Science isn’t enough to prevent disaster: the case of the desert locust plague in East Africa

East Africa is experiencing the worst desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) outbreak in decades. The outbreak began in early 2019 and science isn’t enough to save the livelihoods and ensure the food security of at least 39 million people who are currently at risk. Implementing existing environmental protection policies and consistent resource allocation to national and regional organisations will ultimately be the difference.

Naturally, these policies and actions should be supported by expert scientists and researchers. Desert locusts have plagued farmers in Africa and Asia since Pharaonic times and is mentioned in both the Bible and Koran. Since the United Kingdom’s establishment of the Anti-Locust Research Centre in 1945, four major international conferences have been held to formally establish a method of monitoring, controlling and preparing for future outbreaks.

Two factors have impacted the success and failure of desert locust management. First, desert locusts ignore international boundaries which means that international cooperation is crucial for successful intervention. Second, plague outbreaks are intermittent, so funding for both research and control fluctuates and needs to be more consistent. Oscillation between recession and outbreak periods can cause a lack of available funding for monitoring and control operations. Countries have become poorly equipped to cope with an upsurge because of these seasonal fluctuations.

Cooperation and coordination

The very nature of the desert locust problem calls for an approach to environmental governance that involves both state and non-state actors. Despite international organisations like the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) being a central actor in dealing with the desert locust outbreaks, states in the affected regions need to have internal policy measures implemented to ensure preparedness for predicted outbreaks. In 1962, the Convention for the Establishment of the Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa (DLCO-EA) was held to unify cooperation between the governments of Ethiopia, Somalia, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.

The DLCO-EA hoped to ensure cooperation in the control of desert locust plauges across the region. Despite having the necessary scientific understanding of how to deal with the locusts, the organisation has been unable to deal with the magnitude of the current outbreak. Lack of membership payment by Uganda, Djibouti, Somalia and Sudan, all of which owed an estimated $8 million to the organisation, is clearly a primary problem. This is nearly half of its members failing to contribute to the capacity and maintenance of the DLCO-EA. Environmental problems are inherently challenging to solve because they are embedded in complex biological systems.

Their impacts are often time-lagged so if political leaders are short-sighted, it’s unlikely that they will cooperate effectively. Effective locust control requires a well-timed coordinated response. Consider, for instance, that warning signs of a severe outbreak surfaced after the North Indian Ocean experienced its most active cyclone season ever recorded. This created ideal breeding and survival grounds across the Arabian Peninsula. Desert locusts occur in swarms due to a particular combination of weather, soil and vegetation conditions that complements its reproduction and mutation from an otherwise solitary creature into one which matures and develops into speedy swarms (gregarisation) of up to 150 million locusts⁠.

This mutation makes the desert locust one of the most destructive insect groups when met with cropland. The Desert Locust Watch agency of the FAO released frequent warning bulletins during the cyclone season and from late 2019 it was clear that breeding had gone uncontrolled in Yemen. Despite the warnings, the DLCO-EA and member states did not have sufficient supplies of pesticides, protective gear and locust control authority to allow for effective control.

Why science isn’t enough

In a recent article published in Nature, the authors demonstrate that researchers are improving their understanding of how the locusts communicate, using predictive modelling to determine outbreak locations before they happen. They consequently call for more data-driven agricultural policies. No one should disagree, but if governments aren’t prioritising this research or actively monitoring and evaluating their current strategies then the science may come too late.

In Ethiopia, for instance, there are environmental policies in place, but they lack the necessary resources, implementation and expert involvement to make a difference or show positive outcomes. Conflict and instability in Somalia have made certain areas inaccessible to control operation groups. Kenya were initially not fully prepared for the scale of the outbreak but have managed to fight back and clear the infestations. Swarm breeding in northeast Africa and Yemen is currently threatening a second wave that could migrate south into eastern Ethiopia, central Somalia and northern Kenya. The fight is not over yet.

Transnational governance on environmental issues cannot act as a substitute for strong state-based governance. Research shows that strong national environmental policies create incentives for state and non-state actors to cooperage and engage transnationally. The DLCO-EA should be complemented by member state investment into national locust control policies so that they are better able to work in synergy. The most recent Locust Watch bulletin indicates that more swarms are forming and breeding has commenced in the Red Sea near to Somalia.

Kenya is likely to be affected from mid-November but the situation seems less severe than in 2019. The Kenyan based IGAD Climate Prediction & Applications Centre (ICPAC) is using satellite technology to help monitor breeding and movement forecasts of the desert locusts. They are cooperating with environmental ministries to help inform resource allocation and control operations across the region. This kind of cooperation and coordination between science and politicians will surely make the difference in preventing future environmental disaster.

