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Moving toward a sustainable cocoa sector in Ghana

Cacao pods are collected and heaped on the forest floor, where fermentation begins. Photo by J. Raneri/Bioversity International
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A farmer in Ghana prunes a Carabobo cacao tree, which is originally from Venezuela. Photo by R. Markham/Bioversity International

Ghana is the second-largest producer of cocoa in the world and in recent years has emerged as the world’s principal supplier of Fairtrade-certified cocoa — about 6% of national production falls under that scheme. Multisector collaboration is needed to address persistent challenges and to support Ghana’s overall move to a sustainable cocoa sector.

The world’s favorite treat has never been more popular. In the past decade, the chocolate industry’s demand for cocoa has increased by 12% and production has barely been able to keep pace. Growing demand, particularly from emerging economies like China and India, is good news for the industry.

At the same time, about 6 million cocoa producers — more than 90% of them smallholders — face significant challenges: low productivity, poverty in the producing communities, and limited infrastructure to connect producers with buyers. Improved and diverse planting stock that can resist pest and diseases, thrive in poor soils and grow in changing climatic conditions is in short supply.

With an annual production of about 750,000 to 1 million tons, Ghana is the second-largest producer of cocoa in the world. In recent years, Ghana has also emerged as the world’s principal supplier of Fairtrade-certified cocoa, with about 6% of national production falling under that scheme.

Yet a new report carried out for Fairtrade Africa by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and Bioversity International, supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), concludes that monetary benefits derived from Fairtrade cocoa remain low, contributing on average an additional 2% of cocoa income for certified farmers. At the same time, cooperatives use part of the Fairtrade Premium to provide their members with farming inputs and training, and to fund overall community development.

Read more: Fairtrade cocoa in Ghana: taking stock and looking ahead

Cacao pods are collected and heaped on the forest floor, where fermentation begins. Photo by J. Raneri/Bioversity International

This relates to the fact that only part of the Fairtrade Premium of US$200 per ton is channeled through the cooperatives to the producers as a cash bonus (16 to 65% of the premium), while the remainder is given as farming inputs like fertilizers, agrochemicals and planting materials (up to 38%), or allocated to fund trainings, cooperative administration, and certification fees (20 to 84%) and overall community development (up to 15%).

One way that voluntary standards like Fairtrade try to empower producers is through the creation of new business organizations such as rural cooperatives. These efforts can go hand-in-hand with those of the cocoa industry, which supports farmers in rejuvenating their aging cocoa plantations.

For the cocoa sector to become sustainable, it will also be critical to attract younger farmers to become cacao producers, empowering them to generate enough income to sustain their families and communities. Rural cooperatives can support this aim but, as the report points out, increased membership of these organizations is only sustainable if sales under Fairtrade terms grow at least at the same rate, which is currently not happening.

The report also points at the importance of diversified production systems, allowing the farmers to be less reliant on cocoa as a principal source of income. Cacao can be planted together with other crops, in particular fruit and timber trees that provide shade for the young cacao saplings and help improve nutrition and income.

Cacao pods are seen on a tree in Ghana. Photo by J. Raneri/Bioversity International

Such diversification makes for more resilient production and livelihood systems. For example, a study* of the relationship between cocoa cultivation and the conservation of biological diversity found that “cacao farms with diverse shade have the potential to support greater local diversity and act as a more effective refuge for some tropical forest organisms than alternative lowland tropical crops, particularly annual crops and cattle pasture.”

The third main finding was that Fairtrade farmers have improved access to training compared to non-members — 99% of cooperative members reported having received training on good agricultural practices, such as pruning and replanting, versus 51% of non-members.

Still, average productivity on Fairtrade-certified farms is within the range of the national average and additional efforts are needed to increase cacao productivity.

Read also: Sweeter deals: Prospects for expanding Fairtrade cocoa in Ghana

Dietmar Stoian from Bioversity International, one of the authors of the study added: “This study provides Fairtrade International, the four recently Fairtrade-certified cocoa cooperatives sampled, and other stakeholders in Ghana’s cocoa sector with a baseline for future impact assessments. The indicators developed for household- and cooperative-level measurements point at potential areas of impact and allow for continuous improvement.”

“In a follow-up study in Ghana, we are now taking a broader look at the country’s move toward a sustainable cocoa sector by identifying the actual and potential role of impact investment, social lending and other responsible finance schemes and their interactions with diverse certification systems to ensure environmental and social impact in addition to financial returns.”

The report was well received by Fairtrade International, and their management’s response concludes that: “We recognize that the coops have many support needs and we agree that key challenges include growing sales, increasing cocoa productivity, supporting agricultural diversification, and strengthening of cooperatives to be able to achieve greater member engagement and gender equality.”

As a result of this study, Fairtrade International will be reviewing the Fairtrade Premium.

Originally published on the website of Bioversity International

The report Baseline for Assessing the Impact of Fairtrade Certification on Cocoa Farmers and Cooperatives in Ghana, jointly elaborated by the World Agroforestry Centre and Bioversity International, is based on data gathered from 422 households belonging to four Fairtrade-certified cooperative unions, and 80 households from non-certified cooperatives. Data was collected based on indicators from Fairtrade’s Theory of Change and the 5Capitals methodology for assessing the poverty impacts of value chain development developed by the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE), the World Agroforestry Centre and Bioversity International.

This research is part of the CGIAR Research Programs on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) and Policies, Institutions and Markets (PIM) and is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors. We thank Transfair Germany and Fairtrade International for funding the project and the donors who support FTA and PIM through their contributions to the CGIAR Funds. We extend our gratitude to reviewers from Fairtrade International, the Fairtrade Foundation, Fairtrade Africa and Transfair Germany. We also appreciate the willingness of representatives of Cooperative Unions and Licensed Buying Companies COCOBOD, who generously shared their insights and experiences.

