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Biodiversity Day 2020 – Solutions in Nature

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The United Nations proclaimed May 22 The International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) to raise awareness and increase understanding of the issues around biological diversity and its fundamental role for the planet and humanity.

But what exactly is biological diversity? Biological diversity, or in short biodiversity, is often understood in terms of an abundance of diverse plants and animals present in a specific region. However, biodiversity also includes genetic differences within species — e.g., varieties of crops — and the variety of interlinked ecosystems (lakes, forests, rivers, agricultural landscapes, etc.) giving shelter and allowing interaction between those who inhabit them (humans, plants, animals, insects, microorganisms, etc.). Biodiversity is a prerequisite for life, any loss of it, is a loss for everyone and a threat for the future.

This year’s theme is Our solutions are in nature, underlining how any activity we perform is always interconnected with mother earth. Today humanity faces an unprecedented number of ecological challenges (as the current coronavirus pandemic has made evident), but any solution we can imagine and formulate is inevitably found within the same domain: nature. And nature’s barometer is biodiversity. For example, a pathway to reduce climate shocks and increase resilience to climate change is landscape restoration, which in turn is highly correlated with biodiversity levels. Moreover, maintaining high levels of biological diversity offers protection from spillovers of diseases from animals to humans (i.e. zoonoses) such as the current one we are living through, as it has been proven that biodiversity loss is a sufficient (but not necessary) condition for the increase of zoonoes.

Biodiversity is fundamental for many aspects of our lives, not only ecological health, but also to improve livelihoods, providing income source, diets, nutrition and overall well-being.

The UN has devoted the full week 18-22 May 2020 to celebrate biodiversity through 3 themes: importance of knowledge and science, importance of biodiversity itself and a call to action for the future.

2020, dubbed the biodiversity super year, is a pivotal moment to re-think our relationship with nature. This lock-down time should push us to reformulate a new normal that should focus on resilience and a common approach towards the restoration and conservation of biodiversity, inverting the disastrous trend of biodiversity loss that we have been accumulating over many deacades.

2020 will also witness the end of the 2011-2020 Strategic Plan on Biodiversity and its 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, as well as the UN Decade on Biodiversity, leading to the transitional phase for the start of other new pivotal biodiversity-related decades for the period 2021-2030: the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development and the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration; and the UN Biodiversity Summit, in order to highlight the urgency of action at the highest levels in support of a post-2020 global biodiversity framework. FTA hopes that we will be indeed able to see a positive change in the coming years.

Role of trees and FTA’s work

Trees, forests and agroforestry have an enormous role to play in preserving and enhancing biodiversity and improving human and animal life. To underline this, FTA has set the safeguarding and conservation of biodiversity as one of its main priorities. In the occasion of this day we are happy to illustrate some of the activities that our partners are carrying out in this domain.

Biodiversity in tropical forests

Our lead partner CIFOR has a specific landing page for biodiversity which gathers all the most recent publications dealing with this important topic, highlighting the extreme potential for the unknown and the strong link between forests and food security and nutrition.

Recent publications include:

The Influence of Forests on Freshwater Fish in the Tropics: A Systematic Review highlighting that the majority of studies provided evidence that fish diversity was higher where there was more forest cover; this was related to the greater heterogeneity of resources in forested environments that could support a wider range of species. Read a recent blog about this.

Maize production and environmental costs: Resource evaluation and strategic land use planning for food security in northern Ghana by means of coupled energy and data envelopment analysis.

Systematic review on impact of oil palm on biodiversity – a study focusing on the impacts on species richness, abundance (total number of individuals or occurrences), community composition, and ecosystem functions related to species richness and community composition.

Some recent online blogs also put the spotlight on the work CIFOR has been carrying out on biodiversity. We highlight this interesting piece on the extreme diversity of ecological systems present in Borneo and the large scale vegetation ecological maps crucial to manage all this biodiversity at landscape level.

