More money and better food security status through agroforestry in Ethiopia

Atte Penttila

Planting seedlings between rows of maize on a model woodlot by hand at one of FFDs project cooperatives

For a farmer family, which is better: receiving money from tree sales or receiving money from tree sales and food from the same plot?
In our project in Amhara region, Ethiopia we conducted a study that reveals the answer, though it might be clear without the study: for a farmer, the income generated by an agroforestry system instead of a monoculture, of trees or food crops, is higher.

To the benefit of our famers and the communities they reside in, we put that knowledge directly to use. Here’s how!

Last year two individuals from different forestry cooperatives volunteered their lands to be used as model woodlots. The model woodlots incorporated Eucalyptus camaldulensis and food crops, such as maize, beans and potato. After establishment of the model woodlots we saw something very interesting happen, the new management method started spreading without any effort.

The neighboring farmers saw that it was a good idea to plant food crops with the tree seedlings and started imitating what they saw. These were not members of our cooperatives nor were they trained in agroforestry. This was very surprising to us and positively brilliant, I would say.

Then we arranged an experience sharing session with a multitude of cooperatives. And as a result of the success and good yields of the previous year, this year we have 12 model woodlots with an interesting combination of trees and food crops.

Some of the combinations have not been studied before but are very interesting, and we eagerly wait to see the process during this rainy season. We have planted together Eucalyptus camaldulensis or Acacia decurrens trees (both from the cooperatives’ own nurseries) with maize, teff, wheat, beans and lupins (great for the nitrogen fixing effect also), chili or potato, each according to the local microclimate and agroecological conditions, as well as the farmer needs and desires. As I’m sure you’ll understand this not just about income generation; the food crops are adding to the food security status of the farmer households.

The establishment of such a model woodlot is, of course, a more arduous task than a plot with only one plant; you have to plant, roughly, as many seeds as you plant tree seedlings. And it is all done by hand, usually by the family members, or sometimes paid daily workers. In the project we thought of importing some technology as a trial to see whether Finnish forestry has something to offer to the growing Ethiopian forestry sector.

Planting a hectare of Eucalyptus seedlings by hand takes quite a long time, even a few weeks, including land preparation, but with a planting pipe this time can be diminished extensively. One experienced planter with a good supply of seedlings could be able to plant a hectare, that is 10,000 seedlings, in a couple of days. So we decided to bring a few planting pipes to Ethiopia and see whether they are suitable to be used in the local conditions.

They were, but not always. If the soil in saturated with rain water and thus very muddy, the use of the planting pipe is difficult, even impossible. But if the land is only relatively moist or dry the device works very nicely. And this is how we planted some of the model woodlots; by using the planting pipes from Finland, leaving the farmer families more time for other tasks, as we all now farmers always have something to be done no matter which country you come from.
The pipe is a simple piece of equipment and easy to use. After a five minute training anybody can be a professional, or close to it at least. I’ll quote one of the farmers answering a question on how does the planting device feel like? “Very good! We can use this!” An additional benefit of the planting pipe is that planting by hand is very hard on one’s back, with the pipe you can stand up straight and avoid chronic back pain. By the way, these pipes are very sturdy and nearly impossible to break, unless you really try to, and the parts are relatively easily replaced.

So this is what is happening in Ethiopia right at this moment. The model woodlots have been planted as the rains have started; the timing is very important to get the most out of the moisture brought upon by the yearly rainy season. The results of the experience are a couple months away (should be known at the time of the World Forestry Congress), but as last year we expect the yields to be plentiful and thus improve the food security status and the bottom line of the farmer households.

The great thing about this model woodlot system is that we can see which plants go together well and then share the information with the other project cooperatives, and then the neighbors or friends (or whoever) of the cooperative farmers can also learn how to plant their own agroforestry system when they see it working. That is how the knowledge spreads.
Spreading good practices brings forth unity, and unity is power! And hey, it doesn’t matter if you’re in another country or continent, you can still spread the word: agroforestry works!

FFD (Finnish Agri-Agency for Food and Forest Development) is a part of AgriCord network. The host organization in Ethiopia is Zenbaba Bee Products Marketing and Development Cooperative Union. Read more about our project in Ethiopia

Blogpost and photos submitted by Atte Penttilä (Finnish Agri-Agency for Food and Forest Development, Finland) – penttila.atte(at)

The content, structure and grammar is at the discretion of the author only.

This post is published as entry #14 of our #Forests2015 blog competition. It is submitted in the “Youth” category.

The first selection of the winners will be based on the number of comments, likes and views each entry gets.

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Have a look at the other blog competition entries too!

39 thoughts on “More money and better food security status through agroforestry in Ethiopia

  1. Why am I reading this only now?! But, it still is a great story! And a great example how beneficial practices can spread with no major external effort and how big role seeing something work for other farmers has in adopting something new. Applies well with for example livestock vaccinations. Looking forward to see and hear about progresses. Let agroforestry conquer more place on the fields!


  2. Great job! Local people get positive experiences of co-operation and using new innovations and, at the same time, we people here abroad get to know what it means and what it takes to result in a very concrete way in this job!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you for the blog post that makes me feel more optimistic about the future of this world. Rocket science is not needed to improve food security in an environmentally-friendly way. You do a great work in sharing and spreading information about agroforestry. I hope that the methods go on spreading in Ethiopia and elsewhere.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Marjaana! You are correct in that improving food security can be improved with methods far from rocket science. We also wish for the methods to spread.


  4. Ethiopia has launched Green Economic development strategy that demands tree planting by smallholder farmers. The support provided by FFD, as described, first benefit a lot the smallholders’ family and contribute to the national strategy of the country. Furthermore, it can contribute to the global effort of reducing impact of climate change through carbon sequestration. Thank you Atte!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I didn’t know Eucalyptus could be grown with food. So thanks, very nice read! I am starting to believe that agroforestry could solve many problems on the planet.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. How rewarding to first study something in theory and then to test it in practice right away, and then see the other farmers imitating and benefiting of that new knowledge. Brilliant! Very interested to hear the new results when they are ready.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for the interesting blog post. It is great to read about a practical example of agroforestry! You managed to write about it in an understandable and concise way. Congrats!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Yes, Ecalyptus can be used in agroforestry systems. It does not steal all the water and nutrients as some sources claim.


  9. “After establishment of the model woodlots we saw something very interesting happen, the new management method started spreading without any effort.” Impressive, the way to go! Looking very much forward to hearing the results.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Reblogged this on Union Guy and commented:
    I wrote a little something for the World Forestry Congress blog competition. The posts which get the most comments and likes can win something at the congress in Durban, South Africa. Cheers!


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