Fruits of the tree
SIR – You highlighted the food insecurity facing the Sahel area, on the southern fringe of the Sahara desert, but gave an incomplete picture of how to address the problem (“Hungry again”, July 7th). Governments can develop policies on irrigation but they cannot legislate for natural rainfall.
“Resilience”, apart from being a buzzword, is a useful ecological concept. The perennial problems of land degradation, erratic rainfall and low fertiliser input won’t disappear unless natural assets are better managed. And here the best solution is trees. No other approach provides better organic matter to boost soil fertility and increase water-holding capacity, nor freely pump water from depth to surface, nor add nitrogen to the soil at no cost to the air.
It is possible to transform landscapes from famine-prone to healthy, but it won’t happen overnight nor over one rainy season. Combining trees with crops in fields—agroforestry—is one idea that has taken hold over the past decade. From the western Sahel to the Horn of Africa, and from Kenya down to southern Africa, millions of hectares of farmland have already been converted to agroforest. For example, Niger’s Zinder and Maradi districts have produced cereal surpluses every year since 2006, even as drought has forced other parts of the country to its knees. A progressive national policy has meant five million hectares of agroforest has produced over 450,000 tonnes of extra grain per year.
However, these modest political and technological successes are not enough. At Rio+20, it was heartening to see the topic second most voted for by civil society was to restore 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded land by 2020. Trees provide not only ecological resilience but also cash income, energy, environmental services, fodder for animals and nutritious fruits. They are one of the best ideas we have for removing hunger.
World Agroforestry Centre