Agroforestry with refugees and hosts in NW Uganda

by International Centre for Research in Agroforestry
Agroforestry with refugees and hosts in NW Uganda
Agroforestry with refugees and hosts in NW Uganda
Agroforestry with refugees and hosts in NW Uganda
Agroforestry with refugees and hosts in NW Uganda
Agroforestry with refugees and hosts in NW Uganda
Agroforestry with refugees and hosts in NW Uganda
Agroforestry with refugees and hosts in NW Uganda
Agroforestry with refugees and hosts in NW Uganda
Agroforestry with refugees and hosts in NW Uganda
Agroforestry with refugees and hosts in NW Uganda
Agroforestry with refugees and hosts in NW Uganda
Agroforestry with refugees and hosts in NW Uganda
Agroforestry with refugees and hosts in NW Uganda
Agroforestry with refugees and hosts in NW Uganda
Agroforestry with refugees and hosts in NW Uganda
Agroforestry with refugees and hosts in NW Uganda
Agroforestry with refugees and hosts in NW Uganda
Agroforestry with refugees and hosts in NW Uganda

Many heroes work on this project – from Patrick who collects tree seed, to John who is protecting the nursery with a living fence of wild fruit trees, to the six South Sudanese community-based facilitators (CBFs) who cover 100 households each, to foresters Tiko and Joel.

But this quarter, we give a particular shout to Sarah, an intern who spent February to April at the agroforestry learning center and conducted a long awaited survey. Helped by Erik on her survey tool and the CBFs who translated and supplied lists of beneficiaries, she sampled 80 households, 70% belonging to refugees, 30% to Ugandan nationals.

Her survey counted total trees, surviving trees, and trees with edible parts, and asked qualitative questions. Seventy per cent of the interviewees had had one or more years of experience with ICRAF while 30% were newer participants. Her findings were cheering. Here are some of them:

 ·         Refugee participants with more than one year of involvement with ICRAF have on average 22 more trees per plot than those with less than one year. 

·         On average, an estimated 81.8% of trees on refugee plots were sourced from ICRAF. 

·         And refugees with more than one year of involvement were found to harvest 2.14 fewer bundles of fuelwood per month from the bush, and source 1.71 more bundles per month from tree prunings off their own land. 

 We are deeply pleased that our trees were so categorically present. And the last finding was particularly music to our ears. We had hoped that we were lessening pressure on natural vegetation and lightening the burden of firewood collection for women. It seems that we may be!

 Sarah also found that refugee respondents involved for one or more years earned about $13 more per year from sale of tree products than respondents involved for less time, a considerable sum in the local economy. Poles and fruits were the most commonly sold products, the income usually used to buy soap, medicine, school uniforms and extra food items.

 On food security, refugees with less than one year of participation had approximately 3 fewer fruit or “food” trees than those with a longer involvement. “Papaya, mango and tubers of indigenous Borassus palm were described as useful for relieving hunger among children during the food insecure months of May and June,” her report said.

 Finally, our survival rate is 53.1% for seedlings provided to refugees and 81.3% for seedlings supplied to hosts. 

 We don’t take these findings as gospel. We know the sample size was small. But they are hugely encouraging. We wish Sarah all the very best in her PhD studies. In her last email, she said she had loved her time in the settlement and was applying for a grant to return.

 In other excellent news, we are rolling out the promised trees for schools, including in next door Bidi Bidi refugee settlement.  We thank the Indian social enterprise Grow-Trees for their help to plant a specific 50,000 trees a year. And we are grateful to our ICRAF colleague, Sola, for putting us through our paces to develop a “theory of change”, a log frame and other elements for project success. 

 Thank you so much for donating. We are showing what trees can do for refugees.

 

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Mutegeki shows fruit from which seed can be taken
Mutegeki shows fruit from which seed can be taken

Happy 2022! We hope you are well. For our side, we are! The refugee project is bounding forward for many reasons but particularly thanks to a training on tree seed entirely paid for by you.

Coming none too soon, the training shifted our paradigm and is bringing new species into our nursery and leading to payments to community tree seed collector groups formed out of the training. This for us is win, win, win. We know it is for you too.

The participants were 2refugees, farmers, NGO staff, and our own nursery workers and communility mobilisers. Our field manager, John Osidi opened the three day training by saying, "Let us not keep what we are learning in books. We are training you to replicate the knowledge and to be entrepreneurs - seed collectors. We can create green jobs and enhance household incomes.

We were privileged to have two lead trainers, both from hundreds of kilometers away. The National Forestry Authority’s Joseph Ochwosaid participants would "learn different methods of seed collection, what determines the method, how to extract different seeds, how to plan a collection, how to check seed quality, and how much seed to collect”. 

