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  • Contrasting land use systems influence soil seed bank composition and density in a rural landscape mosaic in West Africa

Contrasting land use systems influence soil seed bank composition and density in a rural landscape mosaic in West Africa

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Soil seed banks (SSBs) play a key role in the post-disturbance recruitment of many plant species. Seed bank diversity can be influenced by spatial and environmental variability and disturbance heterogeneity across the landscape. Understanding the recovery potential of native vegetation from SSBs is important for restoration and biodiversity conservation. Yet, in savanna-woodland, little is known about how SSBs vary in their germination, composition and density under different land uses, and how SSBs relate to aboveground vegetation (AGV). Using a sampling design based on the Land Degradation Surveillance Framework, we assessed the SSB and AGV in twelve 0.25?ha plots among sixteen in four contrasting land use systems of savanna-woodland in Burkina Faso: bushland, cultivated farmland, fallow and wetland. A total of 720 soil samples were taken from four stratified depths of 0–5?cm, >5–10?cm, >10–15?cm, and >15–20?cm. The SSB composition and richness was determined by the seedling emergence technique. Results showed that the SSB in all land uses was largely dominated by annual grasses with few perennial herbaceous and woody species. Seed density was highest in the fallow soil and highest in the upper soil layers for all land uses. A non-metric multidimensional scaling ordination of the SSB and AGV indicated that the SSBs were a poor reflection of the AGV. Based on these findings, spatial variations in landscape characteristics not only influence seed distribution and viability but also have the potential to influence population persistence. These results imply that successful restoration of fragmented ecosystems requires the addition of seeds and seedlings of target species.

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  • Seed diversity vital to achieve landscape restoration pledges

Seed diversity vital to achieve landscape restoration pledges

A woman looks out over an FLR area in Ethiopia. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR
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Optimally achieving forest landscape restoration – and its associated benefits for ecology and human wellbeing – requires high-quality planting material.

Restoration plays a key role in sustainable development. With countries making significant pledges under the Bonn Challenge to restore degraded land, achieving these objectives at scale requires integrated systems that provide diverse, adapted and high-quality native tree seeds and planting material.

However, there remains a gap in capacity, as studies have documented that the quality and quantity of tree germplasm is not always adequately addressed in restoration projects. Research is now generating solutions to help the global community move from pledges to impact when it comes to tree seeds and seedlings.

A discussion at the recent Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in Bonn, Germany, hosted by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) with Bioversity International, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) – Delivery of quality and diverse planting material is a major constraint for restoration – brought these issues to the fore.

Read more: Delivery of diverse and suitable seeds and planting material is a key barrier to sustainable land restoration at scale

In opening the discussion, Bioversity International’s leader of forest genetic resources and restoration Christopher Kettle, whose work also forms part of FTA, introduced how researchers can help to generate the volume of seeds needed to achieve development objectives.

In line with this, FTA Director Vincent Gitz highlighted that restoration is a priority for research programs such as FTA. In order to be successful, projects should integrate the availability of good tree planting materials from the outset to implementation, he suggested.

Giving a keynote, senior advisor on tropical trees and landscapes at the University of Copenhagen Lars Graudal, who is also coleader of tree productivity and diversity at ICRAF, echoed Kettle in asking whether the reproductive material of trees constituted a barrier for landscape restoration.

Referring to the Bonn Challenge – which aims to restore 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded land by 2020, and 350 million ha by 2030 – the largest restoration in history, which is backed by conventions and the sustainable development agenda, Graudal said it is one thing to have a plan, and another to implement it.

Despite shortfalls in investments, there is reason for optimism as public support for the plan has never been greater, he said. There is a “positive correlation with biodiversity and resilience, agricultural produce and dietary diversity,” he explained. The world faces challenges of mobilizing diversity before it disappears; focusing on dealing with numerous species rather than only a few; linking that work with conservation, breeding and delivery programs; and achieving efficient programs by empowering users.

