A is for agroforestry

A is for agroforestry

Date: 19 September 2014

The first article in our A to Z of food sovereignty is on agroforestry.

“There’s no point in using manure or artificial fertilizers when you have gao trees in your fields,” says Bashir Mohamed in Droum village. “And it’s not just the area under the trees that’s more fertile. The wind will blow the fallen leaves across the fields, so that increases fertility beyond the trees as well.”

Crops under the faidherbia tree
Crops under the faidherbia tree

Agroforestry is a farming system where woody perennials (trees, shrubs, bamboos) are grown together with agricultural crops and/or animals. This fusion of agriculture and forestry creates multiple benefits and can help address:

  • Environmental issues such as soil fertility, land degradation, loss of biodiversity
  • Social issues (poverty, health, loss of food sovereignty)
  • Economic issues by increasing crop yields.

There are lots of great examples of agroforestry in action in Africa. In Niger, the Faidherbia tree, a soil-improving (by fixing nitrogen) acacia species, has been planted on over 4.8 million hectares of land. The leaves and pods from the tree provide fodder for animals during the dry season, while helping to protect crops from wind and water erosion and improving soil quality. This ‘fertilizer tree’, is now being used by hundreds of thousands of farmers across Africa. Growing crops with Faidherbia has increased crop yields of up to 100% for maize, cotton and peanut as well as traditional grains like sorghum and millet, and yields of up to 400% in one part of Malawi. Other soil-improving shrubs have been planted together with maize in Cameroon, Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia with total maize production increasing from a five-year average of 5 tonnes to 8 tonnes per hectare. Agroforestry with plants like Faidherbia help fertilize soil without need for expensive and unsustainable chemical fertilizers sold to farmers by big companies like Monsanto and Yara.

Photo credit: World Agroforestry Centre/Charlie Pye-Smith

About the A-Z of food sovereignty project

The A-Z of Food Sovereignty in Africa shows the positive alternatives to corporate-led agriculture. A new letter was posted each day in the lead up to World Food Day arrived on 16 October 2014.

Africa’s small-scale food producers already know how to produce enough food sustainably to feed themselves but the political and economic rules which govern the food system are set against them. These rules are written by and for multinational companies and political elites, in support of a global food system that benefits them rather than the millions of smallholders and family farmers who produce the food and get little in return.