Government of Rwanda should boost spending on trees on farms, study says
Trees on farms are vital to human well-being, providing households with food, fuelwood, and rural incomes. They also protect ecosystems by sequestering carbon, preventing soil erosion, and supporting the biodiversity of animal and plant life on Earth.
As nations strive to achieve the goals of international agreements and commitments, such as the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and the new Global Biodiversity Framework, there is increasing awareness of the value that trees on farms – also known as agroforestry – offer for climate change adaptation. These trees also suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, provide habitats for biodiversity, regenerate soil and water resources, and produce nutritionally important food as well as other high-value products that boost farm income.
While donor nations within the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have been very generous in funding biodiversity projects – and some countries have invested heavily in establishing new protected areas – project funding is only short-term. Long-term budgets for biodiversity conservation are inadequate around the world, so there is a need to explore new and innovative sources of funding.
Biodiversity remains an economic externality – outside of the mainstream economy – and attracts only small amounts of special funding. Biodiversity conservation and biodiversity-rich landscapes, therefore, require a second stream of finance: from agriculture and environment management budgets.
Global commitments also require reliable mechanisms to track progress and monitor the climate ambition of nations that have pledged to restore landscapes and conserve biodiversity during the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Yet it is often difficult to quantify the spending allocated specifically to trees on farms within national budgets due to opaque tagging, broad category descriptions, and frequent institutional changes within various ministries.
The Rwandan government has recognized the importance of trees on farms and has set up a task force to coordinate the implementation of agroforestry activities. It is therefore vital to know which government institutions have budgets that could be used to respond to the trees on farms priorities; whether they are being used for this purpose; and, if so, how much is spent.
Scientists at the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF) recently set out to answer these questions by analysing national budget allocations to trees on farms by the Government of Rwanda over a five-year period (2015–2019).
The CIFOR-ICRAF study was part of the Trees on Farms (TonF) project, which works with communities, governments, and non-governmental organizations in Honduras, Indonesia, Peru, Rwanda, and Uganda to conserve and restore biodiversity on farms and improve agricultural productivity. The study was funded by the International Climate Initiative (IKI) and implemented by CIFOR-ICRAF, Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Georg-August-Universität Göttingen and Leibnitz Universität Hannover.
The study found that in Rwanda the funding and monitoring mechanisms for agroforestry did not harness its full potential. Within the national budgets, there are various allocations that have different category names but can be used for trees on farms and restoration as well. The effective use of these resources is hampered by the fact that they are not labeled ‘trees on farms’ or ‘restoration,’ and also because they are fragmented and allocated to multiple agencies. This makes a programmatic approach – which is required if Rwanda wants to realize its ambitious restoration target – very difficult.
The current coding system within the national budgets is also designed to allocate and track funds at a higher functional level and is not helpful in tracking very specific spending targets for such narrow functions.
Rwanda, an agriculture-dependent nation that experienced mass deforestation during its devastating civil war of the 1990s and the Genocide Against the Tutsi in 1994, has become a trailblazer in the global drive to restore degraded landscapes. In 2011, the “Land of a Thousand Hills” was the first country in Africa to join the AFR100 Initiative – which contributes to the Bonn Challenge – with a pledge to restore 2 million hectares over the next decade. Forests now cover about 30 percent of Rwanda, with almost half of that land occupied by plantations, according to IUCN figures.
The Government of Rwanda has been very successful in restoring tree cover on public lands. Due to the central African country’s hilly topography, newly planted trees are frequently located along terraces created to prevent landslides and flooding, or in previously forested areas that were degraded during the war, the genocide, and its aftermath.
However, integrating trees on farms remains a challenge. If farmers are to plant and manage trees on their farms, then these trees must provide tangible benefits to the farmers in the form of food, income, fuelwood, and improved conditions for agriculture. This requires substantial investments in capacity building and new extension service packages, focusing on agroforestry, according to the authors.
