As the world grapples with the challenge of feeding an ever growing population
in the face of dwindling natural resources and further complicated by climate
change, findings from a recent research by the International Institute of
Tropical Agriculture (IITA) show that science-based farming methods integrating
the systematic use of fertilizer by farmers can significantly reduce the need to
clear forest land for agriculture, one of the identified culprits of global
Clearing of forests for agriculture is one of the drivers of climate change.
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Findings of the research, published in the current issue of Environmental Management Journal, shows that the use of fertilizers and improved cocoa varieties by smallholder farmers could have averted the destruction of some 2.1 million ha of the Guinean Forest of West Africa and the subsequent emission of 1.4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere valued at over US$1.6 billion.
At the beginning of the 21st century, only 18% of the original forest that stretches from Guinea to Cameroon remained. This forest is one of the 25 global biodiversity hotspots identified by the UN and collectively contains 60% of all animal and plant species on the planet. Through the years, most of the forest area had been converted to farmlands with a large chunk of it going to smallholder farmers of growing cocoa, cassava, and oil palm.
The research, looking into the land use change scenarios in Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon from 1998 to 2007, found that though cocoa production more than doubled in West Africa during the period, it came at a huge cost -- the irreversible loss of biodiversity and enormous carbon emission. Proponents of the study say that the same output would have been possible with little or no increase in the land area by using improved varieties and following fertilizer use recommendations developed by agricultural researchers in the 60's.
Jim Gockowski, agricultural economist with IITA and one of the researchers, says smallholder farmers cannot continue to expand their enterprises with low input extensive agriculture.
"With the reduction of the Guinean forests to 15 -20% of its original size and the tripling of populations in these countries, there is absolutely no more room for expansion. Strategies to reduce deforestation and conserve biodiversity must focus on reforming agricultural practices and weaning farmers from traditional to modern science-based methods," he said. "Fertilizer-for-Forests has proven that it is possible to increase crop production with little or no effect on the environment."
The study further recommended that Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) climate change mitigation programs must address low agricultural productivity by investing in intensification of agriculture. By doing this, farmers would not only have better incomes but also produce more food while reducing carbon emissions.
The study also identified and called for solutions to lack of credit facilities, an underdeveloped agro-chemical /fertilizer sector, inadequate seed multiplication, poor roads, and weak extension that are preventing smallholder farmers from adopting these innovations that have been on the shelf for the past 30 years.
Africa has complex problems that plague agriculture and people's lives. We develop agricultural solutions with our partners to tackle hunger and poverty. Our award winning research for development (R4D) is based on focused, authoritative thinking anchored on the development needs of sub-Saharan Africa. We work with partners in Africa and beyond to reduce producer and consumer risks, enhance crop quality and productivity, and generate wealth from agriculture. IITA is an international non-profit R4D organization since 1967, governed by a Board of Trustees, and supported primarily by the CGIAR.