Small-scale forest farming improves improves rural livelihoods

Small-scale forest farming can help farmers to control and own forest ventures, which can help improve rural livelihoods in Africa.

Analysts say it is time African farmers adopted forest farming both as a way of generating income, preserving the environment and providing pastures for livestock.

“Small-scale forest farming enables rural dwellers to have ownership of forest ventures which allows them to effectively manage forest products,” says immediate past Minister of Environment, Water and Climate in Zimbabwe, Saviour Kasukuwere.

Peter Makwanya, a climate change communicator, concurs: “The significance of engaging in small-scale forest farming is that it can be at a family scale, local, community and commercial scale; thus, can effectively help to reduce desertification that is threatening to swallow everybody and improve forest cover for the benefit of livestock too.”

He added that at a local level, small-scale forest farmers can grow, sustainably manage, harvest and market their natural resource-based products and services in an eco-friendly way.

Because of this reason, and to effectively improve rural livelihoods, Makwanya urges African countries to adopt small-scale forest farming.

“With the fast changing climate and erratic weather patterns of the 21st Century, rural Africans can gradually shift from conventional forms of agriculture and try a hand in forest farming where people engage in small-scale plantations of a variety of tree species for commercial purposes.

“These tree species cannot only be exotic, but traditional or indigenous,” he said, adding that the most important thing is not the nature of trees, but sustainable management practices that would see forest ventures grow to fruition.

“Sustainable management practices enable small-scale farmers to benefit from four fronts: social, cultural, environmental and economic.

“This sort of a venture does not require only commercial expertise, but will do well by tapping the expertise of the local and indigenous knowledge systems as well,” added Makwanya.

Kasukuwere, who is now in charge of the Local Government Ministry, echoed Makwanya’s sentiments and urged African societies to rely on local (indigenous) systems to sustainably manage forests boost productivity as well as overcome poverty.

“We had our own traditional values and norms that guided us in preserving natural resources. These should be adopted and documented for use by the future generation,” he said.

Kasukuwere added: “If we can embrace and scale sustainable environmental management activities, we can build resilience in vulnerable communities as well as promote long-term social and economic development.”

Harare-based agricultural expert, Ronald Chimunda, believes the integration of traditional systems as well as climate change management practices can significantly contribute to environmental and economic sustainability of the African continent.

“The integration of indigenous knowledge systems and climate change management practices cannot only help farmers to be in harmony with nature, but effectively enables them to manage them well and benefit socio-economically,”  he noted.

To effectively improve rural livelihoods and enhance inclusive growth, Chimunda encourages African governments as well as private and public institutions on the continent to support all forest farming projects and programmes that boost sustainable social growth and economic development.

“Forest farming can help growers to learn from each other as well as share knowledge in a cheaper and sustainable manner. It can also help Africans to utilise their resources to their benefits, but this requires support from private and public organisations,” he said.

Chimunda affirms that private and public organisations should help small-scale growers in forest landscape management and restoration.

He also believes that it is the mandate of African governments to provide forest and farm organisations and their members with greater access to financial services, such as affordable credit and insurance to reduce dependency.

On the other hand, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) says government sectors in Africa need to provide legal status as well as services for organisations of small-scale forest and farm producers which will serve their interests and help reduce rural poverty.

“A better policy environment, coupled with targeted support to help small-scale forest and farm producers can allow small-scale forest farmers to operate without barriers and at the same time help alleviate poverty,” affirmed the FAO.

The FAO proposes that stakeholders in forest and environmental management need to encourage knowledge sharing in addition to increase the visibility of forest and farm producer organisations in policy decision making.

“Players in forest farming need to create supporting legal frameworks to protect forest tenure rights of indigenous people, local communities, remove regulatory barriers over and above secure access to support services, especially extension services,” said the FAO.

Furthermore, the FAO said coming together in forest and farm producer organisations can help overcome small-scale forest farmers’ isolation from each other, from markets, information, business services, policymakers, financing and investment opportunities as well as other constraints such as a lack of secure forest tenure, financial and business development instruments.

If practiced sustainably, small-scale forest farming can easily transform the lives of rural African and reduce unnecessary rural.

July 2015
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