CHUSHI CHIBESAKUNDA, Lusaka
AGRICULTURE has for a long time focussed on grain products. Grains such as wheat, rice and maize give yearly yields when planted correctly, with significant nutrition, and that has cultural familiarity across the globe. However, the problems pertaining to this method are long-scarring and ecologically dangerous. Deforestation adds to the growing climate change crisis, while grain plants deplete the land they are planted on, making maintenance cumbersome and relentless. Tree cultivation provides an apt solution to these challenges. Trees often take longer to yield (though some produce marketable products in the same time frame as grain) but do not require plantation land to be tilled annually, nor do they burden the climate. In fact, well placed trees enrich the soil and prevent water run-off, thereby avoiding natural disasters such as drought or flooding. The best part of agroforestry, however, is that anyone can do it, from large-scale farmers, villages to communities, to urban house dweller; anyone with a small garden can cultivate a number of trees.
The benefits of maintaining trees in urban households are numerous. It’s simply a matter of selecting a species to suit one’s particular needs. Trees such as Neem grow fast, provide many medicinal benefits, and are easy to maintain, requiring minimal watering and almost no pruning. This can be of great aid during illness, and remedies derived from them are easy to learn and remember.
Other species such as moringa replenish garden soil by absorbing nitrogen from the atmosphere and transferring it through the roots. The nitrogen rich soil can then bloom picturesque flower bushes and shrubs or other such foliage as desired to create a pristine outdoor area. Moringa is also well known for its tasty fruit, and there are several more fruit trees that can easily be cultivated, ranging from orange to pawpaw; this provides a stable source of household nutrition and ensures the freshness of the product consumed.
Farmers in Central America have developed “polycultural” tree systems on as little as one- fourth of an acre for hundreds of years. This allows the cultivation of multiple tree species without one jeopardising the growth of another, and can give garden owners pleasant gains if they choose profitable reward for their efforts. The sale of tree produce can serve as a secondary source of household income, and the sole input required is purchasing seeds, which are often not expensive at all.
Studies in sub-Saharan Africa have found that farms greatly benefit from the presence of trees. Besides soil maintenance, trees provide shelter and food for livestock and often increase growth in farm animals effectively and naturally. Mulch made with tree pruning is a cheap and effective source of nutrients, and many tree species produce leaves that can be pounded for even better foodstuffs.
Trees themselves present a great agricultural opportunity since, once grown, they are easy to maintain compared to grain. They do not deplete soil; they do not require tilling; many are highly resistant to pests; and harvesting in often a less labour-intensive process. Trees also present an opportunity to vary the national diet, adding precious foodstuffs to farmers’ portfolios which can even be sold on the international market at high prices.
The wood market itself is already a billion-dollar industry in many nations such as Canada and China. Zambia’s climate facilitates growth of many different kinds of trees which grant farmers access to a plethora of markets. Trees take longer to become profitable, but once they are, they remain so for longer than any farmer’s lifetime. Trees live longer than any other organism on earth. A healthy tree farm could conceivably be passed down through generations or maintained by a company for centuries.
The World Bank recently conducted a study in sub-Saharan Africa that found trees to account for more than 6 percent of rural household income. The study even admits that this figure is likely farbelow an accurate representation, since there is not enough data to conduct such a survey properly. Trees are already incredibly important in rural areas, but collective thinking could revolutionise incomes and prospects throughout the nation.
Villages have ample land for planting. All that is necessary is strategic thinking. Community leaders ought to band together to identify the current and future needs of their people, and acquire seeds of the trees that can remedy them. In Ethiopia farms regularly plant fruit trees for their own consumption as a cheap and reliable food source, while Malawian villages have been known to establish industries from tree-related products such as furniture.
Beyond this, the sale of indigenous tree products is growing ever-more popular as eas
CHUSHI CHIBESAKUNDA, Lusaka