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Food & Hunger

How a 700-year-old farming technique could help end hunger and climate change

Farm Africa

Agriculture is an important sector in economies across the world, providing sustainable living for countless people, especially in developing countries. Agriculture not only provides a source of income but also provides much of our food.

Unfortunately, agriculture has taken a bit of a hit as of late. Climate change, desertification, the depletion of mineral nutrients, improper use of fertilizer, and a lack of infrastructure are compounding the problem, according to a report by Agriculture for Impact.

But there’s good news: teams of anthropologists and scientists have taken notice of a farming technique used by women in Africa that is more sustainable and actually combats climate change.

Even though women in Ghana and Liberia have been using it for more than 700 years, modern-day agronomists have taken an interest in this process that transforms soil into “enduringly fertile” farmland.

africa-climate-change-farmingImage: Flickr/Farmer

Studying nearly 200 sites in Liberia and Ghana, scientists and anthropologists found that women have been adding kitchen waste and charcoal to nutrient-poor soil. These additions resulted in rich black soil, what researchers refer to as “African dark earths.” This soil has the potential to improve agriculture and adapt to effects climate change in Africa and around the world.

African dark earths can also handle more intensive farming on less land because the soil stores between 200 and 300 percent more organic carbon than normal soils. Additionally, it has the ability to trap carbon and cut down on greenhouse gases emitted into the air.

“This simple, effective farming practice could be an answer to major global challenges such as developing ‘climate smart’ agricultural systems which can feed growing populations and adapt to climate change,” said anthropologist James Fairhead.

Adapting these new techniques can help alleviate global hunger.

africa-climate-change-farmingImage: Flickr/Farming

Between 2014 and 2016, just over one in nine people were starving in the world. In 2015, 795 million people were still malnourished, and in Africa, 23 percent of the population was considered hungry.

“Hunger remains an everyday challenge for almost 795 million people worldwide, including 780 million in developing regions,” said Food & Agriculture Organization Director-General José Graziano da Silva. “Thus hunger eradication should remain a key commitment of decision-makers at all levels.”

"Mimicking this ancient method has the potential to transform the lives of thousands of people living in some of the most poverty and hunger stricken regions in Africa," Fairhead told Reuters.

Across the developing world, the majority of the poor and hungry live in rural areas where farming and agriculture is essential for survival. African dark earths have had positive effects on the livelihoods of the poor by promoting sustainable farming and providing ways to combat carbon emissions — a win-win for climate change and food security around the world.