A bi-monthly update on the work of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)


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In this issue







From the Executive Secretary
Scientists and economists are revamping traditional farming methods to rehabilitate degraded soil and studying the underlying economic causes and effects. At the forefront of these endeavours, the UNCCD is gaining support from governments, researchers, donor institutions, development banks and other major UN bodies. More

Online publications, useful links, websites and videos More

Scaling up agroforestry
Dennis Garrity highlights agroforestry's impressive results in Africa, Asia and Latin America. With initial misconceptions now largely overcome, the practice is entering the mainstream of land use programmes, he says. > More

The wonder tree
Meet Faidherbia albida, a long-lost friend to drylands farming. Decades of work have proven that intercropping this fertilizer tree with maize, millet or sorghum can transform farm incomes and rural livelihoods. A growing base of evidence now makes the tree ready for large-scale use in dryland farming systems, say supporters. > More

Fast growth, flowers and livestock forage
Three examples of prolific, multi-purpose fodder shrubs. > More

Measuring the value of land
A research initiative put forward by the UNCCD to define the economics of desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD) gains strong backing from a development community increasingly anxious to gauge the losses inherent in DLDD – and the gains from sustainable land management. More

Struggling smallholders
There's good news and bad news about rural poverty. > More


The fruits of new science

Scientists are adding real promise to prospects for the drylands, opening research horizons for the rehabilitation of degraded soil and extracting fresh, hard evidence from years of methodical field work. This issue of UNCCD News looks at two examples: agroforestry, a still under-appreciated branch of agricultural science that is now racking up measurable progress in poverty alleviation, plus an exciting UNCCD-backed initiative to clarify the economics of drought, land degradation and desertification.

Spearheaded by the World Agroforestry Center, agroforestry is helping to transform the lives of struggling smallholder farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It merits the attention and support of all Parties to the UNCCD and of any farmer, policymaker and investor interested in strengthening farm incomes and food security. To cite one example: “evergreen agriculture” involves the deliberate planting of a particular tree species to shade, fertilize and help water bounteous crops of sorghum, millet and maize. Today it is providing a host of new benefits in rural livelihoods. Agroforests have now spread across some 5 million hectares of once-degraded farmland in Niger (see interview below). Thanks also to conducive framework legislation, it has become a major contributor to the greening of the Sahel and the improvement of living standards there.

Farming goes “evergreen” Niger's “evergreen” success story, along with other examples of assisted soil regeneration, merit substantial scaling up and dissemination, and are certain to interest the UNCCD Committee on Science and Technology (CST) as well as our Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC), which fosters interaction with policy makers and promotes good practice. Agroforestry's material achievements are also sure to stimulate the broader search that is now underway for socio-economic indicators to assess, design and manage better programmes for sustainable land management (SLM) and land rehabilitation at both national and global levels.

Some of you will know that the theme for the 2nd UNCCD Scientific Conference in 2012 is “The economic assessment of desertification, sustainable land management and resilience of arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas”. Behind that rather technical title lies the realization that investment in land rehabilitation is best promoted through properly understanding and measuring its contributions to social and economic well-being.

It was this certainty that prompted 53 representatives from 31 intergovernmental organizations, governments and research bodies to resolve, in a mid-December meeting here in Bonn, to launch an ambitious programme of study into the economics of drought, land degradation and desertification (read story below).

A global alliance for research and advocacy The origins of this partnership go back to July 2009, when I discussed the matter with the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of the Federal Republic of Germany (BMZ). The BMZ, as a first step, commissioned the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Center for Development Research (ZEF) in Bonn to prepare a scene-setting policy paper which served as an initial basis of our December discussions.

These discussions in turn gave way to a unanimous decision by the participants to start forging a global alliance that will provide a more robust scientific basis for good policy on land use, promote the effective allocation of resources and raise public awareness of the importance of healthy soils. You can download a brochure presenting the background and goals from our website. I and the UNCCD secretariat share the palpable excitement generated by the landmark initiative. We look forward to the flourishing of this partnership.