*Rice, R.A. and Greenberg, R., 2000. Cacao cultivation and the conservation of biological diversity. AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment 29 (3): 167-173.

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  • Impacts of Smart-Tree Invest project after 3 years

Impacts of Smart-Tree Invest project after 3 years

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The Climate-smart, Tree-based Co-investment in Adaptation and Mitigation in Asia (Smart Tree-Invest) project from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), introduced novel tree planting schemes in Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines, based on a co-investment mechanism, to improve the quality of home gardens and sloping land — and ultimately the quality of the environment and local livelihoods. The new schemes have already been widely adopted and appreciated by local people and government officials.

Originally published at worldagroforestry.org.

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

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  • Profiting from well-chosen tree species: improving the productivity of farming systems in Northwestern Vietnam

Profiting from well-chosen tree species: improving the productivity of farming systems in Northwestern Vietnam

Model exemplar landscape being established in Son la province. Photo: ICRAF
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By Ivanna Patton, La Nguyen and Ake E Mamo, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World Blog

Northwestern Vietnam is home to the three poorest provinces of the country, with a combined population of 3.4 million people and poverty ranging from 32% to 48% of households  across provinces.  There is a culturally diverse mix of communities comprising 30 ethnic groups but land use is dominated by maize production, largely sold for use as pig feed, on recently deforested slopes that are subject to high degradation rates.

In Son La province, for example, 65 000 ha of natural forest was converted to commercial maize cultivation between 2002 and 2009. In some areas shifting cultivation of upland rice, maize, soybean and cassava is still practiced but population pressures are shortening natural fallow periods, resulting in continuous cultivation with very little attention to erosion control measures exacerbating high economic and environmental risks.

Discounted cash flow (cumulative Net Present Value of agroforestry practices over a maize monoculture) calculated using production data from trials supplemented by information from mature trees and a 10% discount rate.

Most agricultural crops are grown as  monocultures on steep slopes, subject to soil degradation and declining crop yields. It is estimated from soil erosion measurements in farm trials, that typical erosion rates under maize monoculture in Yen Son district were almost 70 t ha-1 yr-1.

Agroforestry practices, involving contour planting of high value fruit and timber trees are a potential option for halting and reversing land degradation, improving ecosystem functions and enhancing the profitability of farming systems.

At the inception of the research reported here, agroforestry did not feature as an option in government policy at provincial or district level, and practical options for integrating trees on farms were not well developed in the region. There were only a few tree nurseries, generally producing germplasm of uncertain quality for a very narrow range of tree species. Farmers were further disadvantaged by low prices for products as a result of poor market access resulting from lack of infrastructure and market information, low and uncertain product quality along value-chains and lack of market links that affected the poorest disproportionately, leaving few livelihood options but subsistence agriculture.

Model exemplar landscape being established in Son la province. Photo: ICRAF

Recognizing the potential of agroforestry, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Vietnam, with support from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and CGIAR research programme on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry implemented a comprehensive 5 year (2011 – 2016) agroforestry research project with local partners to improve the performance of smallholder farming systems in Northwestern Vietnam.

 “We sought to increase the productivity of associated crop and livestock systems, leading to more diverse and sustainable production systems and better income from tree products.” Says Delia Catacutan, Head of the ICRAF Office in Vietnam. “The project took advantage of recent improvements in infrastructure which facilitate market access and increased livelihood opportunities.”

The project titled: ‘Agroforestry for livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Northwest Viet Nam (AFLi) had four specific and interconnected objectives. The first was to develop viable agroforestry practices for three altitudinal zones (<600 m.a.s.l., 600-800 m.a.s.l. and >800 m.a.s.l.), involving active engagement of local people in the design and testing of agroforestry options through on-farm trials.

The second was to improve the availability of high-quality germplasm to enable the expansion of agroforestry, addressing issues of germplasm availability, quality and multiplication. The third objective was to enhance market access and opportunities for adding value to agroforestry products and the fourth was to facilitate policy dialogues and develop extension methods for widescale promotion of agroforestry across the region.

The main assumption underpinning and being tested in this work was that integration of well-chosen tree species into the farming systems and landscapes of Northwestern Vietnam will make production systems more profitable, environmentally sustainable and resilient.

Late-fruiting longan with maize and forage grass system in Yen Bai Province. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/La Nguyen

“We built on existing agroforesty knowledge and ongoing research in North-West Vietnam, and put a strong emphasis on understanding the interactions between trees and livelihoods under different agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions in order to facilitate subsequent dissemination and adoption of agroforestry practices.” Says Dr La Nguyen, Project Leader of AFLi.

The project benefited from FTA’s global network of agroforestry research, specifically through introduction of successful sloping agricultural land technology from the Philippines and research on market development for agroforestry products and extension approaches from Indonesia and Cameroon.

FTA funds also enabled the project to respond both to farmer needs (through adding more diverse, multistrata practices to the range of options being evaluated) and opportunities to engage policy makers (through co-investment with provincial Departments of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARDs) to initiate a network of exemplar landscapes that showcase landscape transformation when agroforestry practices are adopted at scale in a given area).

This complementarity of flexible funds from FTA alongside the programmatic funding from ACIAR was important in ensuring that the research was locally relevant and that outputs were taken up at national and provincial levels.

At the end of the project in 2016, AFLi reported significant outcomes ranging from capacity strengthening, to economic, social and environmental benefits across the farming systems of Northwestern Vietnam.

Capacity outcomes: awareness, knowledge and skills. A key indicator measured against AFLi’s four project objectives is improving farmers’ awareness, knowledge and skills on establishing and managing agroforestry practices, including seedling/germplasm production and marketing. The project trained a significant number of stakeholders (lead farmers, extension staff and researchers) and raised awareness amongst key policy makers, who now provide a critical mass of expertise that can promote agroforestry practices across the region.