“In Rwanda, a lot of trees have been integrated as part of planting projects,” says Anja Gassner, project coordinator for TonF and science advisor at the Global Landscapes Forum. “But not much money has been spent on teaching farmers how to manage these trees, which eventually grow to be very big and compete with seasonal crops for sunlight. So, agroforestry is not doing what it is supposed to do because the management component is largely missing.”
As it moves from a portfolio of agroforestry projects – managed by different agencies – toward a national tree-intensification program, Rwanda needs to creatively look for opportunities within its own national budgets to match external funding that donor organizations are willing and able to offer with their limited resources, according to the authors.
The main challenge lies in identifying expenditure for trees on farms within the budget items of different ministries and agencies. This spending is currently tagged under broader categories and funnelled to related activities, such as land use and management; watershed management; environment and climate change mitigation; as well as forestry and agroforestry management, according to the authors.
The authors aimed to identify in Rwanda’s national budgets any allocations that involved the sustainable management of natural resources (SMNR) and trees on farms (TonF) on agricultural lands, with a focus on two key ministries: the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Environment, which receive funding from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning. Districts also receive a budget to spend on land restoration activities that may include planting trees on agricultural lands.
“Unfortunately, the way the budget codes are designed makes it difficult to exclusively identify expenditures on trees on farms,” says Laurent Ndiramiye, a senior consultant who was the study’s lead author. “Efforts should be made so that the two ministries, and other institutions that are part of TonF spending, can clearly define trees on farms in their budget lines.”
The analysis found that national budget allocations to SMNR and TonF were 6.8 percent and 2.8 percent, respectively, over the five-year period. Yet their parent sectors – agriculture and environment (forestry) – contributed significant amounts to Rwanda’s gross domestic product (GDP): 19.3 percent for agriculture, of which only 1.6 percent of national GDP was reinvested in agriculture; and 5.5 percent for environment (forestry), of which only 0.5 percent was reinvested in environmental management.
The authors estimated that USD358 million was allocated to trees on farms from national budgets in the five-year period. Frequent institutional mergers and a lack of coordinating mechanism also had a restrictive impact on this funding for land restoration, the study found.
“Agroforestry tends to cut across the mandates of the ministries of agriculture and environment and their agencies,” says Brian Chiputwa, a livelihoods and gender expert at CIFOR-ICRAF who contributed to the analysis. “Since the two ministries have different mandates, you tend to find that there is not much coordination of agroforestry-related activities, thus making it difficult to track and monitor the actual expenditures.”
The report’s key recommendation is to make the allocations visible by labeling them as ‘planting trees on farm’ or ‘agroforestry.’ A critical assessment of the national budgets allocated should also be carried out to ensure they are sufficient, while consideration should be given to how donor budgets can be best used to supplement national activities.
The authors also proposed that allocations for SMNR and TonF in the national budget be increased to at least 10 percent and 5 percent, from the current levels of 6.8 percent and 2.8 percent, respectively. They also called for improved visibility of TonF activities and funding in the budgets of relevant institutions and at district level, with clearly defined and monitorable budget lines.
A national cross-sector coordination mechanism is needed for TonF, while resources should be transferred to districts from the central government, since they have responsibility for implementing national policies and are shielded from institutional reform setbacks due to their autonomy, according to the authors.
Rwanda’s Agroforestry Task Force aims to align the TonF activities of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Environment, and their agencies, Chiputwa says.
Gassner adds that transparency over the funding sources and the different functionalities for trees on farms – like catchment management and erosion control – will also enable policy makers to discuss how to allocate more money to a specific activity in the next budget.
“In Rwanda, agroforestry is one of the key interventions to support the backbone of economic activity, which is agriculture,” she says. “The government is already making huge investments in tree planting and agroforestry programs, but the expenditures are not very visible. The more fragmented the funds are, the more difficult it is to manage agroforestry in a coherent, programmatic, and effective manner.”
This project is part of the International Climate Initiative (IKI). The German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMU) supports this initiative on the basis of a decision adopted by the German Bundestag.