Luc Gnacadja
Executive Secretary



Agroforestry’s achievements are sure to stimulate the broader search now underway for socio-economic indicators to assess, design and manage better programmes for sustainable land management and land rehabilitation.


“Working trees in working landscapes”

The chief of global agroforestry describes how evergreen agriculture can defeat land degradation

“It’s time to reinvent agriculture in a sustainable and affordable way... Integrating trees into food-crop systems has enormous implications for food productivity, soil health and climate change.”

Dr Dennis Garrity holds a PhD in crop physiology from the University of Nebraska, USA, and has served as Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) since 2001. From 1992 to 2002 he was regional coordinator of the Centre's Southeast Asia programme, based in Bogor, Indonesia, where he led the development and evaluation of regional agroforestry alternatives to slash-and-burn agriculture. For some 30 years, the Centre's research and grass-roots approach have quietly but steadily transformed millions of hectares of depleted farmland back into fertile fields across Africa, Asia and the Americas. Global media sat up on 2 November 2010 when Dr Garrity foretold a future of food security under cooling canopies of “fertilizer trees” at the Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change in The Hague. He spoke recently with UNCCD News editor Timothy Nater.


On agroforestry's breakthrough

Farmers in Africa, Asia, South Asia, Central America, the Amazon rain forest and elsewhere have been intercropping trees with their food systems for thousands of years. What's new is that agroforestry today is based on a much stronger platform of scientific research and it’s ready for scaling up across the world. And we need it: we must increase food production 70 per cent by mid-century, and at least double it in Africa. It’s time to reinvent agriculture in a sustainable and affordable way, so we can reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases and adapt it to climate change. Integrating trees into food-crop systems has enormous implications for food productivity, soil health and climate change in some of the world's poorest countries. That's the big message for the wider audience, beyond the community of agroforestry experts.


“Crop yields have increased dramatically, often more than doubling, even reaching ten times their previous yields.”

On the difficulty of names

The word “agroforestry” is naturally interpreted by people as a form of forestry, with “agro-” mistakenly seen as the modifier. Our progress has been slowed by that particular way of constructing the term. In fact, agroforestry is all about agriculture, about the way the ways in which farmers use working trees in working landscapes. So although some farmers have practiced agroforestry for a great length of time, there is still insufficient appreciation of it in the agricultural community, especially among the hard core of people engaged in crop production. So we developed the term “evergreen agriculture” to designate a form of agroforestry that integrates trees with crops to provide a green cover on the land throughout the year, and that's been very effective in connecting with those groups. It is the farmers who are helping us bring forward the message: this system can be effectively scaled up to improve scores of millions of hectares of farmland.

On the World Agroforestry Centre

The Centre was founded in 1978. Our mission is to generate knowledge about the roles of trees in agricultural systems and to connect this with policy and practice to better the lives of farmers and rural communities. It's been a fairly short time, as the world turns, since agroforestry came onto the scene. It's a young field compared to some development sciences, so it's only starting to find its feet.

We pay a lot of attention to communications, starting with our website. Our work also means building relations with governments, donors, NGOs, business and local action groups, and that takes a lot of time. And we have helped develop potential in qualified teachers and trainers by creating a network of 132 universities and technical colleges in Africa that have incorporated agroforestry into their Masters, PhD and other post-graduate and technical programmes.

On affinity with the UNCCD

What's interesting about the mandate of the UNCCD is that it recognizes agroforestry as a suitable and compatible way to rehabilitate degraded land and make agricultural systems more sustainable. UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja and I have started to discuss an agenda by which the World Agroforestry Centre can engage more deeply with UNCCD processes. On both sides there's a natural affinity, in terms of what each partner can contribute.

