Community Managed Tree nurseries proven to be effective for Forest Landscape Restoration

The Bonn Challenge, a global effort for land restoration, targets to bring 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030. The Government of Rwanda has joined this global initiative and pledged to restore 2million hectares of its land by 2020. Adopting the bottom-up strategy is key for meeting these targets. Although restoration is more than just planting trees, the latter play a critical role in this exercise. Trees play a great role in the well-being of people as they provide oxygen, and in the environment by stabilizing the soil and reducing erosion and pollution and effects of flooding downstream. Trees provide food, protection, and homes for many animals. Trees and local communities occupy the centre of restoration initiatives, therefore empowering community to produce and plant trees to restore their land is crucial for a successful restoration. This article presents the lessons learnt by the Albertine Rift Conservation Society (ARCOS Network) throughout its road to resilience with its partner community groups.

It used to be common to buy seedlings and hand them over to communities for planting, which sometimes did not consider the local context and community needs. In searching for sustainable solutions to land degradation and effective ways for restoration, ARCOS Network has set up a mechanism for community-based Forest Landscape Restoration, where it built a long-term partnership with Nature Based Community Enterprises (NBCEs). After that a due diligence study to identify the needs for forest landscape restoration was conducted and 11 Community Managed Tree Nurseries (three in Kirehe, 5 in Bugesera and 4 in Rutsiro) were established in different parts of Rwanda. This went hand in hand with skills and capacity building in tree nursery development and management. As a result, more than 270,000 trees were planted, and more than 3000 ha restored as by 2018. Empowering local communities to manage tree nurseries and plant trees, is a sustainable solution to land degradation, livelihood issues and contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation.

The ARCOS Network developed an integrated approach and named it “BEST Approach”, for the implementation of initiatives under its Community Development Programme (“Nature Based Community Enterprises (NBCEs)”) Programme. The BEST Approach (BEST stands for initial of the four pillars comprising the approach as explained below) is built on community partnership and ownership of on-ground interventions, cemented by a Sustainability Agreement involving local communities, local government and ARCOS Network. The BEST Approach is based on four pillars: Building leadership and sustainable institutions, Enhancing environmental resilience, Sustainable business solutions and Transformation and inspiring others. The BEST Approach was proven to be an effective approach as far as on-ground interventions aiming at increasing community development and environment sustainability are concerned.

Throughout the implementation of the project, eleven Community Managed Tree Nursery Centers were established, produced and planted over 270,000 trees in Bugesera, Kirehe and Rutsiro Districts of Rwanda. The planted trees include fruit species (grafted mango and avocado, tree tomato (Solanum betaceum), orange, citrus, Passion Fruit (Passiflora edulis), Carca papaya) and agroforestry species (Grevillea robusta, Calliandra callothyrsus, Lecaena leucocephala, and Markhamia lutea and coffee) as preferred and suggested by most of community members during the baseline study.

Over 300 ha of watershed were restored through tree planting, soil conservation and agroforestry interventions. The project interventions contribute to the sequestration of 9,352,000 tons of CO2 per year (equalling sequestering 2 Million times CO2 emitted during return trip from Europe to Australia in a plane). Apart from contributing to soil fixation and carbon sequestration, the planted trees will generate income at household level, contribute to the enhancement of food security and reduce malnutrition in children and women.

We are very pleased to share with other stakeholders what we learned from the established Community Managed Tree Nursery Centers. In brief, empowering communities to produce and plant the trees, is the sustainable option for achieving the target of increased forest cover, restoration of agricultural lands and adaptation to climate change while also reducing poverty among rural communities. Below are some lessons learned:

  • Capacity building is the key factor for the success of Community Managed Tree Nursery Centers: Communities need regular technical advice and physical and financial inputs, as well as adequate monitoring and evaluation to run a tree nursery centres effectively and ensure the maximum survival rate of the trees planted.
  • Community Managed Tree Nursery Centers are more cost-effective and yield better results than the mega-seedlings production and distribution by big organizations. It is more effective in terms of seedling distribution, greater participation by local people in the production process and tree maintenance.
  • For the success and the high survival rate of the trees, local communities need to be involved throughout the process. It is important to have the needs assessment done and be guided by the needs of the community in choosing the species to produce in a nursery. The needs assessment findings also guide the activities pertaining to raising awareness and education.
  • Local government involvement in all steps of the process is important for the success of a tree nursery and tree planting initiatives.
  • Incentive systems are an integral part of the success of tree planting and land restoration, as it affects the survival rate of trees planted and raises the commitment of local communities in restoration.
  • Even if the communities may feel the consequences of land degradation through the decrease in harvests or the occurring disasters, they will not shift to restoration until they are educated and accompanied in the process.

ARCOS Network is committed to maintain and upscale the Community Managed Tree Nursery Center initiative in as many villages as possible in Rwanda and other East African countries. However, the support of everybody is needed for restoration and adaption to climate change, the impacts of which are already widely felt. Rural communities have the ability to make restoration a success. However, any action with communities requires guidance and their involvement in every stage to help them understand. That is why building their capacity is important. It is also important to test a pilot study together and hand over the initiative when the community is ready to handle it independently. The Governments should provide budget to support initiatives that contribute to enhancing climate resilience and land restoration such as this Community Managed Tree Nursery Centers.

See a pdf copy of the case study on Community Managed Tree Nursery here

ARCOS Network thanks Rwanda’s Green Fund (FONERWA) to have supported this initiative. We also thank the World Resources Institute and One Tree Planted for their support to upscale this initiative.

We kindly ask everyone interested in Forest Landscape Restoration to join us and join hands to take this initiative to the next level. Contact us via the address on the last page.