Speakers of Discussion Forum 1 at the Global Landscapes Forum in Bonn, Germany. Photo by Pilar Valbuena/GLF

The discussion continued with a panel of speakers considering situations on the ground where restoration efforts are being implemented. Featuring Cameroon-based forest engineer Anicet Ngomin; Burkina Faso’s National Tree Seed Center director general Moussa Ouedraogo; Charles Karangwa of the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Rwanda; biologist and youth representative Vania Olmos Lau; social entrepreneur Doreen Mashu; and FAO’s Forest and Landscape Restoration Mechanism coordinator Douglas McGuire, the panel looked at how the ability to deliver diverse and quality seed and planting material is impacting countries’ pledges.

Outlining some of the regional challenges in meeting restoration commitments, Ouedraogo said Burkina Faso has committed to planting 5 million hectares by 2030, but has experienced a 30-35 percent survival rate of trees after one year of planting. Native species remain threatened, he added.

Ngomin said Cameroon has committed to restoring 12 million hectares of degraded landscapes by 2030, with seeds forming an important part of reforestation programs.

Read more: FTA researchers set to highlight seeds, REDD+ and inclusive finance at landscapes forum

Tree seed diversity determines the extent and speed to which ambitious restoration targets can be achieved, said Karangwa. While widespread eucalyptus monoculture in Rwanda affects land productivity, restoration would bring multiple benefits to both people and landscapes. Although farmers know the importance of trees on farms, he added, they “feel like trees are competing with crops, because of the quality and the type of trees we are telling them to plant.” This shows that tree seed diversity is paramount, he said.

Lau emphasized that achieving the Bonn Challenge is also important to youth. She cited as examples a lack of knowledge and access to seeds in Paraguay, as well as bureaucratic hurdles in Mexico, as existing barriers to restoration.

Mashu, who is the founder of The Good Heritage in Zimbabwe – a wellness brand using non-timber forest resources to create products – underlined the need for a clear connection between restoration efforts and economic activity.

“Companies are thinking about doing good in additional to making financial returns,” she said. Thus, business can be a vehicle for restoration for both businesspeople and the scientists who support it, she explained.

McGuire addressed time-bound political commitments, and how to balance these with the time needed to understand the science and practical issues behind tree planting. There are new projects indicating huge momentum both politically and financially, he explained, but many stakeholders have yet to address the technicalities of planting material.

A woman looks out over an FLR area in Ethiopia. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

Building on Mashu’s comments, he also underlined the role of the private sector and embedding restoration into economic realities.

Following on with keynote speeches were scientist Marius Ekué, Bioversity International’s representative in Cameroon and a member of FTA, and ICRAF’s Ramni Jamnadass, who is the leader of FTA’s Flagship 1 on tree genetic resources.

Ekué introduced the Trees for Seeds initiative, which was launched at GLF Nairobi in August and aims to safeguard diversity. “Trees don’t have borders, so we work within a network,” he said, referring to networks that exist across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Read more: Hedging bets in resilient landscape restoration

In line with the initiative, researchers have developed decision support tools to help practitioners select the right tree species for the right places, such as RESTOOL. This can help to understand how seed systems work in different countries, including how they are harvested, produced and distributed. With this information, researchers can then assess how to deliver at scale using innovative technologies.

Similarly, Jamnadass covered the quality of restoration, and the right tree for the right place and the right purpose. She also highlighted other decision support tools such as Useful Tree Species for Africa and the Vegetation Map for Africa. Research needs to put food trees back into landscapes using the restoration agenda, she emphasized.

The panel then continued with a second phase of discussion, articulating concrete solutions for lifting barriers to scale – raising the need to invest in knowledge and science, greater collaboration between partners, harnessing local knowledge, strengthening delivery systems as a local level, bridging gaps between science and policy, and capacity building.

In closing, Erick Fernandes, an adviser on agriculture, forestry and climate change to the World Bank Group, reiterated that the desire to restore land is strong.