From my viewpoint, what's especially exciting about the evolution of the UNCCD's land degradation agenda is the recognition that the earlier top-down approaches to overcome land degradation have largely failed. The Centre's work is living proof of that. Projects stimulated through local support systems that are seriously open and participatory can have enormous impacts on the ground. Policymakers are starting to see the enormous implications. If this is possible through the efforts of local people, then why couldn't such a transformation occur over the entire Sahelian region, with appropriate support from progressive government policy, technical expertise from the international community like the World Agroforestry Centre, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the NGO community?

“We developed the term ‘evergreen agriculture’ to designate a form of agroforestry that integrates trees with crops to provide a green cover on the land throughout the year.”

On good news from Niger

There is a sterling case that demonstrates the value of this sort of grass-roots support. For the world at large, the general script about Niger has generally been drought, desertification and flooding. But there's also good news that's now emerging: for the past 20 years in the key agro-pastoralist regions of Zinder and Maradi, there's been a transformation of more than 5 million hectares of treeless, highly-degraded farmland into lusher, greener landscapes. This land is now increasingly under a cover of dense agroforests and is again producing Niger's basic food crops, especially millet and sorghum.

Farmers and their communities have worked assiduously at generating tree-cover in these Sahara-edge agricultural environments and will tell you that, across this area, their crop yields have increased dramatically, often more than doubling, even reaching ten times their previous yields. That means moving from very modest yields of 200-400 kilogrammes per hectare in this semi-arid climate to as many as 1,200 to 2,000 kilogrammes per hectare. But the net primary productivity of the land, the amount of biomass a land produces, has increased, too, including a major co-benefit for livestock in the form of high-protein fodder in the leaves and the pods of these trees. In the case of the Faidherbia tree, that means fresh green fodder in the late dry season, the most critical time of heat-stress and cattle fatalities in these agro-pastoralist communities.

On top of that, with anywhere from 150 to 300 deliberately-planted Faidherbia per hectare, the micro-climate of the landscape has improved dramatically. Seedlings and crops are no longer being sandblasted, dried out and destroyed by the hot harmattan winds coming off the desert, meaning a wide area of vastly better moisture conservation. Not only are the trees cooling down the crop's environment and thereby reducing the stress of heat, they're also increasing the infiltration of rainfall into the soil. Since these sandy soils crusted over very badly in the past, with 80% of the rainfall just running right off the fields, the intensive new tree cover allows rainfall infiltration into the soil, so the level of water in community wells in the Maradi and Zinder regions is also increasing.


Agroforestry turns farmers and trees into mutually-supportive allies while fostering biodiversity above and below ground.

Science to benefit the rural poor

The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)* is an autonomous, non-profit research body and one of the 15 centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural research (CGIAR), which is now forcefully advocating specific measures to strengthen food security and resist climate change. CGIAR spent USD 572 million in 2009, “the single largest investment made to mobilize science for the benefit of the rural poor worldwide”, according to the CGIAR website.

ICRAF was founded in 1978 to promote agroforestry research in partnership with national agricultural research systems in developing countries. Headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, the Centre also operates regional offices in Brazil, Cameroon, India, Indonesia, and Malawi. It conducts research projects in 18 other countries across sub-Saharan Africa, in South and Southeast Asia and Latin America. Funding for its USD 35 million operating budget (2009) came from over 50 different government and private sources, including the Canadian and US governments, the EU, the World Bank, regional development banks and foundations. Much of the Centre's research expenditure goes to poverty alleviation and environmental rehabilitation in Africa.

*ICRAF stands for “International Centre for Research in Agroforestry", the name of the organization until it became the World Agroforestry Centre in 2002. “ICRAF" remains the legal name and acronym. It is still commonly used in French and other languages as well as inside the international scientific community.


Comeback of the wonder trees

Modern agroforestry is delivering measurable improvements in the output, cash income and lives of smallholder farmers and reinforcing their ecosystems against climate change. Its backers say that mainstreaming the practice into national development plans will reap billions of dollars worth of economic output. Will policymakers, governments and investors answer the call?

