The Budongo Forest Landscape: Sugarcane, food security and household wealth

IMG_1498The Budongo Forest Landscape, in western Uganda, has, in the recent past, seen a marked change in the land cover, predominantly from forest to sugarcane. The expansion of sugarcane has resulted in large areas of forest and bushland being converted to agriculture in the last 10 to 15 years, decreasing connectivity between forest patches. Kinyara Sugar Works Ltd (KSWL), established in the 1960s and rehabilitated in the 1980s, has grown rapidly in the past couple of decades – sugarcane fields now covering some 28,500ha. Until now their growth strategy appears to have been expansion at all costs, largely through the development of their outgrowers scheme. Today there are about 6,000 outgrowers who provide 60% of the company’s capacity. At present they are no longer taking on new outgrowers, due to capacity having been reached at the mill and their future growth plans focus far more on intensification and outgrower training than on expansion.

Putting aside the impacts of forest loss in the landscape, the establishment and growth of Kinyara Sugar Works Ltd has had a significant impact on the people of the area, both beneficial and disadvantageous, and it is difficult to draw conclusions as to whether, amongst outgrowers or the population as a whole, this cash crop has had a positive or negative influence.

The impact of cash crops, in general, on food security and wealth is a topic much debated in the field of agricultural development. Uganda’s Vision 2040 sets out the country’s ambitions for future development, aiming to become an upper middle income country by 2037, and the rates of growth and key activities needed to achieve this, namely a constant GDP growth rate of 8.2% per year (between 2010 and 2013 GDP growth averaged 5.5% per year). The fear is that in pursuing such rapid economic growth, including promoting high value crops, the poorest and most marginalised people will suffer, unable to participate in a formal market-oriented economy. Yet cash crops are often promoted by government as a mechanism for smallholder farmers to increase their incomes and, as a result, improve food security. Although evidence in support of these views is limited, a study of cacao and oil palm farmers in the Ashanti region of Ghana found that food availability, food access and utilisation had a negative relationship with the intensity of cash crop farming, thought to be a result of cash crops driving up food prices and competing with subsistence agriculture for land. Another investigation found the relationship between cash crops and household food security to be dependent on many factors including the type of crop, its uses and the market and policy conditions. In essence if well-planned and implemented, smallholder farmers can benefit from the additional income cash crops can bring. Whether this income would then be spent on a diverse range of nutritious foods, and whether such foods would be easy to attain is another matter.

There are cases where cash crops have boosted incomes and provided employment for, if not all then certainly some, farmers. And cash cropping can also raise the productivity of food crops, making inputs, credit and training more accessible. Further, if successful, cash crop schemes can have spillover effects for individuals in the area that are not directly involved in cash crop production, as seen in one case study in Zimbabwe. Because the evidence is so mixed, the only conclusion we can come to is that better evidence is needed to more fully understand the relationship between cash crop production and household food security and incomes, in particular under what circumstances cash crops can improve social outcomes. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Tropical forest losses outpace UN estimates, Nature

Ten things the G7 needs to hear on Hunger, Welthungerhilfe

Food Waste Is Becoming Serious Economic and Environmental Issue, Report Says, The New York Times

Bill Gates: Can GMOs end hunger in Africa?, The Verge

A Modest Proposal for Feeding Africa, Huffington Post

Food security in Africa needs a tailored approach, suggests new research, EurekAlert

Beans could help fill Africa’s fertiliser gap, SciDev.Net

Healthy Food for a Healthy World: Wasted Food, Wasted Nutrients, Global Food for Thought [Read more…]

The Budongo Forest Landscape: Balancing competing land uses

In several blogs we’ve discussed topics around minimising trade-offs and balancing competing land uses at a landscape scale, particularly in terms of agriculture and environmental goods and services. Many theories and methods of analysis have been suggested that aim to reconcile competing interests and objectives in a landscape and, while fascinating and valuable, these endeavours rarely seem to feature the views of the people that live in such landscapes nor is it always clear how findings relate to current social and political settings. As part of my PhD research on the potential impacts of land sparing and land sharing on forest habitat, ecosystem services, incomes and food security in a rapidly changing landscape, I recently spent several months in western Uganda, around the Budongo Forest Reserve meeting farmers, local government, NGOs and big businesses to better understand the impacts and drivers of land use change in the area. The landscape around the Budongo Forest Reserve is a good example of what can happen when the objectives of the few (and most powerful) are prioritised over those of the majority. In a series of blogs I’ll be exploring the way the landscape has changed, how it may change again and options for reducing poverty and food insecurity with the hope of, through discussion, finding broader lessons applicable to landscapes elsewhere. To this end, readers, your thoughts, comments and questions are both welcome and essential.

To start off the series let me introduce you to the landscape in question.