Biodiversity and the Trees theme at ICRAF

Our partner ICRAF develops a number of interesting studies that are strongly linked with the analysis of biodiverse elements, as they supporting biodiversity-based livelihood strategies, requiring them to characterize patterns of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes and how these are changing as farming systems and climate alter. For example: they conduct tree species diversity inventories in farmland, considering whether the trees found are of local origin or are exotic (are introduced from elsewhere), and how common individual species are in farm landscapes.

African Orphan Crops Consortium

ICRAF has just launched the new website of the African Orphan Crop Consortium which includes a fully searchable database of 101 different crops identified as important for nutrition and livelihoods in a participatory manner by Africa’s scientists, development practitioners, consumers, and producers. Together they provide a wide range of nutritious foods, including edible roots, leaves, seeds and fruit, and encompass plants that are part of Africa’s historically neglected bounty of biodiversity. The idea is to use advanced genomic methods to support genetic improvement. These plants form a unique biological resource for crop development, but the window of opportunity to realise their value is limited as they are threatened by the relentless simplification of farming landscapes and forest loss.

This work has been featured in Nature Genomics

Vegetation Map4Africa

In order to promote tree species’ biodiversity effectively, information on what trees to plant where and for what purpose is required. ICRAF develops maps, databases and smartphone apps to better allow this. The high-resolution vegetationmap4africa (www.vegetationmap4africa.org/), for example, supports the selection of suitable indigenous tree species to plant in particular ecological zones in eastern Africa through the Useful Tree Species for Eastern Africa selection tool, which uses Google Earth to explore geographic locations and present species’ options.

Bamboo and rattan for biodiversity

Lack of bamboo planting material of particular species in required quantity and quality has always been a challenge due to the flowering nature of bamboo and lack of standardized vegetative propagation methods and selection protocols. INBAR’s previous and current development projects in Africa have set up several nurseries to scale up bamboo planting material production in Africa and Latin America. Moreover, INBAR is also undertaking ex-situ genetic conservation activities including setting up of bamboo setums and research plots. These activities are aimed at enabling large-scale bamboo based landscape restoration activities.

Read also: INBAR’s statement on International Day for Biological Diversity 2020.

Currently our partner INBAR is developing a study to obtain a deeper understanding of conservation of bamboo genetic resources in theory and practice. The study will examine the growth and performance of indigenous and introduced bamboo species, the modification of local biodiversity. The aim is to select the most appropriate species for expansion as well as developing seed sourcing and selection.

A comprehensive report on bamboo seed sourcing/selection and mechanisms for identification of superior bamboo clumps for expanding vegetative propagation will be the outcome of this research.

Building a healthy future

We highlight here two recent publications from our partner the Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT, one on mapping tree species vulnerability to multiple threats as a guide to restoration and conservation of tropical dry forests which was also featured as cover story for Global Change Biology. The other article illustrates the characterization of the genetic diversity of 21 wild and cultivated populations of the common walnut (Juglans regia L.) across Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. A complete threat assessment was performed evaluating the short-term threats from overexploitation, overgrazing, landslides, and fragmentation as well as long-term threats from climate change.

The Alliance also produced a series of blogs discussing the importance of biodiversity, a first one specifically on #BiodiversityDay2020, then on the threat mapping work and also a recent D4R workshop.

Read more: statement by the Alliance on the International Day of Forests.

Sentinel Landscapes, solutions for biodiversity improvements

Our partner CATIE just recently released a report on the Nicaragua-Honduras Sentinel Landscape.

The report shows how agroforestry is a sustainable alternative for rural development, and it is a conspicuous beneficial element in the agricultural landscape. Trees on farms can contribute to subsistence farmers’ strategies to face climatic or socioeconomic eventualities and can supply important goods to meet farmers’ demands.