More than 2,000 people including farmers, extension workers and research partners were trained on different aspects of agroforestry including agroforestry design, tree pruning, seed and seedling production, and contouring. The introduction of farmer innovations from the Philippines including the pragmatic ‘ox back method’ for laying out contours rather than more cumbersome use of ‘A’ frames and the incorporation of cash crops in vegetation strips designed primarily to control erosion, were particularly valued by farmers.

A monitoring and evaluation survey showed that 73% of farmers in areas where training had been conducted knew the key elements required to implement agroforestry on farms, and were provided with adequate technical support from extension workers to establish agroforestry practices on their farms. The demonstration from the participatory farmer trials that agroforestry practices were a viable option in the region has raised awareness amongst policy makers leading to policy change at provincial and district levels (these are catalogued below), promoting and providing incentives for farmers to adopt agroforestry.

Through the development of a network of exemplar landscapes across the region in conjunction with provincial DARDs, it is anticipated that these trained farmers, research and extension staff will provide a critical nucleus of expertise to underpin widespread promotion of agroforestry – a strategy endorsed through ACIAR funding of a second phase AFLi project with a 60% higher budget than the first phase.

Economic outcomes: income and productivity.  Seven agroforestry options involving different combinations of fruit and timber trees with grass strips and maize were evaluated through participatory on farm trials over 3-4 years indicating higher productivity and profitability compared to maize monoculture. With most practices, net cashflow compared to maize monoculture was initially negative with investment costs greater than immediate returns, becoming positive after five years and then predicted to rise sharply (Figure 1).

For example, with longan-maize-forage intercropping, forage grass was the main income source in the first year, while income from maize started to pick up in the second year, and longan trees started to bear fruits in the third year and produce substantial yields from year five. Average annual incomes from the different agroforestry practices by their third year ranged from 16 to 38 million VND (700 – 1650 USD) ha-1 compared to an average of 12.5 million VND (544 USD) ha-1 for maize monoculture. There is also reduction in soil loss from agroforestry that could be valued at 5.7 million VND (250 USD) ha-1 which is the cost of replacing the NPK lost through erosion by purchasing fertilizer.

Discounted cash flow (cumulative Net Present Value of agroforestry practices over a maize monoculture) calculated using production data from trials supplemented by information from mature trees and a 10% discount rate.

Discounted cash flow (cumulative Net Present Value of agroforestry practices over a maize monoculture) calculated using production data from trials supplemented by information from mature trees and a 10% discount rate.

The trials show the potential for agroforestry to substantially increase household income in the medium term but also indicate that farmers, particularly those in cash-poor households, are likely to need financial assistance to establish agroforestry, that provincial governments are now beginning to provide through incentive schemes and input subsidy (see below). For households with livestock, the use of grass strips provides immediate benefit from the value of livestock fodder, also critical for controlling livestock grazing to prevent damage to establishing trees.

Farmers showed a preference for more diverse agroforestry options involving several tree species, creating more relisient production systems in the face of anticipated price fluctuations for different products. The potential areas suitable for agroforestry expansion are 495,000 ha across Son La, Yen Bai and Dien Bien provinces, and using S-shaped diffusion curves to predict adoption with different assumptions regarding policy incentives and uptake it is estimated that from 128 to 250 thousand households could benefit over a fifteen year period of promotion.

Social outcomes: building social capital and growing markets. A co-investment scheme to support the establishment of exemplar agroforestry landscapes was facilitated by AFLi through building social capital amongst farmers, between farmers and extension workers and researchers, and between project staff and provincial governments.

For example in Na Ban village in Mai Son district, around a third of the farmers initially volunteered to put trees on their farms with technical assistance provided by the Son La extension centre and co-financing from the provincial DARD. This resulted in 50 ha of agroforestry in a landscape about three times that size, creating a showcase for how agroforestry can transform people’s lives and their landscsape. Nearly all the farmers in the landscape are now interested in adopting agroforestry and the provincial DARDs are co-investing in establishing a network of six exemplar landscapes across the region as focal points for promting agroforestry.


The project also facilitated partnership-building with the private sector, to grow the market for son tra (Docynia indica) an indigenous fruit tree which is being domesticated and promoted within the AFLi  project. Farmers can earn high incomes from growing the fruit, but as more farmers adopt improved tree germplasm, supply will increase and market prices would be expected to fall unless the market for the fruit expands. To effect this the project worked with National Institute of Medicinal Material in Hanoi (NIMM) and the Tay Bac Tea and Special Food company to develop non-perishible products from son tra including dried tea and extract that suit the urban market in Vietnam as well as creating the potential for export. The project is now working with the district government of Bac Yen, local farmers and the food company, to secure sustainable supply of quality son tra fruits for the market at attractive prices for producers.

Environmental outcomes: Soil erosion trials have shown that agroforestry is far more effective in controlling soil erosion than monoculture practices.  Compared to maize monoculture system, for example, the longan-maize-forage grass system on the 3rd year, suggest a reduction in soil loss by up to 56%; 23% in teak-plum-coffee-soybeans-forage grass; up to 90% in acacia-longan-coffee-forage grass system; and up to 74% in acacia-mango-maize-forage grass system. Once the trees reached maturity stage and the grass strips have become stable, erosion can be expected to be 90% less to zero. Not to mention improvements in on-farm biodiversity, the more than 60,000 trees of 18 fruit and timber species, planted by farmers in exemplar landscapes and FDTs would have significantly increased tree cover in the landscape with carbon sequestration benefits.

