Posts Tagged ‘Erosion’

Jun14

What Works: Farming with trees

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By Kim Kido

This post is part of a series where Nourishing the Planet asks its readers: What works? Every week we’ll ask the question and every week you can join the conversation!

Poor soils, lack of irrigation, and limited access to inputs, including fertilizer, are some of the barriers farmers face to increasing food production, and alleviating food insecurity, in sub-Saharan Africa.  Incorporating trees on farms can help increase yields by building soil fertility, reducing erosion, retaining water, or providing shade. And many species produce high-value fruits, timber, fodder, or medicine that can be sold or used to meet household needs. Ecosystem benefits like habitat creation and carbon sequestration are added benefits.

Trees on a farm in Kenya. (Photo credit: International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT))

Planting nitrogen-fixing leguminous tree species, like Faidherbia or Acacia albida, in maize fields has helped achieve up to four-fold yield increases in Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, and Ethiopia. During the rainy season, when crops are planted, the Faidherbia acacia loses its nitrogen-rich leaves as it enters dormancy. Crops are provided with a source of nitrogen, and the tree’s bare branches don’t block sunlight. And when the availability of fodder is limited in the dry season, the trees produce seed pods that livestock can eat.

While legumes improve soil fertility, planting fruit trees amongst other crops can provide emergency income and a source of food in times of scarcity. For small farmers like Virginia Wangui Njunge, who farms two acres north of Nairobi in Kenya, planting fruit trees is a way to minimize risk by increasing productivity and crop diversity. Njunge sells avocados, guavas, apples, and mangos from her trees that grow along with vegetable crops, including tomato and cabbage. Intercropping fruit trees with annual and indigenous vegetable crops to provide food and income while trees mature is a common practice in Kenya.

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Jun08

Nourishing the Planet TV: Improving Farmer Livelihoods and Wildlife Conservation

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In this episode, Nourishing the Planet research fellow Molly Theobald discusses how helping farmers to benefit from wildlife conservation can improve diets, increase livelihoods, and protect the environment. Organizations, such as the Rhino Conservation Trust in Zimbabwe, are helping farmers grow their crops in harmony with the surrounding environment and wildlife.

Video: http://youtu.be/7kjwuKpkRiQ

To read about how smallscale livestock can improve food security and preserve and rebuild communities, see: Innovation of the Week: Improving Farmer Livelihoods and Wildlife Conservation.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

 

May17

What Works: Stopping the Sands and Increasing the Harvest

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By Molly Theobald

This post is part of a series where Nourishing the Planet asks its readers: What works? Every week we’ll ask the question and every week you can join the conversation!

Farmers in the Sahel are using creative solutions to combat desertification. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Throughout the Sahel, recurrent drought, deforestation, and over-farming, is turning once lush farm land into desert.  And when the sand starts spreading, it can be difficult to stop. Picked up by the wind, dust and sand travels vast distances to cover villages, roads, crops, and irrigation systems, making it increasingly difficult to farm and maintain infrastructure.

Farmers are especially impacted by desertification. Dry, cracked and depleted soils make for poor harvests, while sand covered roads make it nearly impossible to transport crops to the market. Yet, farmers are also the people who hold some of the best tools with which to put a stop to the spreading sands.

In Mauritania, for example, where moving sand dunes cover two-thirds of the country’s land area, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), partnered with the government of Mauritania to help protect the country’s towns and cities. Between 2000 and 2007, a series of fences were designed to use wind to create artificial dunes surrounding Nouakchott, the country’s capital. These dunes reduced the strength of the wind and slowed the advancement of more sand. Set at a 120 to 140 degree angle, deflection fences were also erected in order to redirect the incoming winds and sands, further reducing sand build up. Both fences are made from branches and twigs that were collected from mature forests.

Once the dunes have been halted with hand-woven fences, the process of creating long-term barriers begins.  Although dunes are perhaps the least hospitable environment upon which to grow trees and other vegetation, walls of mature plant growth also provide one of the most effective barriers for sand. Depending on the climate and soil conditions, drought-tolerant and indigenous tree species are selected and planted to act as barriers.

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Sep17

Rodale CEO Calls for Organic Voice

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By Amanda Stone

PCC Natural Markets recently posted an article excerpted from Maria Rodale’s newest book, Organic Manifesto. Chief executive officer of Rodale Inc. and the granddaughter of Robert Rodale, founder of the Rodale Institute, Maria knows very well the value of growing and eating organic foods.

Photo credit: Bernard Pollack

It’s true that a growing population means more mouths to feed, and many question the ability of organic to produce enough food for all. But Maria points to “clear and conclusive scientific data showing organic agriculture is key not only to solving global hunger, but also to curbing global warming, protecting public health, revitalizing farming communities, and restoring the environment.” She describes the Farm System Trial, a long-running research project of the Rodale Institute and its finding that organic farm yields are comparable – if not higher – than those of chemical farms during droughts and floods. This is the benefit of stronger root systems in organic plants, and better moisture retention in the soil, preventing runoff and erosion.

