Approximately 70% of Africa’s population depends on its agriculture-based economy for their livelihoods, underscoring the importance of soil to the sector. Fertile soils across the continent are under threat, however, due in large part to climate change and poor land management which leads to the depletion of nutrients and soil organic matter and increased soil erosion.
During the recent European Development Days held on 7-8 June 2017 in Brussels, Belgium, the Joint Research Commission of the European Commission led a session on sustainable soil management in Africa. Panelists drew from different organizations including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and University of Leuven. Their discussion focused on solutions to large-scale adoption, both at policy and practical levels, of key land restoration options including integrated soil fertility management alongside practices such as intercropping and agroforestry. Scientists from ICRAF presented compelling evidence on how soil restoration can contribute to improved food security and livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa.
IPCC Special report on climate change and land: Call for experts- Outline of the Special Report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems.
IPCC Special report on climate change and land: Call for experts
At its 45th Session (Guadalajara, Mexico, 28 – 31 March 2017), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) approved the outline for “Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems”. For this special report he IPCC has now opened a call for nomination of authors and review editors.
The 45th session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC-45) concluded with the adoption of several decisions that will significantly shape the outcomes of the sixth assessment cycle, including the outlines of two special reports. The meeting’s achievements were somewhat overcast by funding concerns, and the IPCC established and adopted the terms of reference for an Ad Hoc Task Group on Financial Stability of the IPCC.
IPCC-45 convened from 28-31 March 2017, in Guadalajara, Mexico, and brought together approximately 320 participants from over 100 countries. Having adopted the outline of the special report on global warming of 1.5°C at its previous session, IPCC-45 turned its attention to the special reports on climate change and land, and on oceans and cryosphere in a changing climate. Delegates adopted the outlines for both of these reports.
Amazon – Recently, I came across a much publicized article in The New York Times about the impact of two of the world’s biggest grain traders, Cargill and Bunge, on deforestation trends in the agricultural frontiers of Brazil and Bolivia. Since we have entered an era of private commitments to deforestation-free supply chains, this article shows that there is still a way to go for some companies to improve their performance.
Deforestation estimates in 2016 from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) indicate a resurgence of deforestation in the Amazon, and deforestation hotspots identified by the Word Resources Institute suggest increasing pressure on the savanna forests in the Cerrado region, a biodiversity-rich ecosystem. Additionally, while there are no official deforestation estimates in lowlands Bolivia, it has remained at high levels, according to Terra-I. This suggests a need to examine the culprits.
Don’t miss the forest for the trees
The article mentioned above discusses a new report by the environmental campaign organization Mighty Earth that identifies deforestation in Brazil and Bolivia linked to Cargill and Bunge. Drawing on satellite imagery and supply-chain mapping information processed by the Stockholm Environment Institute, the article makes the case that new large-scale forest-clearing by Bolivian and Brazilian farmers for soybean production is associated with the demand from these two American-based food giants.
It is interesting to note that companies like Cargill and Bunge still buy soybeans originating from forestlands converted to agriculture and fail to implement due diligence procedures to verify their origin. In some cases, these purchases directly trigger soybean expansion across Brazil and Bolivia’s frontiers. Cargill and Bunge have argued, in their defense, that their role is minor, and that deforestation is a complex issue that requires all major buyers — not just them — to get involved.
While it is useful that environmental groups like Mighty Earth track how company supply chains are ‘contaminated’ by ‘dirty supply’, it would be more helpful if they could place these trends within a wider context. This would foster more practical and durable solutions, because even if these two soybean traders stopped buying soybeans from the Matopiba region in Brazil and the eastern lowlands in Bolivia, it is likely that deforestation would continue to expand in both of these regions.
How can tree stumps improve agricultural productivity?
Farmer managed natural regeneration is making a difference in developing countries but institutions need adapting for it to work
by Caspar van Vark
There’s a received wisdom that tree stumps, shoots and bushes should be cleared from a field before planting crops. It seems logical, but the experience of farmers in southern Niger suggests otherwise. There, the practice of Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) has been found to significantly improve soil quality and crop yields, along with additional resources and income from tree products.
FMNR takes advantage of living underground root systems of previously cleared trees. Rather than remove new shoots, farmers practicing FMNR will nurture five or so of the strongest, most upright stems, pruning the rest away. These stems are allowed to grow, and some are harvested for firewood and timber.
The presence of shrubs and trees helps fix nitrogen in the soil and lessens wind erosion so that seeds don’t blow away and have to be replanted, while falling leaves scattering around fields enrich the soil.
The practice was first introduced in Niger in the 1980s on a small experimental scale in response to widespread drought and land degradation, and a new publication by the World Agroforestry Centre describes how transformational this straightforward practice has been.
It cites a farmer from the Maradi region in southern Niger who estimates that most farmers were getting yields of around 150kg of millet per hectare before FMNR became widespread. Many now get more than 500kg.
“The trees also increase the infiltration rate, and farmers are finding their local water table is going up,” says Dennis Garrity, UN Drylands Ambassador and a senior fellow at the World Agroforestry Centre.