Contributing to change: AFLi research had a key strategy of harnessing volunteerism, co-operation and co-investment in its expansion from trial agroforestry systems to the establishment of on-station and on-farm trials and the management and monitoring of those trials, including research on propagation of priority agroforestry species and small-scale nursery development. And then to enhancing market access for focus species then exploring value-adding opportunities by smallholders and facilitating links between producers and other market actors. The key outputs from the strategy were disseminated through farm cross-visits, farmer field days and training sessions held at the test sites, accompanied by regular impact assessments and policy dialogue.

Research findings were used to inform the communication strategies, policy dialogues, extension and expansion activities through workshops, media products, extension materials and training.  This also involved major dissemination efforts through a network of farmer demonstration trials (FDT) and agroforestry exemplar landscapes to demonstrate large-scale agroforestry adoption. Outcome mapping was used to document the influence of the project on policy processes.

Communication and dissemination through various means (TV shows, videos, fact sheets, conference presentations, photo exhibits, blog stories, policy dialogues and training events) were critical to increasing the project’s visibility.

The project produced seven videos, of which, two were nationally broadcast. It also produced 17 blog stories, eight international and Vietnamese journal articles, four working papers, 20 technical reports, 14 extension materials, a fact sheet, a policy brief, and two information brochures.  Knowledge was also shared across large networks throughout Asia via presentations in major conferences such as: (1) Conservation Agriculture in Southeast Asia; (2) World Agroforestry Congress; (3) Asia-pacific Farmer’s Association; (4) Southeast Asian Network for Agroforestry Education; (5) and ALiSEA (6). Several other projects have made field visits to see the AFLi project achievements as a direct result of the project’s growing popularity, such as those of the SUFORD-SU PROJECT in Laos PDR, the IFAD-Ha Tinh project on Sustainable Rural Development, and the USAID-funded Green Annamites project.

Government policies and alignment: Through documentation of policy dialogues and processes the project outputs can be shown to have been important in the development of several national, provincial and district level policy instruments. These include:

  1. Yen Bai provincial Resolution15/2015/NQ-HDND— with provision for financial support of 6 million VND ha-1 for individual households or group of households, to establish son tra-based agroforestry practices in Tram Tau and Mu Cang Chai districts.
  2. Yen Bai provincial Decision 27/2015/QD-UBND—One time financial support at 1 million VND ha-1 for individual households to establish sustainable maize cultivation on sloping land by planting grasses along contour lines to reduce erosion.
  3. Yen Bai provincial Decision 2412/QD-UBND—Support for “son tra development in Tram Tau and Mu Cang Chai districts for the period, 2016-2020”. This involves Increasing the total area of son tra plantation to 10,000 ha, improving the existing 3,820 ha son tra plantation through use of better germplasm and management, and son tra planting on 6,200 ha of degraded forest land.
  4. Minisrtry of Agricultural and Rural Development (MARD) Decision 2477/QD-BNN-HTQT, at national level which created MARD’s Agroforestry Working Group that was set up to:
  • Advise MARD on agroforestry development in Vietnam
  • Review, improve, and propose agroforestry-related policies
  • Cooperate with local provinces, national and international organizations to research and develop agroforestry options for adaptation and mitigation of climate change
  • Capacity building for national and local staff and mobilizing funding sources for sustainable agroforestry development
  1. MARD’s inclusion of agroforestry in the National Action Plan Framework for Adaptation and Mitigation of Climate Change of the Agriculture and Rural Development Sector (2008-2020).

The enactment of above policies plus alignment with the government’s numerous strategies toward rural development green growth, and climate change adaptation and mitigation (ie, Vietnam’s Green Growth Strategy) has and will continue to stimulate wide-scale adoption of agroforestry in the region and beyond.

Some lessons learned were that wider adoption of agroforestry requires a combination of bottom-up and top-down strategies. Bottom-up work was required to develop feasible options with farmers that suit their circumstances; but top-down action from government to sanction and support agroforestry establishement is required for widescale adoption of agroforestry by famers across landscapes where land use is driven by competing, often incentivized options operating together with land designation and regulation.

AFLi as it stands today brings new insights about how smallholder farmers make decisions related to tree planting and adopting new production systems in changing policy, market and environmental contexts. In addition to the relevance of these results to policy makers and extension services, the research findings also enrich the scientific literature on constraints and opportunities for agroforestry adoption and on drivers of land-use change in general.

AFli further contributes to research on the role of indigenous species for afforestation and mixing with conventional trees and crops in agroforestry systems, such as son tra (Docynia indica). New knowledge generated through the trials on propagation methods of this species, productive combinations with other species and its potential to contribute to soil conservation are cornerstones of its domestication. This combines with new insights from value chain research on the opportunities and limitations for diversifying and strengthening existing livelihood options through adding value to products from remote, disadvantaged rural areas.

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  • Connecting the dots between forests, water and climate

Connecting the dots between forests, water and climate

Left to right: Meine van Noordwijk, Chief Science Advisor of the World Agroforestry Centre, and Vincent Gitz, Director of the CGIAR Programme on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, talking with the audience in Bogor, Indonesia as part of the virtual symposium. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Riky Hilmansyah
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Forests play a critical role in the planet’s water cycle. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre

By Susan Onyango, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World Blog

More than 500 people from around the world tuned in on 21 and 22 March 2017 to Cool Insights for a Hot World, a virtual symposium to engage with scientists in a discussion about the links between forests, water and climate, on the International Day of Forests and World Water Day, respectively.

Scientists from the fields of biology, chemistry, climate science, geology, hydrology and social science, spoke with one voice in calling for greater attention to be paid to the vital role of trees in the water cycle. The functionality of trees is of great importance given forests’ ability to produce moisture that is then transported from one area to another by winds, eventually falling as rain far from its source and crossing national boundaries on the way.

That the geopolitical consequences of deforestation in one country can exert a serious impact on rainfall in another country did not go unnoticed.  The scientists recommended the establishment of regional bodies to manage ‘precipitation-sheds’, areas that generate moisture into the atmosphere, in order to mitigate potential conflict arising from mismanagement of the forests that make up precipitation-sheds.

