Saturday, June 25, 2016

Good and Bad News

Andy Challinor, professor of climate impacts at the University of Leeds in the UK, has already warned that climate change could have a dramatic impact on African farmland.

In Africa, gradually rising temperatures and more droughts and heatwaves caused by climate change will have an impact on maize,” he warns. “We looked in particular at the effect of temperature on crop durations, which is the length of time between planting and harvesting. Higher temperatures mean shorter durations, and hence less time to accumulate biomass and yield.” In some cases, the researchers found that crop duration could become significantly shorter as early as 2018, and by 2031 in most of the maize-growing regions of Africa.

African farmers understood the principles of soil management long before the scientific revolution in agriculture, according to new research in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

James Fairhead, professor of social anthropology at the University of Sussex, UK, and colleagues report that they analysed a range of sites in West Africa – 150 in northwest Liberia and 27 in Ghana.

They found that leached and nutrient-starved tropical forest soils had been transformed, in some cases almost seven centuries ago, into enduringly fertile loams by the addition of black carbon and kitchen scrap. These cultivated patches contained two to three times as much organic carbon as other soils and were better suited to intensive farming.

Other researchers have identified similar techniques in Amazon soils that date from long before the European discovery of America.

“Mimicking this ancient method has the potential to transform the lives of thousands of people living in some of the most poverty-stricken and hunger-stricken regions of Africa,” Professor Fairhead says. “More work needs to be done, but this simple, effective farming practice could be an answer to major global challenges, such as developing ‘climate-smart’ agricultural systems that can feed growing populations and adapt to climate change.”

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