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‘Systematic Fertilizers Save Forests, Fight Climate Change’

By on March 28, 2011

As the world grapples with the challenge of feeding an ever growing population
in the face of dwindling natural resources confounded by climate change,
findings from a recent research by IITA show that science-based farming methods
integrating the systematic use of fertilizer by farmers can
significantly reduce
the need to clear forest land for agriculture, one of the identified
culprits of
global warming.
Findings of the research, published in the latest issue of Environmental
Management Journal, show that the use of fertilizers and improved cocoa
varieties by smallholder farmers could have averted the destruction of some 2.1
million  of the Guinean Forest of West Africa and the subsequent
emission of 1.4
billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere valued at over US$1.6
At the beginning of the 21st century, only 18 per cent  of the original forest
that once stretched from Guinea to Cameroon remained. This forest is one of the
25 global biodiversity hotspots identified by the UN and collectively contains
60 per cent  of all animal and plant species on the planet. Through the years,
most of the forest area had been converted to farmlands with a large
chunk of it
comprised of smallholdings growing cocoa, cassava, and oil palm.

The research, looking into the land use change scenarios in Cote  d’Ivoire ,
Ghana , Nigeria , and Cameroon from 1998 to 2007, found that although cocoa
production more than doubled in West Africa during the period, it came
at a huge
cost – the irreversible loss of biodiversity and enormous carbon emission.
Proponents of the study say that the same output would have been possible with
little or no increase in the land area by using improved varieties and
fertilizer use recommendations developed by agricultural researchers
in the 60s.

Jim Gockowski, agricultural economist with IITA and one of the
researchers, says
smallholder farmers cannot continue to expand their enterprises with low-input
extensive agriculture. “With the reduction of the Guinean forests to 15 -20% of
its original size and the tripling of populations in these countries, there is
absolutely no more room for expansion. Strategies to reduce deforestation and
conserve biodiversity must focus on reforming agricultural practices
and weaning
farmers from traditional to modern science-based methods,” he said.

The project “Fertilizer-for-Forests has proven that it is possible to increase
crop production with little or no effect on the environment.”

This study further recommended that Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and
Forest Degradation (REDD)/climate change mitigation programs must address low
agricultural productivity by investing in intensification of agriculture.
By doing this, farmers would not only have better incomes but also
produce more
food while reducing carbon emissions. The study also identified and called for
solutions to lack of credit facilities, an underdeveloped agrochemical
/fertilizer sector, inadequate seed multiplication, poor roads, and weak
extension systems.

Source : Thisday