Sustainable Land Management Specialist Chris Reij Discusses Re-Greening In Africa

Published on World Resources Institute/Insights, Interview with Chris Reij, by Sarah Parsons, July 12, 2012.

African farmers currently face a crisis. Droughts and unpredictable weather, in combination with decreasing soil fertility and pests, have caused crop failure on many of the continent’s drylands.

But there are solutions—namely, low-cost farmer innovations. Chris Reij, a Sustainable Land Management Specialist with Free University Amsterdam and a Senior Fellow at the World Resources Institute, is leading the charge in this area. 

Reij facilitates the African Re-greening Initiatives, a movement that supports collaboration among partners working at the local level to help African farmers adapt to climate change and develop productive, sustainable farming systems … //

… How can re-greening be expanded and scaled-up?

  • There are various pathways for scaling-up. One of the fundamental ways is creating a grassroots movement, where farmers learn from other farmers. Let’s put farmers on a bus and bring them to farmers who have re-greened, and let them exchange experiences. If you or I were to tell farmers this is a good technique, farmers would be skeptical. But when they hear it from farmers working under similar conditions who have achieved good results, then the message gets across. A second way is to use local radio stations, and give the floor to farmers who have already done it. They present their experiences to other farmers by using the radio.
  • It’s important to create a grassroots movement, but that’s not enough. You also need to work on national agriculture policy and forest legislation so that these policies stimulate farmers by removing barriers and increasing the incentives to invest in natural resources in general and trees in particular. Bottom-up should meet top-down, but there are many ways that lead to Rome. There’s a whole package you can use to try to promote the horizontal spreading of re-greening.

You facilitate the African Re-greening Initiatives, which began in 2009. What is this project, and how does it help expand re-greening?

  • The African Re-greening Initiatives’ basic approach is, let’s identify successes with re-greening and expand the scale of these successes. It organizes farmer study visits. Besides that, it brings local, regional, and national policymakers to areas where farmers have already done the re-greening in order to influence their thinking and get farmer re-greening on their radar screens.
  • For example, our partners in Mali organized competitions around re-greening. The last two years, 860 farmers registered themselves as being the best agro-forestry farmer in that particular region. A technical committee visited the fields of each of those farmers to see what they had done, and every single farmer received a prize. The prize was a piece of cloth with an imprint that said “Re-greening the Sahel.” Now many farmers wearing the same piece of cloth recognize each other as being part of the same movement.

What are some of the problems you experience in trying to expand re-greening?

  • One of the problems is that it’s all quite low-cost. In looking back on where success was achieved and how, it did not require sustained, expensive inputs from donor agencies and reliance on direct intervention by governments; rather, farmers themselves provided the main source of innovation and investment. Yet, donor agencies and national governments seem to be more interested in high-cost projects. The total cost of facilitating and supporting the scaling up of re-greening may still be significant, but we aren’t talking about hundreds of millions of dollars—with tens of millions we can make a contribution to increased food security in Africa’s drylands. Another constraint is if you look at ministries, the Ministry of Environment tends to be more preoccupied with natural forest, and the Ministry of Agriculture tends to be mainly preoccupied with cereal crops. So on-farm trees tend to fall a little bit between two chairs. But whether or not there will be more success is whether village communities will invest in it. So getting the message across to village communities is vital. And there are still a lot of other issues.

Why is it imperative that more re-greening happens soon?

  • In the drylands of Africa, a perfect storm is brewing. In many African countries, farmers no longer know how to plan their agricultural calendar because rainfall has become so unpredictable. Climate change is happening, soil fertility is being depleted , crop yields are in many areas are falling or not increasing as before, and the population is doubling in the next 20 years. How are we going to reconcile that? If we delay action, the problems are only going to become a lot bigger. We have an opportunity now. So let’s grab it.

(full interview text).

Links:

About Eutrophication;

World Resources Institute WRI;

Re-Greening the Sahel/Chapter 7: Farmer-led innovation in Burkina Faso
and Niger
, by Chris Reij, Gray Tappan and Melinda Smale, not dated, 6 pdf-pages.

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