This article was first published by Daily Maverick here

Monique Bennet is a senior researcher at Good Governance Africa. She has a keen interest in data science, data visualisation and statistics using the R programming language. Throughout her studies, research topics such as development, democracy and the environment within the context of developing countries have been her focus areas.

Historic Malawi election provides lessons for opposition parties across the continent

Saulos Chilima and Lazarus Chakwera outside the court. PHOTO: EMMANUEL SIMPOKOLWE

On 6 July 2020, Lazarus Chakwera was inaugurated as Malawi’s sixth president after winning the 2020 Malawi election, an election that was extraordinary because it was the first on the continent held as a result of a court overturning an election result. Moreover, the incumbent was defeated and stepped down.

Chakwera and his running mate, Saulos Chilima, achieved more together than they had individually in the previous election when they stood as independent candidates, validating their decision to run on the same ticket.

Interestingly, both Chakwera and former President Arthur Mutharika of the Democratic Progress Party (DPP) formed alliances with other parties. Chakwera’s alliance with Chilima was supported by most other opposition parties and was called the Tonse Alliance, while Mutharika formed an alliance with Atupele Muluzi (United Democratic Front).

Understanding the genesis of the coalition may prove beneficial to opposition parties and pro-democracy activists, as the lessons could strengthen and deepen democracy and good governance on the continent.

Lessons learnt

There are several important lessons from the coalition that proved advantageous to the Tonse Alliance. To obtain a better understanding of the Tonse Alliance and strides made, we review the events that took place between the disputed election of 2019 and the successful 2020 election:

Stronger together – unity for change

Had Chakwera and Chilima formed a coalition for the 2019 elections, they would have garnered more votes than Mutharika. Their decision to run separately paved the way for Mutharika to remain in power longer. While this option may seem simple numerically, it was more difficult in reality, as senior figures within Chakwera’s Malawi Congress Party (MCP) had to be convinced to step aside and free positions for Chilima and his United Transformation Movement (UTM) colleagues. For the re-run 2020 election, Chilima importantly set aside his personal political ambitions for the collective good of removing the DPP from power.

Initially, the MCP and UTM separately challenged the 2019 election result but Lilongwe High Court Judge Charles Mkandawire requested that the respective plaintiffs be joined as parties in the action. Mkandawire indicated that he was satisfied that the two cases were constitutional in nature, and needed Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda’s certification, in accordance with Section 9(3) of the Courts Act, to have them be heard in the Constitutional Court.

During the Constitutional Court proceedings, a case of political serendipity occurred: a bond between Chakwera and Chilima formed as they shared a bench under a tree during a recess. Photographs of them seemingly cracking jokes went viral in mainstream and social media. This unplanned occurrence may have been the beginning of their alliance journey.

Importance of an impartial and independent electoral management body

The resignation of former Malawi Electoral Commission chairperson Justice Jane Ansah was a pivotal development. The 2020 election might not have taken place had Justice Chifundo Kachale not been appointed as the new MEC chairperson. Kachale brilliantly navigated a combination of political and logistical obstacles, even though he took over only two weeks before the election.

Judicial Independence

Malawi was able to hold the 2020 election only because the Constitutional Court  and later the Supreme Court ruled that the 2019 polls had been flawed. In addition, the court ruled that the victor in the presidential elections must win 50% + 1 of the vote, and also set out a timeframe for holding fresh elections.

The court’s overriding of the 2019 election results has set an important legal precedent that should find some footing in courts across the region. This precedent may act as a catalyst to embolden regional pro-democracy activists in other countries to address issues of poor governance and instances of perceived electoral fraud.

Neutrality of the security organs

The refusal of the security organs to be exploited to defy court orders and the popular will of the citizens stands in marked contrast to Zimbabwe’s electoral facades. Mutharika did in fact seek to bring the armed forces into play by firing the head of the military, General Vincent Nundwe, and his deputy, Clement Namangale, and replacing them with more pliable officers. Thankfully, the military has demonstrated a history of defending the rule of law during political transitions, and stood firm on this occasion too.

Minimise potential to rig the outcome

Past elections have demonstrated the benefits of obtaining large winning margins, as some incumbents may be impeded from rigging the result, or cannot rig it by a large margin and maintain credibility. A recent case in point was Belarus’s Aleksandr Lukashenko rigging elections, resulting in an outrageous winning margin of 80.1%. In 2019, Mutharika won 38.57% of the vote, against Chakwera’s 35.41%. However, in 2020, this masterstroke resulted in the coalition securing a winning margin so large (58% – 41% = 17%) that it was all but impossible for the ruling party to rig the outcome.

