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  • Blurring the boundary between forest and farm, looking at smallholder systems in West Africa

Blurring the boundary between forest and farm, looking at smallholder systems in West Africa

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Blurring the boundary between forest and farm, looking at smallholder systems in West Africa

Smallholder systems are complex mosaics, integrating diverse land uses from forestry to agriculture.

Yet policies often draw a sharp dichotomy across landscapes – forestry on one side, agriculture on the other. The resulting mismatch between policy and actual behavior can have unintended consequences for the environment and livelihoods, or mean that opportunities are missed to better support smallholders.

A new project under the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, a collaboration of CIFOR, ICRAF and Tree Aid – and supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) – is attempting to alleviate this discrepancy by increasing understanding of the real, ground-level integrated management systems of smallholders and facilitating dialogue between smallholders, policy makers and development practitioners.

“We are targeting the poorest smallholders and women living in mosaic landscapes that combine forestry and farm land uses in Burkina Faso and Ghana. Our research will focus on developing strategies to support adaptive processes important to households in these landscapes,” said Peter Cronkleton, CIFOR Senior Scientist and director of the project.

Smallholders living in mosaic landscapes depend on diverse environmental services and management behavior to provide food security, income and energy. They also produce large quantities of forest products that are crucial to rural populations, especially the poor and households vulnerable to climatic shocks. However, government policies that focus on specific sectors often target competing goals such as conservation or intensified production, introducing distortions or constraints that negatively impact smallholder livelihoods.

“Because conventional policy approaches do not take into account the diversity of land use and integrated production practiced by smallholders, the adaptive nature of these systems for providing resilience to rural livelihoods is underappreciated and these systems’ crucial importance for the rural poor – especially women – is missed,” Cronkleton said.

The West Africa Forest Farm Interface Project (WAFFI) project, supported by IFAD’s Agricultural Research for Development Program, will evaluate how such systems in Burkina Faso and Ghana offer livelihood options for rural people, and identify science-based strategies to strengthen the ability of those systems to supply income and secure food sources.

Cronkleton said, “The goal is to equip policy makers and practitioners with the evidence-base and practical knowledge needed to support smallholder livelihoods strategies and natural resource management systems – adapted to local mosaic landscapes.”

Property rights and access to natural resources are key issues for many smallholders, especially where state ownership overlaps with customary rights, as in Burkina Faso and Ghana. For example, women’s access to resources often depends on customary tree tenure systems that are poorly accommodated under formal property regimes. Without clear authority over important resources, the rural poor struggle to contest infringement on their land and customary rights.

And this is where informed policy becomes key.

“By facilitating greater engagement between farmers, policy makers and practitioners, the project will empower women and the rural poor to sustainably manage the forest-farm interface to improve their livelihoods and incomes,” Cronkleton said.

The project, which started in 2016 and extends to 2018, combines approaches from the biophysical and social sciences with participatory efforts to address the needs of targeted smallholders. Focusing on two multi-village sites in Burkina Faso and Ghana, the WAFFI project recognizes that landscapes that integrate cropland, forests and livestock require integrated institutions and policies.

The project will contribute to and be informed by CIFOR’s, ICRAF’s and Tree Aid’s current and previous work with smallholders in forests and on farms in West Africa, and fruitful collaborations with partners like IFAD. CIFOR is at the forefront of approaches that consider inclusive, mosaic landscapes, and the project is a component of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, allowing for scaling up to consider the contribution of trees and forests to smallholder livelihoods.

“Thanks to this collaboration with IFAD, we expect that evidence generated by this research will contribute to strategies, approaches and actions that take into account the voices of the poor and marginalized to support the livelihoods of smallholders managing the forest-farm interface for improved income, food security and equitable benefits,” Cronkleton said.

For more information about this initiative, please contact CIFOR team leaders and focal points Peter Cronkleton ([email protected]) and Mathurin Zida ([email protected]).