The veteran forester, who has trained a generation of Ugandans in tree seed, added that “Some trees have seed that are challenging” and launched into terms like “orthodox” and “recalcitrant” seed -- seeds that do and don’t tolerate drying respectively -- which attendees grasped impressively fast.

In his introductory remarks, co-lead trainer Said Mutegeki, plant conservation officer from Tooro Botanical Garden, explained the “why” of the course. 

“We want biodiversity maintained in the most stable way. Let’s have seed collector groups close to seed sources. Then they will start attaching value and not looking at native species as a nuisance.” 

Mutegeki, who runs a nursery with over 120 species in Western Uganda, got straight into how to work with farmers who have trees that you need to collect from on their land. 

"If you explain from the outset why you want to multiply it, most communities are friendly. Seek permission with polite and convincing words so there is no miscommunication, and talk about the goodness of trees.” 

He added “And when you have indenitified potential seed sources, protect the area jealously. Someone may set fire to it.” 

Expectations for the training were high. "We have come to learn how to build forest systems," said Moses Ebong from Danish Refugee Council. A woman farmer said tree cutting “had tampered with the weather” and asked the trainers to inspect fruit from her trees

Finally, following Ugandan protocol, forester Magnum Tabule from the district forestry office formally launched the workshop. "This training is core, and we have been vying for it for some time. Our nursery operators have been failing."

Dear supporters, let me assure you that our nursery has not been failing. It has led the way in Imvepi and Rhino Camp Refugee settlements in producing indigenous trees as well as useful exotics. But we knew we needed to do better

For difficult to acquire species like Mvule, we have often sourced seed from the National Tree Seed Center, which typically collects it from outstanding Mvule trees distributed across Eastern Uganda. But what is the implication of carrying seed from eastern to northwestern Uganda? What might this do to our sub-population of this endangered stately hardwood? 

Local collection is better. “We need to collect seeds from trees that are adapted to the local ecology,” stressed Ochwo. And preserving local genetic variety is key.

We have also been sourcing seeds for fruit like papaya and jackfruit from market ladies in Arua town. This we might continue. The seed likely comes from all over the district or even region from a large number of mother trees that have been selected for producing the juiciest and sweetest fruit. 

But less positively we have been raising some tree species from seed collected from a very small number of mother trees. “Last year we raised all our Albizzia gummifera seedlings from the tree here at our learning center,” admitted one nursery worker.

All this is a thing of the past now. The trainers impressed upon us the need to collect from a multitude of mother trees to maintain and maximize genetic diversity. 

Following a curriculum designed by Botanical Gardens Conservation International, which uses the Millennium Seed Bank standard, we were taught to collect from 50 mother trees spaced at least 100 meters apart for each species, and that we should collect no more than 20% of the seed from any one tree. 

This is no small challenge. But in communications from the field this week, the team said it had been able to make collections from about 30 mother trees for some of our important species.

The training has paid us back in spades, not just on handling tree seed but also with its focus on growing a sizable range of “native” trees, something the team has struggled with at times. 

Answering “Why should we plant native trees?” Mutegeki reeled off, “They are getting depleted, they withstand our soils, they are better adapted, and they have a longer life span than exotics. Also, for genetic pool, shade, and pest control. They support bats, beneficial insects and birds.”

Mutegeki and Ochwo were delighted just this week, when I told them that the team was now monitoring flowers on indigenous trees that would soon set fruit then seed. For the botanists among you, these include Ximenia americana, Sterculia africana, Prosopsis africana, Parinari excelsa, Kigelia africana, Carisa edulis, and the fruit-bearing liana Saba florida

We really benefitted from this training, which included a day in the forest watching high tree climbing and seed collection from the canopy and pressing tree leaves. We were grateful for a chance to ask basic questions such as “Is it ok to pick seeds from the ground?” The answer from Joseph Ochwo was “ideally not”, because it can introduce seed-boring insects and mold. 

In other sound advice, the forester said, "If nothing else, remember that dry seed is the key to good storage. Don't mix seed from different places. And deny the seeds light and moisture. Those things trigger germination”.

Mutegeki’s last words were “Trees are going extinct because people have needs. When we plant them, we are adding a brick”.

Thank you for your support. And if you have read this far, please consider becoming a monthly donor.  We push on!



