You are here

Taking tree-based ecosystem approaches to scale


Land management approaches that use trees have led to an increase in yields and income, an increase in climate resilience, and more carbon sequestration than conventional approaches (thus yielding a ‘triple win’). These tree-based systems (TBS) can assist in improving food security and resilience because they contribute to soil productivity, water availability and genetic variability. They also ensure the overall robustness and resilience of an agricultural system to external shocks. With appropriate policy conditions, these tree-based systems can also assist in diversifying the income portfolio, especially when trees on farms can be sold for timber or firewood. Examples include the planting of the nitrogen-fixing tree Faidherbia albida, which has been shown to double maize yields in Malawi. The same species is being grown on millions of hectares of cropland throughout Niger at densities of up to 200 trees per hectare, which has tripled the yields of the crops growing beneath them. Few of these ‘triple win’ systems, however, have been replicated at scale.


This activity aimed to strengthen the application of TBEA policies in African countries. This involved: (i) examining how existing TBS contribute to enhancing food security and mitigating climate change; (ii) identifying appropriate policy and institutional measures to scale up such approaches; and (iii) improving our knowledge of how agents’ preferences, biophysical characteristics, resource endowments, market incentives, and risk and uncertainty influence the adoption of TBS.


The key outputs from the project are:

  1. A state-of-knowledge report done in partnership with Ecoagriculture, IFPRI, WRI, CATIE, and ICRAF. The report reviewed over 100 examples of TBS and found that only a small subset of the case studies had quantitative evidence on how these systems generate a triple win (i.e., increased carbon sequestration, improved food security, and income for resilience to weather events). Moreover, while several studies examined the motivations for adoption and offered evidence of how adoption at scale could be achieved, few had looked at adoption that was already occurring at scale and traced the reasons behind these trends. Findings from the review informed an expert meeting on the conditions for scaling up TBS. The report was also disseminated at the Landscapes Forum in Warsaw (a side event at the 2013 UNFCCC COP) and presented at the World Agroforestry Conference in New Delhi in February 2014.
  2. Country studies for Malawi and Rwanda that include analysis of primary household data, done in partnership with ICRAF and WRI.

    The Rwanda study found that the country’s environment is suffering from land degradation, soil erosion, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and pollution, mainly due to agricultural expansion, livestock farming and unsustainable fuel wood extraction. TBS mainly include agroforestry systems managed by smallholders. The study found that sustained adoption of TBS at scale is only guaranteed if communities collectively recognize tangible benefits such as provisions of fuel and bean stakes, and compatibility with the sustainable intensification of existing farming system, supported by favorable tenure, market, and institutional conditions.

    The Malawi study focused on farmer managed natural regeneration (FMNR) approaches because of their low-cost nature and few constraints. The spontaneous scale-up of FMNR in Malawi has been driven by many factors, including declining soil fertility and agricultural production. The study estimated that Malawi could save $71 million per year as part of its Farm Input Subsidy Program (FISP) if participating farmer intercropped maize with Gliricidia trees.

  3. A brief on the Malawi country report;
  4. A synthesis report on the framework for scaling up, which drew heavily on the World Resources Institute’s diagnostic for forest restoration and the work conducted by Linn and Hannmann on scaling up; and
  5. A PowerPoint presentation (with voice-over).

    In order to raise awareness about the extent of trees on agricultural landscapes, this project sought to engage and reach development partners and the government counterparts throughout the implementation process. Workshops were successfully conducted, and countries are applying the results. In Malawi, these results will inform the national landscape restoration assessment and strategy/action plan. They will also inform discussions on how a watershed-based comprehensive approach to scaling-up TBS might be pursued through upcoming World Bank support to Malawi, in connection to the FISP in particular.

    For stories and updates on related activities, follow us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our mailing list for regular updates


For stories and updates on related activities, follow us on twitter and facebook, or to our mailing list for regular updates.

Author : Diji Chandrasekharan Behr (PROFOR), Ecoagriculture Partners, WRI, ICRAF
Last Updated : 05-02-2018