Reflecting on World Forest Week 2014, where the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN launched a Forest and Landscape Restoration Mechanism to help countries meet the Bonn Challenge to restore 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested lands by 2020, we need to further think about creating the rich landscapes that the world needs.
There is a tremendous amount of underutilized and unproductive land throughout the world that has the potential to provide valuable ecosystem services if trees are returned to the landscape.
In collaboration with the University of Maryland and IUCN, and as part of the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration, WRI recently updated its Atlas of Forest Landscape Restoration Opportunities. We found that more than 2 billion hectares of land worldwide have the potential to be restored—and many of them are located in some unexpected places.
Almost half of the world’s original forests have been cleared or degraded. So naturally, most people think of the “forest restoration” movement as an effort to re-plant these lost trees.
But it’s time to see restoration as more than just the trees.
Innovative farmers are beginning to demonstrate how agroforestry and other relatively simple practices can significantly boost food production in Africa’s drylands. In fact, according to a new WRI working paper, improving land and water management on just 25 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s 300 million hectares of prime cropland would result in an additional 22 million tons of food. This strategy could go a long way towards sustainably feeding Africa—and the world.
If you want to know how to grow crops in the face of climate change, drought, and land degradation, ask Ousséni Kindo, Ousséni Zoromé, or Yacouba Sawadogo—three farmers in Burkina Faso’s Yatenga region.
Policy makers, researchers, and NGO representatives gathered earlier this year at a workshop in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso to discuss strategies on combating food insecurity and adapting to climate change. Attendees at the event—organized by the group Network for Participatory Approaches to Research and Planning (Réseau MARP Burkina)—heard from several of Burkina Faso’s farmers on how they produce food on degraded lands. The farmers and participants provided interesting insights into climate-smart agriculture methods—including how to scale up these practices throughout the nation.
President Obama is in Africa this week to discuss development, investment, health, and, notably, food security. The trip comes on the heels of the president’s groundbreaking announcement of a U.S. Climate Action Plan. So it’s a fitting time for Obama and other global leaders to take notice of a strategy that addresses both climate change and food security in Africa—re-greening.
Re-greening—a process where African farmers manage and protect trees that grow on their farms, rather than cutting them down—is already beginning to transform the continent’s drylands. Supporting and scaling up the low-tech process can not only increase crop yields in drought-prone regions, it can mitigate climate change and reduce rural poverty.
The History of Re-greening in Africa’s Drylands
Re-greening in Africa first garnered international attention back in 2007, when the New York Times published a front page article entitled “In Niger, Trees and Crops Help Turn Back the Desert.” Lydia Polgreen, who was the NYT’s West Africa bureau chief in those days, had visited Niger and reported “at least 7.4 million newly tree-covered acres.” The NYT article revealed that this large-scale re-greening was not due to expensive tree-planting projects, but was the result of farmers protecting and managing young trees that regenerated on their cultivated land.
This re-greening did not happen everywhere. It was observed in particular in dryland regions with high population densities. Life in dryland areas presents many challenges, and farmers and decision makers are continuously searching for ways to restore their resilience and agricultural productivity.