Agriculture is an important source of livelihood, food security, and development opportunities. Many aspects of the current agricultural systems in Africa, such as over-irrigation, short rotation cropping, and slash-and-burn agriculture, threaten wildlife and landscapes—and even people. As the agricultural sector grows to achieve local and national food security and meet the growing global demand for food, fuel, and fiber, these threats are poised to intensify.
Inappropriate agricultural practices in the wrong places can cause habitat destruction and degradation, deforestation, exploitation of water and soils, erosion, sedimentation, pollution, and even regional and local climate change. This sets in motion a vicious cycle, where farmers, faced with declining crop yields from degraded soils, turn to even more destructive practices—such as short rotation cropping, shifting agriculture, and over-irrigation—which then even further strip the soil.
As populations increase, demand for biomass for food fuel and fiber grows, and agricultural productivity reaches its limits in the traditional breadbaskets such as the American Midwest and Brazil’s Cerrado, the world is turning to Africa to produce more crops.
At the same time, Africans are working to improve their own economic situations and are depending on traditional livelihoods, like agriculture and livestock, to achieve security.
African Wildlife Foundation knows that agricultural reform succeeds when sustainable practices result in better, more productive outputs and increased food and economic security. AWF works with rural communities to establish agreements where communities adhere to practices that foster conservation and, in exchange, AWF provides training and improved seeds that increase agricultural output.
In Central Kenya, we worked with about 7,000 small-scale coffee growers to improve the quality and quantity of their coffee production through environmentally friendly practices. Coffee farming overlaps with many of Kenya’s biologically rich regions; as a result, the country’s wildlife, forests, water, and other natural resources were overexploited, and deforestation was especially high. If growers adhere to conservation principles, however, coffee production can be both economically and ecologically beneficial. Through the Kenya Heartland Coffee Project—a groundbreaking initiative between AWF, the Starbucks Corp., and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)—coffee farmers improved management of natural resources, increased productivity, decreased environmental impact on wildlife and landscapes, and implemented reforestation schemes around Aberdare and Mt. Kenya National Parks. The project benefited some 7,000 people directly and another 36,000 household members indirectly.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), years of civil war had destroyed the infrastructure that allowed farmers to bring their crops to market. With limited opportunities and high poverty rates, people began to settle in forests where they could have access to more bushmeat and, at the same time, grow subsistence crops. These practices impacted both the forest landscape—critical to wildlife survival—and populations of wildlife within the forests, like bonobos. As an alternative, AWF, with financing from a Dutch grant and USAID, introduced the Congo Shipping Project. We trained farmers in conservation agriculture, providing guidelines for best practices that would allow them to see higher crop yields. We further purchased a barge that would take farmers’ crops from the remote parts of the Congo Heartland to markets in Kinshasa, thereby providing these farmers with sustainable livelihoods.
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