Fertilizer trees boost yields in Africa

Jeremy Hance
October 16, 2011

Fertilizer trees—which fix nitrogen in the soil—have improved crops yields in five African countries, according to a new study in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability. In some cases yields have doubled with the simple addition of nitrogen-soaking trees. The research found that fertilizer trees could play a role in alleviating hunger on the continent while improving environmental conditions.

"In only five African countries, there are now some 400,000 smallholder farmers using fertilizer trees to provide critically needed soil nutrients—and many report major increases in maize yields—which shows that it is possible to rapidly introduce innovations in Africa that can have an immediate impact on food security," said Oluyede Ajayi, lead author of the paper with the World Agroforestry Center, in a press release.

The trees drawn in nitrogen from the air and store it in the soil, boosting its nutrient-value. Researchers carefully evaluated several tree species to see which were the most effective 'fertilizers'. While the trees were used for their fertilizing-potential, researchers found they also helped with water usage and erosion.

"When farmers plant these trees, water efficiency improves," Ajayi said. "Farmers are getting higher yields from the same amount of rainwater. And the trees are helping reduce the run-off and soil erosion that is a key factor behind food production shortfalls in Africa."

Farmers employing fertilizer trees also saw significant income boosts, boosting incomes between 79 and 251 percent per hectare.

The study looked at the use of fertilizer trees in Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

CITATION: Ajayi, Oluyede Clifford; Place, Frank; Akinnifesi, Festus Kehinde; Sileshi, Gudeta Weldsesemayat. Agricultural success from Africa: the case of fertilizer tree systems in southern Africa. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability. 10.3763/ijas.2010.0554.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (October 16, 2011).

Fertilizer trees boost yields in Africa.