Africa experiences a series of “mini-Green Revolutions”

12 April, 2011 by (comments)

International conference to bring good news from the Great Lakes

New eco-efficient farming practices have triggered a series of “mini-Green Revolutions” in the Great Lakes region of Africa, and will be the focus of a forthcoming international conference in Rwanda.

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The new techniques are based on so-called “sustainable intensification” —a concept recently championed by the UK’s chief scientific adviser in the landmark Global Food and Farming Futures report, and which promotes sustainable increases in food production on the same area of land.

“It’s all about making the most of your resources,” explains soil scientist Bernard Vanlauwe, of CIAT’s Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility (TSBF) research area. “We’ve seen ‘mini-Green Revolutions’ based on sustainable intensification, meaning eco-efficient practices tailored to specific sites. Now it’s time to really spread the message that this approach is working, that it’s benefiting smallholders, and that it’s time to expand our work to more areas.”

Leading the drive toward sustainable intensification is the Consortium for Improving Agriculture-based Livelihoods in Central Africa (CIALCA), a broad collaborative initiative, jointly led by CIAT and its CGIAR sister-centers the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Bioversity International, and supported by The Belgian Development Cooperation.

CIALCA will hold its first international conference in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, in October, to highlight its efforts to boost sustainable food production, and find new ways of rising to the challenges of an increasing population, poor soils, and the effects of climate change in the Great Lakes region.

One example of successful sustainable intensification is in landlocked, mountainous Rwanda, where a growing population is placing increasing pressure on limited productive land, and where common bean is an essential source of protein. The release of specially-adapted climbing bean varieties has enabled farmers to triple yields compared to their traditional bush beans, on the same area of land. With increased levels of soil nitrogen, rotating climbing bean production with maize the following season has boosted maize yields as well.

Small farmers in war-torn eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have also benefitted from new Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) techniques. Many are now using commercial fertilizer for the first time and seeing impressive increases in food production — particularly when combined with small amounts of farmyard manure. By intercropping beans with cassava, and making small adjustments in crop spacing, some have been able to produce an extra ton of legumes per hectare while maintaining cassava yields.

“Intensive agriculture has many negative connotations, often linked with large-scale industrial farming in developed countries,” continued Vanlauwe. “But for smallholder farmers in Africa, it means using resources judiciously and maximizing the potential of the land in the short, medium, and long term.

“You hear a lot of bad news from the Great Lakes region, but the potential of sustainable intensification is one reason to be very optimistic.”

The Challenges and Opportunities for Agricultural Intensification of the Humid Highland Systems of Sub-Saharan Africa conference will feature keynote addresses from one of the pioneers of sustainable agriculture, Brian Keating of  CSIRO, World Food Prize winner Hans Herren — renowned for his work with the CGIAR to deploy a South American parasitic wasp in East Africa to successfully tackle a devastating cassava mealybug outbreak — and Akin Adesina of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

The  3 day event in both English and French will be held from 24to 27 October 2011, and will include optional field visits. Interested parties should submit abstracts for consideration by 31 May using the submission form available from the CIALCA website.

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Filed Under: Africa @en, Regions