ICRAF and One Acre Fund chart ways forward on trees

Rwandan farmer

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.

“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.

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

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

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 the work of Dr Fergus Sinclair, see One small change of words – a giant leap in effectiveness! and For every tree a reason — research “in” rather than “for” agroforestry development

For more about ICRAF’s work in Rwanda, contact Dr Athanase Mukuralinda at a.mukuralinda@cgiar.org

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 Dr Catherine Muthuri at c.muthuri@cgiar.org

For more information about the work of Emilie Smith Dumont, write to e.smith@cgiar.org

Also see:

Workshop report: http://www.worldagroforestry.org/output/north-kivu-report-workshop-drc

More about the technical agroforestry guide developed for North Kivu as part of the FCCC project: Beyond eucalyptus woodlots: what’s on the agroforestry menu for communities around Virunga? The technical guide (available in French only) is available here: Guide technique d’agroforesterie pour la selection de la gestion des arbres au Nord-Kivu

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This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. ICRAF The World Agroforestry Centre is one of the 15 members of the CGIAR, a global partnership for a food-secure future. We would like to thank all donors who support research in development through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.








Cathy Watson

Cathy Watson is chief of programme development at the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi. Before joining ICRAF in November 2012, she founded and ran two NGOs in Uganda -- Straight Talk Foundation and Mvule Trust. She was made a senior Ashoka fellow for social entrepreneurship in 2006. She has also been a foreign correspondent, working for The Guardian and the BBC, among others. A graduate in biology and Latin American Studies from Princeton, she has over 30 years of work experience in Africa with a focus on trees, youth, HIV, families, and communication for social change. She holds a graduate certificate in agroforestry from the University of Missouri.

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