I just read an interesting article about reinventing agriculture with agroforestry in Africa in USA Today. Grain yields are being increased by 2-3 times in nutrient deficient soils with the addition of Faidberia alibida; a tap rooted, nitrogen-fixing tree that goes dormant when the grains are growing.
"'Doubling food production by mid-century, particularly in Africa, will require non-conventional approaches, particularly since so many of the continent's soils are depleted, and farmers are faced with a changing climate," Dennis Garrity, director general of the World Agroforestry Centre, said in a release. "We need to reinvent agriculture in a sustainable and affordable way, so that it can reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases and be adapted to climate change.'"
We do need to reinvent agriculture, because over the long run it doesn't work well for farmers, consumers, or the land. Export agriculture is almost always dependent on importing nutrients, organic matter, or other inputs to maintain production. Fossil fuels have allowed the development of an agricultural system that is utterly dependent on resources from afar and vulnerable to supply line disruptions and increases in the cost of inputs.
Fuel prices have quadrupled in the past 20 years. How long will "modern" nations be able to pour money into the ground to maintain production? Peak oil indicates increasing demand and reduced production of fuel. While "1st world" farmers are having trouble making money, at least they are surviving. In farming areas where the price of fuel and inputs are extremely high, it's different story.
Africa 's poverty goes hand-in-hand with colonial agricultural extraction and cultural destablization that resulted from the forced abandonment of traditonal ways. Farmers were taught by experts about the benefits of green revolution, but the promises turned into empty stomachs and a devastated landscape.
Now, inspiring projects are cropping up with the interaction with local cultivators to develop sustainable, productive, and nutrious food that can be relied upon--where agriculture is not possbile. Trees are proving to be a great ally to farmers. This is the beginning of the true green revolution.
It is clear that well designed agroforestry systems can produce more than monocrops with no/low inputs. Agroforestry lets nature do the work--after we have done ours. It takes much experimentation with diverse locally adapted species and communication with a wide range of cultivators to develop succesful systems. it is a complex horticultural system that is site and cultivator specific with many variables to account for.
We can have more options than ever before if we develop a horticultural society before the fossil fuel costs get ridiculously high. I encourage cultivators everywhere to start the transition now and become the leaders of a better tomorrow.