Figure 3.1: Portulacaria afra Jacq. (spekboom) tree. Notice the skirt of rooted branches
Spekboom multiplication for combating desertification
by Prof. Dr. Willem VAN COTTHEM
Ghent University (Belgium)
One of the most interesting African plant species used to combat desertification, limiting soil erosion, producing a dense vegetation cover and a remarkable number of small, edible leaves (fodder, but also vitamin-rich food for humans), is the Spekboom or Elephant’s Bush (Portulacaria afra).
This plant species is swiftly covering dry, eroding soils and should be recommended to all global projects for alleviation of drought, combat of land degradation and halting of wind erosion.
My good friend Johan VAN DE VEN of Bamboo Sur was so kind to offer me some rooted cuttings. These are growing very well in pots and PET-bottles in my garden in Belgium.
In order to study different ways of multiplication of this Spekboom (with succulent branches and leaves), I started taking off small lateral shoots (cuttings) and planted them in some potting soil in a cake box. I also planted some of the succulent leaves (see my photos below).
Within the plastic cake box humidity is kept high (condensation of droplets on the cover). Therefore, I opened the cover from time to time to let some fresh air (oxygen) in.
Quite soon both the cuttings and the separate leaves started rooting. The cuttings swiftly developed some new leaves. A month later I transplanted them into small plastic bottles, twice perforated 2-3 cm above the bottom (for drainage, keeping a small quantity of water at the bottom for moistening the bottle’s content and the rootball).
Once fully rooted within the plastic bottle, I cut off the bottom of the bottle to set the lower part of the rootball free. Then I planted the young Spekboom in a plant pit without taking off the plastic bottle, sitting as a plastic cylinder around the rootball. That plastic cylinder continued to keep the rootball moistened (almost no evaporation) and it offered possibilities to water the sapling from time to time, whenever needed. Irrigation water runs through the plastic cylinder towards the bottom of the rootball, growing freely in the soil (irrigation water directed towards the roots growing into the soil at the bottom of the plant pit). Thus a high survival rate was guaranteed.
It is clear that multiplication of the Spekboom with rooting cuttings and leaves is very easy. It is another interesting aspect of this remarkable plant. I can only recommend a broader use of the Spekboom for reforestation, fodder production and even production of bonsais for enhancement of the annual income (export to developed countries).
Here are some photos of this experiment.
—————-Considering that people working at the Great Green Wall in Africa (or any other interested group on other continents) are looking for practical solutions to cover as soon as possible huge areas of a desertified region, one is tempted to believe that setting up nurseries to produce a sufficient number of plants should not be a problem (as these plants only need a minimum of water).
I keep dreaming of successes booked with this nice edible plant species in the combat of desertification. The day will come that the Elephant bush will be growing in all the drought-affected regions of the world. Animals will eat from it, but also malnourished children and hungry adults will find it an interesting supplement to their food.
Guidance for promoting synergy among activities addressing biological diversity, desertification, land degradation and climate change
Edited by Tracy Zussman
This report highlights the major biological factors that contribute to ecosystem resilience under the projected impacts of global climate change. It assesses the potential consequences for biodiversity of particular adaptation activities under the thematic areas of the Convention on Biological Diversity, provides methodological considerations when implementing these activities, and highlights research and knowledge gaps. The report contains:
an assessment of the integration of biodiversity considerations in the design and implementation of adaptation activities
approaches, methods and tools for planning, designing and implementing adaptation activities that also include biodiversity considerations
key points for advice.
The report both recognises the potential of, and stresses the need for, synergy in the implementation of activities that interlink biodiversity conservation, mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, and land degradation. The report recommends the following:
UN launches campaign to invest in degraded lands to create jobs, boost incomes and food security
“Our land. Our home. Our Future,” is the rallying call for this year’s celebration of the World Day to Combat Desertification on 17 June 2017. The slogan draws global attention to the central role productive land can play in turning the growing tide of migrants abandoning unproductive land into communities and nations that are stable, secure and sustainable, into the future.
The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has also released the campaign logo for use by any group, organization, government or entity that will organize a celebratory event for the Day.
“Migration is high on the political agenda all over the world as some rural communities feel left behind and others flee their lands. The problem signals a growing sense of hopelessness due to the lack of choice or loss of livelihoods. And yet productive land is a timeless tool for creating wealth. This year, let us engage in a campaign to re-invest in rural lands and unleash their massive job-creating potential, from Burkina Faso, Chile and China, to Italy, Mexico, Ukraine and St. Lucia,” says Ms. Monique Barbut, the United Nations top advisor on combatting desertification and drought.
“The possibility for success today is greater than ever before. More than 100 of the 169 countries affected by desertification or drought are setting national targets to curb a run-away land degradation by the year 2030. Investing in the land will create local jobs and give households and communities a fighting chance to live, which will, in turn, strengthen national security and our future prospects for sustainability,” Ms. Barbut added.