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Trees for the Future’s Innovations Program

Trees for the Future’s Innovations Program

Innovating Our Solutions to Hunger, Poverty, and Deforestation

Trees for the Future (TREES) has a solution to some of the world’s most pressing challenges – the Forest Garden Approach – but as we continue to work closely with farmers on the ground we are constantly discovering ways to increase our impact. Exploring new methodologies for improving the environment and farmers’ lives makes our program even stronger. With our dedication to transparency, we are sharing Trees for the Future’s focus on innovations: areas for growth and a greater understanding of the problems and solutions we face in an effort to meet our mission. 

TREES’ focus on innovations began with building out our training methodology. Since our founding, and particularly in the last decade, we have developed one of the most innovative farmer field-based training curriculums available to the public. We continue to expand and improve our training program and with that comes a desire to improve our approach through new innovations.

Our innovations are high, low, and no tech initiatives implemented with farmers in their communities using relevant experts and resources both in the field and remotely. Currently, Trees for the Future is focusing on several innovations, addressing issues around sustainable food systems, soil health, and access to water and markets.

Trees for the Future’s Innovations Program is funded in part through grants as well as the organization’s unrestricted funds. View our Strategic Growth Plan and our finances page to learn more.

As we explore and address these challenges with farmers and experts, we invite members of the international development, academic, political, and engineering communities to reach out (info@trees.org). We are currently seeking expertise for innovations marked with an asterisk.

 

Cash Crop Sustainability

High value cash crops including cocoa, coffee, and palm oil have historically been extremely environmentally destructive and tied to massive deforestation as forests are cleared to make room for these lucrative crops. Although small-scale farmers have found a market for these products, their yields, livelihoods, and lives are in danger due to impending landslides, soil erosion, and soil nutrient depletion. To address these issues we are piloting projects with over 2,000 farmers to design and implement cash crop-centric Forest Gardens. By including live fencing, intercropping, and contour planting of multi-purpose tree species, we can stabilize and improve soils, diversify crop production, channel water into the ground, and provide other ecosystem benefits. This year we will be planting over 2 million trees within the following cash crops systems in target countries:

Mt Elgon, Uganda: Coffee

Eight regions in Cameroon: Cocoa

Kigoma, Tanzania: Palm Oil

 

Sustainable Seed Supply

Sustainable Seed Supplies are a foundational element for our strategic growth. Big Agriculture’s hold on regional and global seed supply is cost-prohibitive and limits the diverse crop varieties that exist. Farmers living on less than a dollar a day have to spend a good portion of their income on seeds for the following year. Our Sustainable Seed Supply Innovation is geared toward breaking Big Ag’s hold on the market, ensuring we have adequate cost-effective seeds as we scale up, and ensuring that local varieties of fruits and vegetables are not lost. We are establishing sustainable seed supplies for tree and vegetable seeds in each region where we work.

Seed Saving*

Farmers can spend an average of one-third of their income on seeds each year, despite the fact that many crops produce a ready supply of seeds. Trees for the Future is teaching farmers to choose and plant crops with attention to their reproduction processes. Farmers are taught how to harvest and store seeds for later use.

Seed Bank

All seeds have a seasonal demand. Seed suppliers have control over this seasonal high demand, low supply market. TREES is developing seed banks that allow us to purchase seeds during low demand and use them during the high demand planting season. Trees for the Future is developing five seed banks this year (one in each project country). These seed banks will serve as models for communities to replicate.

 

Quantifying Integrated Impact

Proving the benefits of the Forest Garden Approach for land, plantlife, animals, climate, and human beings is integral in achieving a true shift in the global food system. Proper monitoring of the physical, biological, and chemical changes on a farmers’ land (and of the farming family’s health) throughout the program provides a high level of certainty that the Forest Garden Approach works.

Soil testing*

Soil has been mistreated and mishandled for decades. Monitoring physical, biological and nutrient changes in soil over the course of the program helps measure the impact of our program on soil health and draw a clear correlation between soil health, climate adaptation and farmer success. 

