African Farmers Transforming Food Systems
Photo: UNEP/Todd Brown. UN World Restoration Flagship African Farmers Transforming Food Systems. Senegal

Nairobi, 13 February 2024 – When Africa’s fertile terrains become drylands, farmers are thrown into poverty and biodiversity shrinks. Trees for the Future (TREES) is successfully reversing this trend, assisting hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers in several African countries – from Senegal to Tanzania - to fight soil degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change. TREES was announced today as one of seven UN World Restoration Flagships.

“My life has changed. Birds are chirping, my children are laughing, life is everywhere,” says Trees for the Future farmer, Paul Magna, who now farms a mix of species like carrots, lettuce, and fruit trees in Kenya.

Trees for the Future has restored 41,345 hectares since 2014, an area about the size of Tanzania’s capital, Dodoma, as well as supporting over 50,000 households and capturing 347 metric tonnes of CO2 per hectare through its model – the equivalent of emissions from over 100,000 litres of diesel consumed. Drylands restoration also helps increase the income and improve the health of farmers and their families. The TREES initiative is expecting to create 230,000 jobs by 2030 in Kenya, Mali, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda.

The World Restoration Flagship awards are part of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration – led by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) – which aims to prevent, halt, and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean. The awards track notable initiatives following global commitments to restore one billion hectares – an area larger than China. The award for the African Farmers Transforming Food Systems was announced by UN Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity, actor and filmmaker, Edward Norton.

As a World Restoration Flagship, TREES will now be eligible for technical and financial UN support. Together with envisioned new partners and funding sources, TREES is now aiming at restoring 229,000 hectares of drylands by 2030, an area almost 30 times the size of Senegal’s capital, Dakar. This is expected to create almost a quarter million jobs, and capture and store 79.5 million metric tonnes of CO2 over 20 years - the equivalent of what a coal-fired plant would burn in that period.

“In 25 years, Africa could represent a quarter of the world’s population. Yet much of the continent’s land will have already degraded into drylands that cannot feed so many people. Protecting the little fertile lands that are left is simply not enough,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “Initiatives like TREES are playing an important role in reversing decades of ecosystem degradation, especially across the Sahel, pushing back desertification, increasing climate resilience and improving the well-being of farmers and their communities.”

The initiative works closely with tens of thousands of farmers living in poverty on degraded lands following decades of unsustainable agriculture practices, deforestation, pollution, and climate change. TREES provides training in a regenerative agroforestry technique called the Forest Garden Approach. In this four-year programme, farmers receive training, seeds, and other resources, while planting thousands of trees and dozens of food and resource crops on their property. Participating farmers typically own one hectare of land or less.

“TREES has greatly boosted my confidence in farming,” says Forest Garden farmer Dan Oliech. “My Forest Garden is my supermarket!” Mr. Oliech owns a small plot near the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya, where he grows cassava, banana and mango.

Trees for the Future’s projects in Senegal and Mali are a part of the African Union’s initiative. “Once it’s completed, the Great Green Wall will be the largest natural structure on the planet,” says Elvis Tangem, Great Green Wall Initiative Coordinator. “It’s a massive undertaking, but the dedication and teamwork of organizations like Trees for the Future will ultimately make it a reality.”

“We are honoured to receive such a prestigious award from UNEP and FAO. Partnerships like the one we’ve developed with the incredible Flagship team are key to expanding our work to not only combat climate change, but also improve the lives of the farmers we partner with,” says Trees for the Future CEO Tim McLellan.

As a World Restoration Flagship, TREES is recognized as one of the best examples of large-scale and long-term ecosystem restoration in any country or region, embodying the 10 Principles for Restoration. The announcement of seven new World Restoration Flagships was made ahead of the 6th UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-6), to be held from 26 February to 1 March, 2024. The Assembly convenes the world’s Environment Ministers in Nairobi, Kenya, to address the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.

Photos: UNEP/Todd Brown. UN World Restoration Flagship African Farmers Transforming Food Systems. Senegal


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ℹ️ About the partner organizations:

The UN General Assembly has declared 2021–2030 a UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Led by the UN Environment Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, together with the support of partners, it is designed to prevent, halt, and reverse the loss and degradation of ecosystems worldwide. It aims at reviving billions of hectares, covering terrestrial as well as aquatic ecosystems. A global call to action, the UN Decade draws together political support, scientific research, and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration.

Countries have already promised to restore 1 billion hectares – an area larger than China – as part of their commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement, the Aichi targets for biodiversity, the Land Degradation Neutrality targets and the Bonn Challenge. However, little is known about the progress or quality of this restoration. With the World Restoration Flagships, the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is honouring the best examples of large-scale and long-term ecosystem restoration in any country or region, embodying the 10 Restoration Principles of the UN Decade. Progress of all World Restoration Flagships will be transparently monitored through the Framework for Ecosystem Restoration Monitoring, the UN Decade’s platform for keeping track of global restoration efforts.

UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

FAO is a specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger. Its goal is to achieve food security for all and make sure that people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active healthy lives. With over 194-Member Nations, FAO works in over 130 countries worldwide.

Trees for the Future (TREES) is currently working with thousands of farming families across five countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Over its 30+ year history, TREES worked around the globe. In 2014, TREES focused its work in select African countries, where the climatic and economic challenges were most pressing and the greatest impact could be made. Decades of unsustainable agriculture practices have resulted in degraded and unproductive land; nutrient-scarce food systems; and farming families who are unable to grow and sell enough to meet their most basic needs. Using the Forest Garden Approach in semi-arid countries like Senegal, TREES has proven that regenerative agroforestry is a solution to each of these challenges, effectively ending hunger and poverty while restoring the land and environment.

✉️  For more information, please contact: News desk, UN Environment Programme[email protected]

✉️ To contact the initiative: Lindsay Cobb, Trees for the Future: [email protected]

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