What works: Innovations for Improving Biodiversity and Livelihoods

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By Elena Davert

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!

Even the best farming tools and irrigation systems are useless if the quality of the land itself has been destroyed.   Monoculture farming systems and chemical fertilizers, although capable of producing short-term increases in yields, have drastically diminished biodiversity and soil quality around the world.  In order to develop sustainable agriculture, it is crucial to promote farming practices that protect biodiversity and work together with local ecosystems.

Malawi: Lilongwe Field Visit

Kristof Nordin grows more than 200 indigenous fruits and vegetables on their farm in Malawi, providing a year round supply of food for themselves and their neighbors. (Photo: Bernard Pollack)

In South Africa, Richard Haigh founded the Enaleni farm, a thriving 23-acre farm filled with indigenous fruits, vegetables and livestock.  Planting indigenous varieties help the farm resemble the naturally occurring diversity in the surrounding environment.  And by combining these local species with organic agriculture methods, such as composting and using manure as fertilizer, Haigh has been able to achieve higher yields and preserve the quality of his land.

Without using synthetic fertilizers or importing cash crops, Stacia and Kristof Nordin have grown more than 200 indigenous fruits and vegetables on their farm in Malawi, providing a year round supply of food for themselves and their neighbors. Using their home as an outdoor classroom, their yard acts as a demonstration plot for permaculture methods such as water harvesting, intercropping and other practices that help conserve water and mimic a natural ecosystem. This has not only helped educate their neighbors about organic agriculture, it has also served as a platform to publicize the benefits of indigenous vegetables and traditional methods of farming that protect biodiversity.

After fighting a losing battle against depleted soil nutrients and terrible erosion, farmers in the Uluguru Mountains of Tanzania learned from CARE International’s Equitable Payment for Watershed Management (EPWM) program about how to use ecological farming methods to take better care of their land.  EPWM taught farmers to build terraces and rotate native trees with food crops in order to limit soil runoff and erosion.  Replanting native trees to help replenish local biodiversity has improved the quality of the soil and increased the farmers’ economic stability as well.

And in Uganda, cattle herders have benefited from the effects of increasing biodiversity.  After years of raising exotic breeds of cattle that were ill-suited to surviving in the local climate conditions, the herders were taught by the Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa (PENHA), along with the Ankole Cow Conservation Association (ACCA), about the benefits of indigenous cattle. Together with PENHA and ACCA, the herders have begun to raise local breeds of cattle and now work with the Uganda Wildlife Authority to use the national parks for grazing land.   Introducing native cattle back into the national parks allows herders’ to raise healthier animals while the animals’ grazing and manure contribute back to the local ecosystem of the wildlife reserves.

Whether it’s through cultivating indigenous crops, using permaculture farming methods, or raising local livestock breeds, increasing biodiversity is an important way for farmers to protect local ecosystems and the integrity of their land. Do you know of any projects that are helping to increase biodiversity and improve farmers’ livelihoods?

Tell Nourishing the Planet what works and have your answers featured on the blog.  Email me at Dnierenberg@Worldwatch.org, join the discussion on our Facebook page, or tweet your response to @WorldWatchAg.

To read more about ‘What Works,’ read What works: Connecting Farmers to Market, and For Sharing the Best in Agricultural Innovations, Nourishing the Planet Asks You: What Works?

Elena Davert is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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