While farmers are being urged to plant more trees on their farms, many have concerns that trees will compete with their crops for water, nutrients and light, and so reduce their crop yields. Jonathan Muriuki, a scientist from the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi, emphasises that farmers need to choose the right species of tree and shrub to plant in the right places. But appropriate tree planting can improve soil fertility and water holding capacity, reduce erosion and boost crop yields. Farmers can also use some nitrogen-fixing species to restore the fertility of fallow land, and planting timber species in woodlots or along farm boundaries provides valuable income.
published: January 2013
For African farmers to successfully feed the continent’s expanding population, transformation of subsistence smallholder farming into commercial agri-businesses is essential. But how to achieve this transformation? Delegates from the African Green Revolution Forum offer their views about the importance of collective marketing, in order to obtain better prices and other benefits such as financial credit. Staying up to date with new technologies, such as disease-resistant crop varieties, is also crucial. However, the benefits from such changes will affect not only farmers and consumers but those working right along the food value chain, whether in transport, processing or retail.
published: December 2012
How can Africa’s young people be inspired and equipped to become skilled and successful farmers and agri-business entrepreneurs? Delegates at the African Green Revolution Forum in Arusha give their views, including the need to teach agri-business in schools, rural, agricultural training centres for school leavers, and use of social media and ICT to engage young people with agricultural information. Other suggestions include giving young agricultural graduates access to government farmland, and government support for loan facilities targeted at young people, to provide start-up capital.
published: November 2012
Cassava has been described as a survivor crop, capable of withstanding long periods of dry weather. In the context of climate change in Africa, this makes cassava a valuable insurance crop, a source of food and income when other crops fail. At the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), crop breeders are developing new varieties of cassava which are even more tolerant to long periods of drought. East African director for IITA, Dr Victor Manyong, explains to Wambi Michael about the importance of cassava in the context of climate change, and why new varieties of the crop are only likely to be adopted by farmers if they can find markets for their crop surpluses.
published: September 2012
The Plantwise Knowledge Bank is a new website that has been designed to provide up-to-date information on crop pests and diseases. It is part of the Plantwise programme, led by CABI, to help smallholder farmers lose less of their crops. Marylucy Oronje, who has been involved in constructing the site, explains to Pius Sawa how it works, enabling farmers and farming advisors to diagnose problems, learn about control measures and access factsheets that summarise the essential information in a simple form. The site is particularly valuable for Plantwise plant doctors who are running plant health clinics in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda among other countries. Giving farmers information about pests and diseases can also help them to avoid these problems, by choosing appropriate varieties and spotting symptoms early.
published: September 2012
Five participants at a recent conference on ‘Young people, farming and food’ share their thoughts on what is needed to attract a new generation of talented young farmers and food processors. They discuss which sectors of agriculture will be most attractive and offer the rewards young people are looking for, and consider the importance of training and investment. Dr Namanga Ngongi, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, believes that providing the right agricultural opportunities to a million young Africans could transform food production on the continent.
published: June 2012
Nitrogen is an important element in creating protein, the building block for our bodies. Plants also depend on nitrogen in order to grow well. However in Africa, nitrogen concentration in farmland soils is often low and few farmers can afford to buy chemical fertiliser to address the problem. Legume plants, such as beans, soya and groundnuts, have a natural capacity to extract nitrogen from the air and convert it into a solid form that they and other plants can benefit from. So planting a legume as part of a farm’s crop rotation boosts soil fertility and reduces the need to use chemical fertiliser. Gloria Kasongo of the N2Africa project, which aims to increase planting of legumes in African farms, explains more to Excello Zidana.
published: February 2012
Charcoal made from bamboo burns more evenly and efficiently, and with less harmful smoke than normal charcoal made from wood. In Ethiopia, Tanzania and Ghana, the International Network on Bamboo and Rattan works with farmers and charcoal makers in order to improve management of bamboo and to introduce simple machinery to pulverise bamboo charcoal and make it into conveniently sized briquettes. This can increase rural incomes while also helping to tackle climate change, since fast-growing bamboo absorbs carbon dioxide more quickly than many other plant species, and will re-grow after harvesting. In the exhibition hall at the international conference on climate change in Durban, Wambi Michael learns more.
published: February 2012
Agriculture was a key topic at the COP17 climate talks in Durban. In particular, people were discussing the concept of climate-smart agriculture, and what it might consist of. For example, is climate-smart agriculture about adapting farming systems to cope with climate change, or emphasising the need for agriculture to reduce emissions and therefore contribute less to global warming? For Lindiwe Sibanda, head of a policy analysis organisation, climate-smart agriculture must do both things. She explains her view, in particular the benefits of minimum tillage conservation farming systems, to Wambi Michael.
published: January 2012
A simple water filter made from local resources - primarily sand, gravel and cement - and costing around US$30, can remove over 90% of many common water-borne pathogens. BioSand filters can also clean up to 80 litres of water each day, making them ideal for use by individual households. Following community-based training in several countries, including Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and Sudan, some groups have even started using the filters to generate income from sales of clean water. Gilbert Olakashem of Connect Africa, an organisation promoting the filters, explains more to Wambi Michael.
published: October 2011
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