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Five 'super' crops that can change the world

Posted by Beate Stalsett Friday, May 20, 2016 0 comments

Written by Mathilde Zins

On International Day for Biological Diversity, IFAD calls attention to five super crops that have strong nutritional properties and the ability to withstand climate change.

20 May 2016 - Did you know that only 20 crop species provide for 90 per cent of the world's food requirements? And that wheat, maize, and rice account for 60 per cent of the world's diet?
Research shows that throughout history there have been around 30,000 edible plants, out of which only 7,000 have been cultivated or collected as food.

Why is this so important?

Biodiversity is the foundation for life and essential for ecosystems. Having a diverse range of crops to plant is crucial for smallholder farmers and rural communities to improve their harvest yields, fight against malnutrition and adapt to climate change.

A rich biodiversity can also help rural people improve their livelihoods, which is the theme of this year's International Day, celebrated annually on 22 May.

In honour of the day, IFAD is putting the spotlight on five ancient and forgotten crops, showing the great potential they hold for smallholder farmers in providing improved nutrition, income and helping to adapt to climate change.

Here are some interesting facts about five 'super' crops that may surprise you.


Super power: Tolerates drought and poor soil conditions better than most other food plants
Cassava is an essential source of food and income in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. 

About 600 million people depend on the plant for their survival, deriving calories and income from the roots and leaves. Once known as 'poor man's food,' cassava has shown great potential for reducing poverty and building the economy.

One of cassava's main 'super powers' is that it is climate-tolerant and can grow in harsh conditions, poor soil fertility and areas with low rainfall. 

It is also a nutritious crop. The root is a carbohydrate source, rich in calcium and vitamin C. And, it provides protein which contains essential amino acids. 

There is a lot of potential for many African economies hidden in this starchy tuber. Its root starch can be used in food products, textiles, plywood or paper, while the plant is also a feedstock for the production of ethanol biofuel. 

In Ghana, an IFAD-supported programme set out to raise the income of 760,000 cassava farmers by increasing yields and connecting them to markets. Improved varieties of cassava is also making a difference for farmers in the country.  

"The cassava has improved my life as a farmer, we need more research so that we can spread the program to other farmers," said Christopher Boadu, a small farmer who was given a high-yielding variety of cassava.

Want to try cassava at home? Here is a recipe for cassava bread with coconut and anise seeds


Super power: Have up to 30 times more calcium than rice and much higher levels of micro-nutrients.

Millets are a powerful grain, with up to 30 times more calcium than rice and much higher levels of micro-nutrients. A low water-consuming crop, they are also resilient to a changing climate. 

As regions around the world are facing drought, millets can be a good ally to increase food security. Moreover, millets are not dependant on the use of synthetic fertilizers, so millet farmers can use farmyard manures which are a boon to the agricultural environment.

Minor millets used to be a staple food in India, but in the last five decades almost half of their cultivation has been replaced with more lucrative cash crops and government subsidized rice, resulting in a major change in people's diets.  

IFAD is working with the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation to get minor millets back on the menu. The project worked with women's groups to farm up to six different varieties of millet on their small farms, use machinery to remove the grains’ tough outer shell, and put 11 organic products on market shelves across India.

Learn eight interesting ways to cook with millets.


Super power: Reduces cholesterol and can protect cells from cancer.

Once a sacred grain for the Aztecs, amaranth and its incredible nutritional properties have long been forgotten in Mexico. 

Amaranth reduces cholesterol and can protect cells from cancer. It has all the amino acids, it's a complete protein that can substitute milk and meat, the leaf is full of calcium, it's gluten-free, and a natural anti-depressive. 

Mary Delano Frier, biotechnical engineer, founder and Director-General of México Tierra de Amaranto, recently made the case for amaranth in her IFAD AgTalk showing that reawakening the ancient crop's importance in local food cultures could go a long way to reducing childhood malnutrition. 

"With only 20 grams of amaranth a day we can assure the full development of a child's brain," said Delano Frier. "For the rural communities, amaranth is the strategic grain that can help us improve nutrition, health and living condition," she concluded. 


Super power: Grows in a wide range of soil and climatic conditions, and can thrive in arid areas.

Sorghum is an incredible crop that has plenty of properties that can help improve the lives of small farmers. Sorghum is highly drought-resistant, can grow in dry climates, and requires less water than wheat.

