In a region of the world where news of famine, disease, and drought often grabs most headlines, a remarkable success story is growing, literally, in more than 400,000 small farms across Southern Africa. An Oct. 2011 report from the World Agroforestry Centre documents significant increases in crop yields through use of fertilizer tree systems (FTS) - a technique that uses the soil-enriching and water-tapping benefits of certain trees when grown in the midst of crop fields.

Scientists report a doubling or more of crop yields in the majority of farms using FTS in Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. This helps increase food security and boost family incomes. In Zambia, for example, some FTS farms averaged $233 to $327 per hectare, compared to only $130 for those in unfertilized fields. In terms of food supply, this translates into 57 to 114 extra days of food.

Fertilizer trees, usually a variety of acacia, but also includes jatropha, moringa, and other nitrogen-fixing species, provide multiple benefits when planted among corn, sorghum, wheat, millet, and other cereal crops. These trees grow compatibly with crops and provide an organic fertilizer or "green manure" by drawing nitrogen from the air and re-distributing to the soil through roots and dropped leaves. Additionally tree roots act like conduits to siphon water and bring it closer to the shallower soil levels of most crops. Water efficiency occurs as the trees reduce run-off from rain or irrigation, and overall soil erosion is lessened as well.

Transferring "how-to-knowledge" of FTS is critical if other areas are to benefit. That's one of the priorities of Planet Aid-supported Farmers' Clubs throughout Southern Africa. The Clubs organize and mobilize farmers to learn from each other and from agroforestry-trained teachers.


More than 60,000 farmers have been reached through these Clubs. In recent programs, farmers in Malawi planted 4.3 million trees with the assistance of DAPP-Malawi, a Planet Aid partner. Similarly, through a U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded project in Mozambique, Planet Aid and its local partner ADPP have established 3.8 million tree seedlings which are fertilizing soils, helping reduce erosion, serving as live wind-break fencing, and providing a reliable food source from fruit-producing orchards.

One of the cross-functional advantages of Planet Aid programs in the region is evident in Nhamatanda, Mozambique at a Teacher Training College. Here, future teachers learn "hands-on" agroforestry methods and other practical techniques in addition to their curriculum in primary school education. Graduates of the colleges are equipped to not only provide quality instruction to their students, but help lead the rural communities in which they live and work toward a better quality of life.

Currently, Planet Aid supports Teacher Training Colleges in Angola, Malawi, and Mozambique and Farmers' Clubs in Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Guinea Bissau, and China. Funding for these projects and many others comes primarily from Planet Aid's clothing recycling operations in the U.S. Through generous donations of used clothes and shoes, last year Planet Aid raised $12 million to support international aid projects like Famers' Clubs and the Teacher Training Colleges.

~ Ruben V.