Jointly hosted by the World Agroforestry Centre and the Center for International Forestry Research, the symposium explored the interconnectedness of  forests and water in addressing climate change, drawing on a recent study, Trees, forests and water: cool insights for a hot world. A key takeaway from the study showed that where rain is produced and where it falls both have wide a ranging impact on the security of water supplies and food production as well as the ability of nations to adapt to, and mitigate, climate change.

Left to right: Meine van Noordwijk, Chief Science Advisor of the World Agroforestry Centre, and Vincent Gitz, Director of the CGIAR Programme on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, talking with the audience in Bogor, Indonesia as part of the virtual symposium. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Riky Hilmansyah

Call to action

Forests and trees’ critical role in global, regional and national water cycles is second only to the influence of the world’s oceans. Yet, this is mostly left off global discourse on climate change, which largely focuses on forests and trees as carbon stocks and sinks as part of national actions to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

In an effort to address this omission, the scientists strongly endorsed the need for a global approach to both understanding the relationship between forests, climate and adaptation and to carry out more detailed climate research.  For more on the wider implications and recommendations for action, see Trees, water and climate: Cool scientific insights, hot implications for research and policy.

At the local level, the planting of trees is an immediate action easily available to householders, farmers and urban dwellers, one that contributes to cooling the Earth through the moisture released by trees through evapotranspiration. Tree-planting need not wait for global agreements to be in place, the scientists noted.

The symposium was organized under the aegis of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. Participating scientists included David Ellison (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences), Cindy Morris (French National Institute for Agricultural Research), Michael Marshall (World Agroforestry Centre), Aster Gebrekirstos (World Agroforestry Centre and Erlangen University), Meine van Noordwijk (World Agroforestry Centre and Wageningen University), Jan Pokorný (ENKI, Czech Republic); Douglas Sheil (Norwegian University of Life Sciences), Victoria Gutierrez (WeForest), Daniel Murdiyarso (Center for International Forestry Research and Bogor Agricultural University) and Elaine Springgay (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).

Learn more about forests and trees and their role in the water cycle



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  • Soil management and land restoration vital to meeting climate change and sustainable development targets

Soil management and land restoration vital to meeting climate change and sustainable development targets

Landscape in restoration in Abreha Atsbeha, Tigray, Ethiopia. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/ Ake Mamo
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Landscape in restoration in Abreha Atsbeha, Tigray, Ethiopia. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/ Ake Mamo

By Susan Onyango, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World Blog

Land degradation impacts the health and livelihoods of about 1.5 billion people worldwide. Further, the annual costs associated with land degradation worldwide is estimated to be US$ 231 billion as measured in terms of loss productivity and the costs to due to loss of ecosystems services.

Given that the state of the environment and food security are strongly interlinked in tropical landscapes, the increasing need for land for food production, urbanization and other uses pose several threats to sustainability in the long term. There is increasing recognition that more integrated approaches to ecosystem health assessments are needed to meet the targets of the 2030 Agenda, including SD 15.3 on combating desertification and restoring degraded land and soil. In addition to systematic and reliable biophysical and socio-economic assessments, stakeholder engagement with evidence is crucial.

The Global Symposium on Soil Organic Carbon, hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,  FAO, in Rome, Italy from 21-23 March 2017, brought together more than 300 participants to act on worldwide ambitions to preserve soil organic carbon and re-carbonizing degraded soils. The objective of the symposium was to review the role of soil and soil organic carbon in the context of climate change and sustainable evidence, and to build scientific evidence that will contribute to the IPCC Assessment Reports and reports to UNFCCC, UNCCD and on the SDGs.

Leigh Ann Winowiecki, soil scientist, and Tor-Gunnar Vågen, senior scientist, at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) presented advanced analytics on soil carbon accounting and highlighted integrated approaches for stakeholder engagement with evidence using ICRAF’s SHARED approach, a demand driven, tailored and interactive engagement process. Their presentation,  “Spatial assessments for the mapping and monitoring of soil organic carbon: Using stakeholder engagement processes”, co-authored by Constance Neely, Sabrina Chesterman and Mieke Bourne, demonstrated the integration of land and soil health maps with socio-economic datasets. Kenya’s Turkana County Government’s Resilience Diagnostic and Decision Support Tool was developed using a similar approach.

“We have established maps of soil organic carbon for the continent of Africa and are creating a large systematic database of soil organic carbon across the tropics. These maps can be used for prioritizing initiatives and baseline assessments for carbon accounting.” Leigh Ann Winowiecki, World Agroforestry Centre

Tor-Gunnar Vågen, senior scientist at the World Agroforestry at the Global Symposium on Soil Organic Carbon. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Leigh Ann Winowiecki
Tor-Gunnar Vågen, senior scientist at the World Agroforestry at the Global Symposium on Soil Organic Carbon. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Leigh Ann Winowiecki

Winowiecki and Vågen‘s  presentation highlighted the advanced spatial mapping analytics available at the Centre’s GeoScience Lab. The analysis is supported by the project, Restoration of degraded land for food security and poverty reduction in East Africa and the Sahel: taking successes in land restoration to scale, funded by IFAD and the European Commission.

Symposium participants also engaged in discussions on maintaining and/or increasing soil organic carbon stocks for climate change mitigation and adaptation and the SDG 15.3 on land degradation neutrality, and on managing soil organic carbon in soils with high organic content.

A scientific document highlighting the role of soils and soil organic carbon management in meeting the climate change and sustainable development agendas  will present an overview of state-of-the-art soil organic carbon monitoring, measures to maintain and enhance soil organic carbon, and recommended methods for monitoring and reporting soil organic carbon.