As stated by the Trees for Seeds project, using the right mix of native trees in forest restoration efforts is essential to deliver on multiple SDGs, including reducing poverty and food insecurity, and supporting biodiversity.

Planting a trillion trees, and ensuring that they are the right trees in the right place, offers a powerful development solution.

By Hannah Maddison-Harris, FTA Communications and Editorial Coordinator. 

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  • Agricultural research and education combine for tangible results in Latin America 

Agricultural research and education combine for tangible results in Latin America 

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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

A body of water is surrounded by mountains. Photo by CATIE

In light of its standing as a regional research platform and a higher education institution of international recognition, CATIE (Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center) holds an undeniably important position in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The work carried out by CATIE researchers is focused on generating and disseminating knowledge, putting it into practice and encouraging uptake. From restoration to climate change adaptation and mitigation, conservation strategies and silvopastoral systems, the center’s work spans not only numerous countries but also several decades.

To mark CATIE’s official 45th anniversary this year, Environmental Livestock Unit researchers Cristóbal Villanueva and Danilo Pezo, Forest Seed Bank head Francisco Mesén and genetic resources expert William Solano spoke about key work and achievements.

Read also: CATIE celebrates 45 years of putting knowledge into practice 

What is the history behind the development and use of research on silvopastoral systems at CATIE?

Cristóbal Villanueva and Danilo Pezo: CATIE’s work on silvopastoral systems started in the late 1980s, but initially the emphasis was on the use of tree fodder as a source of feed for ruminants.

Initially, most of the efforts were on native trees such as Erythrina species, Gliricidia sepium, Leucaena leucocephala and Calliandra calothyrsus, as well as the introduced Morus alba. All these were managed under different silvopastoral options, mostly the traditional live fences, and intensive fodder banks and alley farming with pastures systems.

Later, emphasis was put on other woody perennial species as well as on the role of different silvopastoral options — such as the most commonly practiced scattered trees in pastures — as a means to diversify production and improve animal welfare in livestock systems, as well as providers of timber and environmental services such as biodiversity, soil and water conservation in livestock dominated landscapes.

More recently, the role of woody perennials as part of adaptation and mitigation strategies on livestock farms has been part of CATIE’s research agenda.

Team members plant seedlings. Photo by CATIE

Over the years, CATIE has been the leader in post-graduate education and training in silvopastoral systems in Latin America, contributing to strengthening the research and development capability of many education and research institutions, as well as NGOs, technical assistance providers and farmer organizations, mostly in Latin American and the Caribbean.

CATIE research findings have also been used as inputs for the design of policies tackling the livestock and environmental interphase in the region. At a global level, CATIE has shared its learnings through several publications, as well as presentations at international congresses, conferences and seminars.

Watch: CATIE: el destino para una educación superior de excelencia

How is CATIE’s Forest Seed Bank used, and who benefits from this valuable resource? 

Francisco Mesén: The CATIE Forest Seed Bank (BSF), which has existed for 51 years, is a self-sustainable commercial unit that distributes the seeds of 50 forest species as well as coffee clones of high genetic quality.

Each year BSF seeds reach more than 170 clients in 20 countries in America, Asia and Africa, supplying private companies to national reforestation programs. The BSF maintains commercial agreements with partners in Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru for seed distribution and promotion.

The seeds that we distribute come either from our own sources, from selected third-party sources, or from other seed banks in the region. In addition to strict internal quality control, we are also under the supervision of the Costa Rican Seed Certification Office, which certifies both the physical and genetic quality of our seeds.

In our training, marketing and promotion efforts, we develop our agenda in conjunction with our partners in member countries. We provide continuous advice to our clients as required, and we receive an average of 300 visitors per year to our headquarters, including politicians, producers, businessmen, technicians and students.

Read also: CATIE continues to improve people’s wellbeing across Latin America and Caribbean through education and research

What is the story of CATIE’s germplasm collection, and which stakeholders now benefit from its use?

William Solano: CATIE’s germplasm collections date back to the 1940s. In 1976, the germplasm bank was formally established as a center for the conservation and use of the plant genetic resources of Mesoamerica.

