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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

Fertilizer trees can triple yields!

Fertilizer Tree

At the recent Hague Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate change, on 2 November 2010, evergreen agriculture received unrivalled attention. Evergreen agriculture, defined as, “the combination of trees in farming systems (agroforestry) with the principles of conservation farming” , is gaining popularity as a way to combat land degradation as well as increasing small-holder production.

More specifically, a distinctive type of acacia (spiny tree or shrub) known as the ‘’fertilizer tree’’ has led to the doubling or tripling of maize yields on small-holder farms in countries such as Zambia, Malawi, Niger and Burkina Faso.  Scientists from the World Agroforestry Centre (WAC) believe that fertilizer trees can be utilized throughout Africa to combat climate change and ensure food security. At the Hague conference, Dr. Dennis Garrity, Director General of the WAC said, “Doubling food production by mid-century, particularly in Africa, will require nonconventional approaches, particularly since so many of the continent’s soils are depleted, and farmers are faced with a changing climate. We need to reinvent agriculture in a sustainable and affordable way, so that it can reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases and be adapted to climate change.”

A particular type of fertilizer tree known as the Faidherbia albida has produced some spectacular results. For example, farmers in Malawi have seen their maize yields increase by up to 280% when grown under a canopy of the tree. Furthermore, 4.8 million hectares of millet and sorghum are being grown in agro- forests with up to 160 trees per hectare. Fertilizer trees are a great source of natural nutrients for land. They extract nitrogen from the air and transfer it to the ground through their roots and leaf litter. This replenishes land that has been exhausted of its organic nutrients. Additionally, they are an important source of timber and fuel. Moreover, the leaves and pods from the trees are used as fodder for livestock. The trees are beneficial to the environment and farmers because they provide positive externalities for 70 to 100 years.  

Most importantly, this method of farming is being taken seriously by governments, international donors and research institutions. For example, the WAC is working with 18 countries in Africa to establish national frameworks for evergreen agricultural production. It offers a viable strategy for sustainable development with a focus on increasing incomes of small-holder farmers. To read more about evergreen agriculture, see the following document:

http://www.worldagroforestry.org/downloads/publications/PDFs/B09008.PDF

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