Yelibuya, an island in Sierra Leone, provides a case study of mangroves and their importance to life in marine areas. The coastline sinks further into the ocean year by year as a direct result of the high proportion of the diminishing mangroves that buoy Yelibuya. Many community elders and members are aware of the necessity to maintain the trees. In efforts to find a way to save the mangroves, new ideas on sustainable farming are being implemented throughout the country.

The Dangers of Losing the Mangroves

The ocean is starting to swallow Yelibuya like a fish swallows a lure. As the essential mangrove trees disappear from deforestation, the island seems to be sinking into the ocean, causing further erosion. Fresh food and water are imported, but because of its location near Sierra Leone’s capital, its main profit for Yelibuya comes from fish, salt and rice farming.

Over-harvested or dying trees means the soil, which was once reinforced by mangrove roots, is beginning to crumble away, leading to landslides and the destruction of homes and the shoreline. Elders in the central town of Yelibuya estimate that they have lost 300 meters of coastline over the last 30 years. Many of the inhabitants would leave if they could, but they cannot abandon their families or businesses.

As the island sinks, the tides rise and erode groves of trees, making it difficult for more trees to grow. A disaster in 2017, the Freetown landslide, wiped out many homes and killed more than 1,000 people. The primary protection against rising ocean is Sierra Leone’s dying mangroves, which also double as the main source for heat and fuel since Yelibuya possesses no alternative fuel.

Solutions to preserve Sierra Leone’s dying Mangroves

Over the last 30 years, the size of global mangrove forests in hectares had decreased from 167,700 to 100,000 as of 2005. As more renewable energy and alternative farming options become available, however, this number can turn around. In fact, the rate of deforestation had already decreased from the 1990s compared to the 1980s.

Recent projects introduced by a branch of USAID in West Africa partnered with rice farmers to integrate mangroves into their fields (agro-silviculture) instead of cutting down trees to build fences. Though the plan was met with apprehension by some community members, many were excited by the idea of not harvesting trees each year. In 2017, 55 percent of farmer pledged to use agro-silviculture in their rice farms. As of June 2018, the selected areas for the rice agro-silviculture case study in Sierra Leone are reaping the benefits of healthier lands from preventing soil erosion.

Increasing Sustainability

The Ramsar Convention on Biological Diversity is an inter-governmental treaty studying ways to improve the coastline biodiversity and poverty reduction in Sierra Leone. Ramsar is looking into work on water policies and other strategies in the country, such as sustainable development, energy, poverty reduction and food security. It is working to develop and integrate programs such as the Poverty Reduction Strategy, Sierra Leone’s Vision 2025 and the Food Security Framework that directly link poverty and its effect on the environment.

In 2000, when Sierra Leone officially contracted with Ramsar, it was believed that “traditional fishing and agro-forestry for fuelwood can be sustainably managed in collaboration with an existing EU-funded Artisanal Fishing Community Development Program.” The goals of the convention are to promote sustainability in coastline development, poverty reduction and the introduction of alternative fuels. All of these goals would contribute to the preservation of Sierra Leone’s dying mangroves.

Maintaining Sustainability

A report released in 2016 shows that 1 percent of the mangroves in Sierra Leone Coastal landscape disappear each year. It is essential to find alternative fuels so that Yelibuya’s inhabitants can support the growth of the mangroves rather than depend on them for firewood too. Many other communities found ways to introduce new methods of fueling and construction, and the availability of these new methods for Yelibuya will determine its adaption to using mangroves as environmental protection rather than fuel.

Overall, Sierra Leone recognizes the wetland and mangrove crisis, and many inhabitants show eagerness to adopt new mangrove-friendly fuel options. The magnitude of Yelibuya’s sinking problem illustrates a connection between poverty and the inaccessibility of alternative fuels and how these two problems impact the land and marine life. Hopefully, as awareness spreads and new methods are adopted, the roots of mangroves will grow to sustain the buoyant communities that depend on these trees.

Hannah Peterson

Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Agriculture in ZambiaFarmers in Chongwe, Zambia, are reverting to traditional techniques and green farming methods to promote sustainable agriculture in Zambia. Chongwe’s farming communities are experiencing low crop yields due to unpredictable precipitation patterns and decreased soil fertility.

According to a 2010 report by Zambia’s government and the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD), the following practices significantly impact agriculture in Chongwe:

  • Deforestation due to charcoal and wood fuel production
  • Logging for timber
  • Expanding small-scale and unsustainable agricultural practices

Most farmers in Zambia focus on monocropping, but delayed payments and poor yields have forced inhabitants to rely on charcoal burning and trading to make ends meet. These methods result in erosion and desertification, locking Zambia into a perpetual cycle of poverty and environmental degradation.

The Green Entrepreneurship Project trains and empowers farmers to undertake sustainable farming practices. These practices combat land degradation and increase crop productivity. The Dutch organization HIVOS coordinated the project with Kasisi Agricultural Training Center, the Dairy Association of Zambia and Micro Bankers Trust.

