African farmers encouraged to plant trees to boost agriculture

Farmers in Africa are being encouraged to plant a particular species of acacia tree that boasts a wide array of useful traits - including helping to stave off climate change.

Around 800 scientists meeting in Nairobi for the second World Congress of Agroforestry this week said that the tree, known as a Mgunga in Swahili, had beneficial properties that made it almost unique.

As a nitrogen fixer the tree provides a free, organic source of fertiliser while offering fodder for livestock, wood for construction and fuel and windbreaks and erosion control.

The Mgunga is also unusually well adapted to thrive in soils across a wide range of African climates, from sub-Saharan to the humid tropics.

Persuading farmers of the advantage of tree planting would also go some way towards offsetting the damage being done through deforestation elsewhere on the continent.

“The future of trees is on farms,” said Dennis Garrity, director general of the World Agroforestry Centre, or ICRAF.

“Growing the right tree in the right place on farms in sub-Saharan Africa–and worldwide– has the potential to slow climate change, feed more people, and protect the environment.

“This tree, as a source of free, organic nitrogen, is an example of that. There are many other examples of solutions to African farming that exist here already.”

The tree is already widely used by farmers in many parts of Africa, where its properties are already widely recognised.

“Knowledge of this tree is farmer-driven,” said Mr Garrity.

“We are now combining the scientific knowledge base with the farmer knowledge base. There is sufficient research on both sides to warrant dramatically scaling-up the planting of this tree on farms across Africa through extension programs.

“The risks to farmers are low; it requires very little labor, and delivers many benefits.”

“Thus far we have failed to do enough to refine, adapt and extend the unique properties of these trees to the more than 50 million food crop farmers who desperately need home-grown solutions to their food production problems,” he continued.

David Gibbs

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