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Five Things to Remember about Earth Day and Africa

1. Size: The continent of Africa represents 20 percent of the Earth’s land mass.
2. Water: Two-thirds of Africa is arid or semi-arid, and 300 of the 800 million people in Sub Saharan Africa live in a water-scarce environment.
3. Deforestation: During the decade ending in 2010, Africa had the second highest rate of deforestation of any region in the world.
4. Endangered Species: One-third of the known species threatened with extinction is found in Sub Saharan Africa.
5. Food: Some 520 million Africans rely on agriculture for their livelihoods, most of them subsistence farmers.

As we commemorate Earth Day this week, we think about the challenges facing Africa.  It is literally a big piece of the
picture—one-fifth of the planet—and cannot be ignored. Although the challenges are great, so is the potential. And by working with communities to build programs from the ground up, we are beginning to tap into that potential. Some examples:

Mariam discusses her “living” fence.

In rural Senegal, Mariam, a mother of five, learned about “living” fences and planted jujube trees around her two-acre plot of eroded farmland. The trees grew and provided her garden within protection from grazing animals and dry winds, as well as hundreds of pounds of fruit to eat and sell. Mariam learned about jujube trees from Aid for Africa member Trees for the Future, which works with people living on degraded land to improve their lives through environmentally sound development projects. The organization’s network of technicians, volunteers, and community leaders provide technical knowledge about agroforestry, replanting forests, and projects that help communities return their land to sustainable production.

In Zimbabwe, Panthera, an Aid for Africa member, has been developing sustainable solutions for preserving endangered lions through community education and partnership. One example is its Long Shields project near Hwange National Park. Local men and women—many raised to be lion hunters—are educated, trained, and employed as lion monitors. They are part of a network of community informants who observe lion populations in order to reduce human-lion conflict. In just one year, they have successfully reduced human-lion conflict by 50 percent.

Throughout Africa, agriculture is key to economic growth.  Most farms are small plots of land, and most farmers are women who face obstacles including a lack of technology, increasingly variable rains, and crop-destroying diseases. But these women farmers are becoming more adept at using mirco-loans to finance small agricultural businesses. Home and school vegetable gardens, which supply dietary nutrients that are not available from staple crops, are increasing in number. Organizations like EcoAgriculture Partners are working with communities to make farming sustainable while creating diverse agricultural landscapes that incorporate ecosystems that preserve watersheds and wild biodiversity.

So, when you think about Earth Day, remember that Africa looms large, but its solutions start small.

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