The collections were placed under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 2004 and two years later were under the jurisdiction of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). The germplasm that CATIE conserves has worldwide relevance due to its quantity and diversity.

Different types of cacao varieties can be found in CATIE’s International Cacao Collection. Photo by CATIE

The most representative field collections are coffee, cacao, peach palm and sapotaceae fruits, while the most important seed collections are those of cucurbits, tomato and pepper. Many of the accessions are unique and not represented in collections elsewhere. The collections include accessions of wild relatives of crops, a valuable resource for future genetic improvement.

There are several examples of CATIE’s germplasm distribution to users who have promoted the economic development of new crops and helped tackle new diseases in crops of high economic value. CATIE highlighted the distribution of selected seven cocoa clones resulting from its Cocoa Breeding Program — known for their high yield, resistance to moniliasis and excellent chocolate quality (two of them were in the top 10 at the Le Salon du Chocolat in Paris in 2009) — to smallholders throughout Central America.

These clones were fundamental for a key initiative of the Central American Cacao Project aimed at modernizing cocoa plantations in an integrated manner in order to improve the income and living conditions of families in the region.

The distribution throughout the region of hybrids F1 with resistance to coffee rust, which were derived from introductions in the CATIE collection, is also of great value to the coffee sector. These materials are characterized by 30 to 50 percent higher productivity than traditional varieties and have an exceptional cup quality – one of them won the Cup of Excellence competition in 2016 – as well as tolerance to adverse weather conditions such as drought, flooded soil and frost.

Also worth noting is a germplasm transfer in the 1960s, from the CATIE coffee collection to Panama, of the Geisha variety, which led to the production of a high-quality specialty coffee with a very high market value, reaching US$601 per pound. Another product of CATIE’s coffee germplasm collection is the “Nemaya” rootstock variety, which is resistant to major nematodes affecting the Central American coffee sector.

Small-scale farmers, including indigenous communities, have also benefited from native germplasm of important food crops, such as tomatoes, peppers and squash, presenting valuable agronomic traits such as nutritional quality, better taste, good adaptation to different climatic conditions and resistance to diseases and pests. CATIE makes this germplasm available to all users, in a continuing contribution to meeting the current challenges of agriculture.

Read also: Celebrating and rewarding excellence in producing high-quality cocoa: The 2017 International Cocoa Award winners

By Hannah Maddison-Harris, FTA Communications and Editorial Coordinator, and Karla Salazar, CATIE Communicator.

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  • Plant breeders contribute to achieving food security across Africa

Plant breeders contribute to achieving food security across Africa

Participants take part in a practical session during the course. Photo by ICRAF
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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

The third class of graduates from the UC Davis Africa Plant Breeding Academy pose for a group photo. Photo by ICRAF

Thirty-four plant breeders from 18 countries graduated from the UC Davis African Plant Breeding Academy in May 2018.

The advanced plant breeding course was delivered by the Seed Biotechnology Center of the University of California Davis, in collaboration with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the African Orphan Crops Consortium (AOCC).

The course, hosted by one of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry’s (FTA) partner institutions — the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) — in Kenya, equips practicing African plant breeders with advanced theory and technologies in plant breeding, quantitative genetics, statistics and experimental design to support critical decisions. This was the third cohort of the course, with participants drawn from Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The program was delivered by a team of tutors and complemented by guest speakers, including Leena Tripathi of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) who covered banana improvement through transformation and gene editing, Damaris Achieng Odeny of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT) on finger millet genomics, Dusty Vyas of LGC Genomics on genotyping sequencing and DNA analysis, and Alex Lipka of the University of Illinois on genomic selection. Participants also visited the International Livestock Research Institute’s Trepathi lab and glasshouse.

The plant breeders presented various proposals, explaining how they would put their newly acquired skills into practice. Mayada Beshir of the Agricultural Research Corporation in Sudan and Ermias Abate Desta of the Amhara Agricultural Research Institute of Ethiopia were each awarded US$5,000 from Mars Incorporated and Illumina for their winning proposals.

“Sorghum is the most important crop for us in Sudan and is widely produced by smallholders. We are experiencing the effects of climate change, as everywhere, and are observing new traits or stresses that have not been seen before. Sorghum productivity is declining yet the government is working hard to avail land, water and inputs,” said Bashir.

“As a breeder going through this training, my role is to help the farmer. The farmer will consume part of the harvest and sell the rest for income. I will produce a better variety of sorghum that is resistant to the stresses we are seeing right now and add nutrient value with better yield.”

Read more: Orphan crops for improving diets

Tef is a staple crop and is grown only in Ethiopia,” said Desta. “It is an orphan crop because it hasn’t captured the attention of the international scientific community. My work is to identify varieties of tef that are tolerant to soil acidity, a common problem in highly productive areas of the country. I will use my prize money to produce soil acidity-tolerant genotypes of tef. Smallholders cannot afford the lime that needs to be applied to acidic soils for amelioration. Acid-tolerant varieties of tef will help as a management strategy and improve their yields.”

“The UC Davis African Plant Breeding Academy is part of the African Orphan Crops Consortium,” explained Allen van Deynze, a primary instructor at the academy. “The goal of the consortium is to make nutritious crops productive for Africa. The plant breeding academy is delivering food security in the continent. The people here today are the ones who are going to make the difference. Those who have passed through the academy are the ones who have taken on the challenge to make sure that everyone has nutritious food on their table.”

Participants take part in a practical session during the course. Photo by ICRAF

“When you go back, remember all that you have learned will be wasted if you fight, compete or do not collaborate,” said Tony Simons, director general of ICRAF. “It is a great honor to partner with all the institutions that support this program, because out of all the initiatives that ICRAF has implemented in the last 40 years, this has been one of the most impactful.”

Recounting the start of the consortium that led to the UC Davis African Plant Breeding Academy, Howard Shapiro, chief scientist at Mars Incorporated, acknowledged the organizations and individuals who contributed to the consortium. Of the 101 crops that were selected for sequencing, 47 are trees and the remainder are annual crops.

“No one had ever considered to do this amount of research on crops,” noted Shapiro. “Major foundations and organizations chose one crop — cassava, maize — and that is all they work on. Our idea was that we could fix the nutritional productivity of 101 food crops that are not only the backbone of rural Africa, but are also important in urban centers. An idea of paradise is that we can end chronic hunger and malnutrition by improving the nutritional quality and productivity of the 101 food crops. All those who have passed through the academy are the ones who will deliver this paradise.”

“We have sequenced 10 species for the AOCC,” noted Xin Liu of BGI. “We are trying to release data as soon as possible. You can combine this data for better application and breeding processes for all the crops. We made a commitment three years ago to sequence 101 crops. We have our own sequencers that can be used to generate more data and we would like to contribute all the science and technology we can to this consortium.”

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is a primary partner of the academy and has sponsored 31 plant breeders of the second and third cohorts. It also funded master and doctoral courses for over 400 of the 500 plant breeders in Africa. So far, 18 countries have released over 600 varieties of crops.

Read more: Tree seed selection, genome sequencing, improvement of priority species and more

“We realized that the breeding field keeps changing. This course has helped us keep up and modernize our breeding efforts,” said Rufaro Madakadze, program officer of AGRA’s Africa Seed System. “We fund training to develop technologies that people will use.”

Speaking on behalf of the class, Maureen Atemkeng of Nigeria expressed gratitude to the academy, particularly for the opportunity to interact with international experts. She added that the course helped in building principles of efficiency, responsibility and sustainability for the next generation.

“Hunger and malnutrition can be eliminated in our lifetime,” said Rita Mumm, director and primary instructor of the academy. “The vision of the African Plant Breeding Academy is to train 150 plant breeders. Graduates, you will continue to work together, contribute your talent to teams, and join the African Association of Plant Breeders. I exhort you to mentor the next generation of plant breeders. Share your knowledge and experience.”

In closing, Ramni Jamnadass, coleader of ICRAF’s Tree Productivity and Diversity research unit that hosts the AOCC, encouraged the graduates to contribute to breeding programs that will banish food and nutrition insecurity in Africa.

The course is delivered in three two-week sessions spread over 18 months at the ICRAF campus in Nairobi. Since its inception in 2013, 89 plant breeders have successfully completed the course and covered more than 99 species, of which 57 are African orphan crops.

By Susan Onganyo, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

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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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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

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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  • The Global Landscapes Forum is ‘a movement worth building’

The Global Landscapes Forum is ‘a movement worth building’

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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Participated in several activities during this year’s Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in Bonn, Germany, where the President of Mauritius emphasized the need for an Agrobiodiversity Index.

While Christmas spruces, firs and pines decorated the festive center of Bonn, their future, as well as that of other trees, water, soils and agriculture, was being carefully discussed just a few kilometers away, at the GLF on Dec. 19-20.

To discuss landscapes from the Andean mountains to the peatlands of Indonesia – addressing the themes of restoration, financing sustainable landscapes, rights and equitable development, food and livelihoods, and measuring progress toward climate change and development goals – is to cover much ground.

As a platform for sharing, learning and planning, the GLF offered a variety of formats in which scientists, activists and leaders of organizations could share ideas, present case studies and make calls to action. In its seventh edition, the GLF’s outreach was massive. Around 1,000 attended the event in person and, when factoring in livestreams online, the total audience was estimated at 21 million people. An address by world-famous actor and activist Alec Baldwin did not hurt.

The radiant stage in the plenary ensured all chairs were filled, and all eyes and ears focused on the lineup of inspirational speakers, ranging from former president of Mexico Felipe Calderon to yogi, environmentalist and spiritual guide Sadhguru and Robert Nasi, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Barbara Hendricks, the Federal Minister of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB), said the idea behind the GLF was to share innovative ideas that could then be implemented on the ground: “The overarching goal is to learn from one another and take action together.”

Erik Solheim, Executive Director of UN Environment, warned that people must put landscapes first as “they allow us to kill three birds with one stone: take care of the climate, biodiversity and reduce pollution and haze.”

Read more: FTA at GLF Bonn 2017

The forum also emphasized the important role of indigenous communities and their knowledge and experience in finding holistic solutions to land degradation, reforestation, food security and the future of clean water sources.

“We’re not looking for saviors,” said Roberto Borerro, Programs and Communications Coordinator of the International Indian Treaty Council, “but need to have a seat at the table” as a partner with solutions.

The President of Mauritius, Ammenah Gurib Fakim, delivered an impassioned keynote speech on the need to forcibly address and mitigate the inexorable loss of species, which is most evident in Africa. She reiterated the importance of supporting traditional knowledge systems related to sustainable agriculture adding to this the imperative of empowering women as stewards of ecosystems and the equitable sharing of benefits.

Fakim particularly emphasized the need for more research, which she regarded not as an “expense but an investment in our common future”. In her speech, she staunchly stressed the vital role of agrobiodiversity conservation in attaining sustainable agricultural systems and spoke of the first International Agrobiodiversity Congress held last year and the Delhi Declaration on agrobiodiversity management.

A scientist by training, she made a loud and clear call for a universal Agrobiodiversity Index, stating: “Solutions require knowledge and knowledge starts with good data”. She maintained that such an index would be an important step toward developing a common understanding necessary to finding global solutions to today’s challenges.

Read more: Forest and landscape restoration severely constrained by a lack of attention to the quantity and quality of tree seed: Insights from a global survey

Bioversity International scientist Chris Kettle speaks during the “Why Diversity and Why Now – Seeding resilient restoration” panel discussion. Photo by Bioversity International

Bioversity International, one of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry’s (FTA) partner institutions, had its own booth at the busy Restoration Pavilion in addition to several representatives and presentations.

