Climate Change, Malnutrition and Poverty Could All Be Solved By Widespread 'Green' Agricultural Practices

The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) are calling for the widespread uptake of 'green' agricultural practices that will deliver multiple benefits to the world's rapidly growing populations - from combating climate change and eradicating poverty to boosting food production and providing sustainable sources of timber.

The call was made at the launch of the 2nd World Congress of Agroforestry, which will be held in Nairobi from 23-28 August 2009.

Agriculture, deforestation and other forms of land use account for nearly one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. With just a few months to go until the crucial UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, agricultural and environmental experts agree that all forms of land use should be included in a post-Kyoto climate regime.

According to a UNEP report, the agricultural sector could be largely carbon neutral by 2030 and produce enough food for a population estimated to grow to nine billion by 2050, if proven methods aimed at reducing emissions from agriculture were widely adopted today. Key among these methods are agroforestry, reduced cultivation of the soil, and the use of natural nutrients such as fertilizer trees.

A study by World Agroforestry Centre scientists, for example, on fertilizer trees that capture nitrogen from the air and transfer it to the soil indicates that their use can reduce the need for commercial nitrogen fertilizers by up to 75 per cent while doubling or tripling crop yields. "These results should make agroforestry appealing to farmers" noted Dennis Garrity, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre and Co-Chair of the Congress Global Organizing Committee.

UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said: "Addressing the range of current and future challenges - from the food, fuel and economic crises to the climate change and natural resource scarcity ones - requires an accelerated transition to a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy for the 21st century. Farming will be either part of the problem or a big part of the solution. The choice is straight forward: continuing to mine and degrade productive land and the planet's multi-trillion dollar ecosystems or widely adopting creative and climate-friendly management systems of which agroforestry is fast emerging as a key shining example."

"If implemented over the next fifty years, agroforestry could result in 50 billion tons of carbon dioxide being removed from the atmosphere, about a third of the world's total carbon reduction challenge," Dr Garrity said.

Researchers suggest that integrating agroforestry in farming systems on a massive scale would create a vital carbon bank. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates no less than a billion hectares of developing country farmland is suitable for conversion to carbon agroforestry projects.

"Nations must seal the deal on a comprehensive and scientifically-credible new climate agreement in Copenhagen - there is a lot at stake, not least the future of agriculture and farmers' livelihoods. One key step will be for nations to agree to a scheme for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) which will pave the way for preserving forests and other key ecosystems, as well as closing the gap in global demand for sustainable timber by shifting production from forest to farm," Mr. Steiner stated.

According to a UNEP report released in June, the farm sector has the largest readily achievable gains in carbon storage, if best management practices were widely adopted. Up to 6 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 equivalent, or up to 2 Gt of carbon, could be sequestered each year by 2030, which is comparable to the current emissions from agriculture. Many of the agricultural practices that store more carbon can be implemented at little or no cost. The majority of this potential - 70 per cent - can be realized in developing countries.

While farmers in developing countries are one of the world's largest, most efficient producers of sequestered carbon, to date it has not been possible to calculate or verify how much they are removing from the atmosphere. The World Agroforestry Centre and UNEP are partners in a project that promises to provide the basis for widespread adoption of agroforestry and other sustainable forms of agriculture.

The Carbon Benefits Project, launched in May 2009, is developing a standard and reliable method for accurately measuring, monitoring, reporting, and projecting how much carbon each kind of land use is storing. This global project makes use of the latest remote sensing technology and analysis, soil carbon modeling, ground-based measurements, and statistical analysis.

Garrity noted that if nations agree to a scheme for REDD in Copenhagen, the work of the Carbon Benefits Project will provide a more credible basis for smallholders to receive payments for conserving forests, practicing conservation agriculture and increasing tree cover on their farms that sequesters carbon.

"Saving carbon is not a priority for smallholder farmers. But, supporting them to expand their agroforestry systems provides income generation and service benefits to farmers that also have the co-benefit of sequestering carbon" Garrity said. "For example, by using fertilizer trees and other conservation agriculture techniques, farmers have increased their maize yields from an average of 1 tonne per hectare to 3 or even 4 tonnes per hectare while greatly improving exhausted soils. Food security is enhanced while farmers' production systems become better adapted to climate change."

Garrity also cited an agroforestry project underway in Malawi, where smallholder farmers are being supported with knowledge about how to plant trees for fertilizer, fruit and fuelwood benefits. The addition of fuelwood and fruit trees on these farms releases women from having to take timber from the forest, and their children are receiving more vitamins and minerals in their diet.

The theme of the Congress is Agroforestry - the future of global land use. It will assess opportunities to leverage scientific agroforestry in promoting sustainable land use worldwide. Over 1,000 researchers, practitioners, farmers, and policy makers from all corners of the globe are expected to attend, including Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and renowned environmental activist, and M. S. Swaminathan, World Food Prize laureate and "Father of the Green Revolution in India".

Tree geneticists will explain successful processes for domesticating tree species such as rubber, coffee and indigenous fruits. Economists will present findings of studies on value-adding and improving access to markets. And soil scientists will debate the best tree-based systems for reversing land degradation.

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