She also discusses how the problem of production and feeding the hungry isn’t necessarily growing enough food but rather the flaws in our food systems and political instability that are failing to get the food that’s already grown from farm to table.

Perhaps most importantly, Rodale discusses the importance of organic methods not just for human health, but the health of the environment. The global food system is critically interconnected to the environment and our changing climate, from agricultural inputs that leach into our soils and water, to deforestation for livestock grazing lands to the greenhouse gases emitted from industrial agriculture practices, energy and transportation.  She stresses the need for consumers to play their part in creating a unified voice, demanding food that protects the environment, while also providing safe, abundant sources.

For more on this topic from Rodale Institute CEO, Tim LaSalle, see the video: Can Organics Stop Climate Change? from OrganicNation.

To read more conversations and opinions about how organic is beneficial to the environment see: Innovation of the Week: Handling Pests with Care Instead of Chemicals, Meet the Nourishing the Planet Advisory Group: Chuck Benbrook, Organic Agriculture and Genetic Engineering Work Together In Surprising Ways

Amanda Stone is Nourishing the Planet’s Communications Assistant.

Jul02

The Potential of Perennial Grain: Increasing Production, Reducing Labor, and Restoring Degraded Land

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With longer growing seasons and deeper roots, perennial grain crops reduce erosion, build and sustain soil quality, sequester carbon, and require less water. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

An article in the latest issue of the journal Science calls for a greater commitment to the development of perennial grain crops. According to the online news site Seed Daily, researchers writing for Science believe that perennial grains—which require less fertilizer, herbicide, and fuel than grains planted annually—could, with continued financial support, be available to farmers in 20 years. With longer growing seasons and deeper roots, perennial grain crops reduce erosion, build and sustain soil quality, sequester carbon, and require less water. This means that the crops would not only produce bigger harvests, they would also help to restore degraded farmlands. With the number of hungry people worldwide topping 1 billion and with the harmful impacts of industrial farming and climate change damaging increasingly more land, perennial grain crops could be one innovation that nourishes both people and the planet.

May20

Innovation of the Week: Improving Farmer Livelihoods and Wildlife Conservation

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In Botswana, the Mokolodi Wildlife Reserve helps draw the connection between the importance of environmentally sustainable agriculture practices and the conservation of wildlife. (Photo: Bernard Pollack)

Earlier this week, we highlighted Nicholas Kristof’s OP-ED in the New York Times about Gabon, a country in West-Central Africa where the rights of farmers are frequently in conflict with wildlife conservation efforts. One young village chief and farmer, Evelyn Kinga explained that she doesn’t like elephants because they eat her cassava plants—a crop her livelihood depends on—because she doesn’t benefit from rich foreigners who come to Gabon for eco-tourism.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, says Raoul du Toit, Director of the Rhino Conservation Trust in Zimbabwe. His organization works closely with farmers on the ground to help communities realize that protecting wildlife can be in their own best interest.

du Toit promotes “landscape-level planning” that takes into account the needs of wildlife, the environment, and farming communities. Rather than relying on development agencies and governments to decide where cattle fences should go or where farmers should plant their crops, local communities and stakeholders need to be part of the process. Development aid, says du Toit, should follow what local stakeholders need and perceive, not the other way around. Additionally, the Rhino Conservation Trust provides classroom materials for schools so that students may learn the connections between sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation at an early age. (See also Helping Farmers Benefit Economically from Wildlife Conservation)

And du Toit is not alone in his effort to improve the lives of farmers, as well as protect wildlife.

In Tanzania, the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) started as a center to research and protect wild chimpanzee populations in what is now, thanks to their efforts, Gombe National Park. But by the early 1990’s the organization realized that in order to be successful it would have to start addressing the needs of the communities surrounding the park. JGI was planting trees to rebuild the forest but members of the community were chopping them down—not because they wanted to damage the work but because they needed them for fuel and to make charcoal.

In response, JGI started working with communities to develop government- mandated land use plans, helping them develop soil erosion prevention practices, agroforestry, and production of value-added products, such as coffee and palm oil. “These are services,” says Pancras Ngalason Executive Director of JGI Tanzania, “people require in order to appreciate the environment” and that will ultimately help not only protect the chimps and other wildlife, but also to build healthy and economically viable communities. (See also: Rebuilding Roots in Environmental Education)

In Botswana, the Mokolodi Wildlife Reserve is doing more than just teaching students and the community about conserving and protecting wildlife and the environment, they’re also educating students about permaculture. By growing indigenous vegetables, recycling water for irrigation, and using organic fertilizers—including elephant dung—the Reserve’s Education Center is demonstrating how to grow nutritious food with very little water or chemical inputs.