An NGO staffer inspects seed in training
An NGO staffer inspects seed in training
Joseph Ochwo shows Albizzia seed
Joseph Ochwo shows Albizzia seed
Proud farmer with her fruit
Proud farmer with her fruit
In the forest, high tree seed collection
In the forest, high tree seed collection
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Children watch their mother plant a jackfruit tree
Children watch their mother plant a jackfruit tree

Our last report was submitted on 22 June. Since then, Elise, our intern from Yale School of Forestry, has left, giving us invaluable advice. Young forester Osidi has joined, bringing new ideas like a living fence around our learning center. And our tree growing at school, health centers and other institutions has taken off.

Thank you for backing us to “wrap schools” in trees! Tree are associated with “better cognitive functioning and attention capacity” in pupils, says a report just out from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health

Elise was with us from 7 June to 28 July. “Overall, I really loved it,” she said. “We are in the right spot doing the right thing.”

We sensed from “overall”, however, that she had more to say, and knowing that she had majored in human centered design, we asked her to speak to the project in those terms.

“Human centered design has four steps,”said the Stanford graduate, “empathize, ideate, prototype, and iterate. We are doing well on empathizing and ideating, and less well on prototyping and iterating – which means looking at what you did and changing it.”

That feedback was not entirely unexpected. But, wow, it energized us, and we stepping uptoindeed prototype and ideate - define and refine our approach. Elise is helpingthere too by, among other things, drafting a document on “Best Practices for Implementing Tree-based Programs in Refugee Settlements”.

One of her recommendations is “establish regenerative norms and expectations from the outset”.

 “People entering a new context, such as refugees settling in a new location, will adapt to the norms and expectations of that context. Establishing an early expectation that cut trees should be replaced can save a lot of work in generating buy-in later.”

Another is “Promote regenerative norms beyond tree planting. Reinforce ecological mindsets by exploring with refugees energy conservation, disposing of waste properly, keeping water sources clean, and protecting the life-giving capabilities of the natural environment.”

We will stay in close touch with Elise, and would like to see her back on the continent! Meanwhile, in 2022 we plan to host two further interns, one from the US and another from Europe. This time they will be matched with Ugandan masters’ students who we will support in their research.

Focusing still on people, we welcomed Osidi in August, a major addition to our team. Hired through a competitive process, he comes with a diploma in forestry, experience with Lutheran World Federation in Palabek Refugee Settlement, including mapping refugee plots, and is studying organic agriculture at university via distance learning.

 He immediately took up distributing our seedlings to institutions, a priority that we pitched to you during the Climate Action Campaign.

"We are doing very good team work. In September we planted 450 trees in six schools and donated 8469 seedlings to Danish Refugee Council.  Then in October we planted 1913 trees in 29 institutions. Overall, we have planted 10,842 trees in 27 schools, 19 churches, two health centers and one police post. We have identified so many places to plant.”

Osidi also leads the planting of an impenetrable hedge to keep roaming goats and pigs out of the nursery. It will look neat but consist of a tangle of tree and shrub species, some providing fruit. When we asked on Facebook how best to build it, we received 42 comments from permaculture and agroecology practitioners around East Africa. What a community!

“The fence is very important as an edge,” wrote James from Kenya.“It should be multifunctional, supplying needs for wild animals, birds and insects,domestic animals and humans.Plant as many diverse plants as possible. My living fence has Sesbania, Calliandria,mulberry,gooseberries,stinging nettle, and diverse indigenous trees, plants and shrubs.”

Finally, we are excited to host in November a training on tree seed collection, processing and banking that had been delayed by COVID. Day 4 looks particularly stupendous.It includes an 08:30 departure to a “nearby forest reserve for field practicals”.

The schedule then notes the “need for a Field Assistant/Forest Patrol man who knows the forest well and can track and guide to mother seed trees”. We will then learn “methods of collection, and a high tree climber will demonstrate high tree seed collectionwith safety precautions.”

 In our next report we will give data on seedlings raised and planted in 2021, but the figures are already looking higher than in 2020. We have also rolled out new species of trees this year like the small fruit tree, Ziziphus, with its tangy delicious vitamin-rich berries.

 Thank you so much for you support. Do look at the photos. We have done so much with your generous contributions.

Agroforest of banana, maize + indigenous Markhamia
Agroforest of banana, maize + indigenous Markhamia
Understanding better: Elise talks with refugees
Understanding better: Elise talks with refugees
Patrick packs indigenous fruit trees for schools
Patrick packs indigenous fruit trees for schools
Just planted  Vitex doniana looking healthy
Just planted Vitex doniana looking healthy
Children not working but happy showing seedlings
Children not working but happy showing seedlings

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Sorting seed in the learning center
Sorting seed in the learning center

From promoting new species, to building our team, to setting up a seed bank, to hosting an intern, this last quarter has been rewarding and fast-paced.

