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Frequently Asked Questions

1. How does the Forest Garden program work?

Trees for the Future (TREES) plant all sorts of trees and plants, and nearly all of the trees we use are either native or naturalized in the environments where we plant them. We partner with farmers to understand their needs and match them with species that will suit their needs and be environmentally benign.

The farmers we work with learn to grow a variety of fast-growing trees, fruit trees, hardwoods and vegetables. We use the fast-growing trees to secure and stabilize degraded lands. Then we help the farmer diversify his field with fruit trees and hardwoods. Farmers intercrop vegetables and field crops among the trees.

TREES Forest Garden Project methodology follows a phased approach that begins with mobilizing resources and stakeholders, then guides farmers through a series of steps, over the course of up to four years, through which they learn to design, establish, and manage their Forest Gardens before graduating from the program. The five-phase approach includes:

Phase I: Mobilization – In the first phase of the approach we hire project staff and meet with relevant stakeholders (government reps, community leaders, and potential partners) to solicit their support and formalize the project. With the help of stakeholders we identify interested farmer groups, lead farmers, and participants, and host orientation workshops prior to pursuing training and extension activities.

Phase II: Protection – Phase II through IV comprise the phases of Forest Garden establishment. In the protection phase we provide farmers with the skills and resources needed to protect their forest garden sites. Farmers achieve this by planting green walls – an enhanced version of a living fence that we have developed – around the perimeters of their sites. They then plant fast-growing fertilizer trees throughout their sites, often in alleys among their crops, to further stabilize their soils and enhance fertility.

Phase III: Diversification – As the green walls grow and soils become increasingly fertile, farmers begin to diversify the products they grow in their Forest Gardens. During this phase, farmers plant higher-value vegetables, fruit, nut, and timber trees. They also learn increasingly advanced skills and techniques that will help them manage their Forest Gardens more effectively and sustainably.

Phase IV: Optimization – In the fourth phase, farmers will learn to adopt advanced Forest Garden planting and care, integrated pest management, and conservation techniques that optimize and ensure the long-term health, productivity, and profitability of their land.

Phase V: Graduation – The fifth and final phase of TREES Forest Garden approach consists of transitioning ownership of the project to the farmer groups to continue supporting each other as a team in the on-going development and management of their Forest Gardens and marketing of products. Projects are concluded with a graduation ceremony during which we recognize the efforts and accomplishments of farmers, staff, and other stakeholders, and present farmers who have completed the program with Master Forest Gardener Certification.

2. Who owns the trees?

Farmers own the land and the trees on them. They do the labor and provide the land and water. The trees are their futures. We provide seeds, nursery materials and training, but the farmers own their trees, and are responsible for caring for them.

3. How exactly do trees help people?

There are many ways that trees are beneficial to both people and the environment: Trees are habitat for biodiversity; Trees create much of the planet’s oxygen; and, Trees help combat climate change – the list is nearly limitless, but we focus on the role trees play in agroforestry and in helping farming families improve their land quality and productivity.

Agroforestry integrates trees into agriculture and landscapes, a model that is particularly appropriate for resource poor farmers in developing countries. In addition to providing fruits, berries, and nuts, trees provide environmental services that are essential for families in the developing world: they can improve the fertility of degraded soils (through nitrogen fixation), prevent wind and soil erosion (thereby also contributing to improved fertility), increase water penetration into underground aquifers, and contribute to improvements in the growing environment. Trees help to lessen the wind that might affect crops, cool off ground temperatures, and trap moisture and nutrients in the soil so that food crops grow better in the improved microclimate.

Trees also provide fodder for animals, create living fences, and can be a source of sustainable fuelwood production. (Yes – some of these trees are cut for fuelwood, but these are trees that coppice well – meaning they will grow back year after year when they are properly cared for.)

4. Is a Forest Garden like permaculture?

You may know Forest Gardens by other names, such as polyculture, permaculture, agroforestry, or something else – and these are all related and good descriptions of what we aim for – a multi-layered, multi purpose distribution of vegetables, bushes, and lots of trees – designed to optimize productivity of a piece of land. It is a farming system that thinks vertically, not just horizontally.

Forest gardens stand in stark contrast to modern industrial agriculture which encourages farmers to plant one or few crops. Time and time again, we find monocultures to be chemical-intensive, environmentally-destructive, and deadly to biodiversity and long-term human prosperity.

5. You just plant indigenous trees, right?

No. In the degraded and deforested zones where we operate, we cannot simply plant the types of trees that used to be there. As trees are lost, the growing conditions on a piece of land change. The trees that once stood there cannot regrow in harsh, direct sunlight. We have to find other trees with pioneer qualities that tolerate harsh, full sunlight and arid conditions. After the pioneer species begin to cool the land and improve soil quality we have more success growing a diverse array of fruit trees and hardwoods. There are times when the best pioneer trees for a given landscape and climate are not native, but they are generally naturalized, meaning they already exist and grow in that country.

