[ASC-media] Media release: Trees 'can help beat food crisis'

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Thu Jul 19 01:09:00 CEST 2012

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Trees 'can help beat food crisis'

Date:  July 19, 2012 – for immediate release

As human populations soar and agricultural resources dwindle, trees – through their interactions with people and the environment – provide important answers for the emerging food and climate crisis in the world’s tropical regions.

That’s the message of a new book by eminent world authority on agroforestry, Roger Leakey, Vice-chairman of the International Tree Foundation and former Director of Research at the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF).

In ‘Living with the Trees of Life – Towards the Transformation of Tropical Agriculture’ Leakey puts forward a bold new concept for food production which, he argues, has a far better chance of success than the current approach to  agricultural intensification taking place in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Currently, deforestation and the associated loss of biological diversity are leading to a downward spiral of land degradation and social deprivation.

“The growing shortage of productive land for agriculture is a serious constraint on food production in the world’s most populous regions and heightens the poverty of hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers in the tropics”.

Leakey says “We need a fresh approach both to food production and the use of natural resources if we are to avoid the emerging food crises expected to impact every country in the world by the middle of this century. We need to rehabilitate degraded land, diversify farming systems and protect watersheds”.

In ‘Living with the Trees of Life’ he describes a tried, tested and Equator Prize-winning three-point action plan as a way to bolster food and nutritional security in the world’s poorest regions. His fresh approach involves harnessing the ecological power of trees producing marketable products to enrich, stabilise and intensify local farming systems. Leakey urges a ‘new wave’ of crop domestication from valuable tropical tree species producing nutritious and culturally-important foods, medicines, as well as the other day-to-day needs of local people. 

To ensure that the livelihood benefits remain with the participating communities the activities are done in partnership within local farmers. This empowers local people to lift themselves out of poverty and creates new business and livelihood opportunities.  These benefits provide an incentive to practice the more sustainable and diversified agriculture delivered by agroforestry.   

“The range of potential innovations is enormous” he says. “Few people realize the vast untapped wealth of the genetic variation that is present in trees. The development of tree crops can create local business opportunities and employment. In some cases there is the potential to support a whole range of new industries – this time however, poor people in developing countries must benefit”.

By bringing all these elements together, the cultivation of trees with crops and livestock can tackle many of the world’s most intractable problems - from climate change to landscape degradation; from hunger to poverty, and from malnutrition to social inequity. For those of us not lucky enough to see this for ourselves, Leakey shares the insights he has gained over a career working with trees around the world.

Leakey concludes “Agroforestry is not an alternative to current agricultural systems, but rather a way to correct some of the mistakes and to build on the great progress that has been made over the last 60 years in crop and livestock breeding. In this way it will increase the returns on this huge international investment”.    

“Agroforestry is a middle path combining elements of biotechnology with rigorous attention to soil fertility management and crop husbandry. It diversifies and intensifies a low-input production system with new crops that are beneficial economically, as well as ecologically”. 

“The Convenient Truth behind all this is that we already know how to do all this” he says. “The challenge is to scale up so that billions of poor people benefit”

Reviewers have hailed the book:
‘A fine, wise and enormously important book’ – Prof. Jules Pretty, 
‘Practical, common sense solutions that will uplift and empower farmers’ – Craig Elevitch
‘This inspirational book presents powerful evidence of what can be achieved’ – Prof. Adrian Newton
‘If there is anyone who has worked on more tropical tree species, in more tropical countries and written more scientific articles on tropical development than Roger Leakey then we have yet to meet them’ – Prof Tony Simons.
‘Rarely does a book come along that you want to thrust into people's hands shouting "read this" – Tim Smit KBE
‘If you read only one book this year about the challenges facing global society, this is the one for you!’- Dr Charles Clement

Roger Leakey was Professor of Agroecology and Sustainable Development of James Cook University, in Cairns, Australia (2001-2006); Head of Tropical Ecology at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Edinburgh, UK (1997-2001) and Director of Research at the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (now the World Agroforestry Centre 1993-1997). Currently he is Vice Chairman of the International Tree Foundation, a UK registered charity and Vice President of the International Society of Tropical Foresters. He is a member of the East African Leakey family – or as he says, he comes from “the agrarian branch of the tribe more famous for its head-hunting in Olduvai Gorge and Turkana”.
“Living with the Trees of Life – Towards the Transformation of Tropical Agriculture” by Roger RB Leakey is published by CABI, Oxfordshire, UK, July 2012, ISBN paperback 9781780640983; hardback 9781780640990. Order from www.cabi.org/bookshop

For interviews and more information:
Roger RB Leakey, Ph +44 (0)1875 340 442 
Email: rogerleakey at btinternet.com
Review copies from CABI: Tel: +44 (0)1491 832111; E-mail: l.rock-west at cabi.org

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