Light rain is falling on a field of young maize in Zambia. It is early January and the maize, unusually strong for this time of year, is getting a good soak. The field is not clear-cut: tall, grey trees stand overhead. Oddly, the trees have lost their leaves, the rain falling unimpeded through their spreading branches as the leaf mulch feeds the growing corn below.

Rural shop in Malawi: the high protein content of fodder shrubs means fresh dairy products for local sale

Same place and three months later, it's the dry season. Once again, the landscape is unusual for Sahelian Africa. Though the unshaded areas of parkland now are turning brown in the heat, the same trees are in full foliage. Dark yellow and tufted, their flowers swarm with honey bees and other pollinators. Under the tree canopies the maize is green, lush and three metres high, ready for harvest.

This tree is Faidherbia albida, an acacia combining counter-cyclical growing habits with astonishingly beneficial properties for agroiculture. And it is only one of a growing number of plant benefactors of traditional African farming that science, under the global aegis of the World Agroforestry Centre, has rescued from obscurity and is scaling up into an army of seedlings, technical guidelines and success stories to fight land degradation and hunger in developing countries. Says Professor Eric Tollens chairman of the World Agroforestry Centre's board of trustees, “Agroforestry has now come of age as a robust, science-based discipline and a major form of land use."

Big productivity gains When land use rights are secure, modern agroforestry today has shown impressive results in countries as diverse as Zambia, Bangladesh and the Philippines. At its core lie ancient customs of minimum tillage and intercropping. Handed down through generations, these are now being buttressed by research, refreshed by conservation agriculture and scaled up into impressive projects. More agriculture than forestry, the practice ranges from modest homestead plots of cash crops like bush mango, jujube or lemon to the intentional blending of trees and fodder shrubs into large-scale sowings of maize, sorghum or millet, scoring up to 300% gains in productivity. Spin-offs include honey and fresh dairy milk for local consumption.

The fertilizer tree Faidherbia albida is known as the ana-boom in Afrikaans, kad in Woloof, haraz in Arabic or winterthorn in English. It is one of the hardiest, fastest-growing trees on the continent. Faidherbia is planted on rain-fed soil or along water courses, with crops then sown underneath. In both Zambia and Malawi, over 500,000 farmers now cultivate food crops with Faidherbia. The tree is leguminous, feeding nitrogen into the soil, which means farmers can save on inorganic fertilizer. These “agroforests" are spreading rapidly. In Niger, more than 4.8 million hectares of millet and sorghum are now being grown with a density of 160 or more Faidherbia trees per hectare. 

Evergreen agriculture is the direct and close intercropping of particular tree species into annual food crop systems, maintaining a green or vegetative cover on the land throughout the year.

Defying the seasons: Grey when it’s green

Maize grows strong under the grey limbs of leafless Faidherbia albida (above) in early March in Malawi. Apart from doubling, even tripling maize crop productivity, the tree's bounty includes nitrogen fertilizer from its leaves and roots, traditional medicines from the bark, fodder from copious seed pods, honey-making at the start of the dry season and easy firewood. Of ancient lineage, this sap-filled, fast-growing thorn tree is indigenous to the drylands of Africa and the Middle East.

Because of reverse leaf phenology, a term describing its propensity to shed its leaves and go dormant just as rain starts to green other vegetation and spur demand for soil nutrients, Faidherbia is an ideal intercropping match for maize, millet and sorghum. It also serves adaptation to climate change: a deep tap root makes Faidherbia albida a cool, moist shield against extreme heat or prolonged drought. Along with an array of fodder shrubs, this counter-cyclical “fertilizer tree" ranks foremost in modern agroforestry's march on poverty.

