The importance of trees
For generations, tree planting has been promoted as important for livelihoods and environmental improvement.
- Trees release oxygen into the atmosphere and absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.
- They reduce erosion by holding soil in place and protecting it from the sun, rain and wind.
- Trees catch rainwater and encourage it to soak into the ground.
- They provide shade which protects crops, animals and people from the sun.
- Trees are a source of food, medicines, firewood, fodder for livestock and timber for construction.
- They provide a home for many types of birds, animals and insects, some of which are important for pollination and pest control.
Over the past 30–40 years, a new approach to reforestation has emerged in the form of farmer-managed natural regeneration. This strategy promotes the effective management of naturally occurring trees and shrubs. It is now used in many countries to restore unproductive land and improve agricultural livelihoods.
The role of women
Women play a key role in agriculture and are often among the first to adopt new techniques. However, they are frequently ignored when decisions are being made and may have little power in the communities where they live.
It is crucial that women are fully involved in any farming initiatives, and governments and NGOs should be challenged to include women in positions of leadership. The voices of both women and men must be heard and respected if communities are to make wise decisions for the future.
Time to act
It is important that we act now to restore damaged land, enhance biodiversity and help reduce the impact of climate change. This needs farmers, development agencies, governments and researchers to work together and learn from each other. Sustainable farming practices that have already been widely adopted, such as the ones mentioned above, have all involved mutual learning of this kind.
Changes to normal weather patterns caused by human activities.
In the mid-1800s humans began to burn fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. Burning fossil fuels produces energy, but it also releases ‘greenhouse gases’ such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous monoxide into the air.
Naturally occurring greenhouse gases form a layer around the earth that traps heat and keeps the planet warm. However, human activities mean that there are now more of these gases in the atmosphere than there should be, and too much heat is being trapped. This is causing the planet to heat up, resulting in environmental damage and more unpredictable weather.
Ecosystem (ecological system)
A community of living things that interact with each other and with the non-living things in their environment (eg earth, water, air). If something is added to or taken away from an ecosystem – eg a species change or a rise in temperature – it can affect the natural balance of the interactions and harm or destroy the ecosystem.
Biodiversity (biological diversity)
The variety of living things in a given place. If an ecosystem is biodiverse, small changes will have less of an impact on its stability.
Healthy soils are very biodiverse. They contain billions of organisms that break down organic material, releasing nutrients that are essential for all plants and animals.
Conservation agriculture newsletter
Canadian Foodgrains Bank publishes four excellent newsletters on conservation agriculture each year. They are available in English, French, Kiswahili and Portuguese. Download free of charge from www.foodgrainsbank.ca, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Canadian Foodgrains Bank, PO Box 767, Winnipeg, MB, R3C 2L4, Canada.