Sorghum's health benefits are also immense. Sorghum includes more antioxidants then blueberries, high protein and fibre, and no gluten - which makes it a perfect dietary grain for those with celiac disease.

IFAD is supporting a number of projects that are reintroducing sorghum to rural communities. For farmers in eastern Kenya, for example, the dry season is getting longer. Climate change has become a daily challenge -  rivers are drying up and farmers are struggling to get access to water. With less rain, three out of the last four maize harvests had failed. Then farmers from a local cooperative heard that sorghum did better than maize in dry conditions. They decided to try it out. 

The farmer cooperative received quality sorghum seeds and training through an IFAD-supported project. The results were immediate. As one farmer put it:

''Sorghum has changed my life. I can use it to make nutritious food and feed my animals so meat and eggs are no longer a problem. I can afford to pay the school fees as well.'' 


Super power: Has the perfect balance of all nine amino acids essential for human nutrition.

Quinoa is making a comeback around the world, and is believed to be one of the world's healthiest foods. It is nutritionally renowned for its protein content and while it does have a decent amount, it’s not actually the amount of protein that’s so impressive. Instead, it’s the type of protein. 

Quinoa has the perfect balance of all nine amino acids essential for human nutrition. This type of complete protein is rarely found in plant foods, though common in meats. Also, quinoa varieties are known to grow in temperatures ranging from -8 degrees to 38 degrees Celsius and from sea level to 4,000 meters above sea level.

Yet in Bolivia, the world's largest grower and exporter, quinoa has been seen as "poor people's food" and many Bolivians have favored less nutritious imported grains. A campaign to promote quinoa consumption in Bolivia improved diets and the livelihoods of small farmers. 

This special project was funded through an IFAD grant to Bioversity International and implemented by PROINPA Foundation in Bolivia. More than 3,000 varieties of Quinoa are found in the Andes. Understanding the differences in these varieties will undoubtedly lead to increased consumption and a brighter future for these Andean farmers.

Crazy about quinoa? Try this recipe.

Paving a way forward for Indigenous youth

Posted by Simona Siad Tuesday, May 17, 2016 0 comments

By Rahul Antao

Indigenous youth discuss key issues at the 15th Session of the Permanent Forum on
Indigenous Issues in New York. Photo Credit: GIYC 

As young guardians of biodiversity, Indigenous youth play an important role in sustainable development, long-term food security, responding to climate change while safeguarding the earth’s ecosystem 

13 May Rome - “As Indigenous youth, we will continue to organize ourselves in line with the collective processes of our ancestors in defence of our lands, territories, transmission of our traditional knowledge and historical memory,” said Dali Angel, co-chair of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus (GIYC) in an interview with UN-DESA prior to the 15th Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

“We will continue our intergenerational dialogue and raise our voices against any injustice and violation of our individuals and collective rights.”

Angel’s statement echoes the many voices of young indigenous people who are overtly expressive of their contribution towards a sustainable future where they rightfully see themselves as pivotal part of the transformation.

This comes as no surprise, especially since indigenous youth have a big opportunity at stake.
Indigenous youth take on 80 per cent of the world’s biological diversity passed down over generations by their forefathers for their own custodianship. As the young guardians of biodiversity, they will be handed this baton of responsibility and play an important role in sustainable development, long-term food security, responding to climate change while safeguarding the earth’s ecosystem.

But to do it, they will have to overcome some of their biggest social hurdles and challenges of development. Despite some of the advances and inclusion into the policy arena, indigenous communities and their youth continue to face forms of discrimination and exclusion.

In many ways, this has left their societies vulnerable to unrest and societal disturbances.
Indigenous children and youth are particularly vulnerable to structural discrimination and marginalization, resulting in alarmingly high levels of poverty and poor health. Young indigenous women are especially disadvantaged, affecting their opportunities to enter the job market and their ability to make decisions about their reproductive lives.

On 9 May 2016, the world’s many indigenous leaders gathered in New York for the 15th session of the Forum. The theme for this year’s forum was Peace, Conflict and Resolution. Amongst the participants is a cohort of young and enthusiastic indigenous people of the GIYC who presented their views, statements and recommendations for young indigenous people.

With the support of IFAD, the GIYC organised a preparatory meeting on the 8th of May as a precursor to the event to ensure that the voice of the youth is an organised one that expresses the collective views of all indigenous youth present.