Fertilizer tree and fodder shrub systems produce anywhere from USD 50-100 worth of inorganic fertilizer per hectare, according to Director General Dennis Garrity of the World Agroforestry Centre (see interview above). They thus bring important savings for smallholders while at the same time increasing their yields. Easy-growing fodder shrubs like Grevillea and Calliandra (see box below) serve as fresh, high-protein food for dairy livestock as well as living crop fertilizer. They can double as wind- and water-breaks along ridges to stop erosion and form welcoming green hedges in rural and peri-urban settlements. The fast-growing shrub Tephrosia candida, for example, planted around maize, can double a farmer's yield, and with adequate irrigation, can produce a second harvest within the first season of use. “And Faidherbia will stay with you and your fields for up to 70 or 80 years”, Garrity says of the wonder tree. “Once you've planted it, you have a fertilizer factory for generations.”

Not without some work, of course. After planting, Faidherbia albida seedlings can take from three to six years before measurably enhancing a farmer’s output and income, and patience and mediumterm planning come hard for hungry smallholder families. Fodder shrubs also demand labour, especially heavy pruning to prevent encroachment on nearby crops. And they are not a panacea: some, when transplanted to tropical or humid regions, can fall victim to fungus and other pests.

No real interest at the top? One tough test agroforestry must pass is acceptance by legislators and governments that leads to conducive regulatory conditions and policies. Another is to convince donors that new success in Africa and elsewhere bears out its promise and deserves substantial funding. Bilateral agencies like USAID and Norway's NORAD, respectively backers of agroforestry research in Africa and Central America to date, want the practice to show more evidence that it meets development's overarching priority: alleviating poverty and improving livelihoods. According to an internal assessment by DFID published in 2010, project proposals need to express agroforestry's benefits in hard economic terms.

For its part, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations gives agroforestry only passing mention in the 2011 State of the World's Forests report and elsewhere is frank about this apparent hesitance: “Rural people around the world ... make no distinction between field trees and forest resources, perceiving the clear and close link between the two”, their website explains. “Policy-makers and planners, however, tend to view these resources as different entities. It seems clear that trees outside forests have not yet succeeded in arousing real interest at the top.”

Perceptions might improve if, to start with, agroforestry were properly viewed as an feature of agriculture, not of traditional forestry. Given research showing that food security in most of the developing world depends on local food production, agroforestry's role in boosting agricultural productivity rain-fed smallholdings is thus crucial.

Despite the lack of interest it has noted, the FAO is working on a set of Global Agroforestry Policy Guidelines that it hopes will rouse national-level decision makers. “Agroforestry offers an exciting and cost-effective solution to soil depletion, land degradation and poverty”, says UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja. “Agriculture, forestry and rural poverty can be addressed as a whole, through agroforestry. We need stronger collaborative partnerships to realize its full promise.”

Ending a destructive cycle Farmers and trees might seem natural enemies. History seems to show that when farming arrives, trees invariably disappear. Clear-cutting and slash-andburn deforestation for agriculture account for some 60% of global land degradation as well as about 30% of all man-made carbon emission, according to the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UNREDD). But what if that destructive cycle could be broken? For its backers, agroforestry offers a strategic exit from the dilemma, interrupting the cycle and turning trees and farmers into mutuallysupportive allies while fostering biodiversity above and below ground.

Agroforestry should also gain prominence in the current debate on what to include in the REDD+ issues that governments prioritized during the 2010 Cancun summit on emissions reduction and climate change. According to ICRAF, 46% of agricultural land globally has at least 10% tree cover, representing at least 30 gigatonnes of carbon. That could easily be doubled, says ICRAF: bringing agroforestry and "whole landscape approaches" into REDD+ policies could thus help address drivers of deforestation as well as support adaptation and mitigation efforts.

ICRAF is calling for a broad increase in start-up inputs, including high-quality seeds, nurseries, and agroforestry training and extension materials. These measures should help generate bigger markets for agroforestry products, effective systems for managing carbon credits, payments for environmental services and seed money for farmers to plant trees.

