Photo via NeilsPhotography via Flickr CC
"The future of trees is on farms," said Dennis Garrity, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre, or ICRAF, which is one of many participating organization in a gathering of over 800 experts to discuss how trees can and will save the world's farms. Particularly, the scientists are looking at the Faidherbia acacia tree that has nitrogen-fixing qualities, offering the potential to revive and sustain farms - and mitigate climate change - in sub-Saharan Africa. Due to years of unsustainable farming practices, the soil across much of Africa has been degraded. Projects to revive soil quality have been launched, and incorporating acacia trees could be added to the repertoire as an additional way to restore soil vitality.
According to the World Agroforestry Center, Garrity states, "Growing the right tree in the right place on farms in sub-Saharan Africa--and worldwide-- has the potential to slow climate change, feed more people, and protect the environment. This tree, as a source of free, organic nitrogen, is an example of that. There are many other examples of solutions to African farming that exist here already."
What makes this particular acacia tree so ideal is "reverse leaf phenology." This quality:
drives the tree to go dormant and shed its nitrogen-rich leaves during the early rainy season--when seeds are being planted and need the nitrogen--and then to re-grow its leaves when the dry season begins and crops are dormant. This makes it highly compatible with food crops because it does not compete with them for light--only the bare branches of the tree's canopy spread overhead while crops grow to maturity. Their leaves and pods provide a crucial source of fodder in the dry season for livestock when other plants have dried up.
Incredible results have already been seen, including a 280% increase in maize crop yeild zone under the tree canopy compared with the zone outside the tree canopy in Malawi. With over 60 years of research on the tree and its compatibility with crops, it looks to be a great low-cost solution for more sustainable farming.