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Map showing the location of Budongo Forest Reserve in Uganda (Wallace & Hill, 2013)

The Budongo Forest Reserve landscape

The Budongo Forest Reserve in western Uganda is one of the largest tropical forests in the country, containing the highest number of chimpanzees in Uganda. Budongo Forest is located within the Albertine Rift, part of the East African Rift, which spans five countries, and contains more vertebrate species and threatened and endemic species than anywhere else in Africa.

South east of Budongo Forest Reserve, the landscape is characterized by gently rolling hills and a mosaic of rainforest, woodland, grassland, small-scale farms and large-scale sugarcane farming, a mosaic that has seen marked changes particularly in the last two decades. The main land use and source of income in the region is agriculture with many households relying on subsistence farming and forest products for their livelihoods. The most important crops are cassava, maize, bananas, sugarcane and beans.

A rapidly changing landscape

The expansion of cash crops, rapid population growth and migration from within and outside of the country driven by civil war and conflict, as well as poor forest governance have led to vast deforestation, natural resource shortages in such things as firewood and timber, and disputes between residents over, what is fast becoming infertile and exhausted, land. The soils are being depleted rapidly due to slash and burn agriculture, poor access to fertilizer and over cultivation. Many of these drivers continue unchecked and, without intervention, unprotected forest in the landscape is expected to all but disappear in the next 15 years while yields may continue their largely downwards trend. Given the importance of forests for maintaining productive agricultural land, reliable weather patterns and as a source of food, medicine and energy such deforestation is likely to have significant detrimental and perhaps irreversible consequences for the livelihoods of people in the landscape.

Deforestation is thought by both residents and government alike, to have exacerbated poverty, landlessness, changed weather patterns, reduced soil fertility and led to the out migration of once common species. Forests are disappearing quickly in the Budongo Forest Reserve landscape, a trend that is thought to have begun in the 1980s with the growth of sugarcane farming, influxes of migrants and the introduction of pit-sawing, charcoal production and more extensive mechanized farming systems. As of 20210, in the area between Budongo and Bugoma Forest Reserve to the south, approximately 90,000 ha of high forest and 120,000 ha of woodland remain in the landscape outside protected areas, predominantly in small patches of up to several 100ha. Mwavu & Witkowski (2008) investigated land use change in and around Budongo Forest Reserve between 1988 and 2002. Area under sugarcane expanded 17-fold from 690 hectares (ha) in 1988 to 12,729ha in 2002. The loss of 4,680ha of forest (a reduction of 8.2%) occurred on the southern border of the reserve to allow for sugarcane expansion. [Read more…]

Predicting the future under climate change: trouble or blue skies ahead

ID-10066027Several recent publications have explored how the world will transform under climate change, both physically and in terms of our society. And the picture is complex, not helped by the difficulties in trying to predict both global and local changes. Conflict over resources is predicted to intensify but this will be location-specific, for example some areas of the world will see an increase in the amount of land suitable for agriculture while others, often in poorer and more farming-dependent regions will see a decrease. A new global calculator and accompanying report, however, presents more positive findings – that we can be prosperous and combat climate change simultaneously.

Not surprisingly, we seem to have become more fixated on trying to predict the future since the words “global warming” were first uttered and such endeavours are becoming more critical to driving high-level negotiations and planning for a future that is difficult to imagine. Despite the science, projecting patterns and trends into the short- or long-term is open to significant assumptions and sensitive to a huge number of factors, meaning it is far from accurate. That said such efforts to predict the climate and its impact on farming, natural resources, energy use and society are incredibly valuable in opening our eyes to what the future may hold, what trade-offs we may have to make and why we need to act now.

A paper released late last year entitled “Global Agricultural Land Resources – A High Resolution Suitability Evaluation and Its Perspectives until 2100 under Climate Change Conditions” uses computer-based estimations of global agricultural suitability to grow 16 food and energy crops based on climatic, soil and topographic conditions. Authors compare land suitability for these crops between the periods 1981-2010 and 2071-2100 (under climate change scenario SRES A1B). Overall agriculturally suitable land increases by 4.8 million km2, when protected areas and dense rainforest are excluded, but the majority of this additional land is only marginally suitable. While cropland is estimated to increase in the northern hemisphere (in such countries as Russia, China and Canada), land suitability as well as number of cropping seasons is predicted to decline in tropical areas in the southern hemisphere. At present, Africa has the highest levels of land suitable for farming that is not currently under agriculture (some 20%) but much of this land is rainforest, grassland or savannah, and in the future reductions in the number of cropping seasons and declining land suitability will likely limit this potential expansion. Indeed the highest absolute net loss of suitable farming areas under this climate scenario is predicted to occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

This is particularly worrying in light of a different prediction: in a 2011 FAO publication, author Bruinsma estimated some 1.2 million km2 of land will need to be converted to agriculture by 2030 to meet demand, and this conversion will largely occur in South America and Sub Saharan Africa. If climate and other environmental conditions in these areas reduce the suitability of land to farming, this could not only re-shape global production patterns but would exacerbate hunger and food shortages in areas already suffering the highest burdens. [Read more…]

Pay up or lose out: Incentives for food security

By Stephanie Brittain

Soil is a precious global resource that has long been overlooked. When soils are healthy, they provide a number of ‘ecosystem services’, including the food we eat, maintaining hydrological and nutrient cycles and offer a home for much of the planets flora and fauna.