'Youth are the agents of social transformation'

In line with this year’s theme, Dali mentions that there are several concerns for indigenous youth worldwide, each in their own context and all equally important.

Yet, she goes on to reassuringly mention “(indigenous) youth are the agents of social transformation” and advocates the need for young people to return to traditional and communal forms of organisation that existed prior to conflicts.

She also reminds us how education is one of the major concerns orbiting indigenous youth and that the ability to remain in the educational system should “incorporate the cultural, linguistic, social needs and the recovery of indigenous peoples historical memory, traditions, culture and traditional knowledge.”

In recent years, intercultural and bilingual education has been recognized and such programmes have had a positive impact on indigenous peoples' communities.

Evaluations show that children who participate in intercultural and bilingual education classes perform better, both in their first and second language. The use of indigenous languages and the inclusion of indigenous knowledge in the curriculum have increased the interest of families and students in their history, and in their present and future learning and development opportunities.

Photo Credit: GIYC 
It is important to also realise that underpinning young indigenous people in their cultures through education, knowledge and community organization also helps counter the high prevalence of mental health issues, and in particular the disproportionately high suicide rates among indigenous youth.

According to a recent article published by the UN Economic and Social Council the high level of suicide rates amongst indigenous youth are related to the ‘severe  - and often invisible – discriminatory pressures they are confronted in reconciling past colonial injustices with their search for a better future’.

Speaking on the recent alarming rate of suicides amongst indigenous youth, the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, also addressed the Permanent Forum on the topic of self-harm. 

Ahmad said that the struggles of young indigenous peoples are also embedded in the “socio-economic challenges, marginalization, feelings associated with loss of culture and self-determination.”

However, Ahmad points out that even with the rise of such issues we should not look at indigenous youth as liabilities but rather as assets, stating that “Indigenous youth are powerful messengers of their communities” in bringing their diverse voices to the surface and that there is a need to listen carefully and be sensitive to their concerns and priorities.

Summarizing the way forward, Ahmad says there are three key points:

  • The first, is to ensure that young indigenous peoples have a voice not just in their communities but also at a global scale and starting at the UN. 
  • The second, is aligned with the partnership aspect of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Ahmad calls for further collaboration with UN partners including the WHO and UNICEF, on strategies to tackle self-harm and suicide amongst indigenous young peoples. “We need to collect best practices on suicide prevention, and share this information with others” he said.
  • The third, there is a need to further expand partnerships with the Indigenous youth and tap into their knowledge and expertise in order to push for policies that will reach the local level. Supporting the aspirations of the groups like the GIYC, he says  “more young indigenous peoples are needed in the work of the Permanent Forum to voice the views and concerns of youth. Through their involvement they can help shape the advice the Permanent Forum gives to UN agencies, funds and programmes, particularly those concerning indigenous youth.”

Rahul Antao is a junior consultant for the youth desk at IFAD. 

The project completion review of IFAD-supported projects is a process undertaken by the Borrower at the end of the project implementation cycle in order to report on the results achieved through project interventions. The main purposes of the completion review process are to promote accountability, reflect on performance and elicit lessons learned, and to define an appropriate post-project strategy. The learning dimension of the completion process should be regarded by both IFAD and the Borrower as the foundation for improvements in future project design and programming. The completion review process is also critical for identifying opportunities for scaling-up best practices. A well-managed project completion process is of key importance for identifying the ways and means to enhance the sustainability of project interventions. It provides all stakeholders with a unique opportunity to reflect on overall project performance and generate useful lessons learned from implementation.

Opening of workshop by Liberia's Minister of Agriculture
 and the Country Programme Manager
From 5 to 7 May 2016, four IFAD-supported projects from Sierra Leone and Liberia came together to share experiences and lessons learned on project implementation and to see how we can improve on measuring and reporting results and impact. The aim was to come up with a first draft of their project completion report. The four IFAD-supported projects are: the Agriculture Sector Rehabilitation Project (ASRP) and the Smallholder Tree Crop Revitalization Support Project (STCRSP) from Liberia; and, the Rehabilitation and Community-based Poverty Reduction Project (RCPRP) and the Smallholder Commercialization Programme - under the Global Agricultural Food Security Programme (SCP-GAFSP) from Sierra Leone. All of them are reaching completion within the next two years.

