Trees for the Future’s Climate-Smart Agriculture Approach for Building Resiliency

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Olivier Allongue

Every year millions of farmers and their families across the globe face severe risks that threaten not only their livelihoods, but their survival. Climate change and its resulting weather extremes and abnormalities are increasingly stacking the odds against those who have the most to lose.

These farmers and their families are the least prepared to weather climate change and the first to suffer from its impacts. One crop failure is enough to send their lives into an irrecoverable downward spiral. As Bill Gates says,​ ​“​If just one piece falls out of place, their lives can fall apart.​”

Farmers across sub-Saharan African are experiencing significant changes in precipitation, an increase in the severity of storms and a general increase in temperature and temperature extremes.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) drives home the severity of the situation in which many farmers are finding themselves in its report “Africa at a Crossroads​”:

“Climate variability is an important atmospheric phenomenon in sub-Saharan Africa, where climatic conditions are uncertain and display a high degree of variability. Analysis of long-term trends (1900-2005) indicates rising temperatures in Africa as a whole, as well as drying or decreased precipitation. This change causes significant climatic disturbances in many parts of the continent, either inducing drought or flooding, or increasing sea temperatures”

Imagine an agricultural system that analyzes and works to mitigate the risks for these farmers, a system that requires only knowledge, a little monetary investment and the desire to combat climate change while simultaneously building a safety net for millions of farmers in the world’s most at-risk areas.

At Trees for the Future, we have turned this vision into a sustainable agroforestry system: The Forest Garden Approach.​ Since implementation, it has positively changed the lives of thousands of farmers and their families across sub-Saharan Africa. From analyzing and mitigating risks to providing farmers with the knowledge and resources they need to succeed, this approach is based around a simple, yet effective, premise. It is adaptable, promotes resiliency among local populations and combats the effects of climate change.

Now imagine a platform where this successful and sustainable approach could be implemented on a global scale. A platform that would give anybody interested in helping others facing similar conditions farmers across sub-Saharan Africa the tools and qualifications necessary to carry out our Forest Garden Approach.

Enter Trees for the Future’s latest innovation: The Forest Garden Training Center.

The Forest Garden Training Center (FGTC)​ is a free, on-demand, anytime, anywhere online training certification and resource center designed to give practitioners across the globe an easily deployable and replicable solution to end hunger, poverty and deforestation by planting Forest Gardens.

By simply​ ​registering​, practitioners can explore the FGTC, download training resources developed with TOPS Small Grant support, ask agroforestry questions to global practitioners and become a Certified Forest Garden Trainer. The potential impact of the Forest Garden knows no bounds. Since implementation at the end of 2017, users are accessing the site from over 80 countries. With the ability to reach every corner of the world, the FGTC’s potential impact in conjunction with the Forest Garden Approach knows no bounds.

So what parts do the Forest Garden Approach and Training Center play in the ongoing effort to improve resilience and self-sufficiency in vulnerable areas, increase sustainability and develop climate-smart agricultural practices?

Our Forest Garden Approach successfully trains farmers to protect, stabilize, revitalize and diversify their fields using techniques such as:

Planting windbreaks to protect farms from winds and storms

Planting contour rows to stop erosion and allow nitrogen-fixing trees to build topsoil

Producing much of their own fuelwood and animal fodder

Improving the growing conditions of their fields and extending the growing season overall

Planting crops that are naturally drought and rain tolerant, without the need for genetically modified seeds

In addition, the protective layers of the Forest Garden Approach create a holistic, natural response to the effects of climate change:

The windbreaks of trees help the soil hold more moisture and organic matter, while also attracting birds that keep pests at bay.

Fruit trees, unlike traditional staple crops, can handle changes in precipitation if the rains come early or too late.

At the same time, many fruit trees, such as the jujube, bear valuable fruit while thriving in arid zones and keep the ground cooler by protecting once bare fields from the full brunt of the sun’s heat.

Furthermore, the Forest Garden Approach carefully applies a combination of composting and mulching to revitalize the dry and degraded land into healthy, nutrient-rich soil capable of sustaining a wealth of vegetation.

The Forest Garden Approach does not restrict itself to revitalizing degraded lands and mitigating the effects of climate change. It is also one of the most effective tools we can use to slow down climate change. As we all know, there is a strong correlation between climate change and greenhouses gases, the main one of these being carbon.

In our approach, farmers plant upwards of 4,000 trees on their plots of land over four years. With our ​Carbon Calculator​, we know that each tree sequesters 34.6 pounds of carbon translating to 62.8 tons of carbon being sequestered per Forest Garden. After planting just over 3,000 forest gardens, we have sequestered almost 200,000 metric tons of carbon!

Can you imagine, if we implemented the Forest Garden Approach globally and disseminated the how-to knowledge through the FGTC, how we would reverse the effects of climate change exponentially?