Smallholders, trees and landscapes

Project title: Smallholder Farmers’ Perceptions, Attitudes, and Management of Trees in Farmed Landscapes in Northeastern Ethiopia

Lead researcher: Hussein Adal Mohammed, Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, College of Natural Sciences, Wollo University

Collaborator: Professor Zemede Asfaw, Department of Plant Biology and Biodiversity Management, College of Natural Sciences, Addis Ababa University

Research report – download the research report mohammed-asfaw-trees-farmed-report

Research summary

A study was conducted in northeastern Ethiopia with the main objective of describing and analyzing the perceptions and attitudes of smallholder farming communities regarding trees on-farm, including their status of integration and management. The research was carried out between March–December 2015. Sixty-five kebeles (peasant associations) in 12 woredas (rural districts) were selected by multistage sampling in which 623 household heads were selected using stratified random sampling techniques. Qualitative data were generated by conducting semi-structured interviews. The farm plot of each household was equated to an ecological sampling unit for gathering biophysical data. Focus group discussions, guided field walks, and direct observations were also applied to secure additional data. The resulting data were manipulated using suitable analytical software packages (Excel, SPSS) to calculate descriptive statistics, including percentages, means, and standard deviations. Significant differences between means were tested. A total of 520 (83.5%) of smallholder farmers expressed interest in integrating trees into farm plots, but in practice 276 (44.3%) of the total had no single tree in their farm plots. More plant species and corresponding use-values were mentioned by: informants living in South Wollo Administrative Zone than other zones; males than females; the richer smallholder farmers than others; those living in the Weina Dega agroecological zones; and those at better education levels. In total, the local people have cognitive domain for 72 woody plant species growing in smallholder farm plots, representing 61 genera and 40 families of seed plants in which the family Fabaceae predominates, with 15 species. The average number of plants and plant uses mentioned by the various social categories of informants is very small, ranging between 0.23–2.2 and 2.03–3.13, indicating the depletion of tree species in the agroecological landscape and accompanying loss of biodiversity-related knowledge. For convenience, the species can be categorized into three management categories as naturally growing, exotics, and regularly cultivated species. In terms of use-value, firewood, bee forage, and environmental services are crosscutting use-values, whereas food, medicine, construction, timber, charcoal, fodder, fertilizer cash income, and agricultural tools are differential use-values collected from particular plants. Species growing naturally in smallholder farm plots are concerns of tree integration initiatives. Comparison of means showed no significant difference for gender, literacy level, and administrative zones, but significant differences for wealth classes, age, and agroecology (P<0.05). There are gaps in the provision of extension services for maintaining trees in smallholders’ farm plots. Supporting smallholder farmers’ activities of growing trees on their own farm plots through selection of useful species, provision of technical assistance, and resource mobilization would contribute to bringing tree species back to the agricultural landscapes. The effort could be sustained through innovative options like the green water credit system. Land-holding certification is considered a guarantee of tree ownership for smallholder farmers, and it is important going forward to formulate regulations that are encouraging to investment in farm trees, protection of tree ownership, and respect and trust-building around tree-use rights of smallholder farmers.