12 April 2012

Beating famine in Africa through land management

  1. Farmers in Niger are finding that they can increase their yields by practising Farmer Managed Natural Generation, a technique pioneered by World Vision. Photo: Amadou Baraze/World Vision
  2. Measuring tree growth in Ethiopia. Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration releases the power of vast “underground forests” to restore vast tracts of seemingly barren land. Photo: World Vision
  3. Minata and her children are benefiting from a World Vision vegetable garden project in Mali. Photo: Adel Sarkozi/World Vision
  4. In Mali, a World Vision project has helped to reduce the impact of the current food crisis on vulnerable families by providing them with the knowledge and resources to grow vegetables. Photo: Justin Douglass/World Vision
  5. In Ethiopia, Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration has helped to restore farmland and provide families with new sources of food and income. Photo: World Vision

High-level talks to tackle hunger and food insecurity will take place in Nairobi, Kenya this week as a food crisis in West Africa continues to intensify and governments in East Africa prepare for another season of low rainfall.

Politicians from around the region will gather at the ‘Beating Famine’ conference, along with representatives from the UN Environment Programme, FAO, AusAID, USAID, African Union, World Bank and other non-government organisations.

A joint initiative by World Vision and the World Agroforestry Center, the conference is aimed at combating hunger through practical, low cost, rapid and proven environmental and agricultural initiatives.

The forum comes as a food crisis in West Africa escalates, with more than 15 million people now in need of food assistance. Families in Niger, Mali, Chad, Senegal and Mauritania are being pushed to the brink as crops fail and food rations dry up.

There are also indications that East Africa will suffer another set back this year, with low rainfall predicted in many areas. In a region still recovering from the 2011 famine, poor rains could result in significant food insecurity.

“The Beating Famine conference aims to spark a re-greening movement that will transform Africa and end the terrible cycle of drought and famine that many parts of the continent endure,” said Dr Charles Owubah, World Vision East Africa regional leader.

“Through this conference, we hope that governments, NGOs and also communities see the power of simple, effective environmental techniques as an important way of tackling hunger.”

“Hunger is the single biggest solvable problem we face today and yet, by 2050 we expect that climate change and erratic weather conditions will have pushed another 24 million children into hunger,” World Vision Australia chief executive Tim Costello said. “Half of those children will live in sub-Saharan Africa so it cannot be any clearer that committed, smart and sustained action must be taken immediately.”

One technique that will play a significant role during the conference is Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration. FMNR was pioneered by World Vision Australia natural resources advisor, Tony Rinaudo in Niger in the 1980s. Since that time, FMNR has transformed half of Niger’s farmlands (or more than 5 million hectares).

“Tony Rinaudo’s work over nearly three decades has shown us that land management techniques really can make a dramatic difference to the lives of many millions of people,” said conference organiser Rob Francis. “In Niger, the improvement of agricultural land through FMNR has been breathtaking. By 2007, an extra 2.5 million people were able to be fed by increased crop yields and even today in the midst of erratic climate conditions in Niger, we are seeing that many FMNR communities are far more resilient than communities where FMNR is not practised.”

Niger is the only country in West Africa to have maintained per capita food production, despite a booming population rise. Importantly, the benefits of FMNR also extend to increased timber and wood products. Families who practise FMNR in the Maradi district of Niger derive an average annual income of US$340 from the sale of firewood, giving them a buffer during lean times.

“FMNR has transformative powers,” said FMNR pioneer Tony Rinaudo. “It can improve soil quality, dramatically increase crop yields and ultimately protect many millions of people from hunger. But perhaps the greatest thing about FMNR is how quickly and naturally it spreads from farmer to farmer, community to community. When farmers are on to a good thing, there really is no holding them back.”

The Beating Famine conference will be streamed live at http://beatingfamine.com

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