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Promoting community-led multi-functional tree nurseries to support agroforestry, land restoration and forest conservation in rural Africa.



Treeconomy is a low-cost, flexible and replicable model for sustainable natural resource management in rural Africa. Capacity building for multi-functional tree nurseries is at its core.

The use of tree nurseries in Africa isn’t new, but Governments, NGOs and commercial nurseries often promote a narrow range of species and strategies. The full potential of tree nurseries is rarely exploited and innovations are slow to spread. There’s a need to develop nurseries to meet farmer and community needs.  This includes developing indigenous locally useful species that produce food and marketable products, and agroforestry strategies that fit local needs and enhance the productivity and sustainability of farming systems.

The challenge is to raise the quality and range of trees that can deliver environmental, social and economic benefits, including food security, poverty alleviation, climate change mitigation and landscape conservation.

Treeconomy differs from most agroforestry projects in that it provides the catalytic missing ingredient in African rural development: the bottom-up training of rural communities about the participatory development of new tree crops and the integration of trees within diversified and sustainably intensified agroecosystems that generate both ecological rehabilitation and income generation from enhanced value chains in local markets. This has been successfully tested in Cameroon (growing from 10 farmers in 2 villages to 10,000 farmers in 500 villages in 12 years, Tchoundjeu et al 2002, 2006, 2010) and demonstrated to lift communities out of subsistence and into the cash economy.

International Tree Foundation’s experience of working with small-scale African CBOs demonstrates that the bottom-up model is successful across different countries and social/ecological contexts.  The overarching need is for community training in the management of tree nurseries for the domestication of trees producing marketable products - the prime focus of this proposal. 

What actions do you propose?

The Treeconomy model is composed of five steps aimed at breaking the cycle of land degradation, food insecurity, poverty and migration that affects many rural and peri-urban areas across Africa. It will further address global concerns about continuing deforestation, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, and climate change.

In the Treeconomy model, cultivars are selected and developed by farmers through participatory domestication (Leakey, 2014) based on skills learned in village groups during a capacity-building process. This bottom-up approach ensures that technocratic failures are avoided, and communities benefit from their own innovations. Farmer training leads to community empowerment, self-sufficiency, and the emergence of new tree crops that meet immediate and future needs: an African solution to Africa’s food crisis. Tree crops are managed in a range of agroforestry practices as diverse as improved fallows, cacao/coffee shade, orchards, scattered trees in food crops, boundary and contour plantings and woodlots. All these practices enhance and enrich soil fertility and agroecosystem functions in ways that remove the key constraints to productive agriculture and close the characteristic Yield Gap of Africa farms (typically as much as 70-85% of potential staple crop yield).  This approach also generates income and in time incubates new cottage industries which add value to traditional and often neglected tree products.

Capacity building and effective community facilitation are at the heart of this approach.  Treeconomy will build the capacity of tree nurseries and partners to operate on a sustainable and self-financing basis, through sales of seedlings and planting materials that farmers value.  It will also build the capacity of farmers to process and market tree products through small industries, building on successful examples already demonstrated in countries as diverse as Cameroon and Mali.  



Local communities are mobilised through participatory facilitation techniques: focus-group discussions will identify the major environmental challenges of a given community as well as the local market opportunities and the specific training needs.  Communities will select the tree species to be included in the multi-functional tree nursery that serves the village (Leakey, 2014).  Good practices will be shared and replicated through utilising a cohort of ‘demonstration CBOs’ who have proven success and expertise.

Training will be provided through the use of low-tech and skills-based programs. It will cover the following range of topics:

· Establishment and management of tree nurseries;

· Agroforestry opportunities;

· The importance of forest restoration and land restoration;

· Marketing and commercialisation of tree products.

In order to create a consolidated and integrated effort over the African continent, the training will encourage rural communities to pursue a common official accreditation in tree nursery management, agroforestry, and land / forest restoration. There will be a strong focus on trees that produce valuable foods, medicines and other products, as well as nitrogen fixing and soil improving ‘fertiliser trees’. The technical skills that the training will develop will include the following: improved fallows and pastures with trees, alley cropping, contour tree planting, livestock/ crop/ tree integration, nitrogen fixation, soil fertility enhancement, soil organic matter improvement, soil and water conservation through agroforestry, and natural forest restoration.



Treeconomy nurseries will be established or adopted (where nurseries already exist) with the specific goal to address the local environmental problems and their associated economic and social consequences. Depending on the context, these tree nurseries will serve a minimum of two landscape restoration tasks: forest restoration, land restoration and/or farm soil restoration through agroforestry.

A typical tree nursery will grow 10,000 trees per year and involve at least 100 local farmers. The nurseries will use a number of propagation techniques in order to secure the highest benefits possible: tree seedlings, marcotted and grafted fruit tree cultivars, and domestication of indigenous forest species for agroforestry.