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

Also see:

Presentation – Spatial assessments for the mapping and monitoring of soil organic carbon: Using stakeholder engagement processes

Vågen, T-G., Winowiecki, L.A., Neely, C., Chesterman, S., and Bourne, M. 2017. Spatial assessments for the mapping and monitoring of soil organic carbon- Using stakeholder engagement processes, a paper presented at the Global Symposium on Soil Carbon, Rome, Italy, 21-23 March 2017.

Vågen, Tor-G., Winowiecki, L., Tondoh, J.E., Desta, L.T. and Gumbricht, T. 2016. Mapping of soil properties and land degradation risk in Africa using MODIS reflectance. Geoderma. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.geoderma.2015.06.023

Global Symposium on Soil Organic Carbon website

Project website: Restoration of degraded land for food security and property reduction in East Africa and the Sahel: taking success in land restoration to scale

World Agroforestry Centre Landscapes Portal 

Blog: Put soils first, African Soil Seminar concludes

For more information, contact Leigh Winowiecki at the World Agroforestry Centre: [email protected]

We thank the European Commission and IFAD for financing the project, Restoration of degraded land for food security and poverty reduction in East Africa and the Sahel: taking successes to scale.

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  • Trees for Food Security

Trees for Food Security

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Trees for Food Security Project goal is to enhance food security for resource-poor people in rural Eastern Africa through research that supports national programmes to scale up the use of trees within farming systems in Ethiopia and Rwanda and then scale out successes to relevant ago-ecological zones in Uganda and Burundi.
Through the project, 5 Rural Resource Centers (2 in Rwanda, 2 Ethiopia and 1 in Uganda) and nurseries to enhance training and supply of improved tree germplasm have been established. The RRCs have provided business opportunities for farmer groups and unemployed youth particularly through grafted fruit trees.
This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

Read more about the project here

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  • Gender in agriculture: creating opportunities for women

Gender in agriculture: creating opportunities for women

Ana Maria Paez-Valencia, gender specialist, World Agroforestry Centre.
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Ana Maria Paez-Valencia, gender specialist, World Agroforestry Centre.

By Susan Onyango, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World Blog

By the year 2050, the world’s population is expected to grow to 9 billion. To meet this increasing demand for food, agricultural productivity must be sustainably improved. The Sustainable Development Goal no. 2 on agriculture, food security and nutrition demonstrates global commitment towards realizing this ambition.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2017, Women in the Changing World of Work: Plant 50-50 by 2030, reiterates the importance of gender equality and empowerment in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Ana Maria Paez-Valencia, gender specialist at the World Agroresty Centre, talks about gender in agriculture and how women’s participation can be enhanced.

How has the World Agroforestry Centre’s work helped integrate gender into agricultural programmes and policies? A lot of our work on gender has been done with implementing agencies, NGOs and local governments. The Agroforestry and Forestry in Sulawesi project in Indonesia, for example, led the implementing local extension agents and NGOs to consider social, cultural and even gender differences in the communities in a systematic way across all the activities. Similarly in the Drylands Development Programme, we are currently supporting the integration of gender dimensions to make the programme more gender responsive and likely to contribute to women’s empowerment. We also develop capacities of different partners in the project to understand gender and its relevance to their work.

At the policy level, in 2016,  our team in Peru contributed to the National Climate Change Gender Action Plan led by the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable People. For three to four years now, the World Agroforestry Centre in Latin America has been working on gender issues in value chains and climate change adaptation and mitigation. All this work fed into that action plan.

What are the key gender issues in agriculture and food security? There are many issues and they vary according to geographic and socio-economic context. But in general, they include access and control of productive resources including land, extension services, inputs and markets. Participation in decision-making is also an important issue. These challenges take different forms at different levels. At the household level, for instance, intra-household relationships have important implications on who takes part and who benefits from agriculture and food security interventions. For example, programmes looking to improve women’s productivity might end up adding to their already overloaded workloads. Women worldwide work more hours than men as they not only participate in productive activities like tending to the farms, but also look after their families and household affairs. These various roles need to be recognized, valued and even challenged to be able to provide suitable options to improve the lives of women and their families.

What are the gaps in research that need to be addressed to achieve optimal gender inclusion in agriculture? Look at intra-household relations – how can we involve men in the conversation? Identifying gender roles and needs in different contexts is important but we need to move forward. We need to find ways to ensure that both men and women benefit from our research and the practices that we promote are not adding to women’s drudgery. We need to work around power relations at the household level, considering cultural contexts, so that women have a meaningful participation in the decision-making processes.

Would closing the gender gap in agriculture generate significant gains? A lot of studies have been done on economic benefits and potential increases in production with regards to the gender gap in agriculture. Some statistics claiming that women produce 60-80% of the world’s food have been questioned. Studies that have seriously looked at the statistics actually concluded that it is impossible to find a precise measure of women’s contribution to food production, as women do not produce food separately from men. Even when looking at women’s labour participation in agriculture, the results vary significantly from region to region. According to FAO, in sub-saharan Africa as well as southeast Asia it is close to 50% while in Latin America it is about 20%. There are also significant variations from country to country.

What is important to note is that although women are greatly involved in agriculture, they face unequal access to resources that are critical for agricultural production. There should not be a need for an economic argument pointing at the benefits of reducing this gap. Although there are plenty of debates on this, it should be about the right of women to have the same opportunities to gain from this activity.

What opportunities are there for women to benefit more as active participants in the agriculture sector? There many opportunities! Women can achieve more if they have access to fair markets and if they are allowed to have a say on how resources are spent, how they can improve production and how available resources are utilized. They can also benefit if carefully targeted for trainings that fit their schedules and mobility restrictions, and if they could keep control over crops and resources when these become commercially viable.

But many of these opportunities are curtailed by traditional gender norms and roles about what women can or should do. These norms and roles also determine gender relations and power dynamics that are more effectively addressed at the household level.