FTA scientists Chris Kettle and Riina Jalonen of Bioversity International coorganized, with the Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration (GPFLR), a vibrant discussion entitled “Why Diversity and Why Now – Seeding resilient restoration” in the pavilion.

The seats might not have been plentiful but it did not stop people from gathering around to listen in on the importance and challenges of collecting quality and diverse seed to enable resilient reforestation. The panelists included experienced professionals with diverse backgrounds, having worked on restoration projects all over the world including the US, Rwanda and Malaysia.

The session was framed around several critical questions, such as: are we adequately considering diversity and restoration; what are the critical bottlenecks in delivering diversity; how can we monitor diversity. The panelists’ perspectives and experiences enriched the discussion and encouraged a lively exchange with the audience.

As vital as it is, genetic diversity has been hard to maintain and, if lost, even harder to obtain. This is also true of diversity in landscapes. The forests, mountains, soils, waters and peatlands are all a prerequisite to a chance at a future of health and prosperity across the globe. Unfortunately, the answer is not as simple as replacing our Christmas pines with the steadily diminishing African cherry tree.

The GLF is thus an important platform for coming up with innovative solutions as well as an attempt at a movement. It is one that according to the professionals and activists who participated, including Alec Baldwin, is “a movement worth building”.

Originally published on the website of Bioversity International


This work was carried out in collaboration with the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors

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  • Forest and landscape restoration severely constrained by a lack of attention to the quantity and quality of tree seed: Insights from a global survey

Forest and landscape restoration severely constrained by a lack of attention to the quantity and quality of tree seed: Insights from a global survey

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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Meeting the multimillion hectare commitments for forest and landscape restoration (FLR) will require billions of tree seed and seedlings. However, the adequacy of seed supply in terms of quantity, genetic diversity and quality has received scant attention in FLR planning. We surveyed 139 FLR projects worldwide and identified widespread problems in the availability and diversity of tree seed, with potentially deleterious consequences for the vigor, productivity and long-term persistence of restored tree popu- lations. Large projects and those focused on climate change mitigation were particu- larly associated with multiple problems in seed sourcing. To avoid large-scale failure in FLR, we recommend: (1) national assessments of seed supply and demand for FLR, (2) reviewing FLR targets and funding cycles, (3) fostering sharing of knowledge and experiences regarding seed supply and selection, (4) enhancing seed exchange across landscapes, and (5) introducing regulations for seed quality and strengthening capac- ities for compliance.

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  • Revisiting the ‘cornerstone of Amazonian conservation’: a socioecological assessment of Brazil nut exploitation

Revisiting the ‘cornerstone of Amazonian conservation’: a socioecological assessment of Brazil nut exploitation

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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

The Brazil nut (the seeds of the rainforest tree Bertholletia excelsa) is the only globally traded seed collected from the wild by forest-based harvesters across the Amazon basin.

The large geographic scale of Brazil nut exploitation and the significant contributions to local livelihoods, national economies, and forest-based development over the last decades, merit a review of the “conservation-through-use” paradigm. We use Elinor Ostrom’s framework for assessing sustainability in socioecological systems: (1) resource unit, (2) users, (3) governance system, and (4) resource system, to determine how different contexts and external developments generate specific conservation and development outcomes.

We find that the resource unit reacts robustly to the type and level of extraction currently practiced; that resource users have built on a self-organized system that had defined boundaries and access to the resource; that linked production chains, market networks and informal financing work to supply global markets; and that local harvesters have used supporting alliances with NGOs and conservationists to formalize and secure their endogenous governance system and make it more equitable.

As a result, the Brazil nut model represents a socioecological system that may not require major changes to sustain productivity. Yet since long-term Brazil nut production seems inextricably tied to a continuous forest cover, and because planted Brazil nut trees currently provide a minimal contribution to total nut production basin-wide, we call to preserve, diversify and intensify production in Brazil nut-rich forests that will inevitably become ever more integrated within human-modified landscapes over time.


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