Home-grown ownership

Malawians took “home-grown ownership” of the 2020 election process, in contrast to past experiences. Although the international community had raised concerns about the country’s ability to hold elections in a free, fair, transparent and credible manner, Malawi proved that it could be achieved even without external observers. Although the disputed 2019 result was seemingly endorsed by foreign electoral observer teams, on this occasion – due to COVID-19 restricting the presence of foreign observers – nothing was left to chance and local observers were called on to endorse the election, holding the government accountable.

Conclusion

The developments in Malawi should inspire pro-democracy activists across the continent. However, replicating the outcome in other contexts may prove challenging if the factors that led to Malawi’s outcome are not properly heeded.

Several countries in the region are preparing to hold elections but are starting from a more compromised position. For instance, in Zambia, the courts have faced criticism for endorsing President Edgar Lungu to run for a second term as president in the 2021 elections. In Tanzania, authorities have stepped up repression of opposition parties, non-governmental organisations and the media ahead of the country’s general elections in October 2020.

In short, there is no formula for opposition parties seeking positive election outcomes. As highlighted above, several factors need to be in place simultaneously. However, if opposition parties had to choose one factor to build their foundation on, from Malawi’s experience, it is the importance of opposition candidates with similar ideologies putting aside their personal ambitions and rivalries in favour of a united stand at the polls.

This article originally appeared in the Centre for Investigative Journalism Malawi (CIJM).

 

Craig Moffat, PhD is the Head of Programme: Governance Delivery and Impact for Good Governance Africa. He has more than 17 years of practical experience working for government institutions and multilateral organisations. He was previously employed by the South African Foreign Service, where he worked extensively at identifying and analysing security threats towards South Africa as well as the southern Africa region. Previously, he was the political advisor for the Pretoria Regional Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross. He holds a PhD in Political Science from Stellenbosch University.
Josephine Chinele is currently a Fellow (Biomedical HIV Prevention Advocate) at the Pakachere Institute of Health and Development Communication in Blantyre, Malawi. A multi-award winning journalist, she has worked as a news, features and investigative journalist for newspapers, radio and television platforms in Malawi and South Africa. She has been awarded several health journalism fellowships in the area of HIV and AIDS, health and human rights.

The right path

East Africa: food forests

Agro-ecology enterprises are helping to cushion African farmers and smallholders against climate change, improve nutrition and generate income

Ruth Okalo in her food forest garden, which has avocado trees, passion fruit and Leucaena leucocephala, a tropical forage tree whose leaves she uses for fodder and firewood Photo: Justus Wanzala

Chirping birds welcome you to Bio Gardening Innovations (BIOGI) a local not-for-profit organisation and demonstration centre in Vihiga county, western Kenya. The centre is a mass of fruit trees, other exotic and indigenous tree species and vegetables, tuber crops, a rabbit hutch, a fishpond filled with collected rainwater, and a kitchen. Although measuring less than an acre, the centre resembles a natural forest teeming with abundance.

BIOGI’s goals are to address challenges of climate change, deforestation and food insecurity through innovative agro- ecological principles and sustainable management of natural resources, and the NPO works with more than 2,000 smallholder farmers and their groups in Vihiga and Kakamega counties. The two counties have one thing in common, a high population density. Vihiga has a population density of 1,047 people per square kilometre, while Kakamega has a density of 618 per square kilometre.

Population density has contributed to deforestation, soil degradation and biodiversity loss in the region, but farmers, in partnership with BIOGI, have set up community learning ecosites as places to incubate new ideas for how to create regenerative enterprises in support of livelihoods in a sustainable manner. These enterprises include setting up food forests or organic gardens, in addition to rearing small livestock to cushion farmers and smallholders against climate, improve nutrition and generate income.

Farmers are also taught innovative approaches to crop and animal husbandry. These include aspects of permaculture, seed banking, organic farming, pre- and post-harvest handling and bio-fertiliser making. Ferdinand Wafula, BIOGI’s Chief Executive Officer, explains that the food forests concept is a  farming  system that involves integrating  trees  into  food gardens. Food forests, he says, mimic natural forests. “Soil degradation and high  demand  for  wood  fuel  led  to deforestation and poor harvests, which prompted farmers to collectively seek innovative remedies that ensure sustainable agriculture,” he explains.

Simon Amwoyo is among the local farmers affiliated to BIOGI. Amwoyo undertakes various activities on his one hectare farm, where he grows a variety of fruit trees such as mangoes and avocados, as well as Grevillea Robusta, a species used as a source of wood for fuel and timber. He also grows Calliandra and Sesbania trees, which provide fodder. “I have a tree forest and I also grow cassava,   pumpkins, sweet potatoes, bananas and indigenous vegetables,” Amwoyo says, adding that the skills offered by BIOGI have enabled him to establish a fishpond, an apiary and keep livestock. He has also learnt better ways of using wood-fired cooking stoves and to recycle farm waste for organic manure, all of which have enabled him to meet the daily needs of his household.

