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INSIDE STORY: The case for Evergreen Agriculture in Africa – Enhancing food security with climate change adaptation and mitigation in Zambia

Zambia, like much of Africa, is reliant on maize production for its food security. However, maize yields average only about 1 tonne per hectare (ha), so even a moderate decline in harvests can be devastating for food security. Climate change is a critical concern, with declining or more erratic rainfall likely to result in lower production and less predictable harvests. Also, current production methods leave the soil deplete of nutrients, leading to land degradation which further threatens livelihoods and food security. Since the mid-1990s, Zambia’s Conservation Farming Unit (CFU) and the World Agroforestry Centre have been pioneering “evergreen agriculture” solutions to address these problems.

This Inside Story, The case for Evergreen Agriculture in Africa – Enhancing food security with climate change adaptation and mitigation in Zambia, looks at how evergreen agriculture combines agro-forestry with the principles of conservation farming by integrating particular tree species into annual food crop systems. By sustaining a green cover on the land throughout the year, the intercropped trees have several key benefits including:

  • maintaining vegetative soil cover;
  • bolstering nutrient supply through nitrogen fixing and nutrient cycling;
  • generating greater quantities of soil organic matter;
  • improving soil structure and water infiltration;
  • producing additional food, fodder, fibre and income;
  • enhancing carbon storage both above and below ground;
  • allowing more effective conservation of above- and below-ground biodiversity.

Zambia is using evergreen agriculture in two practices: maize agroforestry and conservation agriculture with trees. Both of these systems tackle the need to replenish soils in affordable ways using natural fertilisers – in short, re-employing age-old indigenous knowledge practices.

While these practises have great potential in mitigating the impacts of climate change and promoting climate compatible development, this brief recognises the need for more support, as well as research and testing into this practise. It also sees the potential for its integration into a ‘nationally appropriate mitigation scheme’ (NAMA), which could provide international support for this work in Zambia, and in other developing countries.