Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

4. A case for tree seed education

4.1 The importance of tree seed education

The scale of forest genetics and tree improvement in the tropics is entirely inadequate, both in geographical distribution and species coverage, and bears no relation to its potential value and importance. These could be increased by work on the selection of tree seed, gathering adequate information on seed technology and inclusion of such topics in the curriculum of colleges and universities offering forestry and agroforestry courses. The importance of tree seed in tree education, and trees on farms for that matter, can hardly be better expressed than what one of the questionnaire respondents in this study expressed: "Tree seed is the mother of forestry". Schmidt (2000) outlines the uniqueness of seeds in natural regeneration and propagation; seeds constitute unique genetic composition, resulting from mixing parental genetic material, leading to genetic variation of the offspring, which enhances ecological adaptability. Seeds are usually produced in large numbers and are readily available each year or at longer intervals. Seeds are usually small concentrated packages of plant-to-be, containing plant nutrients for the establishment of the plant and, except for recalcitrant seeds, usually much more resistant to damage and environmental stress than vegetative propagules. Many seeds may be stored for long periods under cold conditions. Age old sustainable land use systems like the Chagga home gardens described by Ferdinandes et al. (1985) and Okting'ati et al. (1985) provide a typical indigenous knowledge of sustainable land use systems that need to be absorbed in forestry and agricultural college curricula. However, extension staff should know the abundant knowledge inherent in such systems if it is to be passed on to other people for adoption. The opportunity to integrate indigenous/local knowledge with formal technical knowledge should be exploited. Knowledge of the species composition of such systems, and their seemingly complex management protocols, is of great interest, and methods used to multiply the species, be they through seeds or vegetative means, are also important.

Weber and Bonkoungou (1993), in highlighting the general situation of multipurpose tree/shrub seeds for agroforestry, expressed the little basic and technical information known about most currently recognized multipurpose tree shrubs, and the number of potential multipurpose species (currently over 2000) will certainly continue to increase. In particular, seed sources, seed biology, collection and handling, storage, diseases and insects, quality control pre-treatment, etc. - we know very little about most multipurpose trees/shrubs in most regions. Lauridsen (1992), outlining the role of the then DANIDA Forest Seed Centre, expressed the varying contents of tree seed courses as depending on local requirements, subjects and level of education, and that they are rarely, if ever, identical. Gibson and Pain (1991) discuss at some detail about methods of promoting formal and informal change in crop and farming systems and that the introduction of institutional, technical and communication changes could lead to economic and social development of rural communities whose livelihoods are closely associated with crop and tree production. Lund (1999), counting on his experience in Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan, has concluded that there were more off-forest than in-forest trees, and the off-forest trees were those most likely to be used by local farmers and villagers.

4.2 Status of tree seed curricula and teaching in agricultural and forestry colleges

All the seven colleges visited have very elaborate mandates, focusing on excellence in agricultural and forestry training to produce competent practitioners for the public and private sectors in the respective fields. Despite well-intentioned mandates, the colleges have not been able, or at least have not been enabled, to cope with policy and structural reforms as well as emerging trends in sustainable land use management taking place in these countries. However, a majority of staff indicated that tree seed education should be introduced in college curricula where it was not taught and be revised where some components are taught. Most lecturers believed that the incorporation of tree seed education in training would serve the needs of the farmers better than what the current extension officers offer, which is simply supplying farmers with planting materials.

At Baraka and Bukura colleges (Kenya), Tengeru (Tanzania) and Bukalasa (Uganda), students had very little or no contact with tree seed education. Most of the students felt that tree seed knowledge was important and that it should be part of the curricula where it is not being taught. In forestry colleges where tree seed related issues were taught, the majority of students suggested that improvement was needed. Students felt the demand of this tree seed knowledge by farmers and that it falls under their responsibility although this is currently confined to forestry extension agents. Areas recommended include matching tree species with sites, species compatibility with existing agricultural systems, organizations dealing with tree seeds, seed ordering, diseases and pest control, tree seed at farmer level, tree seed business/marketing, and soliciting credits for tree seed dealers. It is greatly appreciated that tree seeds have the potential of becoming a paying enterprise and marketing channels could be through advertising and linking farmers through extension agents. As expected, the situation is different in the forestry colleges. All cover tree seed education in detail, including institutional and economic aspects. However, the social aspects are missed out because there is an underlying assumption that they raise seedlings mainly for forest plantations. The main limit to quality training is a shortage of learning resources such as laboratories and literature.

Emerging concerns on sustainable land management as demanded/dictated by societal needs has brought in new thinking that it is imperative not to separate agriculture from forestry, but seek to secure synergies that can foster sustainable agriculture and natural resource management. Now that agroforestry is a science, as well as a practical approach to sustainable land use management, it should be used as a catalyst for change and be used in its many facets as an entry point to harmonize agriculture and trees on farms. The agricultural and forestry colleges are primary entry points to train the elements of change. That top-down approach to training of farmers should increasingly be avoided and efforts geared towards building on what they already know, with a view to developing enhanced tree-based technologies with farmers. Other stakeholders such as those involved in tree product processing and marketing should also be regularly involved in these learning cycles. Tree seed education/knowledge is an important primary niche for carrying forward sustainable agriculture and natural resource management.

4.3 Assessment of college facilities and needs for tree seed training

Although the idea of teaching tree seed education and improving farmers' access to tree germplasm was welcomed by almost all colleges visited, facilities relevant to tree seed education were not up to standard and in some cases there was nothing in place. Forestry colleges were more advanced than agricultural ones in terms of teaching materials, laboratories, relevant equipment, tree nurseries and tree seed sources. However, most of these facilities were out-dated or needed replacement/repairs. In the case of agricultural colleges, laboratories and relevant equipment were not in place for effective teaching of tree seed education. Literature relevant to teaching tree seeds (text and reference books, journals, etc.) was either out-dated or unavailable. To establish tree germplasm education at such colleges would require that these facilities be upgraded and that they have linkages and easy access to forestry institutions handling tree seed.