Sentinel Landscape stocktaking pilot study: Report Nicaragua-Honduras [pdf]
Study sites were similar in terms of tree diversity and density, but differences were found in the economic benefits provided by trees. A total of 261 tree species were recorded in both sites (160 species were shared), 202 species in La Dalia and 220 species in Waslala. In terms of land uses, coffee was the land use with the highest tree diversity (197 spp), followed by pasture (189 spp), cacao (169 spp), home gardens (152 spp) and staple crops (138 spp). The most important species in terms of their abundance, frequency and relative dominance were: Cordia alliodora, Mangifera indica, Persea americana, Citrus sinensis, Platymiscium dimorphadrum, Inga oestediana, Psidium guajava, Cedrela odorata, Guazuma ulmifolia, and Tabebuia rosea.

We hope that you will find this information is useful and interesting!

Feel free to join our newsletter for updates on our work

 

Finally, we are happy to share with you A Hymn to Biodiversity an a cappella musical composition inspired and dedicated to biodiversity by composer David Rain, who contacted us through our facebook page. Well done David, it’s beautiful!

May it inspire everyone to love and protect our biodiverse nature.

 


This article was produced by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). 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, INBAR, ICRAF and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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Sentinel Solutions for the Anthropocene

The NHSL team of researchers in El Tuma
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FTA communications

This article is a longform, part of a new series of FTA blogs aiming at providing in-depth analysis of mature FTA projects. By consulting/interviewing all the scientists involved in the study, these longforms give a detailed overview of specific projects, augmented by the comments from the scientists who developed them. This longform is issued in conjunction with International Mother Earth Day 2020.

A peculiar perspective on the first reports from the pioneering Sentinel Landscapes program

We are living in the Anthropocene.

Sometime in the 1950s, it is proposed, we finally broke from 11,650 years of history and entered a entirely new epoch. Rather than glacial advance and retreat, this epoch is defined by the industrial activity of humankind.

Deforestation, soil erosion, construction, river dams and nuclear weapons will leave permanent relics in the stratigraphy of the earth: as deposits in the sedimentary record, as ghostly technofossils, or as lethal fallout signatures.

Due to human activity, global rates of extinction are perhaps 100-1000 times above the normal background rate. At the same time, invasive species introduced or unwittingly spread by humans are homogenizing global ecosystems. Claims of a sixth major extinction event are not exaggerated and the cause, most scientists agree, is human.

Fossil fuels and land use changes have led to a precipitous rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. The oceans are acidifying; the polar ice caps are melting; the consequences are daunting.

There are two possible responses – if we rule out burying our heads in the degraded soil – either we wait for nature to overthrow industry or we apply our human ingenuity, so often the curse of ecological wellbeing, to its restoration.

But how can we hope to turn things around if we do not know what is driving deforestation and degradation? Or if we do not know how many trees we have or how quickly they are disappearing? Or if we do not fully understand the consequences we face if forests disappear from the landscape?

To develop interventions that will work, the first step is knowing what is going on there, and for this we need data, credible data, large data, multi-year data.

Medical research has epidemiological studies that monitor large cohorts of the population over long periods of time to track global health and help predict and eliminate disease. What does forest conservation have? Sentinel Landscapes.

Sentinel Landscapes: A health check for tropical land use

Driven by the Forests, Trees and Agroforestry’s (FTA) program led by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the Sentinel Landscapes  initiative is an audacious commitment to collect data on biophysical, social, economic and political dimensions across and monitor respective indicators across a network of eight carefully chosen tropical forest landscapes over extended periods of time.

Using the same standardized methodologies, this data promises to provide common ground for comparison – and, crucially, extrapolation. The Sentinel Landscapes program is the global health check that we desperately need so that we can face climate change, land degradation, poverty and food security with clear vision.

The idea for Sentinel Landscapes was hatched during conversations between colleagues at World Agroforestry (ICRAF) and CIFOR in 2011 and 2012. Since those first conversations, more and more academic organizations have joined the FTA program and participated to the Sentinel landscapes initiative, including Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD), Bioversity International, Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE) and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture. In the words of one scientist, it has always been “super collaborative”.

