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This tree seed education needs assessment was commissioned as one of a series of reports and studies prepared by the Forestry Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) under the FAO Netherlands Partnership Programme (FNPP) agro-biodiversity support 2003-2004. The objectives of FNPP were to support the contribution of agricultural biodiversity to poverty reduction in developing countries and maintain the global functions of agricultural biodiversity; to ensure an international coordinated approach to biological diversity for food and agriculture issues and activities that would facilitate the fulfilment of member countries' obligations under biodiversity-related conventions as well as an understanding of complex biodiversity issues.

This particular activity in reviewing tree seed education in agricultural and forestry colleges in eastern and southern Africa was a collaborative undertaking by the Forest Genetic Resources, Forest Extension and Forest Education offices of the FAO Forestry Department, in association with the African Network on Agriculture, Agroforestry and Natural Resources Education (ANAFE), hosted by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF- Nairobi).

These FAO offices have a series of interrelated activities to support extension communication and dissemination activities to improve access to information on forest genetic resources. The role of the multiple products from trees grown on farms and in the landscape are increasingly recognised as important in rural livelihoods, and for poverty alleviation and food security. In eastern and southern Africa, for example, agroforestry initiatives have been adopted to improve soil fertility (improved fallows, relay cropping, tree/crop mixed intercropping), soil and water conservation (contour tree planting, contour hedges and grass/tree strips), woodlots, trees along farm boundaries and around homesteads for fuelwood, poles and timber, live (green) fences and fodder banks.

Extension, communication and information support is required to facilitate better access by nursery operators and farmers to the quantity and quality of tree seeds that they are seeking. In recognition of this demand FAO is working on a series of activities in support of the institutions and service providers in the sector. These activities include:

Though tree seed science is regularly taught to foresters in forestry colleges, involvement in frontline extension by those trained officers is quite limited. Graduates of agricultural colleges, on the other hand, form the bulk of government employees and NGOs involved in frontline extension. Thus the rationale behind this review was to establish the extent to which agricultural programmes at colleges go beyond the basic training in tree nursery establishment, and include aspects of tree seed collection, handling, processing and storage. The review also aimed to establish the extent to which emerging issues related to the decentralization of germplasm supply - social and economic aspects of tree seed access and availability; determination of farmers' needs; establishment of local seed orchards and germplasm management at farm and community levels; and tree seed as a rural enterprise - were currently reflected in the curriculum of both forestry and agricultural colleges.

The FAO working group continues to work in close consultation with the Trees and Markets Theme and the Training Unit of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), which are currently publishing Tree seeds for farmers. A toolkit and reference source.

Future programmed FAO activities with partners include awareness creation on the issue among education and extension policy-makers and training of college lecturers in eastern and southern Africa. It is anticipated that future joint activities between the Trees and Markets Theme of ICRAF and the working group at FAO will include sharing of experience between regions on decentralized germplasm pathways. The focus of collaboration, possibly in association with FAO's visiting scientist programme, will be on extension, communication and information support, on the effectiveness of those pathways and on their ability to respond to demand for the quality and quantity of seeds sought by farmers growing trees.

Peter Holmgren


Forest Resources Development Service

Forestry Department

Eva Muller


Forest Policy and Institutions Service

Forestry Department

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