Carbon

Increased Carbon Dioxide levels in our atmosphere have reshaped the planet. As a system, Forest Gardens sequester carbon in their trees and soil. However it is important to accurately quantify their potential and capacity for carbon sequestration. We are working to get a Verified Carbon Standard and Community Climate Benefits (VCS/CCB) certification to provide a clear calculation of how much carbon a Forest Garden system is able to sequester so that we can meaningfully contribute to carbon credit conversations.

Nutrition*

Farmers feed the world, but micronutrients are not typically a main focus in agribusiness. We’ve proven how to achieve food security and dietary diversity, but we need a greater understanding of micronutrients themselves including: the many ailments that arise from micronutrient deficiencies, the foods that inhibit or promote absorption of micronutrients, and the micronutrient benefits of indigineous plants. As TREES technicians are training farmers to diversify their crops, they are also interested in being able to convey more information on micronutrients and their impact on farming families, including children and pregnant women.

 

Aerial Surveying/Remote Sensing

Proving our impact is key in securing funding and industry support. Remote sensing allows us to measure farm transformations aerially, providing a bird’s eye view of farmland before and after implementing the Forest Garden Approach. These visuals are one of the most powerful examples of the benefits of our work on an individual and landscape scale.

Drone Monitoring

TREES is using drones to take pictures of the same Forest Gardens over an extended period of time. By capturing aerial images of Forest Gardens at different stages of their development, TREES’ drone program is creating a timeline archive that measures the effects of the Forest Garden Approach on the landscape. This also establishes a baseline to compare our methodology to other agricultural interventions on adjacent lands. The drone program delivers measurements on Above Ground Biomass and Leaf Area Index. See our initial report here.

Above Ground Biomass measurements indicate the ability of the Forest Garden to sequester carbon in its trees and shrubs.

Leaf Area Index proxy measurements provide a gauge for soil health and the Forest Garden’s ability to protect moisture in the soil from extreme heat and weather. 

NASA Technology

As part of a trial system using a new sensor installed on NASA’s International Space Station, TREES is receiving LIDAR scans of our Forest Gardens from select GPS locations. From this, a model will be produced that quantifies above-ground biomass and estimates carbon sequestration capacity. 

 

Water

Water is the greatest barrier to farmer success. We’re finding smart, cost-effective ways to bring water to farmers in some of the driest regions of Africa. When we are more strategic about water access and conservation, we see greater yields and increased profits.

In some countries, such as Senegal, the government has installed decentralized water systems including boreholes and water towers to provide relatively easy access for distribution to farms. However, in other countries, Forest Garden farmers face limited water access. People are extremely vulnerable to water shortages and walk long distances to gather water from seasonal ponds or community wells. We have identified appropriate solutions depending on the water access situation in each region and are exploring implementation as part of our Water Innovation.

Linking to Existing Water Systems

Loxo Loxo (or Hand-in-Hand) is a water initiative in Senegal where we are working closely with farmers to bring water from government-funded local water towers to farmers’ Forest Gardens. TREES and farmers are splitting the cost of the water pipe and staff and farmers are digging trenches and laying the lines together to install water spigots on more than 1,000 farms. Learn more about Loxo Loxo.

Shallow Wells*  

In areas where the water table is shallow, between 10-15 feet below ground surface, we can install new hand dug wells and rehabilitate old wells to provide year-round availability of water for household use and Forest Garden irrigation.

Rain water harvesting*

In East Africa many farmers have metal A frame roofs. In areas where the Forest Garden is located near a farmer’s home, rainwater can be harvested from the roof into large 2,000 liter tanks. Farmers can then use the water via gravity flow for irrigation.

Solar Water Pumping*

In areas near open streams and natural water holes, water can be pumped via solar energy to a large tank shared between several farmers. Farmers can then use gravity flow for irrigation.

Learn more about TREES’ Water Innovation.

* Asterisks denote an innovation for which Trees for the Future is actively seeking assistance. If you are interested in working with the team on one of the above innovations, please email us at info@trees.org.