Could Africa Hold The Answer To US Drought Woes?

Could Africa Hold The Answer To US Drought Woes?

"The world's poorest continent could offer clues to how America's farmers might cope with a hotter, drier climate, leading agriculture experts say.

In the African Sahel -- the belt of semiarid savanna running from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea -- farmers have successfully fought back an expanding Sahara and turned once dry, uncultivated scrub into highly productive farmland.

The key to their success has been allowing trees to grow, where they once cut them down, and adopting agricultural techniques that took full advantage of scarce water resources (ClimateWire, March 12). Now experts say it is time for American farmers to recognize the benefits that trees can bring to even the most arid plots of land.

Integrating trees in farmland has transformed parts of Africa, and now some experts think it could also work in the United States. Photo courtesy of the World Resources Institute.

"Given the situation in the U.S. Corn Belt," said Chris Reij, a sustainable land management specialist at Free University Amsterdam who has worked in Africa since 1978, "these practices might help farmers in Kansas and Iowa to adapt to more extreme weather, help make their crops more resistant to drought."

The scale and mechanization of U.S. agricultural production could not be more different than in Africa. Yet the current year's drought highlights the American sector's vulnerability to extreme heat and lack of rain -- a situation not unlike the one that plagued the African Sahel for decades.

Reij points out that trees are scattered across pastures of the Sahel and are the result of natural regeneration. That wouldn't work in the United States, where farmers and ranchers tend to cultivate or graze their herds on vast, open pastures that have been denuded of trees for as long as 200 years.

Robert Winterbottom, director of the Ecosystem Services Initiative at the World Resources Institute, concurred.

"[The Corn Belt] wouldn't look like a Sahelian landscape," he said, "but it's the principles related to more sustainable and climate-smart agriculture that were applied in the Sahel rather than the specific techniques that could be of use in the U.S."

Instead, they both explained, trees could be planted in rows between crops or bordering fields, providing many of the same benefits found in Africa: improved soil and water quality and windbreaks that keep dry topsoil from going airborne."

Also see:

Assessing Agroforestry's Advantages

North Dakota windbreaks protect adjacent crops and aid in sequestering carbon.

Africa's Great Green Wall Of Trees Against Climate Change Begins

Will climate change ultimately for all of its detrimental effects teach humanity the lesson that as much as we think we are separate we truly are connected?

There is hope.