We have to always remember that gender is about the relationship between men and women. Transforming those traditional norms that are the root of women’s disadvantaged position requires challenging the distribution of resources and allocation of duties within the household, and more importantly involving men and boys to encourage collaboration and discourage conflict.

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  • What stories can a pixel tell?: monitoring landscape changes through remote sensing

What stories can a pixel tell?: monitoring landscape changes through remote sensing

A bird’s-eye view shows patterns and changes not so easily apparent from the ground. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Yudi Noviandi
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A bird’s-eye view shows patterns and changes not so easily apparent from the ground. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Yudi Noviandi

By Amy Cruz, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World Blog

A monitoring system has the potential to help governments, research organizations and other groups detect changes in landscapes, such as deforestation and establishment of oil palm plantations.

Representatives from government agencies, research organizations and academe in the Philippines attended a forum on the near real-time monitoring of forest landscapes through the Terra-i Remote Sensing System. The event provided the participants a platform for discussing potential uses of the Terra-i system in the country.

Two sessions were jointly organized by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and ICRAF The World Agroforestry Centre at the Diliman and Los Baños campuses of the University of the Philippines in October 2016. Louis Reymondin of CIAT explained the system, after which the participants discussed potential collaboration and uses in the country.

Robustly used in Latin America, the Terra-i system has recently gained interest in Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Viet Nam as a near real-time monitoring system for habitat loss and landscape changes. The goal of the system is to detect as soon as possible changes in a landscape but not to exactly measure forest loss in hectares because of the limitations of the satellite sensor.

Terra-i leverages remote sensing and advanced machine-learning techniques to detect changes in a landscape. According to Reymondin, a team of researchers developed the system based on the premise that natural vegetation follows a predictable pattern of changes in greenness over time. These changes are based on site-specific characteristics and the climatic conditions of preceding days.

Read also: Terra-i, new data – new look for the website

The system predicts how green a pixel should be, given a unit of rainfall, and compares that specific pixel with satellite images. Any anomalies in the time series, which could be due to human activities, can be identified. The time series are produced in 250 m spatial resolution every 16 days to reduce the effects of cloud cover. Although it sounds complicated, Terra-i was designed to be implemented even with limited hardware and financial resources.

Such a system would help improve forest management, reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and contribute to climate-change adaptation and mitigation. Some of the possible applications include detecting mining activities and new oil-palm plantations; assessing the effectiveness of protected areas; and developing potential deforestation scenarios from trends.

Other activities in the pipeline for Terra-i include:

  1. development of 30 m-resolution time series through combining pictures from different satellite systems;
  2. identification and characterization of degradation through combining images from satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles; and
  3. analyses of time series to tell ‘the story of the pixel’, for example, how are the changes spatially distributed and what happens after deforestation.

The team hope that later the system can be modified to monitor other types of ecosystems in the tropics. To achieve this, they will need local knowledge and data to calibrate pan-tropical data available from open-access satellite imagery.

This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

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  • Cool insights for a hot world: trees and forests recycle water

Cool insights for a hot world: trees and forests recycle water

Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT/CIFOR
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Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT/CIFOR

By Daisy Ouya, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World Blog

Anyone who has walked outside on a sunny day knows that forests and trees matter for temperature, humidity and wind speed. Planting trees speaks to concerns about climate change, but the directly important aspects of the tree-climate relationships have so far been overlooked in climate policy where it relates to forest.

Click here for more information on the Virtual Symposium on forests, climate and water on International Day of Forests, 21 March, and World Water Day, 22 March. 

Please click here to register.

That, at least, is the conclusion of a new review. The authors suggest that the global conversation on trees, forests and climate needs to be turned on its head: the direct effects via rainfall and cooling may be more important than the well-studied effects through the global carbon balance.

Yet, current climate policy only recognizes the latter. While farmers understand that trees cool their homes, livestock and crops, they had to learn the complex and abstract language of greenhouse gasses and carbon stocks if they wanted to be part of climate mitigation efforts. Not anymore, if the new perspectives become widely accepted.

In the review, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, the 22 authors provide examples for the planet-cooling benefits of trees. Scientists found evidence for the widespread perception that trees and forests also influence rainfall. As such, the review insists that water, and not carbon, should become the primary motivation for adding and preserving trees in landscapes.

“Carbon sequestration is a co-benefit of the precipitation-recycling and cooling power of trees. As trees process and redistribute water, they simultaneously cool planetary surfaces”, says Dr David Ellison, lead author of the study.

Planting trees has long been an expression of intent to do something of substance in the climate change debate; scientists have found a new rationale for this.

“Some of the more refined details of how forests affect rainfall are still being discussed among scientists of different disciplines and backgrounds. But the direct relevance of trees and forests for protecting and intensifying the hydrologic cycle, associated cooling and the sharing of atmospheric moisture with downwind locations is beyond reasonable doubt.”

Trees are giant air conditioners with no power bills. They use solar energy to convert water into vapour, thereby cooling their surroundings. On a hot day the surface temperature of a forest—in an example discussed in the paper—is similar to that of a nearby lake, while a dry patch of meadow or a tarmac road in the vicinity are more than 20 °C hotter. The cooling power equivalent is around 70 kWh for every 100 liter of water transpired, similar to the output of two home air-conditioning units.

“There are important implications for practice, as we can no longer simply focus on carbon sequestration to mitigate or adapt to climate change”, says Dr Victoria Gutierrez, Chief Science Officer of the WeForest NGO that supports forest landscape restoration efforts in tropical countries, and co-author of the study.

“For organizations and agencies working to restore forest ecosystems for climate and people, it is crucial that we pay greater attention to the sustainability of the water processing and cooling aspects of the trees.”

Planting trees has long been an expression of intent to do something of substance in the climate change debate; scientists have found a new rationale for this.

