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Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Indigenous agroforestry may improve livelihoods

Smallholder farmers should use their indigenous knowledge of trees to boost incomes and drive social development, according to a new book by Roger Leakey, vice chairman of the International Tree Foundation and renowned tree biologist.  Leakey said his new book Living with the Trees of Life: Towards the Transformation of Tropical Agriculture is the world's first research-based guide for agroforestry — an agricultural practice that uses the interactive benefits of combining trees and shrubs with crops and/or livestock. His agroforestry ideas are supported by the International Tree Foundation and the World Agroforestry Centre.
Leakey has developed a three-step farming guide, which integrates agroforestry practices and technological interventions into sustainable farming. It aims to enhance trade and income, and to generate funds for reinvestment in education and local infrastructure.  The first step is to make soil more nitrogen-rich — and thus fertile — by planting leguminous trees and shrubs. The second step is to encourage local farmers to select native crops for production. Using their indigenous knowledge, farmers select the most appropriate crops, which Leakey said are usually "traditional fruits, nuts and medicinal plants [which] they once gathered from the forest". Farmers are then trained in rural resource centres (RRCs), where they learn low-tech methods for maximising the quality of fruits and nuts. The third step involves transitioning from the local to the global marketplace, and engaging with big businesses.
In Cameroon, where the initial projects started, one RRC has seen its income rise from US$145 to US$28,350 per year in the ten years since its farmers were trained. However, a pressing problem is ensuring that farmers are not exploited but supported by big businesses, said Albert Tucker, an international trade consultant and fair trade advocate. Leakey agreed that there were still big question marks over how to protect farmers, and that years of international debate had so far failed to solve these issues.

Source: SciDev Net