The Green Entrepreneurship Project aims to promote:

  • Integration of agroforestry
  • Dairy farming
  • Clean energy
  • Agroprocessing
  • Microfinance provision

The Green Entrepreneurship Project hopes to encourage farmers to practice sustainable farming, which would improve their productivity and incomes. Agroforestry improves crop yields, soil cover and water retention. Farmer-managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) allows trees that grow naturally to be retained and pruned so that farmers benefit from a shelter for their crops, better soil conditions and erosion control.

The collaboration between the Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock has resulted in nine agricultural camps utilizing conservation farming. Conservation farming decreases dependence on chemical fertilizer and pesticides while increasing access to the organic market.

Chongwe’s growing middle class and proximity to Lusaka means that farmers can supply organically grown crops and animals to a reliable market. The Green Entrepreneurship Project was started in 2013 and is currently implemented in Kanakantapa, Kasenga, Mpango, Njolwe and Chinkuli areas of the Chongwe district.

Over 180 farmers have received training for sustainable agriculture in Zambia. Farmers who receive training become eligible for loans, and the majority of loan recipients go into dairy farming.

Sustainable agriculture in Zambia and creating green entrepreneurs may be the first steps in ending the country’s cycle of poverty and environmental decline.

– Carolyn Gibson

Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Agriculture in UgandaMany people do not often give in-depth thought about the countries in Africa. Even when thought is given, it is most often toward more well-known countries, such as Nigeria. One country that does not get recognition is the country of Uganda. More specifically, the agriculture in Uganda, and the need for sustainability, is in dire need of attention.

The need for sustainable agriculture in Uganda has been met with help from organizations such as the Uganda Sustainable Agriculture Support Organization (USASO) which helps train people in sustainable methods of farming. Ugandans are taught to both plant and take care of the foods they grow. The women of Uganda learn the most, as they make up a significant part of the workforce. They, along with children, learn to fertilize soil and create a sustainable food source for the country through farming.

In 2004, Uganda adopted the Uganda Organic Standard, which helped make big changes in terms of Uganda’s economy. This standard helped improve income and food security, as well as increased the number of certified organic farmers by 359 percent between the years of 2002 to 2007. Acreage under organic agricultural production also increased by 60 percent. It also helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions and agricultural chemical runoff into local water bodies.

Despite the seemingly positive effects that farming has had on the economy of Uganda in the early 2000s, research done by environmental scientist Festus Bagoora shows that farming in places with dry land, such as Uganda, might not be the best thing for long term sustainability. Considering 22 percent of land area in Uganda is dry, and thus contains fragile ecosystems, farming in these lands could have an adverse effect on the grazing area of the cattle that usually reside there, and therefore have a negative outcome on sustainable agriculture in Uganda.

These outcomes include both drought and desertification, which have become more of a problem because of the over-cultivation of land through farming and the grazing of cattle. These are problems that have not yet touched Uganda but have the potential to become an issue. Although the economy of Uganda is surviving on the exports of coffee, plantains, sweet potatoes and more, the soil in these lands needs to be surveyed in order to determine if it can be farmed or not. This is crucial to the land’s ecosystem, as without the proper care for the soil, the ecosystem could fall apart and leave Uganda in a very poor position in terms of agriculture.

The agriculture in Uganda is in constant fluctuation. The sustainability of it has yet to be determined, as the country still has a ways to go in order for its economy to become stable. Its ecosystem is fragile and will require constant care in order for the country to be able to successfully have blossoming agriculture that everyone can benefit from. This can be reached through the proper care for soil, as well as care for the cattle and where the livestock are grazing. Addressing these can lead to a proper and more sustainable agriculture in Uganda.

– Simone Williams

Photo: Flickr

Land DepletionA recent study found that land depletion has caused 33 percent of the Earth’s arable land to be reduced by erosion or pollution in the past 40 years. With the population increasing comes a demand for food and shelter, but with the loss of land, these needs must be viewed in a new light and addressed with new strategies.

The Guardian cited the rate of erosion as occurring “at a pace of up to 100 times greater than the rate of soil formation.” Using land for agriculture continuously, over-fertilizing the land, industrialization and deforestation are the main factors contributing to land depletion. Land depletion continues at a rate of 10 million hectares per year. At the rate of present usage, the land is unable to restore itself and maintain soil health. The study, completed by the University of Sheffeld’s Grantham Center for Sustainable Futures, called the loss “catastrophic.”

This issue of land depletion has implications for a variety of issues, including food production, energy usage, animal and land conservation and ocean health. This research was discussed at the climate talks in Paris.

In the study, the authors suggested several different solutions to radically overhaul global agriculture and attempt to prevent significant land depletion in the future. These solutions primarily included a reduction and/or increased regulation of land used for meat production. Presently, 30 percent of our current arable land is used for pasture for animals. By using this land in a way that promotes soil restoration, rates of soil depletion could be decreased.

The study’s authors also recommend increased crop rotation, use of biotechnology and increased recycling of bio-nutrients for soil restoration. Much of this will have to be implemented by policy-makers and national bodies. However, for the average consumer, the best action will be a practice of mindfulness. By being more aware of what we purchase, how it is produced and how to best dispose of it, we can make choices that support sustainable practices.

Priscilla McCelvey

Sources: The Guardian, University of Michigan
Photo: Flickr