Treeconomy nurseries will serve many functions, depending on the most pressing and specific needs of a locality:

a) Agroforestry: in landscapes where farm soils are degraded and crop yields are low, the Treeconomy nursery will be used to support well tested and appropriate agroforestry interventions which will enhance nitrogen fixation and soil organic matter content, and improve microclimatic conditions for crops, and thus increase the productivity and sustainability of the farming system as a whole. This activity will introduce and enhance practices such as alley cropping, intercropping, crop shade management, boundary and contour line planting, with trees for fruits and other food products, timber products and fodder.

b) Land restoration: in landscapes affected by a high level of land degradation, this activity will introduce and enhance tree planting practices for fencing and restoring degraded land, enhancing nitrogen fixation, and increasing soil organic matter content. Soil erosion and the loss of nutrients will be slowed or halted and farmer-managed natural regeneration of native species will increase tree cover and enable land to be returned to sustainable production of crops, livestock or both.

c) Forest conservation: in landscapes where forest coverage is under a continuous threat, the Treeconomy nurseries will raise indigenous trees for restoring local primary forests and buffer zones around which rural communities live.

In each case, potential opportunities for income generation from tree products will be identified and prioritised at the outset.

All these interventions will contribute to increase above-ground and below-ground carbon sequestration.



Treeconomy envisages two main streams of income generation:

(i) Tree nurseries. Treeconomy nurseries will be established and developed towards becoming self-financing operations with the capacity to sustain their operations through the sale of products and services that are of real value to the local community.  Each nursery will receive start-up/seed funding on a tapered basis for up to 3 years.  Initially they may also be reliant on voluntary support from community members but longer term sustainability will depend on their ability to generate their own income.

(ii) Tree Products. In a further stage of capacity building, potential income generation opportunities will be developed with training on processing and adding value to tree products and finding market opportunities.  The aim is to incubate new cottage industries which add value to traditional and often neglected tree products, and generate income.  This will build on, for example, excellent examples of Non-Timber Forest Product development, processing and marketing developed by CBOs and NGOs in Mali and Cameroon.



Trainers and facilitators will ensure that the farmers and communities involved have the capacity to monitor the performance of the Treeconomy nurseries and the effectiveness of the tree planting strategies in addressing the needs that they have identified.

Critically, success stories and challenges will be shared by Treeconomy nurseries within and between countries in order to enhance opportunities to scale up impacts.  Farmer to farmer exchanges and other forms of information exchange will be crucial to the scaling up of successful strategies especially across landscapes that share common agro-ecological characteristics. 

Evaluation reports and impact assessments will collect the data necessary to scale and adjust the Treeconomy model beyond the 20 countries of initial intervention. In particular, these studies will reflect on the “tree packages” that have proven more successful at generating income while halting or reversing environmental degradation and that have been embraced by local farmers wholeheartedly.

Who will take these actions?

A number of key bodies (EverGreen Agriculture Partnership, ICRAF, ITF, Groundswell International, World Vision, Smallholder Farmers Alliance, SahelEco) came together recently to discuss the formation of an Agroforestry Scaling-Up Alliance for Africa and this proposal has emerged from and will be guided by a vast array of learning and expertise.

Treeconomy overcomes some of the challenges facing both large and small scale initiatives.  Large scale initiatives often fail to reach the ground or to invest in the long-term community capacity building to realise the community ownership required for sustainability. Successful small-scale initiatives are often invisible to policy makers and funders and have not the opportunity to be scaled-up and replicated. Treeconomy works at a large scale by building on local expertise and multiple examples of success at the small scale.

The initiative will be implemented by a consortium of local, country-level and international organisations who have pioneered this approach. Current partners include: International Tree Foundation; Community Assistance in Development(COMAID) Cameroon; ERuDeF Cameroon; Sungmaale Integrated Herbalists(SIHA) Ghana; Mount Kenya Environmental Conservation(MKEC) Kenya; Masaka District Land Care Chapter(MADLACC) Uganda; Village Enterprises Foundation Organisation, Uganda; Temwa Malawi; Association Colibantan, Senegal; L'Association pour la Préservation du Capital Productif(APCP/KG), Burkina Faso; Mpingo Conservation&Development Initiative, Tanzania.

ITF will be responsible for implementing the model and establishing further partnerships together with EverGreen Agriculture Partnership.

Local NGOs, CBOs, and village groups will be responsible for tree nursery management and the activities which surround the multi-functional tree nurseries

National seed institutes such as BGCI and ICRAF will assure the seed supply.

Governments of participating countries will act as partners and supporters of the pan-African initiative.