As they cool the planet, trees may also promote rainfall. Two ingredients for rainfall are: i) water vapour in the atmosphere to which trees and wetlands contribute importantly and in quantities that can be measured, and ii) a starting point for condensation of vapour into cloud droplets and rain drops. Trees are a source of volatile compounds that can become cloud condensation nuclei and trees are also a source of bacteria that form ice nuclei.

“In clean, dust-free air, cloud droplets may cool down to -40 °C, high up in the atmosphere, before freezing occurs if there are no ice nuclei present that can catalyse freezing”, says Dr. Cindy Morris, one of the co-authors. “But trees and forests release ‘ice nuclei’ into the atmosphere including certain fungal spores, pollen and bacteria that can initiate rainfall at much warmer temperatures, sometimes as warm as -4 °C. This means that rain initiation can take place more readily in low-altitude clouds.”

As forests modify and contribute to the atmospheric flows of moist air they influence downwind rainfall. While coasts derive most of their rainfall from oceanic evaporation, downwind continental surfaces are increasingly dependent on upwind terrestrial sources of atmospheric moisture. On average 40% of rainfall over land is recycled from evapotranspiration over land surfaces.

Long-distance dependencies

Important examples of long-distance dependencies have been documented between the Congo basin and East Africa providing rain to the Ethiopian Highlands and the Sahel; the Amazon supporting rain in NW Argentina; and mainland Southeast Asia feeding atmospheric moisture to China. In all these cases, major changes in tree cover can break the chain and reduce precipitation in downwind basins.

“Where most water studies have focused on the ‘blue water’ in rivers and the ‘green water’ used by plants, water in the atmosphere is now recognized as ‘rainbow water’”, says Meine van Noordwijk, co-author, Chief Scientist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and Coordinator of the landscape theme of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. “The policy arena may have to adjust to the idea that rainfall is not simply the result of large scale air mass movements, but depends importantly on how upwind neighbours care for their forests.

“Reliable rainfall in the continental interiors of Africa and South America, as well as in other downwind locations, may depend on maintaining relatively intact and continuous tree cover from upwind coasts. The geopolitics of these relations can become a source of conflict, but can also lead to new types of cooperation.”

With these and more fascinating “cool insights” and evidence from research, the authors point out that there is a strong basis for a hydro-climate policy that involves forests and trees. This policy would be much wider than what has so far been shaped by scientific understanding of the greenhouse-gas dominated climate and been incorporated in international agreements.

The review concludes with a cry to action on forests, water and climate: “Climate policy must take these water-processing, cooling and rainfall-generating effects of trees and forests more explicitly into account.”

Significant revision of national, regional and continental climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies are urgent as next steps.

Read full review article:
Ellison D, Morris CE, Locatelli B, Sheil D, Cohen J, Murdiyarso D, Gutierrez V, van Noordwijk M, Creed IF, Pokorny J, Gaveau D, Spracklen D, Tobella AB, Ilstedt U, Teuling R, Gebrehiwot SG, Sands DC, Muys B, Verbist B, Springgay E, Sugandi Y, Sullivan CA. 2017. Trees, forests and water: cool insights for a hot world. Global Environmental Change. http://www.cifor.org/library/6408/trees-forests-and-water-cool-insights-for-a-hot-world/

The 22 authors are from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU); Ellison Consulting; France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA); Montana State University; France’s Institute for Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD); Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR); Norwegian University of Life Sciences; University of Texas-Austin; Bogor Agricultural University; WeForest; World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF); Western University, Canada; ENKI-Czech Republic; University of Leeds; Wageningen University & Research; Addis Ababa University; Uppsala University; KU Leuven – Belgium; FAO; and Southern Cross University -Australia.

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  • Structured Stakeholder Engagement Leads To Development Of More Diverse And Inclusive Agroforestry Options

Structured Stakeholder Engagement Leads To Development Of More Diverse And Inclusive Agroforestry Options

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Authors: Emilie Smith Dumont, Subira Bonhomme, Timothy F. Pagella, Fergus L. Sinclair

There is a lot of interest in the contribution that agroforestry can make to reverse land degradation and create resilient multifunctional landscapes that provide a range of socio-economic benefits. The agroforestry research agenda has been characterized by approaches that promote a few priority tree species, within a restricted set of technological packages. These have often not spread widely beyond project sites, because they fail to take account of fine scale variation in farmer circumstances. New methods are needed to generate diverse sets of agroforestry options that can reconcile production and conservation objectives and embrace varying local conditions across large scaling domains. Here, we document a novel approach that couples local knowledge acquisition with structured stakeholder engagement to build an inclusive way of designing agroforestry options. We applied this approach in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where armed conflict, erratic governance and poverty have resulted in severe pressure on forests in the Virunga National Park, a global biodiversity hotspot. Around the park, natural resources and land are severely degraded, whereas most reforestation interventions have consisted of exotic monocultures dominated by Eucalyptus species grown as energy or timber woodlots mainly by male farmers with sufficient land to allocate some exclusively to trees. We found that structured stakeholder engagement led to a quick identification of a much greater diversity of trees (more than 70 species) to be recommended for use within varied field, farm and landscape niches, serving the interests of a much greater diversity of people, including women and marginalized groups. The process also identified key interventions to improve the enabling environment required to scale up the adoption of agroforestry. These included improving access to quality tree planting material, capacity strengthening within the largely non-governmental extension system, and collective action to support value capture from agroforestry products, through processing and market interventions. Integrating local and global scientific knowledge, coupled with facilitating broad-based stakeholder participation, resulted in shifting from reliance on a few priority tree species to promoting tree diversity across the Virunga landscape that could underpin more productive and resilient livelihoods. The approach is relevant for scaling up agroforestry more generally.

Experimental Agriculture, 2017

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0014479716000788

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