Sentinel Landscapes have now been established across borders in Borneo-Sumatra, the Nile-Congo, Cameroon, the Mekong, West Africa, Western Ghats in India and the Western Amazon. But the first to report, in February 2020, was the Sentinel Landscape of Nicaragua-Honduras.

Sentinel Landscapes combine GIS data with on-the-ground samples and surveys

The Nicaragua-Honduras Sentinel Landscape

Sentinel Landscape stocktaking pilot study: Report Nicaragua-Honduras [pdf]
The lead author of the report is Norvin Sepúlveda at CATIE, who is coordinating the Nicaragua-Honduras Sentinel Landscape (NHSL).

The NHSL is a “mosaic of forests, agricultural land, cattle ranches and agroforestry systems” covering an area the size of the Republic of Ireland or twice the size of the Netherlands.

Straddling the border of two countries, the NHSL encompasses the largest remaining forest area in Central America and hosts at least twelve different ecosystems, including cloud forest, premontane humid tropical forest and pine savannahs.

According to the new report, as well as astonishing botanical and fauna diversity, the landscapes of the NHSL also sustain 822,175 farm families and 21,000 indigenous peoples.

Different kind of “forest transitions” do take place in the area, representing different situations along the “forest transition curve”  concept coined by FTA.

The “forest transition curve” concept (FTA, 2011)

Nicaragua is currently plummeting down the “forest transition” curve, with forest cover being lost at an increasingly rapid rate. Meanwhile, Honduras is a late-transition country, with deforestation slowing in whatever small fraction of forests remain.

It would be impossible to survey such a vast territory in its entirety, so as part of the Sentinel Landscapes (SL) monitoring sampling methodology, the NHSL team selected four study blocks, two in Nicaragua and two in Honduras, which each represent different points on the forest transition curve. Each block is 100 sq km.

The concept of the SL was to integrate three different standardized methodologies to collect:

  1. biophysical data
  2. political and institutional data and
  3. socio-economic data.

These harmonized data collection modules were coordinated by the Research Methods Group (RMG) at ICRAF. The work on biophysical methods began in West Africa in 2005, with the research of Tor-Gunnar Vågen of ICRAF

“We chose the four sites using GIS data and a special set of criteria,” Sepúlveda explains, “so that we got a range of different sites and a combination of diverse farm typologies and conservation issues.”

In Nicaragua, the El Tuma La Dalia study block is mountainous terrain, largely cultivated with coffee, but with some pine and cloud forests. Also in Nicaragua, Columbus Mine is less cultivated with staple cereal crops, but has more forest and is known for its tropical humid climate.

Across the border in Honduras, Rio Platáno is primarily forest with little cultivation, whereas the Rio Blanco study block, nestled in a valley, is mostly pasture for livestock with only small pockets of surviving forest.

Beyond case studies: the Land Degradation Surveillance Framework

Tor-Gunnar Vågen is now head of the GeoScience lab at ICRAF, based in Nairobi, Kenya. For the past fifteen years, Vågen and soil systems scientist Leigh Ann Winowiecki, have worked to implement the Land Degradation Surveillance Framework (LDSF).

A systematic method for collecting data and measuring land degradation, the LDSF builds up a biophysical baseline that covers key indicators including land use, land cover, land degradation, soil health, topography and impact on habitat..

But the real strength of the LDSF is in its consistency: it can be applied to any landscape and will give standardized and thus comparable data.

Before the LDSF, most forest conservation data was based on case studies that answered a specific question in a specific location. Although very useful, case study data makes it impossible to compare contexts or to generalize, and impossible to answer questions like ‘What role do trees have on farms in different locations and contexts?’ or ‘What is the potential for soil to sequester carbon in different locations and contexts?’

As a standardized, randomized data collection method, the LDSF solves this problem and helps scientists compare and scale up their localized findings into potentially globally-applicable conclusions.

