Bravo FAO for taking up this very important subject. It could not come at a better time, especially with the strong international interst in resiliance. In my view, there will be little or no progress in resiliance in rural areas of at-risk countries without an increase in trees density. There ia a well known proverb in the Sahel, which when translated from the Wolof version, says that "the first best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is now."
A little know success story of trees and their inextracibale link to food security can be found in the Sahel, in Niger. Following the great Sahrlian drought and famine in 1973-74, local communities working in Niger with several different donors began in the early 80s to use community based forestry management as a basis for "drought proofing" their communities. This widespread effort was supported by France, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands and Swiss aid programs, and much of the best work was done through a private American company, the International Resources Group (IRG). I am especially happy that these efforts, were not evaluated prematurely, after 5 years, like so many projects, because there would have been sparse results. Instead after 30 years the results were dramatic.
Among the techniques used in Nigerwere the leaving of tree shoots in the arable fields, especially of valuable species, rather than scraping away all vegitation before planting grains. There was also considerable reforestation, especially of the nitrogen fixing acacia albida and also baobab because of their valuable and nutritious byproducts. This effort was comprehensivly assessed by the CILSS and the Agrymet Center in Niamey in 2006, with the assistance of the USGS, and the findings astonished even the most fervent supporters of the approach. It was conservatively estimated that over 3 million hectares, mostly in the most denssley populated regions, now benefiting. Ttree density over the 30 years has increased 20 fold and crop yields are two to three times higher without the use of chemical fertilizers, which are too costly for millett farming. Most suprising has been a progressive rise in water tables through better rainfall capturing, and this has made off season bean and vegetable farming possible,. It has also encouraged the farming of onions as a cash crop and Niger's production of onions has gone from 10,000 tons a year in 1980 to 270,000 tons in 2006.
The ability of individuals to own trees has been an important factor in this hidden success story in Niger. Legally, individuals could not own trees before 2004. They are now considered private property separate from the land they occupy,so trees can be bought and sold separate from the land. This has stimulated private reforestation efforts and given rise to sustainable wood lot production of fire wood and construction materials, generating off farm income for rural peoples so they can access food.
Yes, Niger is still plagued by food insecurity threats and malnutrition is of great concern, but the hazards would be so much worse today without the community based tree regeneration program that was undertaken since 1980 and is stll going on. Rather, it has been Niger's very high population growth rate that have attenuated the gains made in farming, but that is another topic.
Roy A. Stacy
Senior Consultant to WFP and FAO for FSIN.
Links and resources:
International Conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition
FAO Forestry Department
Learning event on Agroforestry
The FSN Forum is supported by the project Coherent food security responses: incorporating right to food into global and regional food security initiatives.