When school groups come to learn about the animals, the reserve also teaches them about sustainable agriculture. Using the garden as a classroom in which to teach students about composting, intercropping, water harvesting, and organic agriculture practices, the Wildlife Reserve helps draw the connection between the importance of environmentally sustainable agriculture practices and the conservation of elephants, giraffes, impala, and various other animals and birds living in the area.(See also: Cultivating an Interest in Agriculture Conservation)

To read more about innovative ways to protect agriculture and the surrounding wildlife, read: From Alligator to Zebra: Wild Animals Find Sanctuary in the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Kigoma, Tanzania, Protecting Wildlife While Improving Food Security, Health, and Livelihoods, Helping Conserve Wildlife–and Agriculture–in MozambiqueHonoring the Farmers that Nourish their Communities and the Planet, and Investing in Projects that Protect Both Agriculture and Wildlife

May10

Despite Financial and Political Challenges, Conserving Natural Resources and Improving Livelihoods in Madagascar

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Danielle Nierenberg (left) with (from left to right) Tovohery A. Ramahaimandimbisoa, an RTM Intern, Lorena Lotti, and Annalisa Mansutti. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Madagascar has had more than its share of bad luck in the last year. In 2009, a military coup deposed the government. But the government wasn’t the only thing that collapsed. The island nation’s $400 million per year tourism revenue also disappeared, which has led to increased logging and deforestation of Madagascar’s forests.  And many of the NGOs and aid agencies that were working in Madagascar for decades have found their projects hindered by new regime’s policies—as a result, many have scaled back or left the country.

One NGO, however, the Italian-based Reggio Turzo Mundo (RTM), has continued to work with farmers in the country, despite the challenges. RTM works with farmers and farmers groups to develop alternatives to slash and burn agriculture, including organic farming practices that help build up soils.

RTM is also helping develop a manual for organic agriculture for farmers. “Organic agriculture,” says Tovohery A. Ramahaimandimbisoa, RTM’s organic agriculture coordinator, “is not promoted by the government.” In 2009 the former government provided farmers with a subsidy for fertilizer, but the current government won’t be providing farmers with fertilizer or other inputs, forcing many to burn forests to provide nutrients to the soil.

By teaching farmers how to compost, prevent erosion, and keep nutrients in the soil, RTM hopes to prevent slash and burn agriculture and help improve livelihoods. According to  Ramahaimandimbisoa, “many small producers in the field are already organic, but they’re not making money.”

And RTM is also helping farmers develop certification collectives for organic products, such as cloves, ginger, black and white pepper, and vanilla. These collectives, says, Lorena Iotti, RTM program coordinator, will help make it possible for farmers to develop their own certification standards and make it easier to export products to Italy and other countries.

Stay tuned for more about agriculture in Madagascar later this week.

Nov24

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Kigoma, Tanzania

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Danielle Nierenberg (left) with Pancras Ngalason of the Jane Goodall Institute

Danielle Nierenberg (right) with Nsaa-Iya Kihunrwa, the Director of JGI’s Roots and Shoots program

I arrived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania excited to catch a flight to Kigoma, a region in the northwestern part of the country to visit a Jane Goodall Institute Tanzania project working with small farmers to promote sustainable agriculture. Unfortunately Precision Air, one of only two airlines that flies to the remote region, has suspended all flights for the next several weeks and  the other airline is all booked. It’s the first major hiccup after traveling for the last month, so I really don’t have anything to complain about.

I did get a chance, however, to meet with JGI staff here in Dar and learn more about their work not only in Tanzania, but all over the world.

Pancras Ngalason is the Executive Director of JGI Tanzania and he explained how the Institute has evolved since it began in the 1970s. They’ve gone, according to Ngalason, beyond research to address questions of livelihood.

JGI started as a center to research and protect wild chimpanzee populations in what is now, thanks to their efforts, Gombe National Park. But in the early 1990s JGI realized that if it didn’t start addressing the needs of the communities surrounding the park, their efforts to conserve wildlife wouldn’t work. JGI first started by planting trees in the region, but soon found that communities cut them down, not because they wanted to, but because they needed them for fuel and for making charcoal. It was at that time, says Ngalason, that we “thought beyond planting trees” and more about community-based conservation.

JGI started working with communities to develop government- mandated land use plans, helping them develop soil erosion prevention practices, agroforestry, and production of value-added products, such as coffee and palm oil. They like to say that their products are “Good for All”—good for farmers by providing income, good for the environment by protecting natural resources, and good for the consumer by providing a healthy product.

They’re also working training community health practitioners about reproductive health and HIV/AIDS prevention, educating youth, establishing micro-credit programs, and working with UNICEF and USAID to supply clean water to communities.

“These are services,” says Ngalason, “people require in order to appreciate the environment,” and ultimately helps not only protect the chimps and other wildlife, but also helps build healthy and economically viable communities.

Stay tuned for more about JGI’s Roots and Shoots program.