Evergreen agriculture for improving livelihoods and for climate change mitigation and adaptation in semi-arid areas : FMNR in farmlands | Natural Resource Management (Soil and Water Conservation)

Depletionof tree resources in semi-arid areas has resulted in declining agriculturalproductivity, and reduced availability of firewood and fodder, resulting inchronic poverty and increased vulnerability of communities to climate change.One of the lessons from Ethiopia is that the agriculture sector is basicallyefficient, but unable to support the farming communit Read more..

Description of the technology or innovation

Depletionof tree resources in semi-arid areas has resulted in declining agriculturalproductivity, and reduced availability of firewood and fodder, resulting inchronic poverty and increased vulnerability of communities to climate change.One of the lessons from Ethiopia is that the agriculture sector is basicallyefficient, but unable to support the farming communities, mainly due to severedegradation of the resources base. Such a complex social and environmentalproblem can be addressed by promoting evergreen agriculture; a farming approachconceptualised and practised in many African countries including Ethiopia,Malawi, Niger and Zambia. Evergreen agriculture (often a mix of conventionalagroforestry and conservation agriculture practices) improves environmentalstability by reducing soil erosion and increasing soil organic matter, therebyenhancing sustainable crop production. It optimises overall resource use andminimises risk in agricultural production. Agroforestry and conservationagriculture systems neatly complement each other in the provision of soilcover, animal feed, nutrients, fuel, and protection against wind and watererosion. The goal of evergreen agriculture is to optimise tree cover throughoutthe year, reduce soil disturbance in farmlands, enhance moisture retention, andincrease food and feed availability. The aim is to improve land productivityand reduce vulnerability of farming communities to the negative effects ofclimate change and climate variability.


Description of the technology orinnovation

Thetechnology consists of important principles and practices of conventionalagroforestry and conservation agriculture for increasing organic resources(woody biomass, soil organic carbon etc.) and providing permanent soil cover inagricultural lands in semi-arid areas. Evergreen agriculture can be integratedwith assisted rehabilitation in degraded non-farm areas to effectively tackleland degradation at landscape level. This type of agriculture could involvetechniques such as farmer managed natural regeneration (FMNR) and tree plantingin the form of hedgerows for increasing tree cover in farmlands. The primaryeffect of the technology is increasing organic resources in rural lands andproviding permanent soil cover, which tackles the persistent problem of landdegradation while diversifying livelihood options. Additionally, the technologyas a package also increases carbon storage in farming systems, therebycontributing to climate change mitigation.


Thepotential of FMNR has been demonstrated in Niger at a national scale where over6 million ha of land have been treated: tree density of Faidherbia albida increasedfrom 20 to 120 trees per hectare in 20 years. In Ethiopia small-scale FMNRactivities in F. albida based farming systems exist in central Rift Valley.Successful alley cropping system based on giant Cajanus cajan has beenpractised over the last several decades in semiarid climates in northernEthiopia (Kobo and Sirinka in Wollo) and Arba-Minch area in various soil types.This agroforestry practice produces food, fodder and firewood and, at the sametime, enhances sustainable agricultural production.


Conservation Agriculture with Trees (CAWT) is a newapproach for sustainable agriculture that has increased grain yields up tofourfold in Malawi and Zambia. In Ethiopia alley cropping in semi-arid areashas been proven to increase grain yields by 30% to 100%. However, the mainsocio-economic constraint against the promotion of alley cropping in semi-aridareas is free grazing. To tackle this problem, the concept of area closure inhillsides can be applied to farmlands to promote alley cropping or other formsof agroforestry in a participatory way. For example, farmers in Shire-BelehoTabia have voluntarily shifted from free grazing to stall grazing usingimproved breeds.

Assessment/reflection on utilization, dissemination & scaling out or up approaches used

1)    FMNRin farmlands: the goalof the FMNR technique is to attain a maximum of 120 trees per hectare in a cropfarming agricultural setting. The experiences in various parts of the countryshowed that, historically, farmers maintained many tree on their farmlands.Population increase and increased demand for fuelwood resulted in trees beingcut down, considerably reducing their number. Thus, this particular innovationis attempting to increase the number of trees which will serve as sources ofwood for sale and fodder, besides enhancing the microclimate and soil fertilityfor crop production. Apart from higher tree density, the system requireslocally adapted nitrogen-fixing species such as Fiderbia albida, Acacianilotica, A. senegal, A. senegal, A. tortilis, Zizyphus, Balanites and otheruseful wild food and gum and resin bearing multipurpose trees and shrubs. Massproduction and distribution of seedlings from productive selected varieties ofA. senegal, A. seyal, Z. spina-christii, Z. Mucronata, Moringa stenopetala andM. olifera will be carried out. This approach works in various edaphic,climatic and socio-economic contexts. Farmers in Ethiopia are working towardsreturning to the centuries old integrated tree farming systems. To achievethis, farmers must use appropriate inputs and be capacitated to use the inputs.