ID-10042579However, soil degradation is a global issue affecting nearly one-third of the earth’s land area, caused by a number of different factors such as overgrazing, unsustainable farming practices, drought and wind erosion. When soils are degraded it disrupts the soils capacity to provide these vital ecosystem services, reducing the productive capacity of agricultural land by eroding topsoil and depleting nutrients resulting in enormous environmental, social and economic costs.

But if the benefits of sustainable land management seen so clear, then why don’t farmers already adopt these practices? In poor regions or those suffering from food insecurity in particular, it is hard to convince farmers to change their practices for more sustainable ones, usually at the expense of a higher yield in the short term. This short-term thinking is exasperated by a lack of political and financial support to combat soil degradation in Africa, leading to long term problems of nutrient deficient soil that is unable to maintain the level of production. Farmers require incentives for investing in soil health as the short term return on sustainable land management is currently unattractive.

The December 2014 Montpellier Panel report ‘No Ordinary Matter:  Preserving, restoring and enhancing Africa’s soils’ found that in sub-Saharan Africa, the economic loss of soil degradation is estimated at $68 billion per year, affecting an estimated 180 million people. In some areas of Africa, agricultural productivity declined by half between 1981 and 2003 as a result of soil erosion and desertification processes.

Payment for Ecosystem Services

With reports such as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment concluding that more than 60% of the world’s ecosystems are being used in ways that cannot be sustained, more needs to be done to promote the sustainable use of our natural resources.

Credit: Kate Holt/Africa Practice (2009)

Credit: Kate Holt/Africa Practice (2009)

One method that has been used to promote and encourage sustainable natural resource management  is ‘Payment for Ecosystem Services’ (PES); an approach to environmental management that uses cash payments or other compensation to, for example, encourage farmers to better look after their soils for ecosystem conservation and restoration.

Payments for ecosystem services are not primarily designed to reduce poverty. But, there are opportunities for designing PES which can enable low-income communities and individuals to earn additional income through land management, restoration and conservation, thus promoting sustainable ecosystem management.

An example of a successful PES scheme can be found in Kenya in the form of the Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project (KACP), which aims to test the role carbon finance can play in persuading small-scale farmers to adopt more sustainable practices. Not only has adopting more sustainable agricultural practices led to an increase in yields for some participating farmers of up to 30%, but sustainable and responsible farming practices also locks carbon in the ground –earning the farmer additional income in the form of carbon credits. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

So can we really feed the world? Yes — and here’s how, GRIST

Scientists reprogram plants for drought tolerance, Science Daily

Yemen facing ‘forgotten crisis’ as humanitarian disaster looms, The Guardian

Healthy Food for a Healthy World: The $2 Trillion Market for Fruits and Vegetables, The Chicago Council

What Is the Purpose of Society?, The New York Times

Engaging African rural farmers via mobile surveys, PAEPARD

Famine threat to South Sudan if war continues to block aid, Thomson Reuters Foundation [Read more…]

Conflict & Food Security: Two sides of the same coin?

By Stephanie Brittain

Food insecurity and malnutrition can be ended sustainably within a generation, it is said. However, with one in eight people in the world today still undernourished and approximately two billion suffering from micronutrient deficiencies, the challenge is immense.

Further, the world’s population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 and at the current rate of development, the number of people at risk of hunger in the developing world will grow from 881 million in 2005 to more than a billion people by 2050.

78 percent of the world’s poor live in rural areas, and agriculture remains fundamental for their economic growth and for food security for our expanding global population. Further, agricultural development is found to be about two to four times more effective in raising incomes among the poorest than growth in other sectors.

Conflict impedes agricultural development

Credit: UN/Tobin Jones 2013

Credit: UN/Tobin Jones 2013

However, many of the countries that rely on agriculture are also in conflict or suffering from environmental, economic or political instability. With rapidly changing politics, widening economic inequality, climate change and increasingly scarce natural resources, instability and insufficient rural development are two sides of the same coin.

Conflict can reduce the amount of food produced and disrupt people’s access to food, worsening food insecurity. Conflict can be also be exacerbated by environmental shocks and stressors, or by a weak political governance when incapable of meeting the needs of the most vulnerable and affected. Somalia is an example of national governance failure, prolonged drought and increased temperatures, fuelling a vicious cycle of food scarcity and instability.

The World Food Programme (WFP) reported significant declines in agricultural production in the Central African Republic (CAR) following its worst political and human crisis that sparked mass migrations, leaving more than 600,000 people displaced in 2014. Cassava production was 58% lower in 2014 than the 2008-2012 pre-crisis average and the agricultural sector contracted by 46 percent. 1.6 million people are now food insecure.

[Read more…]

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