Trees & Agroforestry
Smallholder farmers are highly vulnerable to our changing climate. Because their livelihoods are reliant on land, they are disproportionately affected by issues like water scarcity, nutrient-depleted soil, deforestation, and reductions in biodiversity. To combat these challenges, we provide a holistic suite of climate resilience products and services, including drought-tolerant seed varieties, diverse crops, crop insurance, and, importantly, tree-planting.
One Acre Fund believes tree-planting is Africa’s single most powerful intervention at the intersection of climate and poverty for smallholder farmers. Tree planting is critical to Africa’s future as it offers among the most cost-effective ways for rural households to build assets and to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to help tackle the climate crisis. After nearly a decade of research and development, we are championing Africa’s largest and most efficient farmer-led tree planting initiative — to plant 1 billion trees over the course of 15 years.
In our experience, with each tree planted, farmers earn back many times their investment. Especially during economically-trying times, when incomes from other sources are strained, trees can provide a reliable safety net for rural farm families. One Acre Fund uses a highly rigorous methodology to estimate the financial value of our tree-planting program: we count only ‘additional’ surviving trees (above and beyond those planted by non-program farmers) and compare projected tree revenues and costs over a tree’s lifetime. In 2019, we found each additional, surviving tree generated over $4 in net present value, representing a greater than 200 percent financial return on a farmer’s investment of money, time, and land.
More broadly, trees offer a range of environmental benefits. When planted alongside crops, most varieties of trees contribute significantly to soil health by controlling erosion, improving the soil’s ability to absorb water, and maintaining a high level of organic matter, as well as fixing nitrogen. Trees can also play an important role in improving biodiversity; indeed, One Acre Fund offers at least three context-specific species in each region we serve; ensuring farmers plant a mix of exotic and indigenous species; and a mix of timber, fruit/nut, and soil improver varieties. Finally, One Acre Fund is committed to rigorously measuring the carbon sequestration of our tree program; carefully accounting for factors such as additionality and permanence to quantify farmers’ contributions to mitigating the effects of climate change.
Multi-country agroforestry experience
Between 2011 and 2019, One Acre Fund worked with more than 990,000 farmers in nine countries to plant 40 million trees. This agroforestry intervention spans our various country programs, with each tailored to the local context. To increase our impact, we try to get as many farmers as possible to sign up for trees, and we work to ensure the biggest number of seedlings survive through training farmers on best tree growing practices. We continually improve our tree model to ensure it is:
- Innovative — We test a broad range of tree species, products, and business models
- Market-oriented — We choose tree species that are of value in local markets to ensure the trees are effective savings vehicles for farmers
- Scalable — It can be rapidly successfully replicated over large areas
In 2012, we began by distributing seed kits, primarily for grevillea, in Western Kenya. Since then, while regularly refining our tree kits and approach, we have continued to expand our tree program, attaining 2.8 million trees planted in 2019 in Kenya. Our agroforestry program is popular with farmers because the grevillea seedlings we offer do not compete with crops for nutrients. What’s more, trees offer a solid long-term investment, as they are seldom affected by weather extremes, such as drought and heavy rain. With this initiative, we project that the farmers we work with will plant more than 70 million trees in Kenya between 2019 and 2024.
We introduced our first agroforestry products in Rwanda in 2010. Since then, we have tested, refined, and scaled various models for mass tree planting. We have built this program through our capacity and knowledge in agronomy, product testing, rural distribution, farmer training, and monitoring and evaluation. Over the last decade, we have scaled our agroforestry activities by increasing the number of trees planted— including fruit trees, such as avocado, which constitute an important part of farming in the country — while keeping costs low. Today, we’re partnering with a network of 14,000 extension agents to distribute trees at the village level across the entire country.
Since 2017, we have tested multiple models for tree seedling production — including through individual farms, 30-household development groups, and decentralized local nurseries in Ethiopia’s Amhara region. In 2019, we enabled 38,000 smallholder households to plant 3.9 million trees in the country, and project to grow this figure to 43 million by 2024.
Our program in Ethiopia directly benefits local nursery operators, typically smallholder farmers, who we train and support to produce an average of 40,000 seedlings each, which earn them valuable income. We also work to enable smallholders to gain valuable knowledge on trees, as well as develop business skills that can allow them to run successful farming enterprises.
While we have fully-fledged tree programs like the ones we highlight above, some others are just emerging. For example, in Malawi, we are ramping up production and distribution of seedlings both to client families through our country programs, and to non-client families through our farmer and field networks. In Tanzania, thousands of farmers have partnered with us to plant trees as an add-on investment to their food crops. Recently in Burundi, farmers from 40 districts have joined hands to establish tree nurseries both as income-generating activities and for their own tree-planting needs.
One billion tree campaign
Dependent on their farms for their livelihoods, smallholder farmers are the planet's most vulnerable to the changing climate, but also among the best positioned to help reshape our planet’s shared climate future. Tree-planting offers among the most cost-effective opportunities to build financial and environmental assets for Africa’s rural poor, while reversing deforestation and sequestering carbon at large-scale. To realize these powerful benefits, One Acre Fund will partner with four million farmers to plant 250 million trees in sub-Saharan Africa by 2024, the first stage in our initiative to plant 1 billion trees over 15 years.