Harnessing the power of African native trees for climate action and food security

Image teaser tree planting

Seeds are a critical first step in climate action, bolstering local livelihoods, enhancing food security, and preserving biocultural diversity. The just-launched ‘The right tree in the right place for the right purpose’, which is funded by the International Climate Initiative, is using them to transform African landscapes.

At the sixth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA6) in Nairobi, an ambitious climate initiative harnessing the power of native tree seeds was launched. The “Right Tree, Right Place: Seed Project” aims to advance the African land restoration goals. The IKI funded project will enhance the availability of high-quality native tree seeds across Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Burkina Faso.
The initiative seeks to bridge the gap between planting policy and execution, improve coordination between the public and private sectors in seed accessibility, and establish viable business models to promote the adoption of native tree seeds, all of which allow a unique combination of skills.

Group picture Event United Nations Environment Assembly
German Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke (centre) was also present at the project launch during UNEA6.

“We need high-quality seeds for the right species that are best suited to their purpose and environment. This is how we create good and resilient ecosystems – for food security, biodiversity, livelihoods and stabilizing our climate. By nurturing native species, we are not only safeguarding our environment but also partnering with local communities and fostering resilience. Investing in seed systems is to preserve our heritage, protect biodiversity, build a global commons that can ignite high-quality tree seed systems including the private sector and secure a sustainable future for generations to come,” said Éliane Ubalijoro, Chief Executive Officer of the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF).
With a budget of €20 million, this landscape restoration endeavour will foster an environment conducive to native tree seed and seedling production and enhance supply-demand dynamics, through knowledge sharing, seed mobilization, and capacity development, for example. The project’s innovative force lies in addressing local and global challenges through tree planting for both current and predicted future climates. It builds upon local knowledge, science and cooperation between communities and the public and private sectors to make restoration scalable and sustainable.

African governments: Leading partners

The project will be implemented in Kenya, whose commitment under the Bonn Challenge and AFR100 initiatives is to restore 5.1 million hectares of native forest by 2030. “Something very important is starting here today with the launch of this project. With its very noble objectives, it brings up the issue of seeds and seedlings policy and systems, speaking to the needs of Kenya. It will be very impactful in many areas, creating jobs and value chains right from the seed to the tree, contributing to our environment through carbon sequestration and providing materials for different activities in the country. With the improvement of seeds, there is biodiversity improvement so we can bring back landscapes to what they are supposed to be,” said Gitonga Mugambi, Principal Secretary, State Department of Forestry, Government of Kenya.
In Ethiopia, the project is alligned with the Government’s commitment to build a Climate Resilient Green Economy by 2030 as well as to achieve the country’s pledge to restore 15 million hectares of native forest by 2030 under the Bonn Challenge and AFR100 initiatives. “Investing in forestry is investing beyond the forest sector. It is about sustainable agriculture, adaptation to climate change, sustainable energy, tourism and water. Our novel agenda goes beyond the sector to the country’s sustainable economic growth. We have learned from past initiatives that there are challenges in the quality of planting materials. With this initiative, we are filling that gap and focusing on planting the right tree, in the right place, for the right purpose,” said Motuma Tolera, Deputy Director General of Ethiopia Forestry Development.
The project supports Rwanda’s Bonn Challenge to restore 2 million hectares of land and their Vision 2050 to transition to a green economy. “Although the country is significantly greening its economy, restoration with the right trees in the right place and for the right purpose was overseen. Now, our restoration aim is to focus on the benefits of communities and ecosystems. We hope this project helps us change the course to restore forests with our native species and bring back their native functionalities and their ecological, cultural and economic benefits. The time is now, and this project is timely,” said Beatrice Cyiza, Director General, Environment and Climate Change Department of Rwanda.
The project will also contribute to Burkina Faso’s participation in the African Union Great Green Wall initiative as well as its pledge to restore 5 million hectares of land under AFR100 and the Bonn Challenge. Equally, it will work closely with Uganda in its aim to restore around 12% of its total land area (2.5 million hectares) under the AFR100 and the Bonn Challenge initiatives.

“Reforestation efforts to date have focused too narrowly on fast-growing exotic trees rather than planting biodiverse native species tailored to local ecological conditions. This undermines long-term sustainability. The IKI project tackles these interlinked challenges through a coordinated strategy. First, enabling policies and institutions for the native tree seed supply sector. Second, developing technical capacity all along the seed-to-seedling delivery chain. Thirdly, linking nurseries to meet restoration demand on deforested lands. And fourth, sharing knowledge to inspire similar initiatives at pan-African scale,” said Ramni Jamnadass, Senior Advisor of Biodiversity and Trees Genetic Resources at CIFOR-ICRAF and Principal Scientist of the project.

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