2020 Honoree: Trees for the Future
Trees for the Future (TREES) provides smallholder farmers pathways out of poverty and hunger by planting trees in forest gardens around the world. Their Forest Garden Approach (FGA) is a 4-year training and technical assistance program to teach rural smallholder farmers how to restore degraded agricultural land into thriving Forest Gardens. This approach benefits farmers, both economically and socially, while creating co-benefits for the environment through soil revitalization and carbon sequestration.
Primary Area of Impact: Economic Development and Environmental Sustainability
Geographic Area (Continent): Africa
Geographic Areas (Countries): Cameroon, Kenya, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda
Organizational Type: Non-Profit
Year Founded: 1989
Mission: Trees for the Future provides smallholder farmers with pathways out of poverty and hunger by planting trees in forest gardens around the world.
In much of the tropics, farming and livestock eliminates 50 soccer fields worth of trees every minute. Losing trees means losing soils, arable land, water, and biodiversity.
Trees for the Future (TREES) addresses the social challenges of hunger, poverty, deforestation, and environmental degradation in the developing world. Hunger and poverty are very common in rural areas, where agriculture is the most common source of income for families. TREES works in 5 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Cameroon, and Senegal. Since 1989, TREES inception, the Earth’s population has grown by 2 billion people. Feeding the world in our current agricultural system destroys the Earth. In much of the tropics, farming and livestock eliminates 50 soccer fields worth of trees every minute. Losing trees means losing soils, arable land, water, and biodiversity.
According to 2019 data from the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), the prevalence of hunger is rising in almost all of Africa. Furthermore, Africa has the highest percentages of people who are moderately and severely food insecure, globally, as measured by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES). The scale shows that since 2016, over 50% of Africans were either moderately or severely food insecure.
According to data from the FAO, only 23% of land in Africa is forested, with many countries being far below that number. Kenya and Uganda, respectively, only have 6% and 15% of the country’s land forested. Cameroon, Senegal, and Tanzania have a much larger percentage of their country forested, at 42%, 44%, and 38%, respectively. Africa is also seeing forested land disappear at a rate of 0.5% per year between 2005-2010. This means 3,410,000 hectares were lost each year and 762,000 each year are in TREES’ 5 countries. Tanzania alone, sees a loss of 403,000 hectares per year. Deforestation and environmental degradation are very common practices in Sub-Saharan Africa. Smallholder farmers are encouraged to plant monocultures of cash crops to benefit big-business agriculture, at the expense of the farmers themselves. Monocultures degrade soil by draining nutrients, and over the years, as the soil degrades it is unable to produce as much of the cash crop. Farmers depend on cash crops to both eat, and generate income, so the worsening yields significantly decrease the quality of life of the farmer and their family.
TREES have a team of passionate changemakers on a mission to end poverty and improve the environment. They have over 200 staff committed to changing the world. A small group of team members is located in the U.S. and over 180 local field staff are located across the countries they work in, all dedicated to planting trees and changing lives. They have offices and dedicated staff in Kenya, Mali, Senegal, Uganda, and Tanzania. They work in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, and Gambia through their collaborative partnerships. They also have dedicated Training Sites, offering Forest Garden demonstrations to the public. Their organizational values consist of accessibility, respect, diversity, learning, possibility, entrepreneurialism, results and “We at TREES,” which points towards the high-performing, collaborative nature of their organization. John Leary became the executive director in 2013 after 10 years of working and volunteering for Trees for the Future. John has deep knowledge of international agricultural development and extensive experience living with and among the rural poor in Sub-Saharan Africa.