2)    Conservationagriculture with trees (CAWT):This practice has specific designs and compositional aspects, and criticalmanagement prescriptions. It can be combined with agroforestry practices basedon natural regeneration or artificial regeneration (for example, alleycropping, boundary planting, windbreaks etc.). In alley cropping, thetrees/shrubs such as C. cajan will be established along contour lines, and indrier areas sufficiently large alleys of 10–15 m will be left for cropping.Trees will be spaced at 0.25 m within a row. The trees will be established withseedlings or by sowing during the first year together with crops. Once thetrees are grown, they will be pruned back at 0.75 m at the beginning of thenext rainy season, and the green manure can be applied to the alleys or used asanimal fodder. Large quantities of firewood will also be produced, tackling theproblem of use of crop residues for fuel. The principles of conventionalconservation agriculture are followed in farm management to maximise theorganic inputs in the farming system that will enhance soil water-holdingcapacity and fertility for increased crop production.


3)    Assistedrehabilitation: Thejustification for this project is that in Ethiopia large areas of land arealready degraded and are highly vulnerable to desertification if notrehabilitated. Thus, the country must plan and implement projects torehabilitate degraded sites both at ecosystem level and small scale. Althoughseveral variants exist, research done in Debre Zeyt area showed that assistedrehabilitation of degraded lands can be implemented by constructing contourbunds 20–30 cm high across the slope a few months ahead of the tree plantingseason. This structure is combined with 1-m long cross ties perpendicular to thecontour bunds and square shaped infiltration pits of minimum dimensions 40 cmwide × 40 cm length × 20 cm depth to facilitate seedling establishment andsurvival by increasing infiltration and thereby rehabilitating the site. Inthis project, species such as Dodonaea angustifolia, Olea africana, A.abyssinica and A. seyal would then be planted in the space between the crossties and the filtration pit. Additionally, high value tree species for incomegeneration such as highly productive varieties of A. senegal, A. seyal,Zizyphus spina-christii and Z. mucronata will be integrated into therehabilitation sites so that both livelihood and environmental integrity can beaddressed simultaneously. The spacing between contour bunds could vary from 3 mto 5 m and all earthwork structures would be stabilised by compacting andplanting grasses. Trees are planted at a spacing of 1.5 m after the firstrunoff has been collected from the place. Upon establishment, a silvopastoralsystem will be created that could provide both woody and non-woody componentswithin the corridor between rows of trees, thus maintaining the fertility ofthe system.


Scaling up approaches

Thevarious components of the current innovation shall be used by different actors.The benefits of sustainable farming which emanate from tree based farming serveboth rural and urban communities. Specifically, the innovation can serve, amongothers: farming households (both men and women); the ever increasing landlessrural youth; female-headed households; pastoralists; and urban dwellers.


Severalfactors are critical for successful scaling up the innovation. First, build anunderstanding of the immense role of integrating trees on farm lands and theneed to rehabilitate degraded land. Second, build on the understanding throughtargeted stakeholders’ consultations. Third, identify sites for scaling up andensure participatory planning. Fourth, identify target groups and organise theminto cooperatives and other groups for training. Fifth, avail the necessaryinputs and start implementation after training. Throughout the process, severalmajor steps must be conducted: follow up activities, redressing errors,monitoring, documentation and reporting.


Forsuccessful dissemination and adoption, the following are needed: functional andstrong village institutions; strong linkages with non-governmentalorganisations (NGOs) and CBOs; active participation of local communities inmanaging their natural resources; strong commitment of political leadership,researchers, and partners; introducing bylaws to control grazing animals andreduce the damage they cause to young trees.

Current situation and future scaling up

Promotingevergreen agriculture is difficult, as it involves changing the mindset ofagricultural extension workers, experts and the farming communities. Thisrequires discussion, debate and training. The major challenges to scaling upare: mindset of the actors; free grazing in semi-arid areas; relatively highcost of developing, managing and promoting tree-based farming andrehabilitation technologies; and lack of an information exchange network forbest bet practices on agroforestry for permanent dialogue among actors.


