- Jun 28, 2002With Millions Facing Food Shortages, Lilongwe Looks for Long-Term Solutions
Future Harvest (Washington, DC)
June 27, 2002
Posted to the web June 28, 2002
Planting Trees on Farms Expected to Improve Soil Fertility, Boost Crop Production
Makoka, Malawi - As this nation of 10 million people faces its most serious food crisis in recent memory, government officials are encouraging farmers to plant trees as part of a long-term effort to improve soil fertility and increase food supplies.
This year, Malawi faces a 700,000-ton shortfall in grain production, much of which will be made up by foreign food aid. Even so, development experts predict wide scale hunger. An estimated 65 percent of all Malawians live in poverty and survive on less than a half dollar per day.
All of Malawi will be hard hit, including the central part of the country, the nation's traditional breadbasket area," predict Future Harvest scientists working with the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry, ICRAF, in Nairobi, Kenya.
"The conditions that led to food shortages are directly linked to the quality of Malawi's soils," says Andreas Böhringer, ICRAF's Development Leader for Southern Africa. "If you can boost soil fertility, the country should be able to meet most of its food needs relatively quickly," he says.
Attempts to improve Malawi's soils in the past, however, have fallen short of that goal. Throughout the 1990s, government provided farmers with subsidized fertilizer and seed, a practice that temporarily increased food production but eventually collapsed because of the high cost.
"The sad fact is that Malawian farmers remove far more plant nutrients and organic matter from the soil than they can possibly put back," says economist Per Pinstrup-Andersen.
"Its not that they are unaware, but being a land-locked country makes it difficult to supply them with fertilizer. Moreover, when fertilizer is available, its probably too expensive," he says.
Cultural practices, including the expansion of agroforestry and the planting of nitrogen-fixing trees, can remedy the situation by helping rural people do a better job of managing natural resources and increasing farm income, he adds. Pinstrup-Andersen is director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute, a Future Harvest think tank based in Washington, DC.
Trees on Farms
"Virtually the only people who are not suffering from this year's food shortages are farmers who use agroforestry, the practice of planting trees on farms," adds Böhringer.
Approximately 22,000 Malawian farm families have been trained in agroforestry techniques and are managing to feed their families, a development that has not escaped the attention of the country's Ministry of Agriculture and foreign aid donors. Maize farmers who practice agroforestry, Böhringer notes, usually produce anywhere from two to four times more than the national average.
The United States Agency for International Development recently awarded $600,000 to ICRAF increase the number of farmers trained in agro-forestry over a two-year period. The goal is to reach 100,000 farm families by 2004.
High Rates of Return
"USAID's contribution may not seem like a great deal of money if you consider the enormity of the challenge in Malawi, but then the rate of return on an investment in agroforestry can be extremely high," says ICRAF Director General Dennis Garrity.
ICRAF economists estimate the cost of training and equipping one farm family to practice agroforestry at about US $2.50. Roughly 40 percent of the nation's farm families, they calculate, could be practicing agroforestry by 2005 at cost of about $10 million.
"That's a one-time investment," Garrity adds. "Subsidized fertilizer and seed distribution schemes cost millions and go on and on, year after year." Different Places, Different Systems
Agroforestry is practiced in different ways, depending upon local farming conditions and population density. In some cases, trees are planted in fields that the farmer decides to leave fallow, in essence giving the soil a chance to rest. In others, trees are planted with crops, either side by side or in rotations.
One thing that many agroforestry systems have in common is the planting of fast-growing trees that take nitrogen from the air and deposit it in the soil. Some of these trees have nitrogen-fixing root systems, which also allows the plant to store nitrogen in the branches and leaves. The young trees are cut, chopped, and mixed into the soil, just prior to planting food crops, thereby building up organic matter and adding nutrients. As long as the trees are growing, they capture nitrogen that the farmer would otherwise have to purchase in the form of fertilizer.
"There's an agroforestry option for almost any situation or location," says Böhringer, and not all trees used in agroforestry are there to improve the soil, he says. "One of our priorities is to help farmers earn cash from their trees, either by producing fruits for the market or by turning out medicinal products.
