Trees for food security: an update for year one

Trees for Food Security is a four-country, four-year project (2012–2016) funded by the AIFSC and managed by ACIAR. It is using Evergreen Agriculture (integrating trees into crop and livestock farming) to improve food security in the Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, through research and scaling up adoption. The project is coordinated by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in partnership with the governments of the four partner countries and is being implemented by a multidisciplinary partnership of international and national institutions.

The project targets distinct agroecologies that are home to over 30 million rural people, out of whom an estimated 11 million face acute food security problems. It coincides with active national tree-planting initiatives in Rwanda and Ethiopia and is conducting research to identify the right tree for the right place in target communities to better inform these national planting programs. In its first two years the project is focusing on agroecologies in Ethiopia and Rwanda and successes and lessons from Rwanda will be scaled out to parts of Uganda and Burundi from the third year onwards.

Good progress has been made during the first year of the project. It was launched at two separate inception workshops in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Kigali, Rwanda in early August 2012. The workshops were attended by the ACIAR and AIFSC staff and researchers from ICRAF, CIMMYT, CSIRO and World Vision in both countries and in each country by government and collaborating institutions. Key outcomes of the workshop included a renewed commitment from the Ethiopian and Rwandan governments and a refined understanding by the project partners of their roles in the project.

The Steering Committee Meeting was held in May 7-9 2013 in Musanze, Rwanda, consisting of a one day field trip to the project sites and discussion about progress in the region. Read more about the meeting in a trip report by Liz Ogutu, AIFSC Nairobi office.

Training activities

Four training workshops have been held including: a baseline and extension design workshop on 28-29 August 2012 at ICRAF, Nairobi, Kenya; a modelling workshop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 2-5 October 2012; a local knowledge training workshop in Adama, Ethiopia on 3-15 February 2013; and a participatory trial design workshop in Adama, Ethiopia in April 2013. These workshops have strengthened the capacity of researchers, government officers, farmers and extension workers. The baseline design workshop involved guided group discussions to help design the protocols to use in collecting baseline data. At the end of the workshop, a questionnaire was designed.  During the soil survey local researchers were trained on soil sampling techniques and the new land health surveillance technique developed at ICRAF. The modelling workshop helped identify the gaps in data and knowledge of modelling amongst the key researchers from collaborating institutions. It also included a field visit to the Bako and Melkassa sites in Ethiopia where participants interacted with farmers and extension workers. The participatory trials and local knowledge training were aimed at understanding the challenges and opportunities that exist in increasing tree coverage on farms. The facilitators interacted with a large audience drawn from extension, government, farmers and researchers. At the end of these workshops the focus of the participatory trials was defined and farmers agreed to carry out trials on their farms. In baseline survey 28 enumerators were trained, in modelling 28, in local knowledge training 14, while in participatory trials and design workshops 27 participants were involved.

A female focus group discussion on resource mapping which was part of the local knowledge training. Photo credit Genevieve Lamond, ICRAF consultant and staff at Bangor University

Together with the other AIFSC project leaders, I attended a Masterclass in Communications in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in April 2013. This workshop provided a better understanding of the range of communications activities involved in the project, including the importance of communicating our results to policy makers to ensure that our research will be of value and guide the national tree planting programs in Ethiopia and Rwanda.

From left, Director Masterclasses and Training, The  Crawford fund Dr Eric Craswell, Australian Ambassador Lisa Filipetto, Prof Catherine Muthuri receiving her certificate for the Masterclass, and Azage Tegene, ILRI Deputy to DG Representative, Ethiopia and Australia Awards Alumni Ambassador. Photo credit Liz Ogutu, AIFSC

Modelling project impacts

Trees take a long time to mature and their effect on water, soil health, crop productivity and overall system performance vary with age, planting densities/mixtures, management and in different agrocelogies. Therefore, collecting data about young trees planted under controlled long term trials and in farmers’ fields or using existing trees on farms in limited experimental sites may be inadequate to capture the whole picture of these interactions. In order to address this limitation, a modeling approach will be applied whereby data from field experiments and past experiences will be used to parameterize and run models to predict the impact of these interventions on scaling up and out. The modeling workshop was thus critical in helping determine what data is required, what kind of participatory and experimental trials will be set up and to collect past experiences and relevant data that would enrich the modeling. Experimental data will be collected through several participatory trials and long term controlled trials managed by the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR) and the Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB.) CIMMYT is also collecting data on microclimate and for genotype × environment × management (G×E×M) interactions with respect to heat stress and water use efficiency.

Survey results shaping the project

Preliminary results on the nursery survey and local knowledge studies carried out in Rwanda in April and May 2013 revealed the following insights, which are shaping the project. There are many government nurseries in each sector subcontracted to and run by competent cooperatives. When the seedlings are mature the government distributes them. However the demand for seedlings is still higher than the supply and though there are a few private nurseries the operators lack particular skills such as grafting. The project has identified an urgent need to train these operators. More critically the nurseries grow only one to three tree species; therefore there is a great opportunity for the project to provide more species to enhance diversity. It was also evident that farmers only manage trees based on their needs e.g. fruit, fuel wood, etc. and not on factors that affect tree crop productivity like shading. Therefore more training for farmers is required regarding tree management to maximise both tree products and environmental services to enhance food security. 

The local surveys in Rwanda revealed that high demands for timber products, charcoal and fodder pose threats to young trees. However a goal of the project is to meet these needs by growing trees to offer farmers alternative livelihood options (tree products as well as crops). It is hoped that this will strengthen food security by providing alternative sources of income. Government policies such as the ‘one cow per family’ program is also enhancing family nutrition and incorporating trees on farms will provide more fodder to feed these cows.

 Girls carrying firewood in Bugesera. Photo credit Catherine Muthuri ICRAF

By Project Leader Prof Catherine Muthuri, read more about the project on the AIFSC site or the ICRAF project page.