Participants writing draft PCR
During the first day of the workshop, the key concepts of IFAD's operating model and the stages of the project cycle, with a focus on project completion, were presented. Attention was given to how IFAD’s approach to managing-for-results brings programme and organizational performance together into an integrated and coherent system of planning, monitoring and accountability. Furthermore, an overview was provided on the content and approach to IFAD’s country strategies, the results-based COSOP. Sierra Leone and Liberia gave an overview on the implementation of their RB-COSOPs and shared lessons from the implementation of their respective country programmes. Finally, the completion exercise for IFAD-supported projects was discussed. It was stressed that good-quality reporting is the best way to learn from past experience in order to strengthen the design and quality of new operations. The revised guidelines and procedures were presented. As a first step in preparing their project completion reports (PCR), participants reviewed studies and assessments undertaken by the projects to capitalize lessons and, identify areas for improvement in the M&E sphere, share best practices and encourage their adoption.

Participants writing draft PCR
Participants used the second day of the workshop to write a first draft of their PCR. The exercise
drew from the “writeshop” methodology, which is an intense process that brings together a range of relevant stakeholders with different perspectives on a subject. Theo objective is to produce a written document/publication in a short time. The PCR was divided into sections and assigned to individual participants. Several authors contributed to each section of the report and a team of facilitators (CPM, M&E consultant and WCA regional team) provided support and guidance during the exercise. At the end of the day the different contributions were integrated into one document.

On the third day the draft PCRs were presented and participants were allowed to ask for clarifications or provide suggestions. The projects then sat together to see what information was still missing and to draw out a roadmap towards the completion of the PCR.

Overall, the workshop has proven to have been very instrumental in facilitating the sharing of experiences between projects, identifying successes and challenges, and drawing lessons for the PCR. It also allowed to clarify IFAD's current institutional requirements with regards to PCRs and plan for the next steps along the PCR process.

By Margarita Astralaga

Ruben Ussico, aged 69, cultivates maize and pumpkins in Gaza, Mozambique. Many farmers are being impacted
 by droughts that last longer than a single season, about rising sea levels and flash floods.

On the occasion of the Climate Action Summit 2016, the International Fund for Agricultural Development welcomes the Paris agreement and sees its adoption as a watershed moment in the fight against climate change. Indeed, the international community has made considerable breakthroughs pursuing effective diplomacy and cooperation. We now look toward the real challenge ahead, which is the implementation of the commitments made in Paris.

At IFAD, we believe that agriculture is a sector that holds the key to addressing the complex problem of climate change. We also believe that smallholder farmers are the agents that can transform agriculture and make it part of the solution. There are 500 million smallholder farms in the world; and over 2 billion people depend on small farms for their livelihoods. Many of these farms are located in fragile and marginal areas, such as dry lands, flood plains or hillsides.

As the global climate changes, we hear more reports from smallholders about rains coming unexpectedly, about droughts that last longer than a single season, about rising sea levels and flash floods. All of these phenomena threaten how we practice agriculture. They threaten the very basis of our civilization.

Making climate finance work for poor rural people

Smallholder farmers not only need our help, they most certainly merit it. When smallholders have better access to weather information, a more diversified asset base, and are better connected with institutional and financial networks, they can help us feed a growing planet. At the same time, they can help restore degraded ecosystems, increase the resilience of value chains, and reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint.

Much of this thinking has fed into IFAD’s Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme, or ‘ASAP’, which we launched in 2012. ASAP is IFAD’s flagship programme to make climate finance work for poor rural households in developing countries. With its financing of US$360 million, ASAP is now the world’s largest adaptation programme for smallholders.

Delivering timely climate information to smallholders

As a means of scaling up ambitious action on climate change, IFAD is aligning its country strategies and project investments with our member states’ intended nationally determined contributions,  or ‘INDCs’.

To date, 65 per cent of INDCs have defined agriculture as a priority for adaptation actions, and 77 per cent have defined it as a priority for mitigation actions. This sends a positive signal that countries support better resilience for smallholders on the ground, and stronger policy engagement at the local and national level to implement greener farming practices. Through its investment activities, IFAD is already putting INDCs into action.

Many ASAP-supported projects have a strong focus on improving weather forecasts and delivering timely climate information to smallholders. They build the capacity of cooperatives, women’s groups and extension services to apply climate-smart technologies, such as biogas, solar pumping or drought-resistant crop varieties. And they invest in climate-resilient infrastructure such as all-weather roads and post-harvest storage houses, to name a few.

