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  • A five-part road map for how to succeed with agroforestry

A five-part road map for how to succeed with agroforestry

A Lubuk Beringin villager looks over fields in Dusun Buat village, Indonesia. Photo by T. Saputro/CIFOR
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FTA communications

“We are like 1,200 little ants,” said Tristan Lecomte, president of the PUR Project, of the global experts and scientists attending the 4th World Congress on Agroforestry last month. “We are all specialized in our own little fields – some of us on the leaves, some on the roots, some on the crops.”

Tea pickers in Mount Halimun Salak National Park in West Java, Indonesia collect tea leaves in a basket. Photo by A. Erlangga/CIFOR

Lecomte’s point, that agroforestry is a multi-dimensional concept not easily captured by a single catchphrase, was evident after 3 days, 38 sessions and 600 poster talks.

Still, several speakers made the case for simplicity: Agroforestry will only make its way to the top of global development agendas – fulfilling its rightful role as a solution to climate change, biodiversity loss, malnutrition and poverty – if we are able to deliver a clear message. “Actually it’s simple,” said Patrick Worms, president of the European Agroforestry Federation (EURAF). “Just do it.”

The question is how. Let’s take a closer look at five lessons on how to succeed with agroforestry, based on work presented by scientists contributing to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests Trees and Agroforestry (FTA).

Read also: Agroforestry: Development underdog headed for center stage in global sustainability efforts

  1. Put farmers first.

Agroforestry has the potential to reverse planetary degradation trends, but efforts necessarily start with the farmers themselves. “It brings multiple benefits at the level of the landscape and the planet – that we know – but how can farmers decide to opt for these systems?” asked Vincent Gitz, director of FTA.

A cabbage plantation on the slope of mount Gede Pangrango Sukabumi, West Java, Indonesia. Photo by R. Martin/CIFOR

One answer, coming from researchers working with World Agroforestry (ICRAF), is through close collaboration with farmers themselves. ICRAF scientists have established , which are training, experimentation and demonstration hubs, to co-design agroforestry solutions together with farmers.

“Some projects fail because they are promoting trees disconnected from farmers’ needs,” said Catherine Muthuri, scientist with ICRAF. “We are promoting trees that farmers have prioritized – they are planting trees that they know, and they understand why.” The rural resource centers are being expanded as a model for agricultural extension in a bid to increase food security in Ethiopia, Uganda and Rwanda and to boost climate resilience in Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad.

  1. Remember, it’s not only a man’s world.

Agroforestry solutions need to be tailored to on-the-ground realities, of course, and accounting for . In Nicaragua, for example, . Their findings indicate that, in the nine communities studied, men tended to prefer agroforestry crops such as cocoa and coffee, which provide sources of income. Women, on the other hand, placed higher value on basic grain crops such as rice, perceiving them as better sources of food.

“We risk missing the mark completely if we don’t account for gender,” explained Laurène Feintrenie, scientist with the French Agricultural Research Center for International Development (CIRAD). “You can imagine projects ending up promoting only cash crops because they’re basing their recommendations only on men’s preferences, and then not contributing to food security or poverty alleviation at all.” Designing agroforestry interventions to ensure that everyone – men and women – both perceive and attain the benefits of these practices is essential to success.

  1. Go after the money.

“One big motivation for farmers is to be able to improve their household income,” said Clement Okia, scientist with ICRAF. “When you can demonstrate to farmers that this thing can increase their incomes, farmers get excited.”

A farmer holds a Gnetum (okok) plant in the village of Minwoho, Lekié, Center Region, Cameroon. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR

He presented research on how strengthening value chains can increase farmers’ interest in adopting agroforestry practices. The underlying rationale was often repeated during the congress: What good does it do to produce a high-quality agroforestry product if no one wants to buy it? Everyone needs to make a living.

Okia and his colleagues have worked with farmers to establish innovation platforms in Uganda and Zambia. The innovation platforms are networks that allow farmers to engage with value chains, markets and business opportunities. Already, results are promising. In Uganda, for example, 5,000 coffee farmers have identified production challenges, received training and established new practices. This has allowed them to export specialty coffee to the Australian market.

  1. Think landscape.

Agroforestry represents an opportunity to create synergies across sectors at the landscape scale. This is especially useful in places like Indonesia, where fierce competition over land prevails. At the same time, government agencies tend to plan for each sector in isolation, resulting in overlaps and inefficiencies. That’s why scientists from ICRAF and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) have created a policy platform for authorities, the private sector and farmer cooperatives to collaborate on integrating different land use options.

“On Sumbawa Island, the agricultural department has been encouraging corn crops, but this depends on contracting land from protected forests,” said Ani Adiwinata Nawir, scientist with CIFOR. “We offer alternative options, so that local communities can learn that there are other options besides corn that could bring them more benefits. Some fast-growing timber species, for example, can be intercropped with non-timber forest products.” Collaborating with the private sector ensures a market for products such as timber, honey or natural dyes.

What’s more, preserving forests and regenerating deforested land can help prevent disasters such as the destructive floods that swept across Sumbawa Island in 2017. District authorities have already adopted landscape-level thinking into their planning, and the approach is currently scaling to the provincial level.

  1. Plan for the long term.

Trees are around for a long time. Whether this is a challenge or a blessing depends on your perspective. “Trees are a bit more complicated when it comes to climate change,” said Roeland Kindt, scientist with ICRAF. “With crops, you can see how the climate is changing and then select the right varieties, but with trees – you plant them now, and they’ll still be there in 10 or 30 years.”

