News / Africa

Coffee, Bananas Grow Together to Fight Climate Change

Louis Ntiricakeza is one of the few Rwandan farmers already growing coffee underneath bananas, October 2011.
Louis Ntiricakeza is one of the few Rwandan farmers already growing coffee underneath bananas, October 2011.
TEXT SIZE - +
Heather Murdock

Over the next three to four decades, temperatures in the Great Lakes Region of Central Africa are expected to rise about two degrees Celsius. Scientists say without immediate innovations in farming, crops will be devastated and the region will be thrown into chaos. So Rwanda is experimenting with what is already widely practiced in some neighboring countries. They are growing banana and coffee plants on the same soil to prepare for the new climate in the long term, and to grow the economy in the short term.

Frederick Musangwa has a farm in Rwanda. He grows bananas to eat, and coffee to sell. He cooks over a wood fire, and has no electricity or running water. In the past, he grew food crops to feed his family and sell in the market, and earned about $115 a year from coffee plants.  More recently, he said, he has almost tripled his income from coffee.

Musangwa said he began harvesting more beans after he followed an agriculture expert's advice to plant the coffee directly under his banana trees. He says he is not worried about climate change - he is just trying to make a living.

Innovative farming techniques

But scientists say new agricultural techniques in this region like this one are not just about poverty alleviation - they are a critical component of preventing the region from destruction due to climate change. In one of the most densely populated parts of Africa, temperatures are going up, while the population continues to boom, and more and more erratic weather can be expected.

Sanginga Nteranya, the incoming director general of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, said that if farms systems are overhauled, people will not have to suffer.

“We have to be bold, actually. The consequences are difficult to contemplate because the population growth in this Great Lakes is the highest in Africa. It’s about 500 people per square kilometer and most of the wars that have been happening here is just about that,” said Nteranya.

Efficient land use

In countries like Tanzania and Uganda, farmers already are planting coffee bushes and banana trees on the same land, a technique called “intercropping.” Farmers say the bark from the banana trees serves as fertilizer for the coffee, a cash crop. The leaves shade the coffee from the bright sun, and the bananas feed their families while they wait for the coffee to harvest.

Laurence Jassogne, an agricultural systems scientist with the Consortium for Improving Agriculture-based Livelihoods in Central Africa, said growing coffee and bananas also can - in a small way - help attempts to stave off climate change by reducing carbon emissions.

“We are doing research at that moment that shows - the more shade you put - I know we are talking about bananas, but we are also talking about shade trees - then you also sequester carbon much more - and that’s good for carbon mitigation,” said Jassogne.

Food security concerns

Some officials are not yet convinced and want more research done before Rwandan farmers adopt intercropping as a widespread technique. They say coffee - one of the country’s largest foreign currency earners - is too important to the Rwandan economy to risk it being farmed haphazardly and mixed with other crops.

Burundi also has been reticent to abandon the single-crop policy in favor of banana-coffee farms. Jassonge said the concern is over food security, and farmers may take intercropping as a cue to overrun their coffee fields with food crops.

Marie Claudine Yansoneye is a Rwandan farmer who is not keen on mixing bananas and coffee, October 2011.
Marie Claudine Yansoneye is a Rwandan farmer who is not keen on mixing bananas and coffee, October 2011.

But the technique is not gaining quick acceptance here. Even though farmers like Musangwa are making more money from intercropping, other are more cautious. Marie Claudine Yansoneye grows beans, corn and potatoes - just enough to feed her family in the same neighborhood as Musangwa.

She said it makes sense that people grow crops together, because there is hardly any land. But given a choice, Marie Claudine said, she will always separate her coffee and bananas.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid