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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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“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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“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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  • Involving youth in restoration and conservation

Involving youth in restoration and conservation

Local people travel on "peque peque" in Cashiboya, Loreto Province, Peru. Photo by M. del Aguila Guerrero/CIFOR
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During the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in Bonn, Germany, in December 2018, the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) spoke with Vania Olmos Lau, a biologist, youth representative for the GLF, and youth representative for the Youth in Landscapes Initiative (YIL).

At the GLF, Olmos Lau was part of the panel titled, “Delivery of quality and diverse planting material is a major constraint for restoration: What solutions, what emerging needs?”, hosted by FTA with Bioversity InternationalWorld Agroforestry (ICRAF), and supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

During the session, Olmos 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.

Read our interview with Vania Olmos Lau here, edited for length and clarity.

What practical actions can young people take to protect forests and trees?

Vegetable field in Gunung Simpang, West Java, Indonesia. Photo by Y. Indriatmoko/CIFOR

First of all, it is important that the people that care about this, that already have experience, and that already have a good institutional base, approach the young people that are interested, have the enthusiasm, and have the will.

These young people know that the protection of forests and trees is important, but they might not know all the details. In this case, people with experience can help young people focus their efforts correctly, on things like restoration.

Read also: Using forests to support wellness

How can we strengthen the capacity of local communities if younger generations lack interest and knowledge is centered on older generations?

It needs to be done in a fun way. Youth everywhere have so many distractions. With the Internet we see all these cool things happening in the cities, and not in rural areas. We need to find a way to make the integration between generations fun. And to make agriculture, and nature, fun for everyone – something that is attractive, and something that people want to do.

What I’ve actually learned from the older people in my family is that we need to change and that a lot of these changes aren’t happening because we just don’t have the will, and because we have very internally ingrained habits. The new generation is paying attention to this and this is changing, but there’s a lot of resistance from the older generation to make these changes.

How can we move from restoration pledges toward restoration action?

A handful of shelled Brazil nuts, Puerto Maldonado, Madre de Dios, Peru. Photo by M. Simola/CIFOR

It’s very important to use local species, because what I’ve seen in the field a lot is that when you introduce species that might be regionally local, but not adapted to a specific site – and this can happen a lot in mountainous regions where soil and climate can change quite quickly – these relatively exotic plants die a lot.

At least in the case of Mexico, where we’ve had experience, local communities notice that the plants that other institutions bring have a higher mortality rate. And when they start experimenting with the seeds from local trees, they have a much higher survival rate.

What role can seed systems play?

In Mexico, there is a lot of exchange of seeds. Traditionally, communities have done this for a very long time. That’s why we are the center of origin for so many important agricultural species, especially corn. Corn is relevant for all the world, and it’s very important to support communities to continue to do this and ensure that they are not influenced by the seeds that are provided by the government and external companies, which, in many instances, can have a greater yield but at the cost of losing diversity. And as we know, with climate change, and with all these changes that we have to adapt to, having diversity is super important.

Read also: The right species for the right purpose

How can economic incentives support communities to restore and conserve forests?

Economic incentives should be focused first and foremost on conservation, through, for example, payment for ecosystem services. After the conservation of existing natural ecosystems is guaranteed, then economic incentives can focus on restoration.

Restoration is an opportunity to give youth and young people a chance to have a good job that means something and that is economically viable for them. In this regard there’s a lot of opportunity to involve youth.

When I was doing my thesis in Paraguay, for example, I compared how different land uses interact, and one of the land uses was a restoration project. It was interesting to see that the farmers were interested in restoration, and in trees, because wood was becoming very expensive in the region. They would therefore want forest on their land for their cattle.

This was very interesting because cattle, as we know, is a very important deforestation driver, but in this case, it was a reason to keep some forest on their land. It’s very important that we see this, and see how different land uses compete, or have synergies.

By the FTA communications team. 


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 right species for the right purpose

The right species for the right purpose

Cengkeh (cloves) accounted for 27% of seedlings produced in project-sponsored nurseries. Photo by Endri Martini/ICRAF
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During the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in Bonn, Germany, in December 2018, the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) spoke to Charles Karangwa of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Rwanda.

At the GLF, Karangwa was part of the panel titled, “Delivery of quality and diverse planting material is a major constraint for restoration: What solutions, what emerging needs?”, hosted by FTA with Bioversity InternationalWorld Agroforestry (ICRAF), and supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The panel discussed how the ability to deliver diverse and quality seed and planting material is impacting pledges such as those made under the Bonn Challenge, which has now pledged 350 million hectares of degraded land globally for different forms of restoration by 2030. During the session, Karangwa explained that tree seed diversity determines the extent and speed to which ambitious restoration targets can be achieved.

Read our interview with Charles Karangwa here, edited for length and clarity.

Can you describe the restoration situation in Rwanda?

Rwanda is composed of 90 percent smallholder farmers, and it was engaged in restoration even before Rwanda committed to the Bonn Challenge in 2011. In Rwanda, agricultural practices, changes in climate, weather patterns, and population increases have affected land use and land cover, and the forest has been reduced to 30 percent.

Agricultural land has been degraded mostly because of subsistence farming. In addition, year after year, the population increases – and now with a total of more than 100 people per square kilometer, the land size is very small, and it’s used for many reasons, especially for subsistence farming. As such, restoration in Rwanda faces many challenges.

A native seed in Mau Forest, Kenya. Photo by P. Shepherd/CIFOR

Why must we invest more in knowledge and science?

Restoration is a long-term process. To regain ecological functionality and provide multiple benefits to people takes a long time – but it’s not that farmers don’t know what to do, or don’t know the importance of trees. It’s science which tells you how to restore land, and helps to predict the changes that are going to happen and be able to adapt.

We need knowledge, and we need science to adapt to climate change. Even smallholder farmers need this knowledge. Science is very important, and combined with local knowledge, it brings efficiency to restoration.

To give an example, when I was a child, I could see that the soil was fertile – you could see the biomass in the soil. However, because of over-farming, and using the same land for many years, the soil’s fertility reduced and now plant crops and trees no longer grow where we used to plant them. It’s really this conflict of use that needs science and adaptation.

Read also: Seed diversity vital to achieve landscape restoration pledges

Do trees compete with crops on farms?

This is very much linked to diversity, and conflicts. In my country, Rwanda, more than 80 percent of our trees are Eucalyptus, so we call it a monoculture. And we have 69 species of Eucalyptus across the country. If you take Eucalyptus, and plant it with beans, you won’t be able to harvest beans. Therefore, a farmer will initially think that trees are competing with their farm. But if you turn to agroforestry, and be selective about the kind of species you choose, a farmer will like the trees. They will understand that trees can increase the biomass in soil and increase production. Farmers sometimes see competition, depending on the type of species planted – and that’s where species diversity can play a role.

Watch: FTA at GLF: Using forests to support wellness

How can we move from restoration pledges toward restoration action?

We have already passed the 100 million hectares of land set by the Africa Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100) – now we are at 110 million.

We have also surpassed the Bonn Challenge’s 150-million-hectare global target for 2020. Now we are at 168 million across the globe. So it’s really time now to move from pledge to implementation – and implementation is happening.

Planting Gnetum in Minwoho, Cameroon. Photo: O. Girard/CIFOR

Countries like Malawi have already decided to dedicate 7 million US dollars of domestic finance per year to restoration. Countries like Kenya and Uganda, and other countries in Africa, such as Niger and Burkina Faso, are already doing restoration on the ground. However, this really needs a lot of effort. It’s a movement from smallholders to policymakers, to financial partners, to development organizations, all of whom must work together and deliver these restoration movements.

The IUCN has established what we call a regional technical hub that supports countries in conducting assessments of their restoration opportunities, reviewing their policies, and supporting their financing streams, especially domestic finance, for restoration, and we have been doing this work across Africa.

By the FTA communications team.


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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  • Land restoration to enhance gender equality in Burkina Faso

Land restoration to enhance gender equality in Burkina Faso

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Widows who are members of a women’s self-help group have been allocated collective land to improve their livelihoods. Photo by Marlène Elias/Bioversity International

Not all farmers are able to adopt or benefit from landscape restoration practices equally. A research initiative highlights how inclusive initiatives have the potential to improve both the environment and the lives of women and their communities.

Gender disparity in landscape restoration 

Amid degradation of their natural resources, farmers in Burkina Faso’s Oubritenga province, in the country’s central Plateau, are adopting various practices to restore their lands. Landscape restoration enhances soil fertility and facilitates the establishment of trees that can provide benefits for human well-being as well as the environment.

The techniques include the creation of stone barriers to slow water flow and prevent runoff, agroforestry techniques, assisted natural regeneration of valued trees in fields, and the creation of small zaï pits to retain water and soil nutrients for crop growth. The problem is that not all farmers are able to adopt or benefit from these practices equally.

New research conducted by Master’s students from the University of Ouagadougou cosupervised by Bioversity International and other partners from Burkina Faso considers the various barriers women face in restoring their lands and landscapes to support their equitable participation in restoration initiatives for the benefit of the entire community.

Entrenched gender norms make it difficult for women to obtain the same opportunities as men to implement restoration practices. Gender plays an important role in determining who does what, who makes decisions, and who has access to resources and other assets, including benefits from restoration initiatives. Gender, however, is not the sole factor that determines who will implement and potentially benefit from landscape restoration practices. Whether a woman is married, where her husband resides, whether her husband has allocated her plots that are large enough to adopt agroforestry practices, and even whether the woman has adult male children can all greatly influence the probability of a woman implementing restoration practices and gaining some of the benefits.

In the study sites, farmers need to vouch for each other and women tend not to be considered eligible participants. Yet, not all women face the same exclusions. Women farmers who have a male head present in their household may be considered eligible, and can obtain access to material and financial resources, as well as training to apply restoration practices. This means that, unless they have an adult son, widows and wives of migrated husbands are particularly disadvantaged.

Read more: Gender at the center of Bioversity International’s research

Zai pits are dug to improve soil fertility and water retention. Credit: Adidjata Ouédraogo/Université de Ouagadougou

Inclusive initiatives go beyond trees

By studying the approach of Association Tiipaalga – an NGO that has been supporting restoration in the country since 2006 – Master’s students from the University of Ouagadougou are identifying good practices from restoration initiatives trying to promote gender equality. The NGO is working to secure access to land for women’s self-help groups, composed primarily of widows and young women. It is helping these groups fence off their land to promote natural regeneration and plant certain species of trees and crops that can offer the women income-generating opportunities.

Moreover, it is organizing exposure visits for women and men farmers to visit villages in other parts of the country where restoration practices are being implemented, allowing farmers to learn from each other. The initiative is also supporting women in building improved cookstoves that require less fuelwood – saving women’s time collecting the fuelwood and reducing forest degradation – and to access microcredit to pursue income-generating activities such as trade, horticulture, and processing of non-timber forest products. Most importantly, collectively having access to land is enabling women to strengthen their social ties, cultivate vegetables and increase their incomes.

In addition to material gains, women have also built greater confidence and have become more vocal when it comes to accessing or managing natural resources in their village. During village meetings, for example, they are stating their opinions, and may even express ideas that contradict those of the men – which was something unheard of in the past. Women are also reporting having a greater say within their household on what to grow and what agricultural techniques to adopt in their fields as a result of their participation in restoration initiatives. Moreover, the provision of tools and equipment has freed up some of the energy and time, which the women can now invest in activities that foster their personal development. Many have chosen to learn to read, others are learning about family planning, sanitation and keeping their households healthy.

As one of the participants, Ms Kabore Minata puts it, “Thanks to these efforts, we women were able to have land, even if only on loan, and tools to cultivate crops. Were it not for these interventions, this would be only a dream because [as a woman having married into this village] I am considered a stranger here. Aside from a small parcel of land for growing condiments, what else could a woman like me have had otherwise?”

This article was originally published by Bioversity International


The University of Ouagadougou, Association Tiipaalga, and Burkina Faso’s National Tree Seed Center partnered with Bioversity International on this initiative.

This research was carried out by Adidjata Ouédraogo and Safietou Tiendrebeogo, Master’s students at Université de Ouagadougou, in the context of the project ‘Nutrition‐sensitive forest restoration to enhance adaptive capacity of rural communities in Burkina Faso’, led by Bioversity International. This research component has also received the support of Association Tiipaalga and the Centre National de Semences Forestières. The project is funded by the Austrian Development Agency.

This resesarch was conducted as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, and is supported by contributors to the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • Delivery of quality and diverse planting material

Delivery of quality and diverse planting material

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Delivery of quality and diverse planting material is a major constraint for restoration. What solutions, what emerging needs? The Bonn Challenge has now pledged 350 million hectares of degraded land globally for different forms of restoration. It can be an essential contribution to sustainable development, to reduce poverty, food insecurity and enhance biodiversity. However, restoration is easier pledged than done. A critical barrier to delivering restoration at scale is the lack of delivery systems at scale for diverse, adapted and high quality native tree seeds and planting material.

This discussion forum will bring together representatives from national governments who have made significant pledges under the Bonn Challenge, development actors, private sector (seed and planting material companies), civil society, and researchers from the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. It will show the extent of the challenge, review and discuss the range of issues related to the set-up at scale of delivery systems of suitable and adapted seeds and planting material, for effective, sustainable land restoration. It will explore the practical technical, economic and institutional challenges stakeholders currently face in delivering at scale suitable seeds and planting material. It will also explore issues such as how to best access and leverage tree biodiversity, including native species, keeping into account the quality, origin and diversity of seeds and planting material used. It will present and discuss a range of technical, economic and institutional solutions that scientists and stakeholders have developed to address these issues. Participants will discuss the common solutions across regions and remaining gaps and barriers, as well as the need for additional innovations.

This video was first published by the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF).

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  • Hedging bets in resilient landscape restoration

Hedging bets in resilient landscape restoration

Forest landscape restoration in Ethiopia. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR
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Photo by Alfredo Camacho/Bioversity International

Bioversity International launched the “Trees for Seeds: Resilient forest restoration” initiative at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in late August in Nairobi, Kenya. 

Pardon the pun but hedging our bets with global land restoration is exactly what we need to be doing if we don’t want to bury billions of dollars in a failed investment. 

On the last two days of August I participated in the GLF in Nairobi. This was an exciting meeting, not least because of the buzz around the African commitment to restoration through the African Forest Landscape Initiative (AFR100), and the very clear political will and private sector appetite for restoration – AFR100 is a country-led effort to bring 100 million hectares of deforested and degraded landscapes across Africa into restoration by 2030.

The rhetoric behind delivering large-scale restoration is compelling. Globally, degraded land costs about 10% of global gross domestic product (GDP) per year, while the benefits estimated in the billions of US dollars per year through improved ecosystem services, climate mitigation and improved productivity of degraded land.

Read also: FTA at GLF Nairobi: Faith in trees restored

The huge potential for AFR100 to contribute to a healthier, greener and more sustainable planet, are reasons to be happy. At the same time the growing pledges now at 100 million hectares for Africa, in the next 12 years, leaves one thinking “great, so how are we going to do this?” That’s a lot of land, a lot of trees and a lot of seeds.

Of course, the counting of hectares to be restored is pretty easy to do on paper. Delivering the sustainable development objectives from this restoration, on the other hand, requires planning, financing, and a clear idea of what this landscape restoration will look like on the ground.

On Aug. 28, the journal Nature also published an open access news article titled How to plant a trillion trees. That’s about one-third of the trees on our planet, or approximately 130 trees per person!

One of the critical barriers to restoration is having access to the seeds, and seedlings of the right tree species, of the right quality, that will be able to deliver multiple societal benefits, and contribute to multiple ecosystem services. This is the focus of the Trees for Seeds initiative (#Trees4Seeds) at Bioversity International, which was launched at the GLF. Watch the video of the launch, where distinguished panelists from Ghana and Cameroon joined us to discuss the significance of this topic for meeting their pledges under AFR100.

Watch: Trees for Seeds, a foundation for resilient restoration

What is the best way to plant trees? Well, Mother Nature is certainly among the best restoration practitioners. Natural regeneration of trees to fallow land is likely to be an important first port-of-call for many countries to meet the Bonn Challenge pledges. 

Natural regeneration represents the least costly method of restoring degraded land. But, this does not automatically mean that regenerating forests or the trees on fallow lands will deliver the most pressing sustainable development needs such as poverty alleviation (SGD1) food security (SDG2), improved human health (SDG3), gender equality (SDG5), climate mitigation (SDG13) and biodiversity conservation (SDG15). 

In degraded tropical landscapes, many of the most useful tree species may not be present in sufficient numbers, or may be growing far from the site designated for restoration for seed dispersal to deliver seeds naturally. Let’s remember many tropical tree species seeds are dispersed by animals (birds, bats or monkeys), often hunted out of these landscapes. This short video interview highlights the problems and approaches of the Trees4Seeds initiative.

In reality, nature is going to need a little help in many situations. This might be through planting trees as part of enrichment restoration, or through seeding degraded lands from drones, or planes. Whichever the delivery method, at the very basis is the need for seeds, seeds from a diverse range of species, and seeds of good quality. If we fail to address this as the foundation of resilient restoration, then I am afraid that our restoration efforts will be wasted. These landscapes will not be resilient to climate change, will not be resilient to novel pests and disease, and will not deliver SDGs.

There is a huge opportunity out there. Nowhere on earth is the diversity of native trees greater than in tropical and sub-tropical countries (home to the vast majority of more than 60,000 species of tree), where the returns on investment in restoration will be greatest. We have the chance to develop diversified restoration portfolios, using diverse species, which deliver multiple benefits, and can be resilient. This diversity offers novel business opportunities, where global food systems are currently lacking. Trees can be some of the most nutritionally important parts of our diet. 

As shown by a recent paper by colleagues working on nutrition at Bioversity International, the more species you eat the greater your health. Also, some tropical trees are much better at locking up carbon than others, species that produce heavy dense wood might be slower growing but pack more carbon per hectare of land. Such species also offer opportunities to lock up carbon for longer, rather than just being used to generate fiber for waste paper.

Let’s not miss this opportunity. We have an urgent need to conserve the diversity of tropical trees so that we can use their genetic resources (seeds) for restoration. But we also need to invest in countries’ capacity to sustainably use this huge and valuable biological diversity to its full potential.

Join us at the next GLF in Bonn, Germany, on Dec. 1-2 to take the next steps in the Trees for Seeds initiative.

By Christopher Kettle, Science Domain Leader, Forest Genetic Resources and Restoration, Bioversity International. Originally published by Bioversity International. 


This research is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) and is supported by CGIAR Trust Fund Donors.

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  • Robert Nasi's opening remarks at GLF Nairobi 2018

Robert Nasi’s opening remarks at GLF Nairobi 2018

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  • GLF session acknowledges difference between tree and land tenure, aims to enhance landscapes

GLF session acknowledges difference between tree and land tenure, aims to enhance landscapes

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A woman roasts shea nuts, before grinding them into a fine paste, in Burkina Faso. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR

Tenure rights to trees are entangled with, but different from, those to land, meaning both must be acknowledged to incentivize stewardship of the landscape by local communities, said delegates at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in Nairobi on Aug. 29-30.

Thus, land tenure rights, which are widely recognized as being central to advancing sustainable development goals, are only one part of the picture.

This was one of the main takeaways from the panel Rights, access, and values: trees in shifting economic and political contexts – new insights from sub-Saharan Africa, cohosted by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) and the CGIAR Research Program on People, Institutions and Markets (PIM) at the forum. The panel was chaired by Frank Place, PIM Director.

“We need to do more work to differentiate tree tenure from land tenure,” said Andrew Wardell, senior research associate at the Center for International Forest Research (CIFOR) and coauthor of a study exploring shifts in shea tenure in Burkina Faso.

ACCESS TO SHEA

Claiming tenure over the trees one has planted is a widespread convention across Africa, but shea trees grow wild, so farmers have historically selected and protected them on their lands.

Researchers questioned whether a shea tree belongs to the family that first selected and saved the tree, the family that protected and managed it afterwards. Considerations also included determining whether shea belongs to the wild tree category, in which case, access to the tree is closely linked to access to land.

How these concerns are addressed determines who stands to gain access to, and reap benefits from, a natural resource. Particularly, since customary institutions that formerly regulated access to land and trees are being weakened by new, and rapidly-changing social and economic contexts.

Shea nuts dry after being freed from their pulp and washed in Burkina Faso. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR

“Internal migration driven by climate change, and a boom in the shea trade are two of the key issues playing out in Burkina Faso as a key shea producer country,” explained Wardell. Traditionally, the kernels were seen as an abundant communal resource, which women collected to derive a reliable year-round source of income.

Yet, customary rules are now failing to keep pace with the new, highly competitive context, noted Wardell. In southwestern Burkina Faso, men increasingly claim ownership of the trees growing in their fields; there are fewer communal areas where access to shea is open to all; and access to an increasingly scarce and marketable resource is pitting first-settlers against new-comers, internal migrants that flee desertification in northern regions of the country.

Researchers observed that “first-comers” try to link access to shea with access to land, which they control. In response, “late-comers” claim access to the trees they protect and manage, or argue shea’s wild nature makes it a communal resource as part of their strategies to re-negotiate their rights of access.

NEW POWER RELATIONSHIPS

Women’s access to trees is also changing in Uganda. “Youth are cutting shea to obtain timber and fuelwood regardless of customary rules and a government ban,” said Concepta Mukasa, representative of the Association of Uganda Professional Women in Agriculture and the Environment.

“The more marketable shea becomes, the bigger the threat to the trees and to women’s livelihoods, so we are helping them come together to advocate for their access rights,” Mukasa explained.

On the bright side, women from the Baganda community in central Uganda are now starting to gain access to Natal fig or “Mutuba” (Ficus natalensis). “The tree used to signal chief-tenancy, so they were not allowed from to plant it or even harvest its fruits; women in that area are not supposed to climb trees,” she pointed out.

Panelists from Ghana (Alberg Katako representing Civic Response) and Kenya (Ben Chikamai representing the Network for Natural Gums and Resins in Africa) echoed similar challenges at the intersection of tenure rights to land and to trees – a tension which increases with the commoditization of natural resources and population pressure. Additional welcome comments on the panel discussion were provided by Ruth Meinzen-Dick from PIM who has a long history of working on land tenure rights and collective action.

Over 70 percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa depend on forests and woodlands for their livelihoods, but two thirds of the continental land-mass are degraded. In this context, a more nuanced approach to tenure rights will have to be part of the equation to build resilient landscapes and livelihoods, agreed the panelists.

By Gloria Palleres, originally published at GLF’s Landscape News

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  • The costs and benefits of challenging the patriarchy for women charcoal producers in Zambia

The costs and benefits of challenging the patriarchy for women charcoal producers in Zambia

A smallholder in Nyimba district, Zambia, holds pieces of charcoal. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR
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A smallholder in Nyimba district, Zambia, holds pieces of charcoal. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

Women’s involvement in the traditionally male-dominated charcoal industry is increasing across Zambia.

Following an earlier story in which 27-year-old Mabvuto Zulu shared her experiences producing charcoal in Zuwalinyenga village in eastern Zambia, recent findings from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) have shown that Mabvuto is far from being alone as a woman in charcoal production and trade.

While anyone visiting a charcoal market in Lusaka would be able to witness a good number of women working as traders and retailers, discussions conducted in the charcoal-producing districts of Choma and Monze in southern Zambia reveal that it has also become increasingly common for women to engage in stages of production. This can include everything from packaging charcoal to molding kilns, and even felling and cutting trees.

The increased involvement of women is attributed to an increase in demand (particularly boosted by load shedding arrangements in major cities) as well as a perceived increase in poverty in rural areas. Many women view charcoal production and trade as a viable business opportunity with low entry barriers. Trees growing on what is seen as ‘no-man’s land’, such as national forest reserves, are generally easy to access, and capital requirements for producing charcoal tend to be low.

At the same time, some women feel pushed into charcoal production due to poverty and a lack of viable alternative livelihood options. This is aggravated by fluctuating rainfall patterns, which negatively affect crop yields. Despite the viability of charcoal, most women and men still view farming, not charcoal production, as their primary source of livelihood.

When asked about how income from charcoal is spent, most respondents mention various one-off expenses, such as school fees or agricultural inputs. Others, particularly widowed or divorced women, emphasize the income security that charcoal can provide when crops fail. Charcoal income thus plays an important complementary – rather than competing – role with other income sources.

Watch: The State of Charcoal Production in Zambia

Mabvuto Zulu shows charcoal she produced. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

ON EQUAL FOOTING?

While more women are getting involved in charcoal production and trade, their level of involvement is often differentiated by marital status.

Unmarried, widowed or divorced women are involved throughout the production cycle, while most married women say they generally play a supportive role to their husbands, sticking to activities perceived as ‘more suitable for women’.

These kinds of jobs include packaging and selling charcoal, which are perceived as less physically demanding and easier to combine with childcare and other reproductive responsibilities.

Of the limited number of married women involved in production, many reported their husband’s illness or alcohol abuse as the reason for their engagement. Indeed, our discussions show that if a married woman is involved in charcoal production, others may perceive it as a sign of the husband being unable to provide for the family. This presents an additional potential entry barrier to married women, as women or their husbands may wish to avoid such social stigma.

While some charcoal is sold in local markets, many women opt to bring their products to urban markets, where they can receive higher prices. Both women and men seem to believe that women are more honest and responsible than their male counterparts, hence women are believed to make good traders. Many charcoal producers – both men and women – also prefer to sell their charcoal to female traders.

The physical nature of many activities associated with charcoal production certainly plays a role in shaping ideas of what is and isn’t suitable for women. Many female charcoal producers complain that the work is very strenuous. To manage, some women work in teams of six or more, while others rely on hired labor. While the employment opportunities are appreciated, particularly by younger men, such arrangements of course cut women’s profit margins.

Women’s reliance on male labor also makes them vulnerable to exploitation. Some women complain that the men they hire to help tend to use up the money before the job is done. Others reveal that some charcoal transporters request sexual favors as ‘in-kind payments’ if the women are unable to pay the demanded price for transporting the charcoal to urban markets.

Read also: Wood fuel in the climate pledges of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa

CHANGING NORMS?

Should women’s entry into a traditionally male-dominated field be seen as a sign of changing gender norms? While most women report feeling pushed into charcoal production due to poverty, many are also proud to show that they can do what men do. Many married women also say that their involvement in charcoal production and trade has gained them more equal control over income.

In this sense, our findings seem to mirror the situation in Zambia’s Copperbelt, where growing economic insecurity is encouraging an increasing number of women to move into the mining sector. Findings from a recent study show that while many men historically opposed their wives going out to work, they are now applauding strong women who fend for their families and are doing what was previously seen as beyond their capabilities.

However, while most men report a general acceptance of women’s involvement in charcoal production due to the dire economic circumstances, they are not always happy about it. Some men complain that women who earn income from charcoal have become disrespectful to their husbands, while others bemoan that women now spend less time taking care of their families. Some also suspect that women are engaging in extramarital affairs when they are away from home in Lusaka selling charcoal. Women’s involvement in charcoal production and trade is thus seen as ‘home-wrecking’, and some women are said to have already lost their husbands over it.

A man extracts pieces of charcoal from wood that was buried in dirt and burned for two weeks. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

While charcoal production and trade offers women higher incomes, greater autonomy and a sense of pride, many women are also paying a high social price for upsetting a patriarchal system – this despite the fact that both women and men view women’s increased involvement primarily as an inevitable result of poverty!

To add to the irony, many women note that rampant charcoal production is resulting in a loss of fruit trees and trees good for caterpillar harvesting, both of which are important alternative income sources, particularly for female-headed households, according to another study.

FINDING A WAY FORWARD

So, what do the findings tell us? First, they caution against simplistic interpretations of women’s involvement in charcoal production as a sign of changed gender norms and women’s empowerment. By engaging in traditionally male-dominated activities and earning an independent income, women like Mabvuto are certainly challenging gendered divisions of labor. Hopefully, women’s entry into charcoal production can also contribute to the process of transforming unequal gender norms and power relations in rural Zambia.

However, this process is currently facing a strong patriarchal backlash in the form of exploitation and stigmatization of charcoal-producing women.

Second, and on a related point, policymakers who care about gendered impacts should be aware that policies and regulations that directly or indirectly increase production costs may disproportionately affect female producers, as they rely to a greater degree on hired labor and hence have lower profit margins. Such impacts may be particularly detrimental given that many female producers are widows or divorcees, and therefore the sole breadwinners of their households.

Third, our findings demonstrate a need for more intersectional approaches to unpacking the social dynamics of the charcoal value chain. The opportunities and challenges that women are facing are certainly structured by unequal gender norms and power relations. As we have seen, these are often intertwined with other social factors, such as age and marital status, and vary depending on one’s location along the value chain.

By Markus Ihalainen, Muzione Christina Mwale, Kaala Moombe and Davison Gumbo, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Markus Ihalainen at [email protected].


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

This research was supported by UK aid from the UK government.


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