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The right species for the right purpose

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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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  • ICRAF and One Acre Fund chart ways forward on trees

ICRAF and One Acre Fund chart ways forward on trees

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One Acre Fund also supplied Madame Mukabutera with Calliandra shrubs for protein-rich fodder. She has one cow from which she receives five litres of milk a day plus manure for her soil. Photo by C Watson/ICRAF
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One Acre Fund also supplied Madame Mukabutera with Calliandra shrubs for protein-rich fodder. She has one cow from which she receives five litres of milk a day plus manure for her soil. Photo by C Watson/ICRAF

Rubengera, Rwanda — Farmer Cecile Mukabutera , 32, looks approvingly at her small tree, one of ten she received from One Acre Fund. Its branches will eventually give her up to 30 poles per year.  These 2-3 meter poles are essential for the cultivation of climbing bean, a crop commonly grown in land-constrained Rwanda. “I can use some and sell the rest for 20 francs a piece,” she says. “I am interested in trees.”

The tree she received is a Grevillea robusta, an Australian tree that is popular in East Africa for its fast growth. It is also only slightly competitive with crops and even less so when pruned.  The mother of four has been a One Acre Fund client for seven years. “Since I joined, my farm has improved.”

Dr. Athanase Mukuralinda nods. What the farmer says tallies with what he knows. “When you manage Grevillea, you allow light to reach the crop. You also reduce water consumption when you prune,” says the representative of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Rwanda.

One Acre Fund is a nonprofit that provides its farmer clients with inputs on credit and offers frequent training in modern and sustainable agricultural techniques. The organization has grown exponentially since it was founded in 2006—it now serves more than 400,000 farmers across six countries and plans to reach 1 million by 2020.

CRAF’s A. Mukuralinda (right) and One Acre Fund’s Margaret Vernon (centre) with colleagues on farmer Cecile’s smallholding.

“We deliver inputs at 830 sites in Rwanda, all within walking distances of the 165,000 homes of our clients,” says Margaret Vernon, One Acre Fund’s global head of Impact.  “On average, globally, we help farmers increase their household income by about $130 a year. In Rwanda, our impact is less – $60-70 – because of smaller land sizes. We recover 70-80% of our costs, excluding product innovation and monitoring and evaluation.”

ICRAF, meanwhile, is the global leader in agroforestry, a set of practices that combine trees, crops and/or livestock for positive interactions. “Where trees are present, you have more beneficial soil organisms,” says Dr Fergus Sinclair. “This is critical in Africa where 30% of soils are non-responsive to fertilizer. Carbon from trees supports the living part of the soil and creates a refugia for soil organisms.”

ICRAF and One Acre Fund have come together to discuss ways in which they might collaborate in the future. ICRAF, which has had 40 years of experience developing agroforestry, is always seeking partners through which to “scale.” One Acre Fund, which has a large and growing client base, is eager to expand its tree program and is interested in ICRAF’s expertise.

One Acre Fund has tested several ways to provide trees to farmers, including distributing seeds to farmer groups who start them in nurseries, and raising seedlings for distribution and direct planting.

At their meeting, ICRAF and One Acre Fund discussed the importance of promoting biodiversity, and the criteria for selecting what species to distribute, including farmer preferences for certain varieties.

“Because trees are around for a while, what you select at the beginning is much more important than with an annual crop,” says Sinclair, who is also a senior lecturer in agroforestry at Bangor

University. “You are much more likely to get higher survival rates and overall farm productivity if you match tree species to niches and, on farms, those niches are both ecological and socioeconomic.”

He cites the work of Emilie Smith Dumont in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, across Lake Kivu from where the two teams are sitting. Through a “local knowledge elicitation process,” she and Congolese colleagues found that farmers were able to identify 148 tree species of importance to them, some of which communities are rolling out.

Grevillea trees may be beneficial because they can be used to make poles and timber, but other varieties could have positive impacts too, Sinclair says. “You could create demand for multiple species by talking about their benefits. High-value trees like Grevillea are good, but other species can have a service function such as providing biomass, mulch, and better water infiltration.”

ICRAF and One Acre Fund already have a history of working together. One Acre Fund is working to promote soil health, and ICRAF soil scientist Keith Shepherd helped the organization establish a rural-soil spectral laboratory and analyze over 20,000 samples. Future collaboration on agroforestry may ultimately prove to be just as impactful. More lies ahead as the two organizations plan new ways to team up.

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For more about ICRAF’s work in Rwanda, contact Athanase Mukuralinda at

Much of the ICRAF research referred to in this blog comes from the Trees for Food Security project funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). This is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), Livelihood Systems Flagship. For more information on the project, contact Catherine Muthuri at


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