By Daniel Ooko
NAIROBI, Aug. 24 (Xinhua) -- Scientists attending the second World Congress on Agroforestry which kicked off in Nairobi on Monday said planting of trees can help reserve the effects of climate change, land degradation and keep drought-hit communities alive when all other food crops fail.
World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Director General Dennis Garrity told Xinhua the African governments should support a local tree-based solution to food shortages and climate change.
"The second World Congress on Agroforestry is critical because of the food and land degradation crisis that Africa is facing and the climate change question," he said on the sidelines of the international meeting in Nairobi.
"Because trees are playing an important role in addressing all these challenges, we are very happy to bring together this group of experts from around the world to share the latest knowledge on how we can actually adapt agriculture to climate change and land degradation."
Garrity said the entire world was aware that billions of its population were facing a very serious food crisis and called for placing trees at center of development agenda.
"That is not news to Africa, where the vast majority of its people have faced a food security crisis for many years. The much higher food prices of recent months have exacerbated the pain of hunger in hundreds of millions of households," Garrity said.
The ICRAF chief said that the fight against hunger, especially in drought-hit times, must target those at the epicentre of world poverty -- smallholder farmers in rural Africa.
"African farmers are not producing enough food for their families, not to speak of provisioning the urban markets. Food importation into the continent has been growing relentlessly. And food is getting less and less affordable for the desperately poor," said Garrity.
He noted that African farmers need support to adopt agro-forestry techniques, which boost soil fertility and provide tree food crops to supplement nutrition.
According to Garrity, the agro-forestry approach can increase self-sufficiency for both rural communities and national economies. It can increase environmental security, diversify livelihood options and reduce the vulnerability of poor households to climate change and external shocks."
"Fertilizer use is pitifully low in Africa due to high prices and the risks of frequent crop failure in an uncertain climate. Meanwhile, the land is degrading and soil fertility is declining everywhere. The standard solutions, just are not working."
Garrity said tree geneticists will explain successful processes for domesticating tree species such as rubber, coffee and indigenous fruits.
The Nairobi meeting comes after the World Agroforestry Centre and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) called 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 two agencies say 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 future of land use across the world faces many stark challenges -- food security, land degradation, desperate poverty, climate change and others. But agroforesters have the tools to address many of them in an integrated and practically way," Garrity said.
Global food production needs to double over the next 40 years if the world's population is to be fed, according to UN estimates.
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 fuel wood 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.
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.
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.