Nature-based agricultural solutions: Scaling perennial grains across Africa

Peter, B.G. et al. | Environmental Research | 2017 | Peer Reviewed | Original research |


Modern plant breeding tends to focus on maximizing yield, with one of the most ubiquitous implementations being shorter-duration crop varieties. It is indisputable that these breeding efforts have resulted in greater yields in ideal circumstances; however, many farmed locations across Africa suffer from one or more conditions that limit the efficacy of modern short-duration hybrids. In view of global change and increased necessity for intensification, perennial grains and long-duration varieties offer a nature-based solution for improving farm productivity and smallholder livelihoods in suboptimal agricultural areas. Specific conditions where perennial grains should be considered include locations where biophysical and social constraints reduce agricultural system efficiency, and where conditions are optimal for crop growth. Using a time-series of remotely-sensed data, we locate the marginal agricultural lands of Africa, identifying suboptimal temperature and precipitation conditions for the dominant crop, i.e., maize, as well as optimal climate conditions for two perennial grains, pigeonpea and sorghum. We propose that perennial grains offer a lower impact, sustainable nature-based solution to this subset of climatic drivers of marginality. Using spatial analytic methods and satellite-derived climate information, we demonstrate the scalability of perennial pigeonpea and sorghum across Africa. As a nature-based solution, we argue that perennial grains offer smallholder farmers of marginal lands a sustainable solution for enhancing resilience and minimizing risk in confronting global change, while mitigating social and edaphic drivers of low and variable production.