Through these projects, IFAD is helping to make the agricultural sector in over 50 countries more resilient to climate change and reduce its carbon footprint. We have also committed to an ambitious plan to mainstream climate change aspects into all new investments activities by 2018.

IFAD believes it can play a unique role in harnessing the full potential of climate finance to safeguard smallholders’ livelihoods and empower them to contribute to effective climate action. We look forward to adding these contributions to the efforts of the wider United Nations system.

Margarita Astralaga is the Director of the Environment and Climate Division at IFAD.

Written by Mauro Martini

Post offices can play a powerful role in rural development by performing key financial services such as
 extending access to remittances sent by migrants.
4 May 2016 - For hundreds of millions of Africans, post offices play a crucial role in daily life, for sending and picking up parcels or letters, but also for financial services such as receiving or sending money, paying bills, opening savings accounts, or buying insurance products.

Unlike banks, post offices can rely on an impressive network of branches, out of which 80 per cent are located in rural areas. Moreover, post offices often enjoy a high level of trust, especially by the underbanked who tend to avoid banks.

In 2015 alone, the African continent received an impressive US$65 billion in remittances from over 20 million of its citizens working abroad, contributing to the livelihood of their families and communities back home.

IFAD, in partnership with the European Union, has seen in the postal networks a unique opportunity to extend access to remittances, cashless payments and secure affordable financial services to the rural population in Africa.

On these promising basis IFAD and the EU have jointly agree to engage in the provision of concrete support to post offices through the African Postal Financial Services Initiative.

The level of remittance dependency for many African states is extremely high; in certain cases accounting for almost 20 per cent of their GDP.

The cost of sending money back home 

Furthermore, while the global average cost of sending remittances is still at 7.4 per cent, Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most costly region in the world to send remittances to, with an average cost of 9.5 per cent in 2015 and many of the most expensive remittance corridors.

Post offices have a distinct comparative advantage in the remittance market in Africa. With a vast network of branches in remote towns and villages, coupled with a trained workforce, post offices provide remittance services (and in several countries also banking services) to rural Africans better than anyone.

In a recent baseline survey, IFAD measured the demand-side perspective about receiving and sending money via postal networks in peri-urban and rural areas of 11 African countries.

The findings were enlightening.

Not only remittance transactions were among the main reasons for using post offices in Africa, but also, in the choice of a remittance services provider, proximity, and reliability of pay-out locations were even more relevant than transaction costs alone.

In conclusion, rural African population are largely enthusiastic about the possibility of receiving remittances through their post offices, especially if this will enable them to access a broader range of financial services.

Strengthening the role of post offices

With the financial contribution of the European Union, IFAD and its partners (including the World Bank, Universal Postal Union, United Nations Capital Fund for Development, and the World Savings and Retail Banking Institute), have joined forces in four countries (Benin, Ghana, Madagascar and Senegal) to strengthen the position and role of the national post offices in providing remittances.

The aim is to provide remittances which are cheaper, faster, accessible in the most remote rural areas and, above all, with the possibility for the recipient to link them to additional financial services.

Direct technical assistance, provision of new technical equipment, operational support in remittance processes and staff training, coupled with the development of new marketing strategies and the forging of new partnerships with financial services providers, money transfer operators and mobile companies.

This is how IFAD and its partners are currently supporting the modernization of the four African postal operators in the four selected countries.

This will provide better access to remittances for rural households as well as access to other financial services, such as savings and investment schemes, consequently improving their livelihoods.

Launching new financial products 

Post offices have a distinct comparative advantage in the remittance market in Africa. 

The level of development and modernization of post offices in the four countries differs significantly. In this respect, while maintaining a common vision and approach, IFAD and its partners designed specific interventions taking into consideration each country’s existing remittance market.

In Senegal, the Initiative is supporting La Poste du Sénégal in opening new corridors and launching new financial products (e.g. a new card-based remittance transfer service linked with mobile systems, and insurance products).

In Benin, connectivity of post offices is a major issue; not all post offices are inter-connected, and the majority of work in rural branches is still on paper. The Initiative is supporting  La Poste du Bénin in the modernization of its postal network to improve remittance operations by reducing processing time.

In Ghana, one of the main objectives of GhanaPost is to enable a larger number of post offices to provide remittance services.