For us, the primary concern is not indigenous vs. non-native, but rather, of invasiveness. Whether a species is invasive or not is a complex issue; the same species may or may not be considered invasive, depending on local environmental conditions. We work with local forestry specialists and the communities themselves to identify appropriate trees species for each place we operate.

Further, many of the most economically beneficial species can be both non-native and non-invasive. For example, we plant many orange, mango, and banana trees every year at some of our project sites in Africa, even though they are not indigenous.

6. What do you do for water?

Water is a critical limiting factor in our line of work, so we have come up with many ways to mitigate the challenges faced. For example, when we select communities, we prioritize those that either do not have a history of water shortages in their well or just recently gained access to running water.

When we train people in arid lands to establish nurseries, we have found ways for farmers to grow seedlings by using minimal amounts of water, even gray water which is left over from other household tasks.

When designing Forest Gardens, we often have to select drought-resistant trees which survive on little water, and we plant windbreaks to minimize the drying effect – evapotranspiration as it is called – that dry winds have on the land.

We time our nurseries so that seedlings are planted at the beginning of every rainy season, maximizing the amount of time they get rained on as most trees we plant are not watered throughout the dry season.

7. How do you work with the farmers?

TREES’ technicians and collaborating NGOs work directly with farmer groups. We empower lead farmers, identified within farmer groups, to both distribute materials and act as resources to their fellow farmers. They become mentors for their cluster of farmers. Working with lead farmers and local collaborators, we deliver training directly to the farmers, and we also visit each farmer’s farm at least once every year.

During site visits, TREES technicians visit the nursery, the family and their forest garden, providing onsite consultation and collecting data on the impact of our program. We work with farmers for a four-year cycle, empowering each family to grow and plant a Forest Garden which will help that family well into the foreseeable future.

8. Do you pay farmers to plant trees?

We do not pay farmers to participate in our Forest Garden Program. Each of our farmers is trained by our staff and technicians in proper agroforestry techniques after they have been selected for our program.

9. How do you know the trees are planted?

We have developed a world-class monitoring and evaluation process that meticulously tracks the number of trees planted, where, and by whom. This data is digitally collected and processed for our team to locate problems and success in each Forest Garden, so that they can be attended to.

Part of this process includes interviewing each individual farmer at least twice a year to determine how their Forest Garden is producing, any issues that need to be mitigated, and if they are having success at the market.

10. Do you have volunteers?

Yes, TREES would not be what it is today were it not for the dedication of countless volunteers over the years. We have a variety of volunteer needs at our headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, and we also have volunteers, such as Peace Corps Volunteers, assisting on our projects. To learn more about volunteer opportunities, fill out the volunteer form on our website.

11. What does it cost?

The cost to plant a tree is only 10 cents! There are numerous ways to support our programs.

  • Personal donations of any denomination are accepted.
  • Become an Official Business Partner through an initial donation of $1,000
    •  These partnerships consist of the following:
      • Plant-a-Tree Partnership: Typically negotiated to 1 product or service sold = 1 tree planted at 10 cents/tree
      • Adopt-a-Project Partnership is $225,000 over 4 years
      • Global Cooling Partnership: Calculated based on amount of carbon the donor produces

12. How do you get your funding?

Since the founding of TREES, we have worked hard to develop relationships with a diverse group of donors to respond to the many requests we get from farmers to join our growing program.

  • The majority of our support comes from businesses who sponsor our projects and tree planting at sites throughout Africa.
  • We actively apply to receive support from foundations and government organizations.
  • We have an active volunteer network helping to run fundraising campaigns.
  • We receive support from over a 100,000 socially- and environmentally -concerned individuals who follow us through our e-newsletter and social media.

13. What are some types of trees you plant?

Farmers in TREES programs grow a variety fast-growing trees, thorny trees, fruit trees and hardwoods to create their Forest Garden.

They plant thorny trees, such as Acacia species, in living fences to protect their fields. They plant fast-growing, multipurpose trees to produce fertilizer, animal fodder and fuelwood. Our most popular fast-growing trees include: Acacia, Sesbania, Calliandra, Albizia, Leucaena and Cassia species. They plant fruit trees for food to eat and sell. Mangoes, citrus, cashew, avocado, and jujube are particularly common. For longer term investment, farmers often want to plant hardwoods such as mahogany, gmelina, and grevillea.

Here is a more comprehensive list of species we have planted across Africa:

Multi-Purpose Fast-Growing Trees

Acacia angustissima (Acacia, Prairie Acacia, White Ball Acacia)

Acacia mellifera (Acacia, Blackthorn, Senegalia mellifera)

Acacia nilotica (Acacia, Vachellia nilotica, Gum Arabic Tree)

Acacia polyacantha (Acacia, White Thorn)

Acacia senegal (Acacia, Senegalia senegal, Gum Acacia, Gum Arabic)

Albizia chinensis (Albizia, Chinese Albizia)

Albizia lebbeck (Albizia, Siris, Lebbeck, Woman’s Tongue Tree)

Albizia schimperiana (Albizia, Forest Long-Pod Albizia)

Azadirachta indica (Neem)

Calliandra calothyrsus (Calliandra)