4.4 Training needs for extension staff

Most of the extension officers interviewed recognized the importance and need for removing the boundaries between the practice of forestry and agriculture in the field. Farmers do not consider such segregation of professions in their day-to-day management and decision-making. Extension officers trained in agriculture admitted that they were lacking knowledge and expertise as far as tree seed issues were concerned and thus could not adequately assist farmers. Extension agents with or without previous forestry training recognize the need for further training (refresher courses) in tree seeds, namely, seed biology, ripening and maturity, seed collection, storage, seed ordering, tree nursery management, tree seed enterprises and farmer-based tree seed production. In a number of cases, it was emphasized that foresters should learn agricultural subjects and vice versa.

4.5 Farmers' needs, attitudes and experiences

Based on interviews with farmers, students and extension staff (students were asked about the situation where they come from and extension staff on their experiences with farmers), all farmers have basic indigenous knowledge about trees and tree seed. However, the knowledge differed in levels. Farmers reported acquiring tree seed knowledge as a part of their own understanding of the environment, and from extension agents. Farmers used this knowledge in procuring tree seed for their own use (planting), as well as for sale to other farmers and NGOs. It is also of interest that farmers also bought tree seeds from, and sold to, NGOs. Some farmers dealing with tree seed and seedlings used different methods for advertising their products, like posters, growing seedlings near roadsides and by using extension agents to advertise their business. There were complaints of limited demand although this could be attributed partly to seasonal fluctuations determined by patterns following the rainy seasons.

Generally, there is awareness among farmers of the possibility of taking on tree seed as a possible revenue earner. Factors that are taken into account when procuring tree seeds include transport, prices of seeds/seedlings (demand), weather (timing of rainfall), species on demand (which also depend on use), growth rates and seed quality (whether seeds will germinate easily or not). Seed and seedling procurement also included collection from natural forests, plantations and from trees on farms. Uprooting seedlings/wildings is a common practice. It is noteworthy that, although in the three east African countries there are national tree seed centres, in this survey there was no reported case of farmers obtaining tree seed from these centres.

Tree seed movement at farmer level is predominantly from farmers' own sources (from farmers' lands), from natural forests or plantations, farmer to farmer, farmer to NGOs, community groups and vice versa. Training institutions like Nyabyeya Forestry College in Uganda were reported as a source of seed and seedlings for farmers. Farmers identified their training needs as including a wider range of useful species, tree seed harvesting, processing, testing, storage, pre-treatment, sowing, nursery preparation and management and growing of trees for timber. A majority of farmers admitted that there are no forestry trained extension officers working with them and therefore there is a lack of tree seed issues.

4.6 Constraints to implementation of the tree seed modules

Major challenges faced by agricultural colleges visited were lack of staff trained in tree seed education. Although forestry colleges had a reasonable number of lecturers conversant with tree seed issues, there was a shortage of technicians to assist with practical work and maintenance of laboratories and equipment. Lack of financial support and transport for practical work had detrimental effects on the teaching of tree seed in all colleges. Lecturers in colleges where tree seed components were already taught mentioned that time allocated for these components was limited and as a result not all topics were covered. In some colleges there was no linkage between colleges and surrounding farmers and thus there was limited knowledge on indigenous tree seeds and traditional issues pertaining to tree seed knowledge and access to it.

4.7 Possible opportunities of using agricultural seed companies

The agricultural seed companies are well advanced in all aspects of seed handling and distribution. This business has high professional requirements even at the hands of private dealers. It has tight government control with regard to genetic and physiological quality. Under respective Ministries of Agriculture, varieties of high genetic quality and adapted to specific ecological zones have to be certified by the government from farm seed sources, storage and distribution. In Tanzania, for example, the Tanzania Official Seed Certification Agency (TOSCA), with branches in various parts of the country including Tengeru in Arusha, has the mandate to follow up seed production and distribution down to farmer level. They work with rather few private dealers. It is not apparent whether the small number of dealers in seed is due to TOSCA limitations or simply the size of the seed business. The market for seed is available but supply is still inadequate. Agricultural seed companies are handling very few tree seeds, and these mostly on a trial basis (e.g. Kibo Seed Company is trying distribution of eucalypt seed). They clearly indicated that they were not familiar with tree seed sources or management techniques and associated risks. Transport to remote areas is another limiting factor. Despite their unlimited markets, advertising is quite elaborate. This goes hand in hand with packaging to meet consumers at various levels of financial capacity or need. The fact that agriculture is a mainstay of livelihoods contributes to the positive trends in investor support. Forestry professionals do not often consider seriously the contribution of trees in the landscape to poverty reduction and food security. As a result, foresters are not well positioned to secure strong investor support.

The distribution of hybrid seed in agriculture seems to be driven by high demand by farmers. Middlemen step in immediately because of the business associated with this. However, the risks of fake products sold to farmers are very rapidly multiplied because the supply chains are often obscure to consumers. Likewise, fast-growing clonal materials (e.g. the case of South African eucalypts) were very easily adopted in neighbouring countries. An informal supply chain emerged, largely due to quick detection of the business associated with the perceived demand. Thus, in principle, where the quality of the seed or seedling is well known and farmers establish demand, private supply systems very easily emerge.

4.8 Lessons learned from information collected

The following lessons are pertinent:

Previous PageTop Of PageNext Page