Our big news is that we are now on a much firmer footing. In April we had a hugely unexpected win. We placed an astounding first out of 118 projects in GlobalGiving's 2021 Climate Action Campaign. This ran for five days in April during which we hammered social media and stayed up sending out emails. We raised $15,653 from 80 donors. We are so grateful.

In the same quarter, we also received another generous gift from the family trust which donated in 2020. We thank all our old friends and new. Some of you must have seen our posts on Linkedin - the kindness and interest of strangers! We were chuffed too to receive donations from two NGOs, the awesome French Pur Project and the Indian social enterprise Grow-Trees.

We are estatic about our growth, and now on this solid footing, we are further raising our game.

In March-June, we started a seed bank. As soon as the strict lockdown in Uganda eases, we will host a training by Tooro Botanical Garden in seed collection, processing and storing. We have always collected and processed tree seed but usually planted most seed immediately. Now we are building a cadre of youth seed professionals, with an eye to their future employment in green jobs.

We are also becoming more botanical, adding species like Kigelia africana with its long pods, which grow to be signature trees on the landscape, retained by farmers and used largely for medicine in the case of the sausage tree. We will open this training to staff of other organizations. We do not want to be the only ones raising a multitude of tree species from great mother trees.

We reinforced our team. We now have six community-based facilitators. All are South Sudanese, two are women, one of whom is a trained midwife. We hope she will be able to build our narrative around the importance of food trees that provide leaves and fruit that are full of the micronutrients that prevent stunting and bolster the immune system.

Still on our human capital, Joel is now the new head of ICRAF in Uganda and full of energy and ideas. One of his first moves was to ship seeds of the woody shrub pigeonpea to the project. We retain the support of Clement, the previous head, who is now a professor at Muni University in nearby Arua town.

In March, Clement led a much appreciated training in farmer-managed natural regeneration for NGOs. Held at our learning center and in the bush around it, it was sorely needed, and an approach that we ourselves need to use more.

Finally, we received Elise from the Yale School of Forestry in early June. Our first intern ever, her first question was "what is the process for on boarding new households?" She had us at "what is the process". Indeed, what a good question!

She is living in the refugee settlement and is a daily presence at the learning center and nursery. Trained in human centered designed with a year's experience in refugee camps in Kenya, she is probing our theory of change, supporting the team and looking to document what we do.

We thank the Yale Macmillan Center Program on Refugees, Forced Displacement and Humanitarian Response for supporting Elise's travel and time with us. 

Finally, we began a new push to grow trees around institutions. Since they are protected from fire and often fenced and therefore not grazed by livestock, we think this is a way to ensure trees remain on the landscape long after we and the refugees have gone. We have permission to plant around schools, child friendly spaces, playgrounds, early childhood development centers and health facilities.

To conclude, here is what it feels like on the ground. We drive along and spot a bed for sale made of poles in an area where "our" trees are clearly visible. We jump out and ask a young woman. Yes, it's made from trees that grew from seedlings we provided. Slam dunk!

We see 20 feet high Albizia trees, an indigenous nitrogen-fixing genus. "We planted those in 2018," says the community based facilitator. We speak to the head of the household. Eight people can sit under them. The ground is cool and shaded.

Some refugee compounds are pretty bare, however - sometimes because we've not yet worked there, sometimes because trees we provided have been coppiced for poles. The latter is a win because a pole sells for 5000 shillings ($1.50), a goodly sum for families. But the ground is hot, and soil is eroding away. 

Back in the pickup, we wonder - how do you balance trees for livelihoods and trees for soil and water conservation? What is the dosage of trees a family needs to meet its needs?

We want to help to embed tree-based solutions in the humanitarian response, stimulate the uptake of trees by refugees and nationals, and formalize our processes so that others can replicate them in Uganda and beyond. That is what we are working towards. Thank you for supporting our work!

Kigelia africana on farm in refugee area
Kigelia africana on farm in refugee area
The seed team holds pods of sausage tree
The seed team holds pods of sausage tree
Made from "ICRAF" trees, a bed and chair for sale
Made from "ICRAF" trees, a bed and chair for sale
Planted 2018, an Albizia shades homes of refugees
Planted 2018, an Albizia shades homes of refugees
Pigeonpea greens a home fast, gives food + fodder
Pigeonpea greens a home fast, gives food + fodder

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Farmer in his woodlot: 600 trees suppled by ICRAF
Farmer in his woodlot: 600 trees suppled by ICRAF

 It seems impossible but, in February 2018, our nursery and training site was bare parched ground that we were just preparing. How far we have come! 