TREES has extensively monitored their projects to determine their success in achieving their mission of planting farmers out of poverty. Using TaroWorks, a robust monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system integrated with SalesForce and used on field staff’s tablets, TREES takes a baseline survey of project participants and then follows up with two annual surveys. The first is a Technical Data Form conducted for 100% of Forest Gardens and tracks physicalities and production (farm size, marketable products, number of trees onsite, household data). Each year this information is followed up with the same survey to track progress over time. The second tool is a Sample Survey (with a 95% (+/-5%) confidence level) that tracks general demographics, food security, household dietary diversity, and economic and household resilience. Their overall M&E results have shown that farmers, their families, and their land receive economic, social, and environmental benefits from the FGA.
A Forest Garden is an agricultural approach which entails the planting of both trees and crops, intensively, integrated on the same piece of land. The Forest Garden was a very common land management technique across Africa. Unfortunately, due to the pressures of monocrop-driven agriculture and a lingering colonial legacy of export-based farming, rural smallholder farmers have been encouraged to plant single varieties of cash and subsistence crops, and use other unsustainable agricultural methods, such as slash-and-burn farming. This is why TREES created our Forest Garden Approach (FGA), an innovative 4-year training and technical assistance program to teach rural smallholder farmers how to restore degraded agricultural land into thriving Forest Gardens. This approach benefits farmers, both economically and socially, while creating co-benefits for the environment through soil revitalization and carbon sequestration. TREES’ FGA is currently being implemented in Senegal, Cameroon, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Overall, the FGA is a system of farming that incorporates agroforestry, perma-gardening and horticulture cultivation coupled with farmer-based training and capacity building, agricultural extension, farm planning and record keeping, and agricultural marketing into a 4-year program that helps revitalize degraded lands and increase farmer income and dietary diversity on the farm.
TREES created their Forest Garden Approach (FGA) to bring back Forest Gardens for smallholder farmers to ensure they are capable of sustaining their farming livelihood. Through the science and application of Ecological Agriculture and Agroforestry, TREES adapted this centuries-old, indigenous farming practice into a proven, replicable, scalable model that restores degraded lands into productive farm ground. The FGA provides a new approach to solving the issues of decreasing yields and low incomes that farmers have been facing for decades, while simultaneously improving environmental concerns, such as soil/land degradation, carbon emissions, and biodiversity loss. The training methodology and materials, developed by TREES, ensure that low- and illiterate farmers receive technical training and adopt the sustainable agriculture approach. The unique training methods and benefits seen through the FGA constitute an innovative way of expanding agroforestry and its proven benefits to rural smallholder farmers, ensuring that they can continue their farming livelihood to provide for them and their families for generations. Through TREES’ history, they learned that avoiding deforestation is absolutely critical to any reforestation program. When it comes to smallholder farmers, who oftentimes go into local forests when their own yields fail, it is critical to work with them to reverse the soil damage and educate them on how to plant to sustain their land, while ensuring the maximum quantity and quality of nutritious food. The FGA exemplifies this, and we strive to implement our approach in new communities and to build the capacity of more organizations by teaching them to adopt FGA. They have done so by creating an online training center, The Forest Garden Training Center (FGTC), through USAID funds which provides a certification to implement the FGA method.
- In 2005, TREES started the world’s first distance agroforestry training program which reaches over 2,000 trainers in four years.
- In 2014, TREES had planted 100 million trees in more than 60 countries.
- In April 2018, TREES becomes the official training partner with UNITAR – United Nations Institute for Training and Research.
- Average income increase of 400% for farmers over the course of the project.
- Forest Garden increases food security by 73% in the first year and dietary diversity by 300% in 2 years
- Forest Gardens generate $1,000-$2,000 per acre through a wide diversity of fruits and vegetables, compared to the $200-$400 farmers were making with monocultures.
- Increased macronutrient diversity in diets of farmer households.
- 653,936.4 metric tons of carbon sequestered from the atmosphere by forest gardens.
- 2,400,000 metric tons of CO2 sequestered from the atmosphere by forest gardens.
- In 2019 alone, TREES launched an additional 17 new projects working with 5,990 farmers in Senegal, Cameroon, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.
- Economically, farmers see an average income increase of 400% over the course of the project.