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400,000 farmers in southern Africa using 'fertilizer trees' to improve food security
Date:10/18/2011

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"We also found that when farmers plant these trees, water efficiency improves," Ajayi said. "Farmers are getting higher yields from the same amount of rainwater. And the trees are helping reduce the run-off and soil erosion that is a key factor behind food production shortfalls in Africa."

Fertilizer trees enhance soil health by drawing nitrogen from the air and transferring it to the soil through their roots and leaf litter, replenishing exhausted soils with rich sources of organic nutrients. Scientists at the World Agroforestry Centre have been working since the 1980s to identify indigenous tree species, such as a fast growing variety of acacia that can be planted alongside crops to improve soil fertility. Among the many burdens facing African farmers are soils that are among the most depleted in the world. Yet for two-thirds of farmers on the continent, mineral supplements are either too expensive or simply unavailable.

In recent years, the Centre's work has focused on partnerships, particularly with national agriculture extension programs that can help more smallholder farmers integrate fertilizer trees into their crop production systems. Ajayi said the rapid adoption of the fertilizer tree approach is partly due to the fact that researchers have turned over much of the project design and testing to farmers.

"Initially, these fertilizer tree projects were controlled mostly by researchers," Ajayi said. "But in the final phases of development, all of the testing in the field was completely designed and fully managed by the farmers themselves."

Ajayi also credited initiatives that focused on integrating the fertilizer tree approach with national agriculture policies and priorities.

Researchers believe wider use of fertilizer trees in Africa will require a two-track strategy that involves simultaneously engaging policy makers and farmers.

Ajayi cautioned that, while they are a natural way of supplementin
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Contact: Paul Stapleton
p.stapleton@cgiar.org
World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)
Source:Eurekalert

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