Likewise, Ruth Okalo, who is also affiliated to BIOGI, says she has been able to seamlessly  incorporate  her food forest and organic garden into rearing livestock. Okalo, who grows bananas, sweet potatoes and indigenous vegetables alongside fruits and Grevillea Robusta, also rears dairy cattle. “I am self-reliant and I supplement the income of my husband instead of depending on him as I used to do before becoming a member of BIOGI,” she says. Wafula says the practices espoused by BIOGI are turning around the lives of farmers because they mitigate against climate change and environmental degradation.

The forest cover provides protection for food and fodder crops, increasing the production of food and other farm goods that meet farmers’ needs in the short-, mid- and long-term, he says. Food forests also contribute to improving Kenya’s forest cover, given that the national average is less than 8%. The farmers, he adds, are also involved in regenerative enterprises such as converting waste into organic manure and fodder. The farmers working with BIOGI have also harnessed indigenous knowledge  to ensure climate resilience, Wafula says. “As part of the local culture, the community had traditional seed banks to preserve the germplasms of indigenous crops.

They knew how to undertake seed selection and methods of preserving them until next planting season.” To that end, he told Africa in Fact, they have now helped to establish a farm seed bank to preserve the seeds of endangered, indigenous crops, especially vegetables. BIOGI also educates partner smallholders on ways of preparing the produce and thus encouraging their consumption. As part of the move to include regenerative enterprises in the value chain, so boosting the local economy, the farmers prepare and sell traditional dishes using indigenous crops. Participating farmers are also taught how to establish and manage organic gardens, Wafula says.

They also receive training in integrating small livestock with crop farming, which can have benefits for nutrient recycling and renewable energy utilisation. Variants of BIOGI’s approach are appearing in other sub-Saharan countries. The approach is certainly applicable on a continent of some 51 million farms, of which 80% (41 million) are smaller than two hectares, according to the Africa Agriculture Status Report 2017 of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

Richard Kimbowa, chairman of the International Network for Sustainable Energy (INFORSE), East Africa, says the concept is also practised in Uganda. The establishment of food forests in the East African country, he says, has resulted in a range of agroforestry systems, including the use of mangoes and avocado trees in home gardens. Food forests contribute to the maintenance of existing agro-pastoral systems involving livestock, such as cattle, goats, sheep and pigs, Kimbowa says. Food forests keep land under cover, thus mitigating degradation, deforestation and pollution from the overuse of agrochemicals.

They also provide firewood, which most farmers depend on for energy. Moreover, the trees contribute to improving air quality and and the development of microclimates. Unfortunately, food forests also face various challenges. “Food forests are threatened by the policies of governments that favour large-scale and commercial farming, resulting in displacements and land grabs with considerable socio- economic effects,” Kimbowa says. At the same time, rising population growth means that more farmers require extension services and education to help them adopt new technologies.

Chris Macoloo, Africa’s regional director for  World  Neighbors  (WN), an international NGO that educates communities about solutions to challenges such as hunger and poverty, says many smallholder farmers may also view food forest practices as competition for other profitable land uses such as cropping and livestock rearing. “Trees are seen as competing with crops for available and limited essential resources such as labour, water and nutrients. The farmers we work with also initially lack the skills and technical expertise needed for establishing and managing agroforestry systems.”

But he agrees that food forests enhance food security and biodiversity protection. “They create a suitable habitat for wildlife and insects, including pollinators,” he says. “They also enrich the soil with organic matter and support the control of pests and diseases, enhancing and promoting agro-ecology.” Partner farmers work on their own farms, and are therefore more motivated to plant and manage the trees than those who cultivate communal areas. Moreover, he says, research has shown that vegetables, fruit trees and shrubs are more productive when cultivated in a near-natural habitat model such as that provided by the food forests.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) runs a project, the Forest and Farm Facility (FFF), which offers financial support and technical assistance to strengthen forest and farm producer organisations, says Philip Kisoyan, a programme coordinator. He describes food forests as “multi-storey gardens” that include root crops, cover crops, vegetables and fruits. “Our goal is to enable farmers to adequately benefit from tree products such as fuel wood, timber, fodder for livestock and fruits.”