An Acai nursery in Acre, Brazil. Photo by K. Evans/CIFOR

Therefore, Kindt and his colleagues are using modeling to recommend tree species fit for a climate-change future. In 2017, they published an atlas to help coffee and cocoa farmers in Latin America determine what species will continue to be suitable as shade trees, considering climate change risks. Now, a similar atlas for Africa is under development, and will be used to inform large-scale restoration projects in Gambia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and elsewhere.

“We focus on fruit trees, timber trees and those that improve soil fertility, which can generate income for the farmers,” Kindt explained. “In some areas, it is possible that coffee will no longer be a suitable crop in the future, and then, timber and fruit trees can make up a new agroforestry system.”

Once you take a step back from the anthill, you begin to see the ingenuity of it. Agroforestry may not be a one-size-fits-all solution, but it is an adaptable, applicable practice that fits the complexity of today’s development challenges. And, with these top five lessons in hand, farmers, development practitioners, donors and private sector actors may be better placed to achieve its potential.

By Marianne Gadeberg, communications specialist. 

The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with Bioversity International, CATIE, CIRAD, ICRAF, INBAR and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • Agroforestry: Development underdog headed for center stage in global sustainability efforts

Agroforestry: Development underdog headed for center stage in global sustainability efforts

A farmer harvests fruit in Birou village, Burkina Faso. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR.
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FTA communications

“Essential.” “Obvious.” “The model of the future.”

Last month, when more than 1,200 scientists and experts met at the World Agroforestry Congress in France, agroforestry was praised for its multitude of benefits. It was lauded as a solution to many of the world’s most pressing challenges, including poverty, malnutrition, climate change, biodiversity loss, migration and conflict.

But, if agroforestry is so great, why isn’t everyone doing it?

One tomato, two tomato, three thousand tree tomatoes

When trees and crops are successfully farmed together, agroforestry does provide a wealth of environmental, social and economic benefits. This is the case in Bugesera district in Rwanda, where 2,000 farmers have started growing tree tomato, which is a result of a scaling-out initiative of the “Trees for Food Security” project funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and led by World Agroforestry (ICRAF), a partner of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA).

A Jatropha farmer from Chinsali district in northern Zambia sells crops in a market. Photo by J. Walker/CIFOR

The project seeks to introduce tree tomato to Bugesera district and enhance production in Musanze and Nyabihu districts in Rwanda, in both humid and drier contexts. It has also established rural resource centers (RRCs), which are hubs for the supply of quality germplasm, and training and peer learning.

These fast-growing, small, shrubby trees produce fruits (popularly known as “Tamarillo”) that are rich in nutrients, particularly vitamin C and A. They fill an important gap in local diets. In Rwanda, 38 percent of children below the age of five suffer stunting as a result of malnutrition.

“The beauty of  growing tree tomato is that jobless people – who seemingly had no future – are now given a source of income and livelihood,” said Catherine Muthuri, senior scientist with ICRAF and Trees for Food Security project manager.

“A farmer will say, ‘this is good – I’m not going anywhere, I just harvest it right outside my house and then someone comes and buys it.’”

According to farmers’ testimonies, they use the proceeds from tree tomato sales to pay for school fees and health insurance, and to buy clothes. They also use the funds to renovate their houses and open accounts in the local bank – Sacco. They also consume the product at home to reduce malnutrition.

The RRCs are key to the development of satellite nurseries, that are run by cooperatives or farmer groups to provide farmers various high-quality tree seedlings that, along with proper management techniques, translate into bigger benefits for farmers. This, in turn, increases the incentive for farmers to plant many more trees in the future, benefiting soil health, increasing carbon storage, controlling soil erosion and providing diverse products like fruit (such as tree tomato, mango and avocado), fuel, timber, fodder and fertilizer.

Read also: The right species for the right purpose

A recipe for success

“Once you convince a farmer that there is something in it for them and that their values, interests and their experiences matter, they will then allow you to support them,” said Muthuri. “At the end of the day, it’s their farm where the project is trying out these technologies.”

This close collaboration, according to Tony Bartlett of ACIAR, is one of the likely reasons why this project has been successful in scaling its innovations. The Ethiopian government recently announced its plans to transform 30,000 agricultural extension centers based on the RRC model, and nursery cooperatives are taking off in Rwanda and Uganda.

When Bartlett reviewed 15 ACIAR-funded agroforestry projects, he found the Trees for Food Security project to be among the top three most successful.

Vegetable gardens near the village of Zorro, Burkina Faso. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR.

“I’m a firm believer that the market part is critical because it becomes a ‘pulling’ factor. If the development is going in the wrong direction, then consumers or governments can correct it, but the market is the driving force,” said Bartlett.

In Bugesera district, farmers have been eager to grow tree tomato precisely because of a strong market demand. Soon, farmers and scientists will start exploring opportunities to process the tree tomato fruits, hoping to add value and ensure that returns remain high. At the same time, the Rwandan government’s commitments to improving nutrition and restoring land have provided prime enabling conditions.

However, large-scale uptake of agroforestry is still rare. Because, according to Bartlett, transformation at the country or industry level is complicated. “The trouble is, there are infinite combinations of trees and crops that can be grown together,” he said. Local agroecology, policies and markets all play a role in determining what can work where.

Still, Bartlett proposed that research institutions share agroforestry solutions with those who can implement them, whether they are development partners or private sector actors. He pointed out that the cocoa or coffee industries are actively looking to produce in more sustainable ways, thanks to growing consumer awareness.

“What the research-for-development community hasn’t done well is sharing our best-bet options at a relatively early stage. We wait too long,” he said.

Read also: Trees nurture nutrition

Next stop: The global development agenda

FTA Director Vincent Gitz, from CIFOR, projected this same sense of urgency as he delivered one of the final keynote presentations of the World Agroforestry Congress.

“Precisely now, as we’re reaching 2020, we have to proceed with the implementation of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said. “And these commitments all mention trees and agroforestry, but nothing much about exactly what it takes – what tree species, what techniques, what business models or what enabling policies.”

A man holds some indigenous seeds in Olenguruone, Rift Valley, Kenya. Photo by P. Shepherd/CIFOR

Gitz urged his colleagues to bring forth the evidence that can be used to inform national policies and achieve global commitments. “In FTA, we consider it our role to influence the farm–forest policy interface at the national level, as this is where we can unlock some of the barriers to scaling agroforestry,” Gitz said. “At the international policy level, we cannot do it alone, but there are ways in which we can influence the discussions.”

He highlighted the process to define the post-2020 framework for the Convention on Biological Diversity, countries’ efforts to achieve their nationally determined contributions under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the UN Committee on World Food Security’s 46th session later this year as major opportunities for integrating agroforestry into the global development agenda. Unfortunately, as Gitz said, “the world lacks a universally agreed definition of agroforestry. And without an agreed definition, it’s difficult to get policy integration. So, this should be a first step.”

As the congress drew to a close, the participants agreed to a statement calling on world leaders to promote the benefits of agroforestry to land owners and managers across the globe. Only when farmers everywhere can enjoy benefits similar to those emerging in Bugesera district in Rwanda will agroforestry truly have become a model for sustainable development.

Now is the time to turn from aspiration to action.

By Marianne Gadeberg, communications specialist. 

The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with Bioversity International, CATIE, CIRAD, ICRAF, INBAR and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • The Tamale Declaration: a regreening plan for northern Ghana

The Tamale Declaration: a regreening plan for northern Ghana

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An international workshop has called for an integrated plan to regreen the region.

The climax of the international workshop held late November 2018 in Tamale, the capital of Ghana’s Northern Region, was when the nearly 60 participants issued an urgent call for a ‘comprehensive Regreening Plan’.

The Plan would see the integration of trees with crops and livestock across northern Ghana, which they say is needed to ‘restore landscapes and improve livelihoods’ in the three regions that comprise the country’s northern belt.

Their call was addressed to all key policy-makers in Ghana’s Upper East, Upper West and Northern regions, including the Northern Development Authority, metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies, traditional authorities, and also the ministries of Land and Natural Resources, of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, and of Food and Agriculture. The workshop called on these institutions to allocate budget and incentive systems to support the Regreening Plan.

The theme of regreening is a crucial one in Ghana, which is one of eight countries in Sub-Saharan Africa involved in the ambitious Regreening Africa project, which is funded by the European Union. The aim is to reverse land degradation among 500,000 households and across 1 million hectares. In Ghana, Regreening Africa is targeting 40,000 households on 90,000 hectares of land to be restored by 2022.

As part of the Bonn Challenge, in 2015 Ghana also pledged to restore 2 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2030, in addition to two previous land-restoration pledges by the Government: the Forestry Development Master Plan launched in 1996, which aimed to plant trees on 200,000 hectares of unproductive forest land and the savannah zone by 2020; and the National Forest Plantation Strategy, which aims to rehabilitate 235,000 hectares of forest plantations and enrich planting of 100,000 hectares of under-stocked forest reserves by 2040.

Fergus Sinclair, leader of Systems Science at World Agroforestry, who led one of the sessions at the workshop, said that, ‘With such ambitious targets to meet, this multi-stakeholder workshop in Tamale — Restoring Landscapes for Resilient Livelihoods in Northern Ghana — could not have come at a more opportune time.’

A broad range of perspectives and expertise
The participants came from Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and from all over Ghana, representing a broad range of perspectives, backgrounds and professions: national and regional governments; donors; international and grassroots non-governmental organizations; farmers’ organizations; and one paramount chief.

Aftermath of a fire. Photo: World Agroforestry/Gloria Adeyiga

While there was consensus about the urgent need for land restoration, it was abundantly clear that there are still major challenges to be overcome: gender relations and imbalances in decision-making powers; the nature of land and tree tenure among different ethnic groups and in different regions; policy and legislative gaps in protecting and managing trees in the landscape and the environment as a whole; negative impacts of fires; indiscriminate cutting of trees (including for charcoal production); and clearing for agriculture and mining.

Paramount Chief Bong Naaba Baba Salifu Alemnyarun of the Bongo Traditional Area expressed his concern that the power of traditional authorities to protect the environment had been whittled away over the years.

“If we, the chiefs, had all the powers like our forefathers used to do, there wouldn’t be any destruction of the environment; nobody would cut a tree [without permission],” he said.

While acknowledging the role of chiefs in enforcing rules, there was also consensus that it is important to vest powers of managing trees with farmers and ensure that regulations do not stifle their ability to benefit so that there is an incentive for regreening.

It was noted that there were bylaws to protect trees and the environment but they were not enforced, prompting a call for lawmakers from the Attorney General’s office to attend future workshops to address these issues.

Shea tree in parkland. Photo: World Agroforestry/Emilie Smith Dumont

Analysis of the causes of land degradation revealed a lack of coordination, weak political will and poor funding, legislative and policy gaps, restrictive sociocultural norms, economic barriers, and a shortage of scientific evidence. Nevertheless, they expressed determination to overcome the challenges.

After the workshop, Gloria Adeyiga, a researcher with the Forestry Research Institute who is working with the West Africa Forest-Farm Interface (WAFFI) in Ghana, said she felt optimistic about the prospects for regreening the northern region.

“The workshop highlighted some concerns I’ve always had about issues around regreening,” Adeyiga said. “But I learned that others share these concerns and that we can address them for more sustainable interventions and long-term impact.”

“The future of land restoration and improving livelihoods lies in building evidence through participatory research,” said World Agroforestry’s Emilie Smith Dumont. She has coordinated WAFFI in northern Ghana and southern Burkina Faso and is the focal point for Regreening Africa in the region.

One session presented land-restoration projects on a map of northern Ghana, revealing many separate projects with similar goals. This highlighted the need for better communication and coordination.

Patrice Savadogo, who is taking over Smith Dumont’s role next year, emphasized that restoration, ‘also depends on increasing coordination between efforts to address common bottlenecks in activities to increase tree cover. Recognizing this, as we did together at the workshop, is the first step in overcoming them.’

Aaron B. Aduna, chief basin officer for the White Volta River with the Water Resources Commission, said the workshop was excellent in its diversity of participants and in how it generated discussion.

“Looking at the calibre of people gathered here,” said Aduna, “I am optimistic that a lot will be achieved in the regreening of Ghana.”

Aduna added that it is time that people paid attention to the importance of regreening and to trees in the landscape because, he said, “If there is no forest, there is no water.”

For more information, please contact Patrice Savadogo: [email protected]

The workshop was a collaboration between Regreening Africa and the West Africa Forest-Farm Interface (WAFFI). WAFFI is led by CIFOR in collaboration with ICRAF and Tree Aid with support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. WAFFI aims to identify practices and policy actions that improve the income and food security of smallholders in Burkina Faso and Ghana through integrated forest and tree management systems that are environmentally sound and socially equitable.

Regreening Africa is a five-year project that seeks to reverse land degradation among 500,000 households across 1 million hectares in eight countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Incorporating trees into crop land, communal land and pastoral areas can reclaim Africa’s degraded landscapes. In Ghana, the work is led by World Vision in collaboration with ICRAF and Catholic Relief Services. Partners in Regreening Africa and WAFFI include Catholic Relief Services, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), European Union, Economics of Land Degradation, International Fund for Agricultural Development, Organization for Indigenous Initiatives and Sustainability, Tree Aid, World Agroforestry, and World Vision.

This story was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of the Regreening Africa project and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

By Joan Baxter, originally published by The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).

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  • Orphan crops for improving diets

Orphan crops for improving diets

A fruit hangs on a baobab tree. Photo by Katja Kehlenbeck/ICRAF
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A fruit hangs from a baobab tree. Photo by Katja Kehlenbeck/ICRAF

Orphan crops, so-called because they are considered neglected and underutilized, are typically overlooked in terms of resources for their promotion. But they are now being brought out of the shadows, along with their potential health and environmental benefits.

At present, orphan crops are not extensively researched, despite their potential for realizing economic and dietary benefits for the people who cultivate and consume them, as well as bringing environmental gains to the landscapes where they are grown.

This is due in part to the “nonstandard and unimproved” landraces being grown in some locations, which are not as productive, robust or of as high quality as they could be. However, through plant genetics and crop improvement, the potential of orphan crops to address issues of malnutrition and hunger in Africa can be enhanced, if the necessary market interventions to support their use are also correctly implemented.

The African Orphan Crops Consortium (AOCC), which aims to obtain complete sequences of DNA of 101 neglected food crops, and the African Plant Breeding Academy (AfPBA), which empowers crop breeders from across Africa through skill development, networking and information sharing, are working to improve these crops and promote their utilization.

The AOCC, based in Nairobi and launched in 2011, is hosted by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), one of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry’s (FTA) partner institutions. Its research is now in the spotlight following recent articles from The Economist and the Financial Times.

According to ICRAF’s Prasad Hendre, the Genomics Laboratory Manager at the AOCC, the consortium is “all about giving a voice to underprivileged African farmers through their crops, making the crops sustainably profitable for individual smallholder farmers, their families and communities.”

Members of the African Plant Breeding Academy’s Class II pose for a photo to mark their graduation. Photo by ICRAF

So far, of the overall target, AOCC researchers have fully sequenced 10 genomes and partially sequenced 19.

“The AOCC is working on 101 orphan crops – 50 trees and 51 annuals – shortlisted through larger consensus between farmers, policy makers, governments, agricultural research organizations, philanthropists and private entities,” Hendre said.

“As a first step, we are trying to bring scientific equality to these crops by making the cutting-edge application-oriented scientific tools available through group leadership of the AOCC. It is all about bringing useful and innovative technology to the doorsteps of the African research community, primarily the plant breeders, who can develop new varieties to suit local, regional and global demands.

“At the core of these technologies is the genome sequence of any crop, which directly or indirectly shapes the outcome of these crops on farms. By predicting the effect of a specific DNA signature on the performance of an individual, it is possible to design a next generation of ‘smart’ crops which are high yielding, efficient, highly nutritious and capable of facing environmental challenges. It is also important to impart the right skillsets to African plant breeders who are largely practicing traditional methods of crop improvement. The new tools and methods in their hands can speed up variety development.”

AfPBA, an initiative of the AOCC, is focusing on this skill enhancement by training African plant breeders to use genomic tools and incorporate them into breeding programs.

Mehmood Hassan of ICRAF, who is also FTA’s capacity development coordinator, explained that AfPBA is a collaboration between the University of California, Davis and ICRAF, while the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa are also closely involved.

The academy aims to equip 250 African breeders with advanced breeding skills and approaches by 2023 and to expand their horizons to incorporate African orphan crops, including trees, into their breeding agendas, according to Hassan. So far, more than 50 breeders in two groups have successfully graduated, with a third group of 34 set to graduate in June 2018.

A variety of mango grows on a farm in Machakos County, Kenya. Photo by ICRAF

“Several of the past graduates have already influenced breeding programs by expanding the focus from calorific crops to crops with wider nutritional value,” Hassan said.

AfPBA also mentors the trainee breeders in formulating international grant proposals. A few breeders have already been able to attract additional financial resources to support and expand their programs to include some of these new tools.

“The benefits of breeding these crops will be many,” said Hendre. “For local African orphan fruit tree crops, an additional benefit could be their conservation, encouraging farmers to plant highly productive varieties on farms in a sustainable manner, as compared to extractive non-sustainable harvesting from parklands, semi-wild or forest landscapes.”

“For annuals, it will help in improving their acceptance as mainstream crops due to developing easy to cook, easy to cultivate, tasty and nutritious high-yielding varieties,” he added.

For both trees and annual crops, the primary beneficiaries are expected to be farmers, who will be able to diversify their farms with multiple marketable options made available through newly developed varieties. Certified seed sellers are also likely to be among the primary beneficiaries.

Meanwhile, secondary beneficiaries will include local traders, who will be able to buy and sell the products. Tertiary beneficiaries will be both local and global food processors, who will have the chance to diversify their offerings with nutritious, sustainable and locally sourced foods.

In line with this, once improved crops are bred, both farmers and seed distributors need to be encouraged to make use of them.

“Farmers can be encouraged to adopt new varieties if they are shown benefits. The most important benefit a farmer can see is through increased income. ICRAF and FTA can help farmers see that there is a demand for their products and how they can use that opportunity to market their farm produce and enhance income,” said Hendre. “Other benefits for the environment and human health can be shown using ecological and health indicators for soil, climate and community health, among others.”

Prasad Hendre demonstrates some of the advances in technology in genome sequencing during a laboratory visit. Photo by ICRAF

“Adopting improved varieties requires engaging with certified producers of planting material – be this seed or vegetatively propagated plants in the case of some crops – who can supply improved varieties to the farmers,” he added.

The prospects look good, with some orphan crops holding significant potential for wider consumption and improved nutrition.

“A few of these crops already have global or regional markets, such as African eggplant, African bush pear and African bush mango, Allanblackia, amaranth, baobab, marula, moringa and shea. Releasing improved varieties helps farmers to follow more profitable and sustainable cultivation practices, and allows product standardization, which lead to greater demand and better market prices. In the future, I can see many more of these crops reaching a global market as global consumer preferences change,” Hendre said.

With these efforts and the promising progress to date, new and improved varieties of orphan crops may one day sit alongside current staple foods in stores and on plates, both across Africa and around the world.

By Hannah Maddison-Harris, FTA Communications and Editorial Coordinator 

This work forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors

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  • Tropical forest-transition landscapes: a portfolio for studying people, tree crops and agro-ecological change in context

Tropical forest-transition landscapes: a portfolio for studying people, tree crops and agro-ecological change in context

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Nudging the development trajectory of tropical landscapes towards sustainability requires a global commitment and policies that take diverse contexts and forest transitions into account. Out-scaling and upscaling landscape-level actions to achieve sustainable development goals globally need to be based on understanding of extrapolation domains and interconnectivity of products and services.

We evaluated three portfolios of tropical landscape observatories and quantified extrapolation domains across ecological zones, stages of forest transition, human development index (HDI), population density and potential prominence of four dominant tropical tree crops (arabica coffee, cacao, rubber and oil palm). The ASB Partnership for Tropical Forest Margins portfolio was focussed on active humid forest margins and the Poverty and Environment Network on early stages of forest transition. The portfolio of sentinel landscapes of the Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) research programme provides a 5% sample of pantropical area, 8% of people, 9% of tree cover and 10–12% of potential tree crop presence, with quantified biases across zones, transition stages and HDI. In the ‘water tower’ configuration, relatively high population density coincides with biodiversity, coffee expansion and contested ecosystem services. The extrapolation domain of the FTA portfolio includes trade-off (tree loss) and synergy (restoration) phases of tropical forest transition.

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  • Accurate crop yield predictions from modelling tree-crop interactions in gliricidia-maize agroforestry

Accurate crop yield predictions from modelling tree-crop interactions in gliricidia-maize agroforestry

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Agroforestry systems, containing mixtures of trees and crops, are often promoted because the net effect of interactions between woody and herbaceous components is thought to be positive if evaluated over the long term. From a modelling perspective, agroforestry has received much less attention than monocultures. However, for the potential of agroforestry to impact food security in Africa to be fully evaluated, models are required that accurately predict crop yields in the presence of trees.

The positive effects of the fertiliser tree gliricidia (Gliricidia sepium) on maize (Zea mays) are well documented and use of this tree-crop combination to increase crop production is expanding in several African countries. Simulation of gliricidia-maize interactions can complement field trials by predicting crop response across a broader range of contexts than can be achieved by experimentation alone. We tested a model developed within the APSIM framework. APSIM models are widely used for one dimensional (1D), process-based simulation of crops such as maize and wheat in monoculture. The Next Generation version of APSIM was used here to test a 2D agroforestry model where maize growth and yield varied spatially in response to interactions with gliricidia.

The simulations were done using data for gliricidia-maize interactions over two years (short-term) in Kenya and 11 years (long-term) in Malawi, with differing proportions of trees and crops and contrasting management. Predictions were compared with observations for maize grain yield, and soil water content. Simulations in Kenya were in agreement with observed yields reflecting lower observed maize germination in rows close to gliricidia. Soil water content was also adequately simulated, except for a tendency for slower simulated drying of the soil profile each season. Simulated maize yields in Malawi were also in agreement with observations.

Trends in soil carbon over a decade were similar to those measured, but could not be statistically evaluated. These results show that the agroforestry model in APSIM Next Generation adequately represented tree-crop interactions in these two contrasting agro-ecological conditions and agroforestry practices. Further testing of the model is warranted to explore tree-crop interactions under a wider range of environmental conditions.

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  • Tropical fruit tree diversity: Good practices for in situ and on-farm conservation

Tropical fruit tree diversity: Good practices for in situ and on-farm conservation

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Farmers have developed a range of agricultural practices to sustainably use and maintain a wide diversity of crop species in many parts of the world. This book documents good practices innovated by farmers and collects key reviews on good practices from global experts, not only from the case study countries but also from Brazil, China and other parts of Asia and Latin America.

A good practice for diversity is defined as a system, organization or process that, over time and space, maintains, enhances and creates crop genetic diversity, and ensures its availability to and from farmers and other users. Drawing on experiences from a UNEP-GEF project on “Conservation and Sustainable Use of Wild and Cultivated Tropical Fruit Tree Diversity for Promoting Livelihoods, Food Security and Ecosystem Services”, with case studies from India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, the authors show how methods for identifying good practices are still evolving and challenges in scaling-up remain.

They identify key principles effective as a strategy for mainstreaming good practice into development efforts. Few books draw principles and lessons learned from good practices. This book fills this gap by combining good practices from the research project on tropical fruit trees with chapters from external experts to broaden its scope and relevance.

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Trees for food security in Eastern Africa

Clemena showing bank account and family insurance certificates paid for by proceeds of tree tomato sales. Photo by A Mamo/ICRAF
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Clemence shows bank account and family insurance certificates paid for with proceeds of tree tomato sales. Photo by A. Mamo/ICRAF

By Akefetey Mamo, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World

Eastern Africa is home to four out of the nine hunger hotspots in Africa. Across much of the region declining soil fertility coupled with lack of resources to afford inherently risky inputs such as fertilizers, constrains crop production.

For millions of smallholder farmers these problems are exacerbated by more frequent and extreme weather events including droughts and floods associated with climate change. It has been established that trees on farms can contribute to improving food security – directly through food provision (fruits, nuts, and leaves) and indirectly both, from the sale of tree products generating income that is then used to purchase food, and through system intensification, where trees improve soil fertility and the regulation of water flow increasing crop yields.

Often, intermediate tree products such as fodder and fuelwood produced on farm save labour otherwise used to collect them, that can then be used for other intensification options and trees are associated with higher abundances and activity of beneficial soil organisms that promote long term soil health. Trees may also buffer temperatures, useful in adapting to climate change.

“Working across field, farm and landscape scales, it is known that trees can play a key role in making efficient use of water and nutrients while maintaining soil carbon.” says Fergus Sinclair, Systems Science Leader at the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, “this can be instrumental in developing a climate smart agriculture through the intensification and diversification of farm production.

Further they can also have knock on effects within farm systems. For example in Ethiopia, if instead of using dung for fuel, farmers get firewood from farm trees, they can return the dung to crop fields and improve yields, while in Rwanda stakes from pollarded trees can be used to support climbing beans that increases bean yields.”

While these processes are understood in principle, it remains a key research challenge to match tree species and management practices to the range of farm circumstances encountered across Eastern Africa and predict their impact on food security.

Understanding structures and tailoring options to contexts

The potential of the right trees as eco-efficient options for farmers is demonstrated through the work of projects such as the ICRAF led multi-partner effort known as the Trees for Food Security Project (T4FS). T4FS targeted two key agro-ecologies: highland humid and lowland semiarid areas in Ethiopia and Rwanda, eventually scaling out lessons learned to similar agro-ecologies in Burundi and Uganda. The aim was to demonstrate evidence and select the most appropriate options for thirty thousand farmers across representative contexts in the rural regions where an estimated 10 million people are facing acute food insecurity.

“Analyzing and understanding the selected farming systems before designing intervention mechanisms was key to address the barriers to farmers enhancing tree cover on their farms” says Catherine Muthuri, a Research Scientist at ICRAF leading the project, “it was an important activity that helped us to target appropriate interventions by supporting matching of species and management options to the sites and circumstances of the farmers.”

The food security and agroforestry conditions of the farmers and their landscapes was characterized and mapped through seven large scale baseline studies.  Ranging from the biophysical to the socio-economic, including studies on extension systems, seeds and seedlings systems, rapid market appraisals and local knowledge studies, the baselines further provided an understanding of farmers’ decision-making processes and shed light on pertinent issues such as policies, institutions, governance and germplasm management to guide T4FS implementation mechanisms.

According to Miyuki Iyama, an ICRAF socio-economist who with her team, published a seminal study on farmers’ decision-making process in Ethiopia’s Oromia State, “this ‘Options by Context’ approach is essential to meet tree-growing targets, be they local, regional or global. Such an approach will be key to meeting country-led efforts such as AFR100, which seeks to restore100 million ha of land in Africa by 2030.” (Read more of the story here).

A key finding was that farmers were using a far more diverse range of tree species in particular farm and landscape niches than had previously been appreciated. A key baseline in selecting trees is knowledge of the natural vegetation and while there were already maps for some countries a new map was developed for Burundi and integrated within ICRAF’s Vegetation map for Eastern Africa, and tree species selection tools were developed for Rwanda and Ethiopia. According to Leigh Winowiecki, a Soil Systems scientist at ICRAF, “the tools provide spatially explicit analysis for improved targeting of interventions, including identification of erosion hotspot mapping across the action sites”.

Strengthening productive farming systems

The efforts of the T4FS partnership between primary national research partners such as the National Forestry Resources Research Institute (NAFFORI)Rwanda Agriculture BoardEthiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR)Institut des Sciences Agronomiques du Burundi ; development partners such as World Vision  as well as CGIAR organisations such as CIMMYT and the International Livestock Research Institute has been crucial to the success of its objective.

Preliminary results show that quick win benefits for household nutrition and incomes for a number of families have been generated from the sale of products from fast growing grafted fruit and fodder trees, better access to markets through knowledge and negotiation skills, and higher crop yields from using stakes for climbing beans and tree litter as mulch.

This is exemplified in the transformational stories of women such as Clemence Mukarugwira, a farmer trained in the grafting and management of tamarillo (tree tomato) at the Karago Rural Resource centre in Rwanda, as well as women of the Elgon Women’s Trust in Uganda (ELG) who are now employers and job creators in their community. (Read their stories here).

Clemence was able to sell a 100 kg of tree tomato in the first year of establishment realising an income of 80,000 RWF (125 USD) and doubled this in the second year, enabling her for the first time to open a bank account and purchase health insurance for her family. She has already trained another 20 women in how to grow tree tomato.

The domino effect of transformation are also exemplified through the stories of people like Samuel, a casual labourer who used to work for ELG in Uganda. Samuel left ELG to open his own nursery just across the street from his employers. By combining his wit and knowledge acquired from the project, Samuel says he now makes an additional income of between UGX 500,000 (USD 152) and UGX 1 million (USD 303) per year from the nursery which he says allows him to send four of his children to school. (Read his story here)

Edushe Guye, a farmer in Gerbi village in Ethiopia, explains his innovations to Abayneh Derero, EIAR project lead in Ethiopia. Photo by Albert Mwangi/ICRAF

In Rwanda, the Gishwati Umugunda: a national farmer’s cooperative system, have been instrumental in saving the community’s sloping lands from erosion through the incorporation of Alnus acuminata trees. According to Athanase Mukularinda, project lead at ICRAF Rwanda,“the Alnus trees are improving the productivity of farm lands and have additionally had a positive effect on the rehabilitation of Lake Karago – one of the most important lakes in the region at thee intersection of the Nile and Congo watersheds which was badly affected bysoil sedimentation”.

T4FS led to approximately 250,000 trees being generated in the rural resource centre and planted on over 50 ha of land in key places within the ‘model forest’ being established through a Government initiative with a number of partners. The fast growing Alnus acuminata trees are also replacing napier grass as more effective and longer lasting stakes for climbing beans, enabling a tripling of the bean yields. This simple solution is a very important outcome for the people of Rwanda who eat beans more than anything else says Gislain Tenge Asene of the Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB). (Read the story With climbing beans, farmers are climbing out of poverty, nutritional insecurity)

Skills, knowledge and capacity building

T4FS spawned innovations in information and knowledge-delivery mechanisms for agroforestry uptake such as Rural Resource Centres (community based and entrepreneurial initiatives combining nursery production with provision of other inputs and knowledge about how to use them). These have not only been instrumental in supporting access to knowledge and much needed high quality germplasm, especially to women and jobs to unemployed young people, but also as a model that is now being replicated.

Six resource centers were established during the project in Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda and Burundi and they contrinue to provide extensive training on nursery and grafting technologies as well as seedlings to members and extension agents. (Read about Rural Resource Centers here). Data shows that close to four thousand smallholder farmers are trying out some form of agroforestry intervention, which is contributing to their food security. Through the project, about 2 million tree seedlings have been provided to farmers across the project sites and their performance is being monitored through innovative data collection protocols developed with farmers.

According to Dr. Mark Cyubahiro Bagabe, Director General of the Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB), “partnership and knowledge acquisition methods in the project have been and will continue to be instrumental in realizing the policy of the Rwandan Government to cover 2 million ha of land with agroforestry. Having seen the successes achieved, RAB will invest in establishing a further seven rural resource centres across the country”.