One such medicinal tree is Prunus Africanus. An effective prostate disease remedy popular in Europe, "Prunus" is now considered an endangered species because of over-harvesting, a problem ICRAF scientists are working to remedy. ICRAF scientists note that efforts are underway to encourage farmers to grow a domesticated form of tree as a source of cash income in the hope of halting non-sustainable harvesting in forest areas.
Mozambique cries out for level playing field
28 June 2002 10:20
Mozambique wants rich nations to stop giving their farmers subsidies so
that African food goods can can compete fairly on the world market,
Mozambique's Industry and Commerce Minister said on Thursday.
"Each cent given as a subsidy to a farmer in a developed nations leads to a
loss of many cents by farmers in our countries, deepening poverty as a
result," said Carlos Morgado at a forum of business leaders from
Portuguese-speaking nations in Lisbon.
Morgado said the subsidies granted farmers in wealthier nations eliminated
the natural competitive advantage African nations have in the production of
various agricultural goods.
His comments came as EU farm ministers met in Luxembourg on Thursday
to mull changes to the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy, which
pays out some 40-billion euros ($39,4-billion)a year in subsidies to farmers.
The European Commission is expected to unveil on July 10 proposals to
revise the policy, including reductions in direct farm subsidies.
But with the Bush administration set to raise by $190-billion over 10 years
its subsidies to US farmers, Brussels has indicated it can not eliminate farm
EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler said in an interview published
Tuesday in German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung "without aid,
European farming would be devoured by international competition".
Last year the EU farm budget totaled 43,6-billion euros, of which 9,4-billion
euros went to French farmers, and 6,8-billion euros to Spain.
Another 6,2-billion euros were distributed for German farmers, four billion
euros for their British counterparts, and 1,1-billion euros in the Netherlands.
Cholera outbreak hits Mozambique
28 June 2002 12:37
At least 48 people have died in a fresh outbreak of cholera that has infected
about 3 000 people in Mozambique's northern Cabo Delgado province, an
official said Friday.
New cholera outbreaks have hit the coastal districts of Macomia and
Mocimboa da Praia, and the provincial capital Pemba, deputy national
health director Avertino Barreto said.
Macomia has seen the highest death toll at 29, with another 16 in
Mocimboa da Praia and three in Pemba, he said.
But Barreto said Mocimboa da Praia town and the surrounding area required
more attention because of its poor water supply.
No new cases of the water-borne disease have been reported elsewhere in
this southeastern African state, where cholera is endemic with more
outbreaks usually during the rainy season.
In the last two years, hundreds of people have died of cholera in southern
and central Mozambique following catastrophic floods.
This year, Mozambique faces drought instead, along with neighboring
Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Meanwhile, Mozambique has issued an alert for meningitis, which is also
endemic here, particularly in Cabo Delgado and neighboring Nampula
The last major outbreak of meningitis was four years ago, when 5 000
people caught the disease and 300 died. - Sapa-AFP
African politicians 'undermine the
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
28 June 2002 10:50
African political parties are to blame for the slow growth of multi-party
democracy on the continent, top Kenyan minister and ruling party official
Raila Odinga said on Thursday night.
"All political parties -- the ones in power as well as those in the opposition --
have contributed to a fair share in undermining the democratisation process,
Raila said in a paper delivered at a two-day regional conference on good
governance and politics.
"Relations between government and opposition parties in Africa are often
characterised by rancour, acrimony and outright hostility.
"Ruling parties often adopt a posture of crude majority, while the opposition
takes the posture of obstruction," said Odinga, Kenya's energy minister and
ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) party secretary general.
Odinga also told the conference, which ends in the Tanzanian capital on
Friday, that other factors inhibiting development of multiparty democracy in
Africa included scarcity of resources, institutional weakness, and shaky
He said it was all too common in Africa to find young adults and women
being marginalised outside the political mainstream.
Odinga, whose party -- the National Democractic Party (NDP) -- merged
with the ruling KANU on March 18, said the major role of African opposition
parties was to show there were alternatives to existing governments.
The conference, organised by the Eastern and Southern African Universities
Research Programme (ESAURP), has attracted delegates from Botswana,
Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania,
Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. - Sapa-AFP
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