“Applying the same framework and then replicating this across most major ecosystems means we can start answering the bigger questions,” Vågen says. “We can look at the larger patterns.”

At the start of the Sentinel Landscapes program in 2012, Vågen and Winowiecki trained the local field teams in Nicaragua and in Honduras so that data collection would be consistent.

Tracking degradation and climate change

From the biophysical baseline indicators, Sepúlveda, Vågen, Winowiecki and their fellow authors expect the NHSL to suffer badly from the impacts of climate change, particularly when it comes to the flow and contamination of the water supply.

The geographical location of Nicaragua and Honduras make both countries vulnerable to extreme weather events and a pattern of freak rainstorms alternating with withering drought is becoming more common.

In late 2007, Hurricane Felix destroyed almost 510,764 ha of forest in northeastern Nicaragua – that’s an area four times the size of New York City.

Of course, it is not only Nicaragua-Honduras that faces the challenges of climate change. The eight Sentinel Landscapes scattered across the tropics are critical for monitoring the progress of climate change with a consistent methodology, over long time periods.

But seeing climate change impacts is irrelevant if not looked through the lenses of land-use and land-use change impacts. Although the forest is now in recovery, the NHSL report found that slash and burn agriculture and livestock are encroaching on former forest landscapes.

“One thing that isn’t looked at enough is the interaction between climate change and land degradation,” Vågen says. “When we started out, the focus was more on land degradation per se: soil erosion, loss of soil function and the reduction in soil quality due to land-use change. But of course this data has many other applications and understanding the impacts of climate change is one of them.”

The data, published in the FTA Sentinel Landscapes portal, warn that vulnerable ecosystems may collapse in mere decades once they hit a tipping point of human-induced degradation, combined with the impacts of climate change.

“The ability of a landscape to adapt to changes in climate is affected by land degradation and, of course, degraded land can contribute to emissions.”

The Sentinel Landscapes program tracks this degradation, but the data also points to solutions.

Sentinel solutions: Soil organic carbon

The Sentinel Landscapes data offers remarkable insights into where governments, municipalities and farmers can optimize their landscapes from multiple perspectives, including carbon capture and protection from erosion, and the potential for virtuous circles.

“For example, we see higher tree densities in non-eroded soil,” Winowiecki says, “and higher soil organic carbon in non-eroded landscapes.”

Most people know that forests can act as carbon sinks, but of the total carbon found in terrestrial ecosystems nearly 80 percent is actually stored in the soil.  Soil carbon reservoirs are also at risk, and the team has published widely on the link between land degradation and soil organic carbon.

Furthermore, Rattan Lal, director of Ohio State University’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, estimates that, with cultivation, the world’s soil has lost up to 70 percent of its original carbon stock. If researchers could find a way to maximize soil organic carbon sequestration, then that would be a significant blow in our Herculean labor to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

According to the new report, soil organic carbon levels are low across all four of the NHSL study blocks. Even small increases in soil organic carbon, when multiplied over large areas, would make a measurable difference – as well as increasing overall soil quality.

“One of the things we’re able to do now is map soil organic carbon over very large areas and look at the potential for storage of carbon in the soil,” Vågen explains.

Combining field data collected with the LDSF and remote sensing imagery from satellite, Vågen and his team are able to produce maps of key soil and land health indicators at a scale relevant to farmers and decision makers, for example at 30 meter resolution, with high accuracy (using the Landsat satellite imagery, the resolution is 30 meter squared).

“We can say what the trends are and what the potential is to store carbon in the soil,” Vågen says. “And we can do that down to the level of individual farmers.”

Of course, this information, however precise, would mean nothing at all unless the farmers could do something about it.

Winowiecki, a specialist in soil organic carbon, has good news: “With good land and landscape management we can increase soil organic carbon,” she says. “But the data shows wide variation, even within one site, so it’s important that we tailor the management to each specific farm.”