Thesechallenges can be addressed in several ways. Within communities, this can bedone by mobilising and organising the local beneficiaries; utilising locallyavailable student clubs, and other volunteers; creating mass awareness;providing training on the benefits of evergreen agriculture and rehabilitationof degraded lands; facilitating community initiated bylaws for controllinggrazing, eventually implementing model work on stall or controlled grazing inintervention areas which can be used as policy inputs for guiding futurelivestock production strategies in semi-arid areas; and rewarding champions atdifferent levels. These constraints can also be addressed using resourcesoutside the communities by establishing functional communication networks forinformation exchange; arranging incentive schemes by involving NGOs and CBOs; lookingfor potential partnerships with local and international organisations;establishing an agroforestry consortium; and engaging the existing agricultureand rural development advisory council at federal, regional and zonal levels.


Severallessons have emerged from Ethiopia about the best ways to encourage end usersto use technologies or innovations. These include: 1) working throughcooperatives and establishing new ones as necessary for successful promotion oftechnologies, knowledge, and practices; 2) building the capacity of localpeople, partners and experts by conducting trainings, workshops and meetingsfor overall technology promotion; 3) preparing documentary films on successstories and using mass media to accelerate technological diffusions; 4)organising and working with consortia of NGOs and government agenciesinterested in NRM to reach a wider range of people in a larger area tofacilitate information exchange and strengthen linkages; 5) gaining commitmentand trust of local communities and arranging reward schemes for champions; 6)using local organisations as an entry point to ensure success of the overalltechnology transfer initiatives; 7) arranging visits to other areas where thetarget groups will hear from ‘the house’s mouth’ (i.e. farmers andpastoralists); and 8) establishing favourable friendly relationship with localadministrators, elders, opinion leaders to facilitate successful implementationof technology promotion activities. Above all, is joint planning of all projectactivities to ensure commitment, transparency by participant stakeholders andtarget beneficiaries.

Gender considerations

Promotingthe current innovative approach will improve land productivity more sustainablyand thereby directly improve food security while maintaining functioningecosystems in general. Specifically, evergreen agriculture significantlysupports and improves the livelihood of the most vulnerable people incommunities, women and youths. For example: 1) it improves availability offirewood in the vicinity of residences, decreasing the burden of women andchildren (who often are responsible for collecting firewood) and allowingchildren to attend school, and giving women time for other business; 2) itsignificantly reduces vulnerability of young women who are in danger of beingsexually abused in the distant places where they gather fuelwood and water; 3)it diversifies income sources and provides opportunities for self-employmentfor women and youth; and 4) it enhances participation and empowerment of ruralwomen in the decision-making process in NRM.

Application guidelines for the users

Having adetailed guideline of the application is important. However, when promotingthese technologies, we strongly recommend the following steps with correctionand adjustments to fit local needs and situations:

§  Participatory selection of appropriatetechnology recipients.

§  Understand their attitudes, intentionsand interests.

§  Identify key barriers in space and timethat might challenge technology transfer.

§  Consider societal values (language,ethics, culture etc.).

§  Be transparent and participatory in allaspects.

§  Do not raise unrealistic expectations.


Oncethese have been ensured proceed as follows:

§  Start building more trust and establishgood relationship with the whole community (do not marginalise the alreadymarginalised).

§  Start stakeholder consultations at asmall scale and expand slowly. Any decision and agreement should be reachedthrough participatory planning.

§  Provide samples and conduct training andcapacity building.

§  Understand participants’ views andinterests and consider their recommendations.

§  Use local elders, respected people andlocal experts who can be role models for lobbying and communicating thebenefits of the technologies.

§  Start exhibitions.

§  Plan for debate, discussions and brainstorming sessions.

§  Show things practically (by doing).

§  Use various success stories and lessonsfrom other places.

§  Prepare the necessary inputs, assistedby local and higher administrations.


Once allthese steps have been carried out:

§  Establish model cooperatives whichinvolve all interested parties.

§  Complete legal issues and clarify themwith the community.

§  Listen to the community and looselymonitor and correct issues, and bridge gaps.

§  Visit sites with success stories with afew individuals.

§  Maintain integrity and trust.

Maintain documentation. 

Contact details

Name and address of the organisation:

ForestryResearch Center, Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR),

P. O.Box 30708,

AddisAbaba, Ethiopia;



Name and address of the presenter:


ForestryResearch Center, Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR),

P. O.Box 30708,

AddisAbaba, Ethiopia;





Name and address of key scientistsinvolved in the generation of the technologies, knowledge and information:

YitebituMogest, Wondesen G/tsadik, Adefires Worku, Wubalem Tadesse;

P. O.Box 30708,

AddisAbaba, Ethiopia;

Email:yitebitumoges@ yahoo.com, adefires@yahoo.com, wubalemtw@yahoo.com

Additional information






Assisted rehabilitation inKuriftu lake catchment