As the Global Landscapes Forum gears up for its upcoming GLF Nairobi 2023 Hybrid Conference, who better to talk about what’s happening on the ground than our community-led local chapters?
Founded two years ago, GLFx is a global network of community-led chapters dedicated to building sustainable landscapes. At the first-ever GLFx Africa Chapter Summit, held in Nairobi, Kenya in June, we caught up with members of four Africa-based GLFx chapters to learn what’s happening in their respective regions.
“Food security is really dodgy in my country,” says Daniel Kwame Debrah, coordinator of the GLFx Bawku chapter, based in the northeastern corner of Ghana – a country with one of the world’s highest deforestation rates. Farmers in the Bawku region, he says, are being squeezed by the high prices they must pay for fertilizer and the degradation these agrochemicals have caused to their land.
To address the issue, chapter members have engaged with local farmers either through local radio broadcasts or by going directly into communities.
“We talk to them about really reducing the use of agrochemicals and using manure composting as the way forward,” says Debrah. “It’s sustainable and doesn’t degrade the soil. We are also teaching them to diversify their farmland and to resort to local species instead of GMOs and highly improved seeds, which they cannot store and use later.”
The Bawku chapter has also set up a tree nursery on land donated by a local chief and is handing out free seedlings of local species such as rosewood, shea and baobab to people to plant around their homes and schools.
The public reaction has been “awesome,” says Debrah. “After community members took the seedlings, people called me, asking me to come to where they planted them.”
The chapter is also working on a training program to help local residents plant and look after their seedlings properly. “The distribution of seedlings was to really get them into growing trees in their landscape.”
In Ibadan, Nigeria’s third most populous city, the local GLFx chapter has partnered with Ripple Heights, a non-profit that works to reduce rural poverty through sustainable farming methods, education and improving access to water.
Smallholder farmers in Nigeria face a multitude of challenges, including land degradation, climate change, population growth and a lack of credit and tools, says Solomon Ogudo, the chapter’s coordinator.
“They are all related issues. These factors are affecting food security in Nigeria, where food inflation was at 24.6 percent in April.”
“Another challenge is rain-fed agriculture,” Ogudo adds. “When it rains, farmers want to maximize the period because they are not able to farm during the dry season. If they don’t get the support that is required, eco-friendly agriculture becomes secondary to them.”
What’s more, he says, the communities where the chapter works are located far from cities, and the difficulties of travel in the region means sustaining awareness can be challenging.
“Not everybody will travel five or six hours on a bad road [for a training session]. So, we go into the hinterlands, into these farming communities to carry out onsite training, because you cannot depend totally on virtual training.”
The impact of their outreach so far can already be seen, says Ogudo. Having started with just 100 farmers, the chapter now works with almost 500 to adopt agroecological techniques and start using organic fertilizers and pesticides.
“Farmers have seen results: it increases the yields and the quality of the product, and it also has a ripple effect on their income. We have seen people shift from the old ways to new ways.”
As founder of the Indigenous Women and Girls Initiative (IWGI), Monica Yator sees the work of the GLFx Baringo chapter, located in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, as particularly relevant to women farmers dealing with the problem of food insecurity.
“These women are vulnerable,” she says, “because they’re Indigenous and they depend 100 percent on their spouses, especially for food production and also for any other livelihoods in their homes.”
But with support from GLFx, IWGI is working in schools to educate students about permaculture, supporting women in establishing tree nurseries, and setting up agroecological models in ten households. The chapter is also starting a seed bank to offset the high price of commercial seeds.
“We are focusing more on fruit trees, because we cannot talk about climate adaptation without addressing food security,” she says.
Access to water is another key part of restoration work, says Yator, and the Baringo chapter is training people to harvest water, dig wells and build erosion-preventing swales in their fields to use water more efficiently.
Meanwhile, the chapter’s outreach work has been well received in the community. After taking part in a radio talk show, she says, “the feedback was amazing. I have 15 farmer groups and three youths who have called me to train them – it’s overwhelming.”
And when other women see chapter members restoring farmland, they are inspired to replicate that on their farms as well, Yator says. “So we need to create more of that, and also make seeds and tree seedlings available to them.”
“When you support farmer groups and they buy from each other, it’s cheaper than going to buy from agro-forest centers.”
Food security is also a primary focus in her region for the GLFx Dowa chapter, based in central Malawi. Almost 80 percent of Malawians rely on agriculture, especially maize, but the country’s food supply has been devastated by multiple cyclones in recent years, particularly Cyclone Idai in 2019.
“We’ve been hit hard by the cyclones, and now there is no maize in Malawi,” says Alice Kumunda, communications and advocacy officer for GLFx Dowa. The chapter has been concentrating on encouraging backyard gardens and promoting alternative food sources.
“With us coming in to advocate other methods or farming other crops, we’ve seen that people are now able to adopt the farming of bananas, sugarcane and various fruit trees instead of maize.”
But it isn’t always easy to convince farmers to change their ways, she points out. “If somebody believes something, it’s very hard for you to convince them to change their mindset.” One effective tactic is to explain the importance of sustainable agriculture to community leaders.
“We identify the community leaders, we sit down and talk with them, and we also allow them to give their own opinions,” Kumunda says. “So, we don’t impose on them. They come with their own ideas; we go with our own ideas – then, we can come up with a single solid decision and relay the message to the communities.”
There’s one common thread running through all of the GLFx chapters we spoke with: financial support for their initiatives is crucial.
“Finance is key,” says Ogudo. “It’s the engine room of our restoration work. We saw that there’s a gap in tree planting and restoration of degraded landscapes, but how do you get the nursery trees and achieve mobilization? You need finance.”
“Every project has costs,” Kumunda agrees. “We have a lot of things that we buy for the project: For example, the post-handling methods; we need equipment to do that. We need equipment to teach farmers to do the backyard gardening. We need irrigation materials. We need a lot of things, and all that needs money.”
For Yator as well, economic backing is very important to keep projects moving forward. A fruit tree can cost KES 250 (USD 1.78), she points out – in a country where over a quarter of the population earns less than USD 2.15 a day.
“It’s very expensive, and we need to be doing a lot of serious fundraising to support farmer groups.”
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