The choice of tree species to plant depends on climatic and ecological factors as well as the farmer’s needs. “Some farmers opt for multipurpose trees for fruits, fodder, timber and fuel wood, while others go for early maturing species,” says Kisoyan. The FFF works with smallholder famers in Africa, Latin America and Asia. In Africa, the programme operaties in Kenya, Tanzania, Togo, Zambia Ghana and Madagascar. It is also operating in Bolivia, Latin America and Vietnam in Asia, according to Kisoyan. “Smallholder farmers are a critical part of society, but without support they can’t fully fulfil their potential,” he told Africa in Fact.

They represent a huge number of our farmers. If organised and empowered with skills and capital, they could form a significant segment of the private sector.” Supporting farmers to organise into groups and co-operatives, he adds, also empowers them to collectively seek markets, inputs and add value to their products. The food forest concept is crucial for sustainable agriculture and climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration, he argues. “There are more trees on farms than in designated forests in Kenya. Around 40% of timber sold in Kenya is from farms.”

Like other food security specialists, Kisoyan points to the many benefits offered by food forests.  In  his  view,  the key factor is that they improve biodiversity, which contributes to high crop productivity by offering a habitat for pollinators – bees and birds. Like the WN’s Chris Macoloo, though, he says that the concept and practice of food forests faces challenges. Incentives to cultivate a food forest can be adversely affected by government policy, or a lack of knowledge, or the availability of appropriate technology. Kenya’s position on trees is a case in point, he says.

“When you plant a tree it’s your personal decision, but should you require to cut and transport it, you’re compelled to obtain authorisation from authorities.” All the same, food forests are gaining popularity in Africa, says Ru Hartwell, director of Community Carbon Link, which runs a forestry project connecting Wales and Kenya. The organisation is currently working with a community in Bore, along Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast, to promote farm forestry. In Hartwell’s view, food forests should also be seen as contributing part of a solution to a larger problem – climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has asserted that humanity will lose the battle against global warming if the tropics are not reforested, he says. “Reducing emissions in the developed world without stopping tropical deforestation won’t fix the broken climate.” The   poorest   people in the world – who  include  sub-Saharan Africa’s large number of women farmers – now hold the key to fighting climate change, says Hartwell. They are increasingly getting involved in reforesting, and growing trees for food, fodder, fuel and even medicinal purposes, he says. “No- one really appreciates it yet, but poor, marginalised women now hold the fate of the entire planet in their hands.”

Meanwhile, Stepha McMullin, a scientist at the Nairobi-based International Council for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), also called the World Agroforestry Centre, says her organisation promotes the cultivation  of various species, including indigenous and under-utilised African food trees and crops, such as baobab, moringa and sorindeia. “These are crops with under- exploited potential for food and nutrition security and they have been ignored by researchers,” she says. “They can provide fruits, leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and oils into the local food system.”

However, fruit consumption remains low in sub-Saharan Africa, largely because seasonality poses a challenge. Moreover, the short windows of harvests, and gluts of certain species at particular times, lower market prices, McMullin says. “Fortunately, seasonality also provides opportunities, not just for income generation but, importantly, for food security and nutrition.” To take account of these issues, ICRAF has developed a “portfolio”  approach  to address the seasonal availability of foods in local food systems, based on studies of the mixes of trees and crops best suited to particular areas. Some 17 location-specific portfolios have been developed across East Africa in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia  and  Somaliland,  says McMullin.

Working with national partners and local farming communities, the centre promotes relevant portfolios to local farmers, training them on the benefits of diversification, tree planting and management, and the importance of using quality seed and seedlings. McMullin believes farmers can be incentivised to adopt food forests if they are involved in the research process. Researchers need to provide them with information on the diversity of food tree species that can be cultivated in their localities, and the opportunities for income that they offer. Crops derived from trees have an additional benefit, she argues.

“The extensive roots of trees make them more drought tolerant than annual crops, so they can provide food in dry periods when other food sources are not available.” Meanwhile, Nicholas Syano, co- founder and chief executive officer of the Drylands Natural Resource Centre (DNRC), which promotes agro-ecology among farmers in eastern Kenya, agrees that food forests can play a role in climate resilience.

“This isn’t really a new concept, but rather part of indigenous knowledge which the  continent  had  lost,”  he  says. Traditionally, homes would have forest gardens with food crops such as mangoes, guavas, avocadoes and cashew nuts, root crops such as sweet potatoes, as well as beans as a cover crop, vegetables, medicinal herbs, shrubs, climbers, and fruit trees, among others. BIOGI, it seems, is on the right path, back to the future.

 

Justus Wanzala is a Kenyan journalist who writes on the environment, climate change, agriculture and practical technologies as well as sustainable development and social issues. Currently, he works for the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and as a freelancer/contributor for various publications across the globe.