With the assistance of IFAD and its partners, GhanaPost recently approved a plan for 2016 which includes more than 40 new offices enabled for processing international remittances and the activation of around 80 additional locations for remittances services by 2018.

Madagascar is one of the poorest countries of the South African region. Postal capacity is limited and cash management remains a factor of risk. The initiative addressed this aspect accompanying Paositra Malagasy in the development of a new cash management strategy which takes into account all aspects of the cash flow, from security to operational processes.

Certainly, some challenges still exist. Postal operators are aged public institutions and often reluctant to change. Given the size of their network of post offices, the structural weight and the high number of staff involved, strategic changes take time, and the concrete impact is not immediately visible.

However, the African continent is in continuous evolution - especially when it comes to new technologies - and African postal operators are willing to accept those challenges which will undoubtedly lead to modernization, bringing remittances and financial services closer to the rural poor.

Mauro Martini is the Remittances and Development Officer at IFAD.

The UN’s three Rome based agencies (RBA's) have joined together in the ''Kenya Cereal Enhancement Programme- Climate Resilient Agricultural Livelihoods Window (KCEP-CRAL)''. Working together they want to reduce rural poverty and food insecurity among smallholder farmers by developing their economic potential.

The RBA's will be working together, supporting smallholder farmers in specific areas of the country. Through the adoption of value-added agricultural practices they hope to increase productivity and profitability of maize, millet, sorghum and associated pulses.

Step One - from food insecurity to subsistence farming, with good agricultural practices and conservation agriculture

In this first phase, the agencies, will support 60,000 food-insecure farming households to build up their productive assets. They will also build farmers’ capacities to reach subsistence levels of agricultural production, by applying Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Conservation Agriculture (CA).

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) will complement the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) technical advice with financing, which will improve extension services in the target counties, focusing on natural resource management (NRM) and adaptation to climate change.

Step two – Graduating to commercial farming with GAP, CA and resilience to climate change

In the second phase, the RBA's will reach out to 100,000 smallholder farmers (including farmers that graduated from the first phase) to advance them to commercial farming. This will be done whilst building their resilience to climate change. Support will target local government/communities for participatory development and implementation of community-based NRM and resilience plans.

Each RBA will have a specific focus

The World Food Programme (WFP) will collaborate on the aspects of the programme that relate to market access. Improving access to markets for smallholders has far reaching implications. It helps alleviate the frequent droughts they experience. It enhances crop and livestock production.

FAO will implement climate smart agriculture. Using GAP and CA they will enable farmers to increase their production and successfully market their surplus harvests.

IFAD will support farmers who have reached household subsistence level to graduate to market-oriented farming for value chains with market potential-retaining diversified livelihoods from WFP's supported strategy.

From its Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP), IFAD will finance activities under the KCEP-CRAL that support improved NRM and resilience to climate change at all levels. ASAP promotes soil and water conservation approaches to reduce vulnerability to climate change, that is currently plaguing farmers and putting pressure on natural resources. 

Six surprising benefits of trees

Posted by Beate Stalsett Thursday, April 21, 2016 0 comments

In honour of Earth Day, we compiled six surprising ways that trees are improving the lives of millions of small farmers around the world. 

Written by: Mathilde Zins

Trees protect the earth, feed communities and play multiple essential roles in the livelihoods of rural people living around the world.

Earth Day, celebrated annually on 22 April,  is an occasion to honour the close connection we maintain with Mother Earth.

This year, organizations are raising awareness about the important function of trees in sustaining and protecting our planet.

This is true for small farmers too. Trees play a vital part in their livelihoods and communities, as they nourish the people and help conserve the land that they live on.

Did you know that trees help combat climate change by absorbing excess and harmful CO2 from our atmosphere? In fact, in a single year, an acre of mature trees absorbs the amount of CO2 produced by driving the average car 26,000 miles. That's the same distance as going right around the world at the equator... and a little bit more.

Trees also clean the air we breathe when they absorb odours and pollutant gases  (nitrogen oxides, ammonia, sulphur dioxide and ozone) and filter particulates out of the air by trapping them on their leaves and bark.

Trees can help communities achieve long-term economic and environmental sustainability and provide food, energy and income.

This is why IFAD works with small farmers on projects that involve the sustainable management of trees and forests.

How are trees important to the lives of small farmers? Let us count the ways.

Trees help farmers conserve rainwater 

Trees are vital for our water supply. They influence how and where rain falls, they filter and clean our water, and are therefore essential for agricultural practices.