Knowledge and capacity building has also been a key outcome for the project says Catherine Muthuri, where the active involvement and deliberate policy to train national researchers through formal and informal mechanisms will ensure continuity long after the project ends.

Understanding tree crop interactions in different species and contexts

Integrated tree and cropping system innovations in long term and participatory trials form part of the project’s major initiatives. Yields depend greatly on the context of where and how the crop is grown, including the Agro Ecological Zone (AEZ), site characteristics, the tree and the crop species being intercropped, and the management practices being used.

Predictions of impacts of tree species and management on crop productivity, water resources and nutrients at field, farm and landscape scales are allowing quantification of impacts across a range of contexts. Currently four long-term tree diversity trials are running, alongside more than 20 controlled on farm and on station trials of various agroforestry options, involving over 5,000 farmers. These show both complementarity and competition between trees and crops depending on sites, species and management.

In Ethiopia, for example, wheat yields increased by 28% – 43% under the canopy of unpruned Faidherbia albida trees – a nitrogen-fixing, acacia-like species found throughout African savannas. In contrast, in Rwanda competitive effects of Grevillea robusta on maize were reduced by pruning to control tree water uptake so that maize grown under pruned Grevillea robusta was 15% to 29% higher than a control with no trees but under unpruned Grevillea robusta maize yields were 29% – 57% lower than the control.

Farmer Richard Naumunya in Uganda explains about the sap flow instruments he is hosting as part of the on-farm trials. Photo by May Muthuri/ICRAF

Trees could be critical for adapting to climate change according to Frédéric Baudron and his team at CIMMYT, a CGIAR partner on the T4FS project. Their study showed that “maximum temperatures under the canopy of Faidherbia albida were consistantly 4 to 5°C lower than temperatures outside the canopy – this led to a longer grain filling period and higher yields.

By 2050, the maximum daily temperature in wheat-growing areas of Ethiopia is predicted to rise by 3°C. This could significantly reduce yields of wheat, a crop that accounts for 18 percent of Ethiopia’s cereal area and nearly a fifth of its cereal production. The crop is key to the food security and incomes of smallholder farmers who grow it and using trees to buffer high temperatures could be an important adaptation strategy” they add. (Read highlights of CIMMYTs achievements in T4FS here).

Richard Namunyu, an innovative lead farmer who hosts some of the long term trials in Uganda says it had been instrumental for him to be involved in the trials.  “Farmers usually plant trees without prior knowledge of how they behave towards other crops and the environment as a whole” he says and adds that the experience with hosting research has led to much knowledge he hadn’t known before which others farmers are now keen to tap into.

Modelling tree-crop interactions

Substantive progress on agroforestry modeling has also been made with T4FS partner CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia. According to Philip Smethurst of CSIRO “Until now global models of crop production have ignored trees, despite significant tree cover on much of the world’s agricultural land. This is now changing thanks to a new tree-crop modeling initiative”.

CSIRO has commenced coding of what is called the APSIM agroforestry module using a new APSIM version (working title APSIMX). The model can now simulate crop and pasture production under trees by taking several important positive and negative tree-crop interactions into account (Read more about the model here).

According to Tony Bartlett, the Forestry Research Program Manager at the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) under whose portfolio the project lies, “the Trees for Food Security project was very successful. It generated some new high-quality scientific information on tree-crop interactions, established a tree-crop modelling capability within the CSIRO APSIM model, which is of global utility, and enhanced the knowledge and capacity of over 30,000 people in East Africa. In doing so it provided a very strong foundation for follow on research and development activities under the second phase of the ACIAR funded project.”

“Trees for Food Security has been a very important project for us,” adds Fergus Sinclair, “it is because of our partners that we have managed to reach thirty thousand farmers in one way or another, some with a few improved high value trees others with transformational change through adopting income generating agroforestry practices, but through research we have also levered improvements in the understanding of a number of issues that affect food security on farms.

“These encompass improved understanding of tree-crop-livestock interactions at field and farm scales and their impacts on water resources and soil health. We’ve revealed that extension staff need a diverse set of species and management options that can be tailored to sites and farmer circumstances; we’ve shown what seed and seedling systems and associated extension approaches work best in different contexts as well as the system interaction effects of enhancing tree cover for food security on rural livelihoods.

“This will have continued long term effects on transforming the lives, livelihoods and landscapes of Eastern Africa’s rural people long after the completion of the project. We are delighted that ACIAR have agreed to fund a second phase with major national co-investments including an invitation from the Ministry of Agriculture in Ethiopia to assist in developing a national platform for scaling agroforesty and a commitment from RAB in Rwanda to establish seven additional rural resource centres.”

T4FS has produced an extensive list of publications, engagement processes and dissemination activities that were critical to effecting the changes described in this outcome story and continues to produce more.

The links to the publications and outputs can be found here:



Project locations: BurundiEthiopiaRwandaUganda

Project time frame: June 2012 to Nov 2016

Funding: Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR) and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Partners: Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB), National Forestry Resources Research Institute (NAFFORI), Institut des Sciences Agronomiques du Burundi (ISABU), Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center(CIMMYT), lnternational Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), World Vision led by the World Agroforestry Centre and funded by the ACIAR and FTA.

We would like to thank all donors who supported this research through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.

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