Evergreen agriculture can Build Resilience and Increase Food Security in the Face of Climate Change

Improving the adoptability of promising agroforestry. A project staff member at the Machakos research center compares a maize plant’s roots with that of Grevillea. They are held at a corresponding point to soil level when planted. Photo by Sahar Nimeh ©IFAD

by Paul Stapleton, World Agroforestry Centre

How do we raise awareness of the potential for evergreen agriculture (EA) as an approach to improve livelihoods, adaptation and mitigation in the tropics, and its successful expansion in Africa? This was the theme of a learning event organized by the World Agroforestry Centre, IFAD, UNEP and the African Development Bank, at the Agriculture and Rural Development Day held in Durban in association with COP17 of the UNFCCC.Also under consideration was how to identify elements for actions for EA to achieve greater prominence and eligibility in the adaptation and mitigation policies of developing countries and globally. The questions were particularly relevant as a broad alliance is now emerging amongst governments, research institutions and development agencies to expand EA across hundreds of millions of hectares in Africa and Asia.

Evergreen Agriculture combines agroforestry with the principles of conservation farming. The addition of agroforestry offers multiple livelihood benefits to farmers, including sources of green (organic) fertilizer to build healthier soils and enhance crop yields, and providing fruits, medicines, livestock fodder, and fuelwood. Environmental benefits include land rehabilitation, a more effective water cycle and watershed protection, increased biodiversity, increased carbon accumulation and storage and greater resilience to climate change – addressing mitigation and adaptation. Along with the increased soil carbon accumulation under conservation farming, trees on farms sequester carbon while providing fruit, fodder and other livelihood benefits.

Dennis Garrity, Senior Research Fellow at World Agroforestry, and a key proponent of the approach, noted that there were two systems of EA emerging in Africa. In western Africa, farmer-managed natural regeneration of indigenous trees in farmlands is spreading across the semiarid farmlands in the region, especially in Niger, where medium to high density systems of Faidherbia albida and annual crops occupy over 5 million ha, and they are rapidly diffusing across the country. “Farmers are also using the approach in Burkina Faso, Mali and other countries,” said Garrity. This clear impact has stimulated a new commitment to the regreening of the Sahel amongst donors and countries.

The approach in eastern and southern Africa is different; trees are being integrated into farming systems by active planting. Zambia is recommending the planting of 100 trees/ha of farmland. Malawi has extended EA through village movements to over 200 000 farmers in the past 5 years, with maize yields more than doubling in these multi-trees species systems, including  Sesbania sesbania, Gliricidia sepium and Tephrosia candida. Kenya has enacted a bold policy of achieving 10 percent tree cover on all farmlands, and Ethiopia, where F. albida is common, is starting a programme to distribute  100 million seedlings to 1 million farmers

Mario Boccucci, representing UNEP, asked why Evergreen Agriculture must be included in the revitalization of agriculture in a green economy. “Evergreen Agriculture works,” he said, “It is a matter of scaling it up.”  Clearly there is a need to transform how we approach our land production systems in the next 50 years. We need another 120 million ha of arable land to be put into production to meet future demand. We need mechanisms to work together to deliver this transformation and the information and the data available for the decision makers to use. There is an urgent need to work together to accomplish these challenges. In Rio+20, leaders will be looking for the opportunity to make major decisions, and revitalizing agriculture can be one of them. We need to develop a powerful, meaningful strategy for action with a powerful constituency behind it.

Prince Kampondamgaga of the Farmers Union of Malawi described his experiences from Malawi. “There has been a very clear policy direction in rolling out EA across the country,” he said. “Key issues include food security, pest management, water management and market management.”  The two types of EA have been adopted, farmer-managed and tree-planted annual cropping systems. Farmer organizations are playing a key part, especially in defining conservation agriculture and its applications, as well as engaging the farmers.

Dr Elwyn Grainger Jones of IFAD talked about how EA can be mainstreamed within loan and grant programs for scaling up for smallholders. IFAD started engaging in EA as far back as the mid-1980s, when their project staff noted how effective farmer-managed natural regeneration was in the field. The approach was folded into subsequent projects of broader natural landscape regeneration. “Farmer to farmer communication worked really well,” he said, “but to be successful at the local level needed individual champions and village community groups, knowledge and clear tenure and rights over the trees.” He also noted that the interests of forestry departments do not always line up with agroforestry and natural regeneration, especially in terms of ownership of the trees.