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  • A new method for tracking Ebola could help prevent outbreaks

A new method for tracking Ebola could help prevent outbreaks

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of Ebola virus particles (red) in extracellular space between infected African green monkey kidney cells. Photo: NIAID
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By Catriona Cuft-Cosworth, originally published at Forests News

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of Ebola virus particles (red) in extracellular space between infected African green monkey kidney cells. Photo: NIAID
Colorized scanning electron micrograph of Ebola virus particles (red) in extracellular space between infected African green monkey kidney cells. Photo: NIAID

The ongoing Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa has claimed more than 11,000 lives since March 2014. Yet we still know very little about the conditions in which the virus thrives and how it spreads to humans.

Some answers may be found in a groundbreaking new study that borrows techniques from biology and geography to map out hotspots where the virus may be lurking.

A research team led by scientists John Fa and Robert Nasi from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) together with Jesús Olivero and colleagues from the University of Málaga, including US virologist Jean Paul Gonzalez and Zoological Society of London wildlife epidemiologist Andrew Cunningham, took a biogeographical approach to mapping favorable conditions for the Ebola virus, both in terms of environment and the presence of animals as potential hosts.

The resulting map from the study suggests that favorable conditions for Ebola are more widespread than suspected, stretching across 17 countries throughout West and Central Africa, and as far as the East African Lakes Region.
Preconceptions that only bats are to blame for carrying the virus were disregarded, with analysis extended to 64 species including rodents, primates, hoofed animals, a civet and a shrew as potential reservoirs of Ebola virus. Photo: Daniel Tiveau/CIFOR
Preconceptions that only bats are to blame for carrying the virus were disregarded, with analysis extended to 64 species including rodents, primates, hoofed animals, a civet and a shrew as potential reservoirs of Ebola virus. Photo: Daniel Tiveau/CIFOR

It also finds a strong link between Ebola and tropical rainforests, and suggests a list of more than 60 wild animals that require further investigation as potential carriers of the disease.

The findings could help save lives. “This information is essential for the development of early warning systems aiming to optimize the efficacy of prevention measures,” said Olivero.

TRACKING A VIRUS

Olivero and his team are among the world’s leading researchers in the area of “biogeography”, or the science of mapping biological patterns across time and space.

Biogeographic mapping allows scientists to not only analyze the distribution of an organism, but also to predict where that organism may be found based on the existence of favorable environmental conditions.

As a virus, Ebola is in fact an organism. Recognizing this, Olivero and colleagues took biogeographic mapping techniques that are normally used for animals, and applied them to the case of a virus.

Geographical information system (GIS) software was used to map the distribution of favorable environments for Ebola to occur in, as well as the spread of mammals known to have died from, or been infected by, the virus.

“Our findings provide new information about how the Ebola virus is distributed in the wild, before it is transmitted from humans to humans,” said Olivero.

Preconceptions that only bats are to blame for carrying the virus were disregarded, with analysis extended to 64 species including rodents, primates, hoofed animals, a civet and a shrew as potential reservoirs ofEbola virus.

The resulting map found a wider than expected spread of Ebola both among mammal populations and across the African continent.

THE HUMAN CONNECTION
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Click to read the study

So what do the findings mean for humans? This is where the work of CIFOR scientists John Fa and Robert Nasi comes in. Fa and Nasi are experts on bushmeat, or wild animals harvested for food and non-food purposes.

One of the major causes of transmission for Ebola is the hunting, butchering and consumption of wild animals. But putting a blanket ban on bushmeat is not a viable measure – and neither is hunting all species suspected as carriers.

“We don’t want people to be alarmed that there are so many different species, and start killing as many as possible,” said Fa.

“We have to have very clear and realistic ways of trying to stop the transmission from infected animals to people without necessarily stopping people from doing what they’ve done, which is essentially hunting for food.”

Fa said that working with at-risk hunters and communities will be critical for stopping the spillover of infection from animals to humans.

Further research into the communities of animals identified in the study, and how their habitats are affected by human activities such as deforestation and urbanization, is also needed.

In the meantime, it’s hoped that the new method of mapping will help identify hotspots for Ebola and prevent contagion.

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  • This isn’t just any tree, it’s an African locust bean

This isn’t just any tree, it’s an African locust bean

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by CIFOR

The African locust bean grows across the Sudan and Sahel, from Senegal to Burkina Faso to Uganda. This food tree is the source of the valued and highly nutritious néré pods. Just why is this humble tree and the food it provides so important to so many West African families? Some local women tell us in their own words.


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