Sunday, September 20, 2009

Trees Are More Than Just Carbon Sinks

Communities living in countries most affected by food shortages have long known about the key role that trees can play in reducing the need for conventional aid.

Communities living in countries most affected by food shortages, like Africa, have always known that food from the trees can stave off starvation, dehydration, malnutrition, death and conventional aid.

Living with food shortages is a way of life for many of the world's poorest. Climate change, water shortages for crops and the rise in food prices is putting conventional food out of the reach of more and more people.

During famines or food crises humanitarian aid has always been provided. Sometimes, it's enough; sometimes, it isn't. Preventing the famine before it happens is the desired outcome; and, "trees of life" could spell the answer.

A farmer, Arzouma Thiombiano, recounts how trees saved many lives in the mid 1980's.

"Over 20 years ago, a big famine came but people escaped starvation by eating baobabs' leaves and fruit," he says.

The baobab tree trunk can store up to 300 litres of water; while, the fruit, flowers, bark and wood are used for food, medicines, clothing, rope and; even, paper. The dead, hollowed trunks have been used for toilets, prisons and tombs.

Western countries need to recognize that trees can be a source of food, water, medicine, clothing, and a host of other items for people in countries threatened with starvation and/or water shortages.

Instead of planting crops which aren't thriving due to the lack of water, perhaps foreign aid agencies should consider planting "trees of life" instead.

Fruits, leaves, wood and bark provide the vital resources for rural life

The continuing droughts across Africa have devastated crops again this year. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) admits that 30 countries around the world are in crisis and need foreign aid.

Given that the effects of global warming are making droughts more common than ever, communities already in peril are being pushed even closer to the edge.

Malnutrition of the rural poor in Burkina Faso (W. Africa) has already risen to a shocking 40%. The already-failing agricultural lands are being further impacted by severe drying coupled with lack of rain. They are producing less and less; food prices are climbing higher and higher; and, the poor are falling farther and farther behind.

The G8 Summit held in Italy pledged $20 billion to support indigenous food production in an effort to alleviate the need for emergency food aid; but, include trees a viable crop.

It is time for the value of trees to be recognised at all levels internationally.

"Conventional" crops, the ones most commonly chosen to be planted, are often not native and require expensive inputs, significant irrigation and land preparation in order to produce a successful harvest. Many communities are not capable of providing the conditions needed for a successful harvest due to lack of money.

For small farmers, a failed harvest can mean months of malnutrition and hardship and crop failure is becoming a way of life for many. Trees, on the other hand, often survive when crops fail. Trees provide fruits, nuts, seeds, leaves, flowers, sepals, and sap which can all be used a food source. These tree foods already form a significant part of the daily diets of millions of Africans across rural Africa. Even in times of plenty many of the poorer people still eat these tree products because of the nutritional and healing properties. Unfortunately, these foods are considered to be "famine foods" by us westerners. I have to wonder when God gave us the right to be so judgemental.

Take Moringa oleifera - Three non-governmental organizations in particular — Trees for Life, Church World Service, and Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization — have advocated Moringa as “natural nutrition for the tropics.” Leaves can be eaten fresh, cooked, or stored as dried powder for many months without refrigeration, and reportedly without loss of nutritional value. Moringa is especially promising as a food source in the tropics because the tree is in full leaf at the end of the dry season when other foods are typically scarce. Its leaves have more beta-carotene than carrots, more protein than peas, more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk, more potassium than bananas and more iron than spinach. Tests show that nursing mothers produce more milk when Moringa leaves are added to their diet. Additionally, parts of the tree are used for animal fodder to produce milk and meat for the family to consume.

Food from trees can provide vital nutrition when other food crops fail.

Training and support can help villagers earn money from things that grow on trees. Once trained, this income gives them food-purchasing power if the crops fail; access to vital services like health care and education; and, the ability to improve the quality of the lives and health of his/her family.

The approach increases self-sufficiency in both rural communities and national economies; increases environmental security; diversifies livelihood options and reduces vulnerability of the poor to climate change and external shocks.

The returns are real, sustainable and long term.

Tree Aid's Village Tree Enterprise project was set up to help villagers generate income from tree products. All the participants are women.

One of their husbands explained: "During the last drought period, when my granary was empty, my wife's income contributed more than 50% of the household's income."

Tree produce is the sole source of income for many people.

These projects provide communities with the skills and support needed so they can self-manage their trees while at the same time helps them to improve their coping abilities during times of drought, crop failure and higher food prices.

If groups like the G8 commit to developing the enormous potential of agro-forestry, they could simultaneously alleviate poverty and food insecurity for the world's poor and tackle the impact of climate change by promoting the protection and planting of trees.

Miranda Spitteler, who took the photos, is chief executive of TREE AID. I adapted this blog from her article. This site is definitely worth a visit!! Tree Aid rocks!!

Via BBC News

1 comment:

kathi said...

The Dr. Suess tree - that's what they always looked like to me. Wonder how much the influenced his art work.

Have you seen the huge tree with the seed pod that hold what looks look like many different types of seeds - many, many?