“The 10% tree cover on more than 1 billion hectares of agricultural land [in the world] provides a carbon stock of approximately 30 gigatonnes. With appropriate incentives and by developing countries taking the lead, we estimate an additional 30 gigatonnes can be added over the next 20 years — equivalent to 60 years of emissions from deforestation as currently defined... Trees already provide annually [USD] $80 billion worth of fuel wood, [USD] $100 billion of traded tree commodities and many of the medicinal cures for poor rural families.”

Excerpt from ICRAF statement at the global climate summit, Cancun, Mexico, December 2010

Full-text journal articles

Garrity et al, Evergreen Agriculture: a robust approach to sustainable food security in Africa; Food Security, Vol. 2, No. 3, Springer Science+Business Media B.V. & International Society for Plant Pathology 2010

Verchot et al, Climate change: linking adaptation and mitigation through agroforestry; Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, Vol. 2, No. 5, Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Soil-restoring fodder trees and shrubs

Nutritious biomass to feed livestock and increase soil fertility and crop yields are only some of the many services these hardy plants provide. Three stand-outs:

A native of Central America, Callandria calothyrsus has successfully migrated to agroforests in Brazil, Australia, South-East Asia and beyond. Indonesian farmers, for example, plant it to reforest degraded land around villages. It is particularly prized as a source of firewood. Fresh and uncut, Callandria makes palatable forage for goats and dairy cattle.

Also indigenous to Mesoamerica and one of the oldest known fodder shrubs, Gliricidia sepium was once called “madre de cacao" by Spanish-speaking plantation owners for the protective and nurturing shade it offers cocoa plantations. The shrub now also serves in West Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia and the Philippines as a high-protein feed supplement and as dry-season fodder.

Yellow-flowering Grevillea robusta, found in eastern Australia, was introduced to other countries in the 19th century. Known in English as silky oak, it is now common in subtropical and tropical highland areas in Asia, Africa and the Americas as a favourite shade tree for tea and coffee plantations, row and boundary plantings, timber, poles, firewood and fertilizing leaf mulch.


New partnership to measure the value of land

An international policy-making meeting launches an ambitious initiative to clarify the economics of desertification, land degradation and drought

The international community is calling ever more urgently for better land-use science and policies to support achievement of the Millennium Development Goals ( MDGs ), the implementation of the G20 commitments of 2009, the ongoing climate change negotiations, global advances in biodiversity preservation and success at the upcoming Rio+20 Earth Summit in May 2012.

On 14 and 15 December 2010, a meeting convened in Bonn by the UNCCD and CCD Project of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the technical cooperation arm of Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, launched an ambitious process that seeks to provide much of what’s still needed.

Pioneering and multidisciplinary One aim is to evaluate the socioeconomic costs of land degradation and the added value of better land management. Another is to scientifically assess the benefits of restoring soil to productive use and help guide policies that permit the world to manage land in sustainable ways. This calls for a programme of pioneering multidisciplinary study between economists, biophysical scientists and experts from national and international arenas together with governments, investors, farmers and civil society organisations.

According to Manfred Konukiewicz, Deputy Director General, Global and Sectoral Policies and Commissioner for Climate Policy, German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, “The initiative aims to produce and refine an economic cost-benefit analysis of land degradation that will enable decision-makers to adequately strengthen rural development and global food security. The expectations are high: this initiative will both raise sustainable land  management to a higher level of priority on global and national agendas and reinforce the role of the UNCCD itself. Countries, institutions and individuals together must now provide the necessary impetus."

Download the eight-page meeting report from the UNCCD website.

Keynote speaker Professor Joachim von Braun, Director of the Center for Development Research (ZEF), summarized the ZEF's initial draft study on the economics of DLDD

Some precedents

A number of cooperative, cross-sectoral environmental investigation and publishing are now already positively influencing international policy-making. Three examples:

The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change by British economist Nicholas Stern, released in 2006, argues that the benefits of strong, early action on climate change considerably outweigh the costs.

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), launched in 2008, is an international initiative to draw attention to the global economic benefits of biodiversity and to highlight the growing costs of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, published in 2005, considered the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being and the scientific basis for action needed to enhance the conservation and sustainable use of those systems.