 

Working from the ground up

Case study: Talensi, Ghana

A low-cost, easily replicated land restoration technique has helped smallholders in northern Ghana resist the ravages of climate change

Farmers select pineapple plants to be cultivated on a farm in Ekumfi, Ghana, 2018 Photo: Christina Aldehuela

Although climate change has not received as much discussion as it should have in Ghana, it has taken its toll on the Talensi district in the upper east region of the country. Fortunately for the farmers in the area, a Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) project, sponsored by World Vision Ghana, has helped to alleviate its effects on the people. The project, which has been well received and is showing signs of success thus far, could be replicated across the African continent to increase food and timber production as well as resilience to climate extremes.

The Talensi district forms part of the 15  municipalities and districts in  the upper east region and is one of 260 Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs). About 90% of the population is engaged in subsistence agriculture. Production of the main staple food crops, namely cereals and legumes, is done by smallholder farmers using traditional methods, which have made little room for modern scientific advancement. The main crops produced are millet, sorghum, groundnut and beans. These are dependent on annual rain, which has become erratic over the years, leading to poor harvests.

Inusah Baba, a senior research scientist at the Savannah Agriculture Research Institute of Ghana’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), says the Ghanaian authorities have woken up to the fact that climate change is a phenomenon that is not remote to the country. Changing weather conditions have also led to flooding, which has become an annual ritual in all major farming communities on the banks of the White Volta [the headstream of the Volta River, Ghana’s main waterway], Inusah said. As a result, many people’s crops have been washed away by flood waters.

In addition, the erratic rains have reduced yields for most crops grown in northern Ghana. Moreover, in recent years intermittent droughts – which are understood to consist of three or more weeks with no significant rains – have also combined with unusually high temperatures in March through to April, affecting the period between August and September, when most crops are grown under rain- fed conditions. Farmers in the Talensi district, however, say that World Vision’s FMNR has helped to maintain their livelihoods.

Standing in his fields, wearing his fugu – a cotton outfit worn by men – John Anaba, a farmer at Namoalug in the Talensi district, said he was proud of what he had been able to achieve using only hoes and cutlasses. However, changes in the weather had given him good and bad times, he said. He did not understand what climate change was, but the weather had changed in recent years, negatively affecting his crops and those of others in the district. It was “better now”, he added.

“The Talensi FMNR, is a rapid, low-cost, easily replicated land restoration technique to combat poverty and hunger that works with communities and partners to restore degraded lands in the district so as to improve on soil health for healthy agricultural production,” World Vision Ghana’s food security and resilience technical programmes manager, Maxwell Amedi, told Africa in Fact. In practice, FMNR involves the systematic regrowth and management of trees and shrubs from felled tree stumps, which helps to sprout root systems or seeds.

The regrown trees and shrubs, which help restore soil structure and fertility, inhibit erosion and soil moisture evaporation, rehabilitate the water table and increase biodiversity. Some tree species also provide the soil with nutrients. The FMNR approach encourages the use of living tree stumps, which can resprout or produce seeds. When trees are cut down, their root systems often remain alive underground. “In many formerly forested areas this underground forest [may be] vast, with millions of trees waiting to be regenerated. FMNR systematically regenerates this underground forest,” he said.

The project is a tree management practice, involving selection, pruning, protection and maintenance, and also empowers communities, regreening both community mindsets and peoples’ relationship with nature and the landscape. Preparation for the FMNR project started in October 2006, with the support of World Vision Australia (WVA). “WVA’s aim was to improve the socio- economic living conditions of the people in the Talensi area,” Amendi says. “The WVA contributed to this goal through a programme focus approach that tackled deep-rooted issues of poverty, economic empowerment and capacity building in health and nutrition, education, water sanitation and hygiene, environmental sustainability and livelihood empowerment.”

Farmers tapping rubber trees to collect latex at Agona, Ghana, 2019 Photo: Christina Aldehuela

The FMNR did not just take off, Amendi says. “A baseline study was conducted before the implementation of each of the three phases. With each phase, we worked with the communities to reverse land degradation and hunger resulting from poor soils in the district.” In addition to the drought, floods, and erratic rainfall patterns mentioned, the Talensi district is vulnerable to infertile and degraded soils, food insecurity, land scarcity, with occasional disease outbreaks of cerebrospinal meningitis (CSM). To further test the viability of the project before it was fully implemented, a pilot was started in 2009, which aimed to incorporate sound environmental management into the farming practices in the project area.

This led to the first phase, which started in 2009 and ended in 2011, involving nine communities using the FMNR concept. So far, more than 3,000 people have benefited, and the project has helped restore over 400 hectares of degraded lands. “After successfully implementing the first phase, the second phase began in 2012 and ended in 2017,” Amendi says, adding that, “The second phase was implemented in 33 communities with funding support from Computer Share Australia through WVA. It benefited more than 8,000 people and restored over 700 hectares of degraded lands in the district.”

