A re-boot of tropical agriculture benefits food production, rural economies, health, social justice and the environment

Abstract

Environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity and climate change threaten the stability of our planet. Inappropriate approaches to food production interact with hunger, malnutrition and extreme poverty, especially in the tropics and sub-tropics. These approaches, in turn, enhance social deprivation and limit rural development, both of which are drivers of economic migration and civil conflict. Exacerbated by population growth, food systems lie at the heart of these global issues. Here, a planet-proofing approach developed in Africa is presented that illustrates that it is possible to diversify and rehabilitate degraded farmland with species producing highly nutritious and marketable traditional foods in ways that improve food production by conventional staple food crops. Furthermore, it rebuilds agroecological functions and creates new local business opportunities to kick-start rural economies and enhance social well-being. Together, these benefits promote livelihoods and social justice, the mitigation of and/or adaptation to climate change, and the provision of wildlife habitat. This approach offers a highly adaptable model that enhances past investments in the Green Revolution in ways that address both the environmental and social constraints limiting both mainstream agriculture in Africa — and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals globally.

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Fig. 1: Tropical land-use scenarios.
Fig. 2: Re-booting tropical agriculture to increase total productivity.

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Acknowledgements

I thank numerous colleagues at The World Agroforestry (ICRAF) and The Agricultural Research Institute for Development (IRAD; Cameroon) and their research partners for their contributions to the research and community-based fieldwork. I especially acknowledge the non-governmental and community-based organizations for their capacity building and mentoring with the thousands of farming households in the participating communities.

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Correspondence to Roger R. B. Leakey.

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Leakey, R.R.B. A re-boot of tropical agriculture benefits food production, rural economies, health, social justice and the environment. Nat Food 1, 260–265 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-020-0076-z

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