'Grand African Savannah Green Up': Major $85 Million Project Announced to Scale up Agroforestry in Africa
By Erik Hoffner
Amid a deluge of news during the U.N. Climate Summit last month, one major announcement went largely uncovered, yet is among the most important initiatives aimed at reducing the effects of climate change revealed during the events in New York City.
A group of NGOs announced there that they have joined forces in what they're calling "the biggest land restoration project ever seen." They reported securing funding from G9 Ark to implement the initial phase of their first initiative, an $85 million project dubbed the Grand African Savannah Green Up.
The Green Up project is envisioned as a massive scaling-up of Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) — the encouragement of regeneration of trees and shrubs that sprout from stumps, roots and seeds found in degraded soils, such as those currently under agricultural production — and other complementary practices across a swath of Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, Kenya and Ethiopia.
FMNR in action: a farmer removes side stems from resprouted Guiera senegalensis, the first step in encouraging a strong trunk. Image courtesy of P. Savadogo / World Agroforestry
Once established in farm fields, these woody plants improve soil fertility and moisture for crops planted in combination with them in a system known as agroforestry, which also sequesters carbon from the atmosphere while providing habitat for a diversity of creatures. FMNR made headlines several years ago when 5 million hectares (12 million acres) of Niger were reported to have been regreened via the practice.
The coalition, which calls itself the Global EverGreening Alliance, has a goal of capturing 20 billion tons of CO2 annually by 2050, a figure they say would offset the anticipated fossil fuel emissions during this period while cooling the atmosphere via projects across Africa, Latin America, and Southeast and South Asia. The coalition is made up of NGOs such as World Vision, Catholic Relief Services, World Agroforestry, CARE International, Justdiggit, World Resources Institute, The Nature Conservancy, Concern Worldwide, and others.
Calling the Climate Week launch event at the Global Landscapes Forum a success and climate change an existential crisis, alliance chairman Dennis Garrity (who is also a distinguished senior research fellow with World Agroforestry and drylands ambassador for the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification) told Mongabay by email that there will be six key areas of activity.
According to a draft alliance white paper reviewed by Mongabay, these activities include tripling the current rate of carbon accumulation on degraded farmlands by increasing tree cover through FMNR and agroforestry; increasing soil carbon through conservation farming practices on at least 500 million hectares (1.24 billion acres) of agricultural land; scaling up the use of leguminous shrubs that can fix nitrogen on farmlands; restoring tree cover on 575 million hectares (1.42 billion acres) of degraded forests and in urban environments; suppression of fire and regenerating a "healthy grass-tree balance" on 650 million hectares (1.61 billion acres) of degraded pasturelands; and deployment of carbon capture and storage from "evergreen energy generation."
Millet in Maradi, Niger, benefiting from proximity to Combretum glutinosum shrubs that a farmer is assisting to resprout from stumps. Combretum glutinosum is a fast-growing, drought-resistant woody plant common in the dry Sahel. Image courtesy of P. Savadogo / World Agroforestry
Reached by Mongabay for comment about the alliance's first initiative, agroforestry author and expert Eric Toensmeier said, "This may be the largest individual investment ever made in agroforestry. The area that will be restored, 2 million hectares [5 million acres] by 2025, is almost the size of New Jersey."
The author of the best-selling book The Carbon Farming Solution and a research fellow for the climate change mitigation think tank Project Drawdown, Toensmeier said that FMNR "was developed in the Sahel and is one of the world's fastest-spreading agricultural mitigation practices. It's great [to] see this recognition of the critical role that Sahelian farmers play in drawing down atmospheric carbon," he added.
The alliance's Garrity agreed: "Millions of farm families in the Sahel have been regenerating hundreds of millions of trees on their croplands, to enhance their crop and livestock production and adapt their farming systems to climate change-induced droughts [and] the average tree cover on Sahelian farmlands has now reached 16%. Their efforts are truly inspiring, and they point us toward how much greater action can be achieved to restore degraded lands throughout the drylands of the world," he said.
Agroforestry is already thought to sequester 45 gigatons of carbon, a figure estimated to grow by almost 0.75 gigatons annually, and is said to already cover up to a billion hectares (2.5 billion acres) of land globally. For the past two years, Mongabay has focused a special series on the implementation and impact of agroforestry worldwide.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
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Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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