Where will these actions be taken?

The following 20 countries in Africa are proposed for the initiative:

-  West Africa: Ghana, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Nigeria, Sierra Leone;

-  Central Africa: Cameroon, DRC, CAR, Republic of Congo;

-  East Africa: Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania;

-  Southern Africa: Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa.

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

The scope is potentially enormous.  Grassroots tree planting, and community stewardship and protection of planted trees, lead to more sustainable results and higher survival rates.

Treeconomy has the potential to sequester 12 billion of carbon per annum if implemented in 20 African countries.  In the simplest version of the Treeconomy model:

  • 200 tree nurseries per country, established in 20 African countries, produce 10,000 seedlings per year for planting, at an average of 50 trees per hectare, by small-holder farmers, and lead to a cumulative total, over a period of 18 years, of 600 million trees sequestering 12 million tonnes of carbon per year at an average 20kg of carbon per tree per year.


But the benefits go far beyond carbon.  The same model would help to restore 12 million hectares of land, and directly improve the livelihoods of 6 million farming families. 


What are other key benefits?

The additional positive impacts of this initiative include:

  1. Greater availability of tree products with added-value potential through processing
  2. Improved access to food stuffs all year round
  3. Diversification of local diets and micro-nutrients intakes
  4. Better nutrition and rural health
  5. Revitalization of rural farms
  6. Improved livelihoods through sustainable income-generating opportunities
  7. Protection of local cultures and traditions
  8. Building capacity of CBOs and civil society
  9. Greater understanding of the value of trees
  10. Reduction in migration towards urban centres by young people
  11. Maintenance of healthy and resilient ecosystems
  12. Protection of wildlife and ecological niches and their food-chain and life cycle

What are the proposal’s costs?

Implementing “Treeconomy” in 20 countries will imply a cost of $20 million a year. The budget focuses on community training in a wide range of relevant skills associated with tree nurseries, agroforestry, tree domestication and the commercialization/value-adding of tree products.  The aim in every case is to establish Treeconomy nurseries as self-financing centres of best practice.

Time line

  • The first cohort of 5 countries starts in Y1, reaches full capacity (200,000 trees) in Year 4, and continues to Y18 planting 33 million trees per country in total.
  • The second cohort of 5 countries starts in Y2, reaches full capacity (200,000 trees) in Y5, and continues to Y18 planting 31 million trees per country in total.
  • The third cohort of 5 countries starts in Y3, reaches full capacity (200,000 trees) in Y6, and continues to Y18, , planting 29 million trees per country in total.  
  • The fourth cohort of 5 countries starts in Y4, reaches full capacity (200,000 trees) in Y7, and continues to Y18, planting 27 million trees per country in total. 
  • Total planting in 20 countries by Y18 is 600 million trees.


Agroforestry follow up and development will continue in all 20 countries for a further 5 years to Y23.

Related proposals


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Asaah, E.K., Tchoundjeu, Z., Wanduku, T.N., Van Damme, P. (2010). Understanding structural roots system of 5-year-old African plum tree (D. edulis) of seed and vegetative origins (G. Don) H. J. Lam). Trees Structure and Function. 24:789-796, DOI: 10.1007/s00468-010-0449-2.

Asaah, E.K., Tchoundjeu, Z., Wanduku, T.N., Van Damme, P. (2012). Beyond vegetative propagationof indigenuous trees: case of dacryodes edulis (G.Don) H.J. Lam and Allanblackia Oliv. Afrika Focus, Vol. 25(1), 61-72

Degrande, A., Franzel, S., Yeptiep, Y.S., Asaah, E., Tsobeng, A. and Tchoundjeu, Z. (2012). Effectiveness of grassroots organisations in the dissemination of agroforestry innovations. In: Agroforestry for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services – Science and Practice, Elsevier, 141-164.

Franzel, S et al., (1996). The Right Trees for the Site.

Leakey, R.R.B. (2012a). The intensification of agroforestry by tree domestication for enhanced social and economic impact. CAB Reviews: Perspectives in Agriculture, Veterinary Science, Nutritional and Natural Resources 7 (035), 1-3.

Leakey, R.R.B. (2012b). Living with the Trees of Life – Towards the transformation of tropical Agriculture. Wallingford, UK. 

Leakey, R.R.B. (2014). Agroforestry: Participatory domestication of Trees. In: Neal Van Alfen, Encyclopedia of Agriculture and Food Systems, Vol.1, Elsevier, 253-269

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Van Noordwijk, M., Hoang, M.H., Neufeldt, Öborn, I. and Yatich, T. (Eds.) (2011). How trees and people can co-adapt to climate change: reducing vulnerability through multifunctional agroforestry landscapes. World Agroforestry Centre, Nairobi.