It sounds like a lot of work, but it should come as no surprise that there is no “one size fits all” solution.

“We talk a lot about ‘Options by context’,” Winowiecki says. “That means developing local options for the local context.”

Different areas can vary enormously, not only by physical environment, but also by local governance and even household structure. These factors go beyond the LDSF method and the second strand of the Sentinel Landscape approach is a socio-economic survey that attempts to capture the wider context in which the landscape is embedded.

“For any intervention to work,” Winowiecki says, “you have to understand the context and that’s exactly what the Sentinel Landscapes have done.

Context is everything

The socio-economic surveys was every bit as impressive an undertaking as the biophysical baseline study of the LDSF. The development of the socio-economic methodology and design of the household module was coordinated by Anja Gassner, while the subsequent analysis of data generated for all the landscapes was led by Brian Chiputwa (both with the Research Methods Groups at ICRAF) in consultation with CATIE.

The socio-economic surveys were designed to capture baseline information on households’ production systems, livelihood portfolios, asset endowment and use of natural resources such as forests. This data was then used to construct various indicators that can be used as proxies for household’s dependency on natural resources (land, water and forests),  food security and nutrition and poverty status. These indicators can provide important insights into household economic activities.

Based in Costa Rica, CATIE agroforestry scientist Arlene López-Sampson helped analyze the reams of NHSL data. “You can’t just look at the condition of the trees and ignore the people,” López-Sampson says, “because they are constantly choosing among options and it’s them we need to address. Sentinel Landscapes are relevant because they recognize the importance of people as agents of change and bring them back into the equation.”

An example of Household Module Instrument used for the NHSL household surveys [pdf]
Teams of researchers spoke to 849 households in dozens of communities across the four study blocks of the NHSL, spending 3-5 days in each village, conducting interviews and workshops that explored in detail the relationship between people and landscape.

“There are a lot of people involved and we need the trust of the local municipalities and grassroots organizations,” López-Sampson says. “It’s very context dependent. What’s happening in Nicaragua is different to what’s happening in Honduras and to what’s happening in other parts of the world.

Norvin Sepúlveda coordinated the field teams in Nicaragua and Honduras: “A combination of GIS and household data is very important to give us a better idea of what is happening,” he says. “While the GIS did the overview, we were face to face with the people, taking information directly from them.”

Sepúlveda gives a good example of how the dual approach works. “In one area, the GIS showed patches of forest left,” he says. “So we went to the household to find out why: it was to protect the water supply.

Trees act like giant sponges, collecting and filtering rainwater before releasing it gradually into streams and rivers. Take away the trees and you get flash floods, soil erosion and a sharp reduction in water quality.

“It’s very important for us to find out why forest is left standing,” Sepúlveda says. “It often depends on a farmer’s education, on the state of his land, and on whether he has legal rights to the land.”

And so we come to the thorniest issue faced by the NHSL team: conflict and governance.

Within the socio-economic surveys, the institutional mapping and natural resource governance activities were implemented using the International Forestry Resources and Institutions (IFRI) methodology, developed by Scientists at the University of Michigan, USA.

“The one big challenge”

“The major challenge of the whole project was operating in the border,” Sepúlveda says. “Lack of governance there is the one big challenge.”

“In Nicaragua, El Tuma La Dalia is doing well with restoration, earning some extra money for coffee farmers,” Sepúlveda explains. “But at Columbus Mine, the deforestation has been very bad.”

Columbus Mine is the home of the Tasba-Pry indigenous group and, according to the report, their practice of communal land ownership, although recognized by the government, is coming into conflict with the growing population of settlers who pursue private ownership.

It is a similarly mixed story in Honduras: “At Rio Platáno they are approaching forest management, which is good,” Sepúlveda says. “But in Rio Blanco livestock is taking down all the forest that is left.”

Rio Platáno is home to several different indigenous groups, whose land rights have not been recognized by the government. As a result, the NHSL study reports, they have fallen victim to land grabs.