The third phase of the project started in July 2017 and ended  in  June this year, with funding support from the Australian government through WVA. It aimed to benefit 8,000 people and restore another 500 hectares of degraded land. WVA has similar FMNR projects in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali, Burundi, and Senegal, the organisation’s media manager, Mike Bruce, told Africa in Fact. The outcomes differ slightly from community to community, depending on circumstances.

“I have seen the difference that the project has brought to my people,” farmer John Anaba says. “Before, it was like the soil had quarrelled with us. Our crops refused to show any sign of life. We were just the forgotten people in the country, and food to feed our families became a problem.” So far, the project has seen an improvement in household food security and the resilience of people in the Talensi district, especially the most vulnerable and their families. This has happened through farmer-managed natural regeneration approaches and improved farming systems.

In addition, there has been better environmental management and stewardship, as well as an improvement in household income and savings among the people. Two project evaluations have taken place, both of which have shown that the approach has resulted in an increase in soil fertility and crop yield, as well as improvements in bulk compost and field mulching with crop residue, which has produced more food, Amendi says. Moreover, bush fires, once an annual occurrence, have been reduced by 80%, protecting the soil and allowing grasses and trees to recover, leading to massive reforestation of farms and communal fields.

The district now produces more fodder and nesting for livestock, which means the animals do not need to wander to feed. More fruit is available for home consumption and for sale, and more firewood is available. In total, the project has restored over 2,000 hectares of degraded land, with more than 10,000 farmers using conservation practices such as zero/minimum tillage, the use of stone bund walls, protecting the soil with layers of the residue from harvest crops, and making and using compost to improve soil fertility.

Other people in the district, among them several women, commented that FMNR has had a huge impact on the Talensi district by improving smallholder farmers’ levels of the production and reducing environmental degradation. Overall, the approach has seen an increase in opportunities for livelihoods and incomes for the people in the area.

 

Francis Kokutse is a journalist based in Accra, Ghana. A former member of the governing board of the state-owned Ghana News Agency (GNA), he is currently a writer for the Associated Press (AP) and a contributor to Science and Development.Net (SciDev.Net) as well as the University World News.

Food from the forest

Agroforestry: nature-based enterprise

Encouraging more sub-Saharan smallholders to farm a mix of food, animals and trees offers an effective way to boost food security and livelihoods

Anne Mburu looks at vegetables that she enriches using slurry that runs off the adjascent flexibag biogas digester installed at her farm in Kiambu, Kenya, 2019 Photo: Tony Karumba / AFP

On a tour of farmlands in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, especially in the rural areas you are likely to see green lands with food crops, trees and shrubs. In some instances, the trees may be planted in contour lines interspersed with crops on a piece of land, while in other cases crops are interspersed with shrubs on the same piece of land. This activity, known as agroforestry, has been proposed by environmentalists  and conservationists a tour of farmlands in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, especially in the rural  areas, as an effective way to prevent soil erosion as well as boost food security and increase farm income.

For farmers practising agroforestry, their farms are a one-stop shop of products for subsistence as well as a source of income. For instance, farmers cultivate tree products such as fruits, fuel wood, and fodder from their farms. Fodder products boost the growth and milk production of dairy animals such as cows and goats. Farmers in West Africa’s semi-arid areas have adopted multipurpose trees on land popularly known as agroforestry parklands.  In  1999,  the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) recognised “their significance as a rich pool of forest genetic diversity” in its report, Agroforestry parklands in sub-Saharan Africa.

But while agroforestry systems promise significant benefits to smallholder farmers, the extent of their socio-economic benefits is still unclear. A study published in the journal World Development in January this year attempted to analyse the downstream socio-economic impacts of agroforestry in Kenya. The study looked at 60 villages practising agroforestry in western Kenya under a Swedish programme, Vi Agroforestry, and 61 villages that were not practising it. Researchers  found that smallholder farmers who practised agroforestry, planting trees and shrubs on their farmlands, increased their revenue by almost $50 per person annually.

The researchers said that “despite evidence of variable programme exposure and agroforestry uptake, we found modest, yet statistically significant, effects of Vi Agroforestry’s programme on intermediate outcomes, such as agroforestry product income, fuel wood access, and milk yields among dairy farmers”. The programme was also found to modestly increase asset holdings, especially among female- headed households. However, the study also revealed that the uptake in agroforestry was not as significant as expected. The $50 revenue increase, the study noted, did not represent “a huge, transformative impact, but it should not be entirely dismissed either”.

