How to reach rural people in developing countries with quality tree planting material
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It has been stated that the future of trees is on-farm (Simons, 1997). This statement is likely to hold true because trends indicate that tree-planting on-farm is increasing, and because of the growing awareness of the need to grow trees on-farm in the future. Although uncertain it has been estimated that small farmers actually constitute a majority of tree planters, that the number of trees on-farm exceeds the number of trees in plantations, and that this gap tends to increase (Simons, 1997; FAO, 1997). Worldwide deforestation has been estimated at 12.6 mill ha or 0.7 % of the total forested area annually (FAO, 1997). Deforestation and forest degradation result in a dramatic loss of present and, as biodiversity is lost, future options for use of trees (Kjær & Nathan, 2000). This represents a serious problem at the global level but in particular to the millions of rural poor in tropical countries who are dependent on trees. Trees provide important products such as fuel wood, building material, food and fodder. Moreover, trees provide important services such as shade, shelter, erosion control, watershed protection, soil enrichment, etc. As alternative sources disappear, rural people will increasingly have to plant trees on their own land to cover their needs for these products and services in the future. Adoption of agroforestry innovations can increase agricultural production on a sustainable basis and hence improve food security for rural people. (ICRAF, 2000). In that perspective alone, rural people would benefit from planting more trees. Lack of seed and seedlings constitute a serious constraint for smallholders to fully utilise the benefits of trees (ICRAF, 2000; Johansson & Westman, 1992; Aalbæk, 2001). Even when planting material is available, it is often insufficient with regard to choice of species or provenance as well as genetic and physiological quality. It is important to use quality tree planting material for several reasons. First, the physiological quality of seeds and seedlings affects the success of establishment and the subsequent growth rate of the plant. Second, genetic quality is of great economic consequence (Foster, Jones & Kjær, 1995). The chosen material should be selected to suit local conditions and should be of sufficient genetically broad origin to ensure the stability, e.g. resistance against pests and diseases of the planted trees. Using quality plant material is one important avenue to ensure that farmers and other tree planters will gain from planting trees. Improvements, even very small improvements, in the productivity of trees will often be of great importance, especially to subsistence farmers who have invested some of their scarce resources in planting trees (Kjaer & Nathan, 2000).