“We also have problems there with drug trafficking,” López-Sampson says. “It’s really hard to work in that kind of geography because it’s not only about land management; it’s also about organized criminal activities.”

But of course these kinds of challenges are not unique to the NHSL and researchers must understand the whole picture in order to change behaviors.

“We chose a combination of both different contexts and people,” Sepúlveda explains. “It makes for a contrast to the other agricultural sites, which are more stable.”

Sentinel solutions: Making change happen

The Sentinel Landscapes program is a breathtaking display of the research possible when scientists from different disciplines collaborate at every scale, from collecting soil samples on the ground to capturing remote sensing data from space to conducting focus group discussions with farmers or interviewing individual farmers on their farms.

Discussion groups with farmers and local communities in Rio Blanco

“We need a lot of people to do our work,” López-Sampson says. “The coordination of knowledge is really important: between academics, but also among the local organizations who are doing all the interventions we try to promote so that we all have healthy ecosystems.”

The team hopes that the work they have done in the NHSL can help Honduras move further up that forest transition curve and encourage Nicaragua to bottom out their deforestation sooner rather than later.

“Trees are now part of the agenda,” López-Sampson says. “Trees are now seen as important to have on the farms, not only to provide timber, but as part of local community strategies to provide incomes and help maintain a healthy ecosystem by providing a link between the landscape and the agroforestry system.”

Meanwhile, Vågen is ambitious about the future: “Using LDSF we can accurately track changes over time and create bespoke interventions for specific plots and specific farmers to maximize land conservation, biodiversity and soil organic carbon capture.”

It is clear that the long term monitoring of the Sentinel Landscapes approach is absolutely necessary to bring clarity to the slow processes of landscape management and climate change.

“Five, ten years isn’t long enough,” Sepúlveda concludes. “I really hope these projects carry on, in order to see restoration, in order to see people change their minds and in order to see the new generations make change happen.”

The ultimate goal of the Sentinel Landscapes approach is to build up on these diverse data over longer periods and be able to integrate the socio-economic, biophysical and political indicators. For example, with long-term data, it will be interesting to map out causal links between household poverty levels (see diagram below)  and land degradation over time in the four sites; and how these vary through different governance structures across communities.

The Economist recently published an interesting report in 2017 titled “The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data”. With adequate investment and if collected in a dynamic, responsive and consistent way, big data approaches that monitor and integrate indicators from diverse disciplines such as the natural and social sciences, can lead to more complete and actionable set of insights for better adaption and mitigation strategies against climate change. Initiatives such as the SL could well be the next oil in future.

 “A warning shot”: Sentinel Landscapes research and Coronavirus

At the time this article was written, all the NHSL scientists were already all working from home (be it in Costa Rica, Nicaragua or Kenya), in a global attempt to slow the transmission of coronavirus. “Our heavy reliance on industrial agriculture, with large, uniform herds, makes us vulnerable to outbreaks,” Vågen says. “The information we can provide, such as landscape diversity, could be a valuable contribution down the road.”

As animals and people are forced into closer proximity either in landscapes because wildlife habitats are anthropized, or through wild food markets, the probability of a virus making the leap to humans increases.

Vågen warns that ecological degradation makes diseases such as Covid-19 much more likely and, in our hyper-connected world, we need to start paying closer attention.

“It’s one of those up and coming things that we need to be looking at,” Vågen says. “And not just coronavirus, but other diseases,” he adds. “For me, it’s a warning shot. It’s something that we need to understand better, how it relates to the state of our planet in general.”

In times past, sentinels were flesh and blood watchers responsible at all hours to warn their kinsfolk of any approaching existential threat – whether wild beast, enemy army, fire or plague.

Today, our most valuable sentinels are scientific: the ice core samples that warn us of global heating; the remote sensing data that warn us of deforestation.

The Covid-19 outbreak shows what can happen when we have no sentinels – or, worse, when we ignore them. Without sufficient, credible warning, our society becomes extremely vulnerable to unseen existential threats.

