How Farm Forests Help Fight Seasonal Hunger in Ethiopia

Jim Crocker
3rd March, 2024

How Farm Forests Help Fight Seasonal Hunger in Ethiopia

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • In Ethiopia's Amhara region, farmers reduced food insecurity by half by dedicating 10% of land to forests
  • The poorest and women-led households saw the most benefit, especially those using crop residues for fuel
  • This afforestation trend, confirmed by satellite, suggests biomass is a key asset for food resilience
In the Amhara region of Ethiopia, a recent study by researchers at Tulane University[1] has uncovered a promising strategy to combat food insecurity among small dryland farmers. This pressing issue, often manifesting as seasonal hunger, affects millions who rely on agriculture for their livelihood. The study, which took place from 2011 to 2016, analyzed data from 530 households and found a significant correlation between the presence of farm forests and reduced food insecurity, particularly among the poorest farmers and those led by women. The research team utilized hierarchical mixed effect regression models to evaluate the relationship between food insecurity and farm forests, while also considering the conditional effects of biomass poverty. Biomass poverty refers to the lack of sufficient organic materials, such as wood or crop residues, which are crucial for soil fertility, cooking, and heating. Households that are biomass poor often face additional challenges to food security as they may need to allocate more land to fuel rather than food production, or they may over-exploit their land to meet immediate energy needs, thereby reducing its long-term productivity. The findings revealed that by dedicating around 10% of their farm area to forests, farmers could halve the number of months they experienced food insecurity. This reduction was most pronounced for those in extreme poverty and households that typically burned crop residues for fuel, indicating that biomass poverty is a significant barrier to achieving food resilience. These insights are particularly relevant given the backdrop of previous studies that have highlighted the importance of trees in agricultural landscapes. For instance, research has shown that accurate mapping of tree cover, including trees outside of forests, is crucial for sustainable land management and can be achieved using high-resolution satellite imagery[2]. Furthermore, indigenous multipurpose trees have been integrated into Ethiopian agroforestry practices, providing a variety of productive and ecological benefits, though their sustainability is challenged by factors such as limited landholdings and lack of research[3]. Additionally, the formalization of customary land rights, as seen in a study from Benin, has been found to reduce forest loss and improve agricultural productivity[4]. This suggests that secure land tenure can encourage farmers to invest in sustainable practices like maintaining farm forests, which in turn can enhance food security. The study from Tulane University adds to this body of knowledge by providing quantitative evidence that farm forests not only contribute to biodiversity and environmental health but also play a direct role in alleviating food insecurity. The spontaneous dispersed afforestation observed by researchers and satellite remote sensing indicates a trend toward farmers recognizing and capitalizing on the benefits of integrating trees into their farming systems. This research underscores the potential of nature-based solutions to address food insecurity and support sustainable development. By valuing biomass as a green asset and incorporating trees into farm management strategies, smallholders can create a more resilient agricultural system capable of withstanding the pressures of climate change, land degradation, and economic instability. The implications are profound, suggesting that policies and programs that support the establishment and maintenance of farm forests could be a key component in the fight against global hunger, particularly in dryland regions like the Amhara of Ethiopia.



Main Study

1) Farm forests, seasonal hunger, and biomass poverty: Evidence of induced intensification from panel data in the Ethiopian Highlands.

Published 15th December, 2023

Related Studies

2) More than one quarter of Africa's tree cover is found outside areas previously classified as forest.

3) A review on the indigenous multipurpose agroforestry tree species in Ethiopia: management, their productive and service roles and constraints.

4) Formalizing land rights can reduce forest loss: Experimental evidence from Benin.

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