Today on the occasion of World Soil Day, we would like to share with you a topic of great relevance and urgency: desertification and the impoverishment of agricultural soils in the world and in particular in Africa. The current situation is critical, with 65% of African soils under the yoke of degradation, and 45% already affected by desertification. This phenomenon threatens the food security of over 236 million people who directly depend on agriculture. It is estimated that around 3 billion people worldwide do not have access to a healthy diet.

The challenge

Deforestation, erosion, desertification and unsustainable agricultural practices are rapidly deteriorating soil fertility, leading to an annual loss of approximately 12 million hectares of fertile land. This crisis has a significant economic and social impact, with a constant impoverishment of entire sections of the population, representing a serious threat to the sustainability of future generations.

Soil degradation also brings as an immediate consequence a nutritional impoverishment of food crops, with serious repercussions on the health, especially of children under 5 years of age.

In Mozambique, for example, 10% of the population is in a state of acute food insecurity, with 43% of children suffering from chronic malnutrition and resulting physical and cognitive development problems. Our actions in Mozambique are aimed precisely at the most vulnerable families, so that they can contribute to the regeneration of the land for access to nutritious products.

The Solution: Successional Agroforestry

In this critical context, successional agroforest emerges as a beacon of hope. This advanced cultivation practice regenerates the soil by promoting the creation of a productive forest, through the integration of different tree species, together, in our specific case, with food crops.

ICEI has been adopting this technique since 2016 to create a circular model in which production and consumption are the key to nutritional, economic, social and environmental improvement in the communities where we work. We also include the agroforestry system in activities such as fish farming, planting in the perimeter of the tanks, and in some cases also in beekeeping, providing species diversity for the bees. We integrate traditional food and forestry crops into the system and enrich it with fruit trees, trees for biomass creation and for timber production. In this way we look at the present but also at the future.

Numerical Data and Tangible Benefits

Studies indicate that the implementation of agroforestry systems increases crop yields, thus contributing to the food security of the communities involved. Furthermore, successional agroforestry helps improve soil quality.

Successes and Pilot Projects

Pilot projects in several African regions demonstrate that successional agroforestry is a practical solution. In Mozambique where we operate, this approach has led to improved food production, soil protection and the preservation of biodiversity.

The Role of Community and Agricultural Education

The key to the success of these practices is to actively involve local communities; in fact, successional agroforestry is not just a change in agricultural practice, but involves a cultural change of vision. Awareness and training are therefore essential to help farmers understand and adopt these innovative practices. The change is not immediate, especially where traditional agriculture equates to monoculture and the adoption of practices such as ‘slash and burn’ with numerous consequent uncontrolled fires. Our success stories are covered fields, the intercropping of legumes and vegetables with trees; they are more fertile soils and more sustainable fields. In the most advanced cases they are the beginning of a real forest.

In 2023 alone, thanks to the Ethaka and Agriflor projects, financed respectively by AICS (Italian Agency for Development Cooperation) and the Prosolidar Foundation, we supported around 400 farming families (of which at least 60% of producers are women), 70 of beekeepers and 25 families of fish farmers. We have worked with 18 different communities, and we continue to do so by constantly providing training courses directly in the field, and daily technical assistance. All this thanks also to continuous training for our technicians who support farmers directly in the field.

The Commitment of All of Us

Addressing the soil crisis requires a global commitment, the knowledge and expertise we are developing represent a guide to face the challenges of the future. We are all called to support Successional Agroforestry projects, to raise awareness of this challenge and to promote