Evergreen Agriculture: a robust approach to sustainable food security in Africa
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Producing more food for a growing population in the coming decades, while at the same time combating poverty and hunger, is a huge challenge facing African agriculture. The risks that come with climate change make this task more daunting. However, hundreds of thousands of rain fed smallholder farmers in Zambia, Malawi, Niger, and Burkina Faso have been shifting to farming systems that are restoring exhausted soils and are increasing food crop yields, household food security, and incomes. This article reviews these experiences, and their broader implications for African food security, as manifestations of Evergreen Agriculture, a fresh approach to achieving food security and environmental resilience. Evergreen Agriculture is defined as the integration of particular tree species into annual food crop systems. The intercropped trees sustain a green cover on the land throughout the year to maintain vegetative soil cover, bolster nutrient supply through nitrogen fixation and nutrient cycling, generate greater quantities of organic matter in soil surface residues, improve soil structure and water infiltration, increase greater direct production of food, fodder, fuel, fiber and income from products produced by the intercropped trees, enhance carbon storage both above-ground and below-ground, and induce more effective conservation of above- and below-ground biodiversity. Four national cases are reviewed where farmers are observed to be applying these principles on a major scale. The first case involves the experience of Zambia, where conservation farming programmes include the cultivation of food crops within an agroforest of the fertilizer tree Faidherbia albida. The second case is that of the Malawi Agroforestry Food Security Programme, which is integrating fertilizer, fodder, fruit, fuel wood, and timber tree production with food crops on small farms on a national scale. The third case is the dramatic expansion of Faidherbia albida agroforests in millet and sorghum production systems throughout Niger via assisted natural regeneration. The fourth case is the development of a unique type of planting pit technology (zai) along with farmer-managed natural regeneration of trees on a substantial scale in Burkina Faso. Lastly, we examine the current outlook for Evergreen Agriculture to be further adapted and scaled-up across the African continent.