The limited uptake of agroforestry might be due to a number of factors, including that “farmers simply do not find such innovations particularly useful and cost-effective.” Farmers were  unlikely  to  adopt  tree species that might not yield high financial returns, according to a 2016 study of Ethiopian farmers by Geremew Worku Kassie in the journal Cogent Food & Agriculture. The Ethiopian farmers preferred to grow eucalyptus trees because of the saleable products they yielded, such as timber. They used the revenue to “purchase improved  farm technologies”, while “the revenue generated from selling tree products could [also] help them to bridge rural financial market failures.”

However, agroforestry is a major method of land use in sub-Saharan Africa, although it is not as widespread as in other regions of the world, such as central America. A study by the World Agroforestry Centre in 2014 mapped the extent of trees on farms in sub-Saharan Africa using satellite imagery and geo- datasets and found that agroforestry amounted to nearly 30% of agricultural land, accommodating 70 million people.

Dina Kapiza, an agro-dealer trained in soil testing, shows the fertiliser in her shop which is most suitable for the soils in Mponela area, Malawi, 2016 Photo: Amos Gumulira / AFP

Priscilla Wainaina, an agricultural economist at the centre, says that this might be “significantly underestimated due to technical limitations in using satellite imagery to identify low-density tree cover common in agroforestry systems” and because agroforestry occurs in areas not officially defined as cropland. However, she notes that the adoption of agroforestry is still relatively limited in low-income countries. Silvopastoral systems – agroforestry that combines trees, fodder and animal grazing in a complementary way – and shade-grown commodity agroforestry systems such as coffee and cocoa – often meet the formal definition of forests, and might not be captured in satellite imagery.

Agroforestry is widespread practice in sub-Saharan Africa, with Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Uganda and Tanzania leading the field, according to Wainaina. Despite this, however, agroforestry’s potential in sub-Saharan Africa also faces challenges. Results of a study conducted in Rwanda by researchers from the Department of Sustainable Development at Yeungnam University in South Korea and published in the Journal of Forest Science and Technology in November 2017, revealed that despite a government programme and deliberate efforts to promote agroforestry as a way to reduce pressure on the country’s forests, many farmers in the rural areas were not adopting it “due to lack of skills and technical know-how, capital and quality seeds”.

Respondents in Nyamagabe district, where the study took place, told researchers that agroforestry would be boosted by subsidies to farmers, regular training and informal education, the  establishment of tree nurseries to improve the production of quality seeds, and by engaging with farmers in decision-making. Effective incentives, says Wainaina, would encourage farmers to widely adopt agroforestry. She proposes a well- defined land tenure system, including the registration of land rights, especially the customary land rights that are common within sub-Saharan Africa agricultural areas. “Recognition of these customary land rights is essential in addressing insecure tenure in most of sub-Saharan Africa,” she says.

“Customary land rights are typically not written into law but are rather rights that are recognised by the local community.” Importantly, she says that customary tenure principles grant all bona fide members of the local community land  as  a  social  right. The introduction of individual, statutorily recognised rights can have the effect of dissolving long-standing customary rights, making poorer community members particularly vulnerable. It is important, therefore, she says, that existing customary rights are extended statutory recognition with a legal status equal to private and state land.

There is also a need to strengthen linkages and collaboration among researchers, extension officers and smallholder farmers. Projects intending to promote agroforestry should make this a prerequisite, says Wainaina. Examples include projects underwritten by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Green Climate Fund, which require all the stakeholders to work together from the conception of the idea, to implementation and completion. This ensures that farmers get up to date information regularly, she says. The growth and adoption of agro- forestry will also be boosted by nature- based enterprises.

This calls for the value-addition  of  tree  products  such as honey, shea butter, gum as well as connecting smallholder farmers to well- defined markets. “This would incentivise farmers to adopt agroforestry practices, since they are more likely to engage when they can derive direct benefits,” says Wainaina. Tree seedling production should also be promoted as an enterprise in itself, which would lead to the provision of high-quality seedlings, as well as jobs. This would require regular training for people producing and distributing seedlings. Cash-based incentives such as the UN’s REDD+ programme, which works at reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, could also help by addressing the liquidity constraints smallholder farmers face.

The programme involves compensating farmers (in cash) in exchange for carbon sequestered by the trees. Projects such as the UN REDD+ programme have been piloted in some agroforestry systems in sub-Saharan Africa, in Tanzania for example. Programmes such as these demonstrate the potential for tree commodities such as cocoa and coffee, which are largely produced within agroforestry systems  in sub-Saharan Africa, specifically in Ethiopia, Ghana and Ivory Coast, says Wainaina.

 

Gilbert Nakweya is a journalist from Kenya interested in covering scientific issues with a bias towards the developing world. Topics of interest include health, conservation, agriculture, environment, technology, innovation and higher education.