Like thousands of poor farmers living on the eastern slopes of Mount Kenya, Christine Mugure Munene used to depend on seasonal rains to water her crops. Thanks to a pilot project supported by IFAD, more than 7 million seedlings have been planted in the water catchment along the eastern slopes of the mountain and now trees keep water flowing in the region. 

''When you have trees in a water catchment, it helps to ensure that when it rains the water is held into the soil and it joins the river basin slowly. This ensures the sustainability of the flow of the rivers," says Paul Njuguna from the Mount Kenya East Pilot Project.  

Now, farmers in the community are working together to conserve water resources by protecting rivers and planting trees.

Trees help farmers improve soil

Poor soil fertility is one of the main obstacles to improving food production in Africa.
A study carried out by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in 2011 showed that planting trees that improve soil quality can improve soil fertility, reduce erosion and help boost crop yields for African farmers. 

In Niger, an IFAD-supported reforestation project in the Maradi and Zinder Regions has shown successful results. More than five million hectares of trees have been planted, according to Chris P. Reij, Sustainable Land Management specialist and  Senior Fellow of the World Resources Institute, who recently gave a lecture on climate change at IFAD headquarters in Rome. Farmers in the region continue to invest in agroforestry.

During the 2005 famine in Niger, villages that had invested in agroforestry had less infant mortality, because trees could be pruned or cut and sold, which generated cash with which farmers could buy cereals. Trees also produce fruit and leaves with high vitamin content for human consumption. 

Trees help farmers combat climate change 

Did you know that forests cover one third of the Earth's land mass, performing vital functions around the world? Around 1.6 billion people – including the members of more than 2,000 indigenous cultures – depend on forests for their livelihood. 

IFAD supports the sustainable management of forests, for example through a project in Latin America where forests cover 40 per cent of total land in the region, and numerous rural communities and indigenous peoples live and thrive in them.

The Community-based Forestry Development Project  is being implemented by Mexico’s National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR) in cooperation with project participants. It works to strengthen the capacity of communities to better manage their natural resources, adopt conservation practices such as increasing vegetation cover, and establish mechanisms to cope with the impact of climate change.

Trees help farmers increase income and food

Trees can be grown as cash crops and they can be used for carbon trading – both activities help give small farmers a steady income. And with a steady income, small farmers and their families have access to a nutritious and healthy diet.

In Laos, IFAD is working on a project for the preservation of Bong forests, and helping the Pacoh, an ethnic minority group, to secure their land rights and incomes. Bong trees were once abundant in countries like Laos but, in 2008, overexploitation led the Lao government to declare the trees on the verge of extinction. 

Now, the Pacoh have been provided with permanent land certificates where they can grow bong trees as a cash crop – ensuring that they have a steady income and enough food throughout the year.

Trees help farmers avoid desertification 

Desertification is often the result of human activity and can therefore be prevented or controlled by human effort. Planting trees can be part of this. 

In Burkina Faso, farmers have had to cope with less rainfall, loss of soil fertility and loss of trees – all of which could add up to desertification. 

To help farmers manage this threat and adapt to climate change, IFAD has supported a number of projects that work together with farmers to develop soil and water retention techniques. But the biggest payoff come from planting trees. Spreading the cuttings from young Bagana trees, improve the soil nutrients for growing crops. These trees also provide food for animals and people. And even more importantly, a compound released by leaves  into the atmosphere stimulates the formation of clouds and rainfall.

Indeed, up to 300 000 hectares of lands in Burkina Faso have been rehabilitated using this technique. This is not only helping these farmers to adapt to climate change, it has also increased their harvests.

Trees help farmers preserve ecosystems

Forests are among the most important repositories of terrestrial biodiversity. Together, tropical, temperate and boreal forests offer very diverse habitats for plants, animals and micro-organisms .

The island of São Tomé is one of the world's biodiversity hot spots. Every day scientists here discover new things.

''We've been coming now for 13-14 years, every time we come here, we find new species, species that have never been described before, I'm just racing to find out what's here before its gone,'' says Robert C. Drewes, Curator of Herpetology at the California Academy of Sciences.

IFAD is supporting cultivation of organic cocoa beans on the island. This helps farmers increase their incomes and build partnerships with the organic chocolate industry in Europe. With a steady income from cocoa plantations, farmers also have no need to encroach on protected forests.

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