What makes a farmer grow a tree? It depends.

Is it enough to recommend tree species to farmers? Or even to supply them with the right seedlings and advice on growing them?

Across Africa bold campaigns, such as the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), are underway to get more trees into farming landscapes, as a means to restore land, protect watersheds, and meet people’s food and energy demands sustainably. The success of these programs will be greatly influenced by farmers’ decisions to plant, keep and nurture the trees for the long haul. And as it turns out, these decisions depend heavily on the ecological and socio-economic realities farmers find themselves in, which vary widely.

Farmers need different things from trees. Photo of Oromia farmers by Miyuki Iiyama/ICRAF.

Farmers need different things from trees. Photo of Oromia farmers by Miyuki Iiyama/ICRAF.

In an effort to unravel farmers’ decision-making process around tree adoption, researchers from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and partners conducted a socio-economic study of farming households in Ethiopia’s Oromia State. The rich results gleaned from the study are published in the Open Access journal Agroforestry Systems.

For the study, Miyuki Iiyama, a socio-economics researcher with ICRAF and Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS), in collaboration with colleagues from ICRAF and the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research, conducted surveys of 687 households in Oromia State, Ethiopia. The farmers were in nine woredas (districts within the state) of East Shewa Zone, which falls within the semi-arid agroecology, and East Wollega and West Shewa Zones that are in the sub-humid agroecology.

Besides household surveys, the researchers also collected data on tree species on the farms, to complement existing maps of the region.

Iiyama says overall, farmers’ decisions to do with trees on farms were shaped by three major considerations: their environment, their needs, and their household’s socio-economic status.

Photo by Miyuki Iiyama/ICRAF

Photo by Miyuki Iiyama/ICRAF

“We found that farmers decided on the tree species to keep based on where their farm was located in terms of ecology, rainfall and land topography, but also on their needs and their asset profiles,” says Iiyama. The farmers grew native and exotic species based on these criteria.

Among the needs trees fulfil, fuel (firewood and charcoal) was the most frequently cited by the Oromia farmers. But many farmers also nurtured trees for their commercial value (timber, fruit, fodder, and medicine), subsistence (construction and tools for domestic use), environmental services (shade, windbreaks, soil fertility, erosion control), and fencing (either as live fences or poles).

Iiyama points out the heterogeneity of farmers in the survey, and how this influenced their choices.

“Even within a kebele (village), individual farmers picked different trees and adoption strategies based on their situation, in terms of their needs and resource endowment,” she says.

Landscape in Oromia State, Ethiopia. Photo by Miyuki Iiyama/ICRAF

That farmers’ agroecological zone dictated the tree species they chose was expected. But the research found also that the farmer’s environment heavily influenced the agroforestry strategy they picked.

The semi-arid zones (East Shewa) were strongholds of farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR) of trees, with hardy Acacia species, Zizyphus mucronata, Faidherbia albida, and Balanties aegyptiaca (bedeno) preferred. In contrast, in the sub-humid zone (East Wollega and West Shewa), farmers preferred high-value agroforestry (HVAF), purposely planting trees seedlings of species such as Mangifera indica (mango) and Eucalyptus spp. to produce fruits, timber and fodder. Farmers in relatively sloping areas within the sub-humid-zone also practiced FMNR to meet subsistence needs and benefit from environmental services of the trees, such as soil protection. Here, Cordia Africana (called ‘wadessa’ in Oromiffa language), Croton macrostachyus (bakanisa), and Vernonia amygdalina (ebicha), were common.

In depth analysis of the study results revealed other important factors influencing farmers’ decisions to adopt farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR) of trees or high value agroforestry (HVAF) in often contrasting styles. These include:

  • Land access. Land ownership, even without formal certificates of title, provided a positive incentive to adopt HVAF, while the possibility of tenure upgrading provided a positive incentive for FMNR, through reducing the risk of land appropriation
  • Communal grazing. Free-grazing of livestock discouraged high-value agroforestry because of the likelihood of the goats, sheep and cattle destroying young seedlings. Communal grazing, on the other hand, was consistent with the adoption of FMNR. Iiyama says this signals a need for arrangements to protect young trees wherever widespread agroforestry with actively planted tree species is being promoted.
  • Asset/income Overall, higher levels of farm assets (livestock, land, etc) and regular on- or off-farm income improved the likelihood of farmers’ adopting HVAF as an investment driven by economic utility.
  • Land and labor availability. Decisions to adopt FMNR, which involves managing and protecting tree stumps until maturity, were made based on land and labour availability which may allow farm households to extensively manage trees on farm to derive multiple ecosystem services.

Based on these study results and those of other researchers, Iiyama and her colleagues conclude that uniform agroforestry recommendations to diverse farmers, and “tree promotion efforts that focus on a few, usually exotic, tree species,” are likely to falter.

They recommend, instead “Promoting a diversity of tree species, in keeping with the fine-scale variation in ecological conditions and farmer circumstances.”

In other words, says Iiyama, an ‘Options by Context’ approach is essential to meet tree-growing targets, be they local, regional or global. Such an approach will be key to meeting country-led efforts such as AFR100, which seeks to bring 100 million hectares of land in Africa into restoration by 2030.

This study as a part of the baseline survey of the ‘Trees for Food Security Project’ funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the CGIAR Research Programme on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. The Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) supported the implementation of the data collection through mobilizing enumerators and arranging logistics during the survey.

Download article (Open Access)

Understanding patterns of tree adoption on farms in semi- arid and sub-humid Ethiopia. By Miyuki Iiyama, Abayneh Derero, Kaleb Kelemu, Catherine Muthuri, Ruth Kinuthia, Ermias Ayenkulu, Evelyn Kiptot, Kiros Hadgu, Jeremias Mowo, Fergus L. Sinclair. Agroforestry Systems
 DOI 10.1007/s10457-016-9926-y . 2016. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com

See more photos from the study sites at https://www.flickr.com/photos/143272250@N02/sets/72157669531246886/with/27330280710/


This study as a part of the baseline survey of the ‘‘Trees for Food Security Project’’ funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the CGIAR Research Programme on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

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Daisy Ouya

Daisy Ouya is a science writer and communications specialist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Over the past 15 years she has been packaging and disseminating scientific knowledge in the fields of entomology, agriculture, health, HIV/AIDS research, and marine science. Daisy is a Board-certified Editor in the Life Sciences (bels.org) and has a Masters’ degree in chemistry from the University of Connecticut, USA. Her BSc is from the University of Nairobi in her native Kenya. She has worked as a journal editor, science writer, publisher, and communications strategist with various organizations. She joined ICRAF in July 2012. Twitter: @daisyouya

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