Scientists on Tuesday called on Africa to adopt agroforestry which they said can be a long-term solution to perennial food shortages in the continent.
The experts from the Nairobi-based World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) said growing more food on the same size of land is key to increasing food production in Africa to meet the needs of an ever- growing population.
“Climate change and increasing demand for food, animal fodder and fuel is likely to worsen the situation,” said Sammy Carsan, ICRAF’s Tree Domestication Scientist.
Scientists said that farmers in Africa can increase their food production if they avoid over dependence on fertilizers, pesticides and practice agricultural intensification—growing more food on the same amount of land—through natural and resource-conserving approaches such as agroforestry.
The scientists said intensification is key to increasing food production in Africa to meet the needs of an ever-growing population.
“A long-term solution to intensification in Africa should not purely be based on an imported intensification model but instead consider approaches that can maintain the quality of the available resource base through ensuring nutrient cycling, organic matter build-up, biodiversity improvements and water quality regulation,” Carsan said.
They said crop production in the continent is seriously hampered by the degradation of soil fertility, water and biodiversity resources. Currently, yields for important cereals such as maize have stagnated at 1 ton per hectare.
“All this can be achieved through agroforestry,” Carsan said in a special issue of current opinion on environmental sustainability.
In many parts of Asia, intensification has been achieved through the use of greater inputs such as fertilizer, but it has come at a cost, causing soil degradation, loss of biodiversity and pollution which has impacted on food security and income earned from farming.
The article outlines how agroforestry practices involving the use of legumes in rotations or intercrops can restore soil nutrients by fixing nitrogen, improving soil organic matter and reducing reliance on fertilizer use.
“Closing the yield gap, the difference between observed yields and those which are possible in a given region, requires restoring nutrients that have been depleted,” explained Carsan.
“Trees are able to enhance soil quality by adding above-and below-ground organic matter and by releasing and recycling nutrients,” said Carsan. Agroforestry is the integration of trees and shrubs with crops and livestock on farms.
The remarks come as the UN warned that the number of people facing food shortages in the African region has almost doubled in the last year to 20 million people.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned a disaster is looming in the Sahel, with poor rainfalls and serious food shortages already having affected millions.
The number of people facing shortages in the desert region spanning nine African countries from Senegal to Chad, has almost doubled in the last year to 20 million people, according to the UN.