Cassia siamea (Senna siamea)

Delonix regia (Flamboyant, Flame Tree, Royal Poinciana)

Faidherbia albida (Acacia albida, Apple-Ring Acacia, Winter Thorn)

Gliricidia sepium (Gliricidia, Cacao de Nance, Madre de Cacao)

Jacaranda mimosifolia (Jacaranda, Fern Tree)

Leucaena diversifolia (Leucaena, Red Leucaena, Wild Tamarind, Leucaena Petit Feuille)

Leucaena leucocephala (Leucaena, White Leadtree)

Leucaena pallida (Leucaena; synonyms are: dugesiana, esculenta, oaxacana, and panilulata)

Morus sp. (Mulberry)

Parkinsonia aculeata (Parkinsonia, Jerusalem Thorn)

Senna siamea (Senna, Cassia Tree, Cassia siamea)

Senna spectabilis (Senna, Cassia fastigiata, Cassia excelsa, and various Cassia species)

Sesbania sesban (Sesbania, Egyptian Rattle Pod)

Sesbania grandiflora (Hummingbird Tree)

Sesbania macrantha (Sesbania, Mlindaziwa)


Fruit and Nut Trees

Adansonia digitata (Baobab, Monkey-Bread Tree, Upside-Down Tree)

Anacardium occidentale (Cashew)

Balanites aegyptiaca (Desert Date)

Citrus sp. (Citrus, Orange, Lemon, Lime, Tangerine, Grapefruit, Pomelo, etc.)

Cocos nucifera (Coconut)

Cola acuminata (Cola, Red Cola, Kola Nut)

Dacryodes edulis (African plum, Bush Plum, Safou, Prune)

Elaeis guineensis (Oil Palm)

Garcinia kola (Bitter Kola)

Irvingia sp. (Bush Mango)

Macadamia integrifolia (Macadamia Nut)

Mangifera indica (Mango)

Monodora myristica (Groundnut Spice, Calabash Nutmeg)

Moringa oleifera (Moringa, Drumstick Tree, Horseradish Tree)

Persea americana (Avocado, Pear)

Phoenix dactylifera (Date Palm)

Psidium guajava (Guava)

Ricinodendron heudelotii (Njangsa, Njasang)

Tamarindus indica (Tamarind)

Ziziphus mauritiana (Jujube, Goa)


Timber Trees

Acrocarpus fraxinifolius (Pink Cedar)

Cedrela odorata (Spanish Cedar)

Cordia africana (Codria, Cordia abyssinia)

Gmelina arborea (Gmelina, Beechwood, White Teak)

Grevillea robusta (Grevillea, Silky Oak)

Khaya anthotheca (East African Mahogany)

Khaya senegalensis (Mahogany, Bois Rouge)

Maesopsis eminii (Umbrella Tree)

Milicia excelsa (African Teak)

Podocarpus sp. (Podocarpus)

Prunus africana (African Cherry, Prunus, Pygeum, Red Stinkwood)

Tectona grandis (Teak)

Vitex keniensis (Vitex, Meru Oak)


Shrubs, Vines and Fruiting Plants

Agave sisalana (Sisal)

Cajanus cajan (Pigeon Pea)

Carica papaya (Papaya)

Coffea sp. (Coffee)

Dovyalis caffra (Kai Apple)

Jatropha curcas (Jatropha, Physic Nut)

Musa spp. (Banana and Plantain)

Passiflora edulis (Passion Fruit)

Punica granatum (Pomegranate)

Solanum betaceum (Tamarillo, Tree Tomato)

Tephrosia vogelii (Fish Bean)

Theobroma cacao (Cocoa)


Garden and Field Crops

Allium sp. (onion, leek, garlic)

Beta vulgaris (Beet)

Brassica sp. (Cabbage and other brassica species such as Collards, Kale, etc.)

Capsicum and Piper sp. (Pepper; all types; hot and sweet)

Citrullis lanatus (Watermelon)

Colocasia and Xanthosoma sp. (African yams)

Cucurbita sp. (Includes pumpkin, butternut squash, etc.)

Daucus carota (Carrot)

Lactuca sativa (Lettuce)

Manihot esculenta (Cassava)

Phaseoulus vulgaris (Beans; various types)

Solanum lycopersicum (Tomato)

Solanum melongena (Eggplant)

Solanum tuberosum (Irish Potatoes)

Spinacia oleracea (Spinach)

Zea maize (Maize)

14.  Can I visit a project?

Of course!  To see first-hand the benefit of your donations, please contact us at to start a dialogue with our team.  While we cannot fund your visit, we are more than willing to work with you to organize a site visit during your trip.  

15.  Can I offset my Carbon?

Absolutely. Trees for the Future will help you to calculate your carbon emissions and determine the number of trees needed to achieve carbon neutrality.  Each tree planted sequesters an average of 34.6lbs carbon annually, and at $0.10 a tree, we are among the lowest cost carbon offset available.  Donation payments to offset your carbon footprint are to be made on an annual basis with new carbon calculations also conducted at this time.