In three years, we have built a community learning center where we have held dozens of events. We have reached out to hundreds of households in the refugee and host communities. And we have enabled the planting of almost half a million trees.

Forester Gerturde Tiko reports this week that "The trees are doing very well. We've been showing refugees and farmers how to prune and trim them. We are also sensitizing people about bush fires and roaming livestock that damage the trees. We can't rule those challenges out. But we can minimize them." 

So far this year we have collected and sowed the seeds of eight species. They are germinating and will be ready to plant when the rains start in March-April.

Those species are: Afzelia africana - the big and much sought after African hardwood; Balanites aegyptiaca - the tree with nutritious fruits and leaves that the refugees enjoy and cook; Tamarindus indica - the pods of which have a highly nutritious pulp and you may know from Thai and Indian cooking; Gmelina arborea - a fast growing exotic that is good for poles; Albizia gummifera - a fast growing, nitrogen-fixing indigenous tree with flowers for bee forage; Senna siamea - an Asian tree that is naturalised, not invasive, and very good for shaping into bowers for shade; Papaya - the wildly popular heavily fruited pan-tropical tree; and Jackfruit - another naturalized tree, also Asian, with bumpy fruit that grow straight out of the trunk and can weigh 25 kg.

Moringa - the leaf powder of which you can find in health food stores - has not yet been sown because they grow so fast that we need less than a month to prepare them. The Markhamia trees, one of the best coppicing trees, are not yet seeding so we will have to raise them for the next rains. The seeds of Khaya grandifoliola - mahogany; Azadorachta indica - Neem; Annona muricata - soursoup; Mangifera indica - mango; and Vitex doniana, with small blue fruits - are also awaited.

We like to keep you up to date on what we are growing, partly for accountability. But perhaps most exciting in these dry months where life slows down was the publication of two journal articles emanating from research done in association with this project. The links are below. 

Like most of rural Uganda, the refugee settlement is not on the grid, and the first journal article presents our data that shows that if you combine small solar panels and wood-conserving energy efficient cookstoves with agroforestry - the planting of trees in fields -- households can be sustainably self-sufficient in energy without drawing down the woody biomass in surrounding forest and bush. That is a resounding statement. 

The next paper was written by ICRAF researchers with academics from Coventry University in the UK and is based on interviews with 40 refugees and members of the host community about the trees that we gave them. The link is also below.

Shade was the number one reason they wanted trees. One refugee, male, stated "“This tree, I planted it when I first arrived and now we are using it to talk under its shade. If this tree was not there, do you see how we would suffer? The sunshine is too much.”

Protection from wind was also a motivation. One refugee, female, had a tragic story. “My house was destroyed by the wind. I lost my daughter because of that. She was inside the house and the bricks collapsed on her. This was done by the wind. So I feel like it is important to plant trees around the house to reduce the wind from destroying our houses."

Having poles to sell and to repair and build their own houses was a strong reason to plant. "Attract more rain" was cited by 28% of refugees.

Being on good terms with the host community was a further reason. “I do not mind planting trees, even if I go back to my country," said a male refugee. "I know that someone here will enjoy the trees I am planting, and I can leave all the trees for them. I will not even cut them to sell them if I am going back home because I want them to remember us and be happy that we stayed here. We never know if we have to come back and they should be happy to see us, not angry with us because we have cut all their trees.”

Just 10% of refugees want to raise trees for timber but 100% of the host farmers do.

We are immensely reassured by these findings. Just three years ago, it was not clear whether refugees would even consider planting trees. It's now clear that they will.

We thank you for your support. We are going miles with what you have donated - hand in hand with out staff and workers and the refugees and host community.  

End note: Do read the piece (below third link) for the World Economic Forum on three of the species that provide hugely valuable micronutrients and that occur in this refugee-hosting part of northern Uganda but also across the Sahel and other drylands in Africa and even Asia. 

Young refugee repairs his radio under Senna bower
Young refugee repairs his radio under Senna bower
Refugee mother with pigeon peas, papaya from ICRAF
Refugee mother with pigeon peas, papaya from ICRAF
Refugees charge light and radio with solar panels
Refugees charge light and radio with solar panels
Refugee with guava + Markhamia trees just 1 yr old
Refugee with guava + Markhamia trees just 1 yr old
ICRAF community mobiliser interviews refugee
ICRAF community mobiliser interviews refugee

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Organization Information

International Centre for Research in Agroforestry

Location: Nairobi - Kenya
Website:
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Twitter: @icraf
Project Leader:
Cathy Watson
Nairobi, Kenya
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