. According to “Agricultural success from Africa: the case of fertilizer tree systems in southern Africa (Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe),” a report from the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, simple “Fertilizer Tree Systems” (FTS) can double maize production in soil that is low in nitrogen, an essential plant nutrient. A type of agroforestry, FTS incorporate nitrogen-fixing trees and shrubs into agricultural fields, usually inter-planted with food crops. These trees take in atmospheric nitrogen and return it to the soil, where it serves as a nutrient for plants.

Nitrogen-fixing agroforestry is emerging in southern Africa as a major tool for renewing soil fertility and boosting yields. (Photo credit: Trees4Children)

Soil analyses by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and others in the 1980s revealed nitrogen to be a limiting factor in many African soils. In response, on-farm studies in the 1990s showed that FTS with the right species could increase crop yields with or without mineral fertilizers. FTS are much cheaper for farmers to implement than buying fertilizer inputs, and represent a more holistic approach to soil management. FTS scaling-up programs were broadly implemented about ten years ago, and in that time the number of small-holder farmers using these techniques has ballooned from a few hundred to more than 250,000 in Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

FTS have proven most effective for small farmers who are able to devote the necessary labor and land more easily than the money needed for commercial fertilizer. By relying on naturally occurring systems rather than imports, agroforestry improves food security, bolsters biodiversity, and reinforces local economies. The introduction of a wider variety of plants to fields, for example, has been shown to increase diversity of the local ecosystem, which further augments the soil.

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