The United Nations has sworn to dedicate the coming decade to halting ecosystem degradation and restoring already degraded ecosystems. But if science is to guide us safely through the Anthropocene, then we need to support our scientific watchers through continuous monitoring programs like Sentinel Landscapes.

More crucially, we need to listen.

 


By David Charles. This article was produced by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). 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, INBAR, ICRAF and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.


Selected references

Chiputwa, B., Ihli, H.J., Wainaina, P., Gassner, A., 2020. Accounting for the invisible value of trees on farms through valuation of ecosystem services, in: Rusinamhodzi, L. (Ed.), The Role of Ecosystem Services in Sustainable Food Systems. Elsevier Inc., pp. 229–261. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-816436-5.00012-3

Chiputwa, B. 2016. An exploratory guide on constructing socioeconomic indicators for the Sentinel Landscape Project: The case of the Nicaragua-Honduras Sentinel Landscape. Nairobi, Kenya: World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), 56 p. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8GL6bTxo5ekMXRzN003ck1hV1E/view

Chiputwa, B., Spielman, D.J., Qaim, M., 2015. Food Standards, Certification, and Poverty among Coffee Farmers in Uganda, World Development Vol. 66, pp. 400–412. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305750X1400271X

Coulibaly, J.Y., Chiputwa, B., Nakelse, T., Kundhlande, G., 2017. Adoption of agroforestry and the impact on household food security among farmers in Malawi. Agric. Syst. 155, 52–69. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0308521X17303001

FTA, 2011. CGIAR Research Program 6 – Forests, Trees and Agroforestry: Livelihoods, Landscapes and Governance Proposal. Document available here

Pramova, E.; Lavorel, S.; Locatelli, B.; Colloff, M.J.; Bruley, E. 2020. Adaptation in the Anthropocene: How we can support ecosystems to enable our response to change, CIFOR. https://doi.org/10.17528/cifor/007588

Sepúlveda N, Vågen T-G, Winowiecki LA, Ordoñez J, Chiputwa B, Makui P, Somarriba E and López-Sampson, A. 2020. Sentinel Landscape stocktaking pilot study: Report Nicaragua-Honduras. Working Paper 2. Bogor, Indonesia: The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). https://doi.org/10.17528/cifor/007537

Vågen, T.-G.; Winowiecki, L.A. Predicting the Spatial Distribution and Severity of Soil Erosion in the Global Tropics using Satellite Remote Sensing. Remote Sens. 2019, 11, 1800. https://www.mdpi.com/2072-4292/11/15/1800

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

Winowiecki, L., Vågen, T-G. and Huising, J. 2016. Effects of land cover on ecosystem services in Tanzania: A spatial assessment of soil organic carbon. Geoderma. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016706115000816)

Vågen, T-G and Winowiecki, L. 2013. Mapping of soil organic carbon stocks for spatially explicit assessments of climate change mitigation potential. Environmental Research Letters. 8. http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/8/1/015011

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

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

A Lubuk Beringin villager looks over fields in Dusun Buat village, Indonesia. Photo by T. Saputro/CIFOR
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“We are like 1,200 little ants,” said Tristan Lecomte, president of the PUR Project, of the global experts and scientists attending the 4th World Congress on Agroforestry last month. “We are all specialized in our own little fields – some of us on the leaves, some on the roots, some on the crops.”

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Put farmers first.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Go after the money.

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

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

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

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

  1. Think landscape.

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

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

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

  1. Plan for the long term.

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

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

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

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

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

By Marianne Gadeberg, communications specialist. 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One tomato, two tomato, three thousand tree tomatoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read also: The right species for the right purpose

A recipe for success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read also: Trees nurture nutrition

Next stop: The global development agenda

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now is the time to turn from aspiration to action.

By Marianne Gadeberg, communications specialist. 


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

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  • 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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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

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

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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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