Calling for an ‘old-fashioned’ green revolution by Tensie Whelan

30/6/2010 BBC Using “good old-fashioned” farming techniques will help deliver a sustainable green revolution in Africa, byTensie Whelan.In this week’s Green Room, she warns that failure to protect biodiversity, water supplies and forests could spell disaster for the continent.

 I have seen many ways in which farmers in Africa have increased quality and yield… through the implementation of better farm management and farm husbandry
The new green revolution that is needed on the continent of Africa has been much discussed of late.

With pressing development needs in many parts of Africa, and with a growing population, that revolution is desperately overdue.

But when it comes, it must be sustainable; socially, economically and environmentally.

A green revolution created and developed at the expense of sustainable, clean water supplies, good forestry protection and good soil management will not only be a disaster for the people of Africa, it will be a disaster for its ecology as well.

Yet so far, much of the debate has been on the technology of agricultural inputs such as the role of fertilizers and genetically modified (GM) seeds.

Whether the stance taken in the debate around these often controversial issues is pro- or anti-, my overriding conclusion is that those advocating for or against are missing a fundamental issue.

Back to basics

The debate - dominated by the West - has become, like so many western debates on big environmental questions, fixed on the technological solutions that will magically create tomorrow’s paradise.

Africa’s soils are being depleted of nutrients
‘Barren future’ for Africa’s soil 
In doing so, it has largely ignored the role good farming and forestry practices can play in mitigating food scarcity, protecting scarce water supplies and soil productivity, addressing climate related issues and both preserving and enhancing biodiversity across the continent.

Our experience at the Rainforest Alliance shows that by using “good old fashioned” farming techniques, such as good land-use management and harvesting practices, or reintroducing native tree cover to provide shade for the crops, leads to an improvement in the productivity and quality of farmers’ crops and reduces susceptibility to pests and natural disasters.

This approach delivers clear economic, environmental and social benefits.

The Ethiopian coffee regions are biodiversity hotspots. Here, more than anywhere else the work to combine sustainable coffee production, forest conservation and biodiversity is vital.

Such an approach directly benefits Ethiopian small coffee farmers. It is also in Ethiopia’s best interest and in the collective interest of us all.

Sustainable farm management techniques also increase net farm income. In studies of Rainforest Alliance cocoa farms in Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana, researchers consistently find higher yields and higher net income for farmers who have embraced these practices—without expensive new technologies.

Under pressure

Elsewhere, local populations have relied on Morocco’s cork forests for generations.

One scheme hopes planting trees will help halt desertification
Africa push for ‘great tree wall’ 
The forests provides vital resources and services including; timber, fuel wood, honey, mushrooms, berries and watershed protection.

But illegal logging, over grazing, forest fires and the over-collection of firewood are destroying these biodiversity rich forests.

By working with local people, providing the skills and incentives to maintain their forests, we are laying the ground work for people to gain a sustainable livelihood from the cork and argan oil found in these forests.

And sustainable forestry management and extraction is essential if we are to preserve some of the most charismatic of African species, the great apes.

In the Congo basin - home to the chimpanzee, bonobo and gorilla - only 10-15% of the forests are protected as either national parks or nature reserves.

Most of the Congo’s great apes live outside these areas, in forest covered by logging concessions.

Where these concessions are managed under Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification schemes, these populations remain healthy.

There is currently 4.5 million hectares of FSC logging concessions housing healthy populations of gorillas and chimpanzees.

While this sounds a big number, it is only a fraction of the total logging concessions available.

By giving more political and financial support and priority to FSC certification governments, communities and companies can help to meet their commitments under the UN biodiversity conventions while ensuring a sustainable economic use of this natural resource.

Returning to agriculture, I have seen many ways in which farmers in Africa have increased quality and yield, as well as lowered production costs and improved working conditions for themselves and their workers through the implementation of better farm management and farm husbandry.

All of this results in better long-term management and stewardship of soil, water, biodiversity and human resources.

It creates a balanced relationship whereby wildlife is both protected and enhanced and farmers are able to compete in the global market which so many of them supply.

Tensie Whelan is president of the Rainforest Alliance

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