A Sri Lankan farming couple harvests rice for family consumption


Uneven advances for world’s smallholder farmers

The Rome-based International Fund for Rural Development (IFAD) on 6 December launched the Rural Poverty Report 2011, a comprehensive look at rural poverty and its consequences.

Fresh IFAD numbers on rural poverty rates show that, in some parts of the world, these have actually declined. Improvements stem largely from increased production and growing private investment in farming, as well as increased urbanisation across the developing world. Higher global food prices have also helped, as has the increase in market information available to small farmers with mobile phones. The report says more than 350 million rural people “have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty” since 2001. The Middle East, Latin America, the Caribbean and South-East Asia and East Asia – especially China – have fared well.

The forgotten billion However, South Asia (India and Pakistan, in particular) and sub-Saharan Africa show little overall improvement. “500 million poor rural people live in South Asia today”, says IFAD’s Edward Heinemann, the coordinator of the report. “As for Africa, although rates of rural poverty are starting to decline, the numbers of poor people are actually increasing. 62% of all rural African people are still living on less than 1.25 [US] dollars a day.” Echoing a recent report from the UNCCD and UNDP, IFAD says global poverty remains a massive, predominantly rural phenomenon: one billion poor people – more than twice the population of the entire European Union – are living on the land.

But the report also emphasizes that profound changes in agricultural markets are giving rise to new and promising opportunities for the developing world’s smallholder farmers to significantly boost their productivity, which will be necessary to ensure enough food for an increasingly urbanized global population estimated to reach at least 9 billion by 2050.

“It’s time to look at poor smallholder farmers and rural entrepreneurs in a completely new way – not as charity cases but as people whose innovation, dynamism and hard work will bring prosperity to their communities and greater food security to the world in the decades ahead”, says IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze. “We need to focus on creating an enabling environment for rural women and men to overcome the risks and challenges they face as they work to make their farms and other businesses successful.”

See IFAD webpage for more information, video feature and PDF download of the report.

Population pressures: In Sub-Saharan Africa, rates of rural poverty are down, but the number of poor rural people is rising



Farming trees, banishing hunger – How an agroforestry programme co-funded by the Irish government is helping smallholder farmers in Malawi. Download 38-page PDF booklet

Trees for life - Swiss support for agroforestry in Bangladesh. Read online report

The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa, by Calestous Juma, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Web page for download

Gardens of biodiversity – The conservation of genetic food resources in small farm systems in the Southern Caucasus; Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Link to summary of chapters and download


Harnessing agricultural innovation in Africa – Ethiopian economist Eleni Gabre-Madhin outlines a vision to found her country's first commodities market. Watch

“I will be a hummingbird” – Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai narrates a short animated feature. Watch


About the UNCCD

Developed as a result of the Rio Summit, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is a unique instrument that has brought attention to the land degradation affecting some of the most vulnerable people and ecosystems in the world. The UNCCD has 193 Parties (192 countries plus the European Union) and is one of the three so-called “Rio COnventions", along with the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD). The UNCCD is increasingly recognized as an instrument that can make an important contribution to the achievement of sustainable development and poverty reduction.

For more information: Awareness Raising, Communication and Education Unit, UNCCD
Tel (switchboard): + 49 228 815 2800   Fax: + 49 228 815 2898   secretariat@unccd.int

Contact UNCCD News at newsbox@unccd.int


UNCCD News is published by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

Editor: Timothy Nater (Email)
Design: Rebus, Paris (Email)
Copyright ©2010/2011 UNCCD (Email)

ICRAF/World Agroforestry Centre, Tami Hultman/AllAfrica, Charlie Pye-Smith, IFAD/GMB Akash, GIZ/Peter Himsel, IISD Reporting Service, Mark W. Skinner/USDA, UNCCD/Nimai Chandra Ghosh, Volker Wurst

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