By Rob Finlayson

An eight-country project in Africa has published a major survey of the state of the countries’ land restoration efforts.


Reversing Land Degradation in Africa by Scaling-up Evergreen Agriculture (Regreening Africa) is an ambitious five-year initiative (2017–2022) which is seeking to 1) directly reverse land degradation among 500,000 households across 1 million hectares of agricultural land in eight countries; and 2) catalyse a much larger effort to expand the scale of restoration to tens of millions of hectares of degraded land across the continent. It is funded by the European Union and being implemented in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal and Somalia by five international non-governmental organizations — World Vision, Oxfam, Care International, Catholic Relief Services and Sahel Eco — with World Agroforestry (ICRAF) in an overall coordination and technical leadership role. The project addresses all of the five major global challenges of ICRAF but explicitly focuses on two: environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity; and accelerating climate change.

Regreening Africa recently published a significant consolidated baseline survey report, synthesizing results from seven country reports. The purpose of the baseline surveys was threefold: 1) to generate baseline data required to later assess Regreening Africa’s local-level socio-economic and biophysical impact as well as the extent of household and community-level engagement in land restoration; 2) to identify critical factors in the policy and institutional environment (including those relevant to targeted tree-based value chains) that need to be addressed to unlock the expansion of scale of cost-effective and impactful practices of land restoration; and 3) to generate evidence to inform the design and expansion of scale of land restoration.

‘To achieve these ambitions,’ said Susan Chomba, Regreening Africa’s manager and a scientist with World Agroforestry (ICRAF), ‘we needed to know the extent of degradation of the land and the socio-economic status of the people who live and work on it, in all eight countries, in order to restore both the land and the livelihoods of the people.’

Karl Hughes, head of Impact Assessment and Acceleration at ICRAF, was closely engaged with the design and implementation of the survey.

‘We conducted the extensive baseline survey as a key element of Regreening Africa’s impact assessment strategy, which aims to provide evidence of the extent to which the project is likely to benefit the communities and households it is directly targeting,’ he said.


Staff from World Vision Somalia and farmers engage in discussions on successes, challenges and opportunities, during the JRLM field visits. Photo: World Vision Somalia/ Aadan Maxamed Caqli

Staff from World Vision Somalia and farmers engage in discussions on successes, challenges and opportunities, during the JRLM field visits. Photo: World Vision Somalia/ Aadan Maxamed Caqli


Regreening Africa’s impact evaluation strategy is known as phase-in design. For this, implementing partners identified a pool of village clusters that they had not yet started working in and for which there was flexibility on when they would be engaged. The village clusters were then assigned at random for targeting in years 1 and 4 and baseline data were collected from 9377 randomly selected households within the clusters. Household surveys were carried out with randomly selected male and female farmers to collect socio-economic data. In addition, the main cropping fields of the households were digitally mapped. The resulting geo-tagged field polygons were then overlaid on land-health maps to generate field-specific indicators of the health of land and soils. Baseline assessments of vegetation cover, soil organic carbon and soil erosion prevalence were produced across all surveyed farms. Maps of each indicator were produced using the global network of Land Degradation Surveillance Framework sites, coupled with Earth Observation data. The Framework’s surveys were conducted in RwandaSenegal and Niger to complement ICRAF’s GeoSpatial Lab’s existing datasets. The baseline data collection was complemented by qualitative data of 192 gender-disaggregated focus groups with 974 men and 975 women to prioritize tree-based value chains that Regreening Africa will seek to strengthen.

Forest Department officials taking soil samples to analyse land degradation indicators in Fatick Region, Senegal. Photo: World Agroforestry/ Gilberte Koffi

Forest Department officials taking soil samples to analyse land degradation indicators in Fatick Region, Senegal. Photo: World Agroforestry/ Gilberte Koffi


A key aim of Regreening Africa is to create an enabling economic and policy environment that will facilitate regreening and broader land restoration that benefits smallholders. In addition, a country-level policy desk review, complemented by stakeholder network analysis and online surveys were conducted and the findings validated through national workshops. Finally, implementing partners were supported to identify relevant behavioural and structural barriers to land restoration in their respective contexts, as well as strategies to overcome them.

Highlights of the baseline survey follow.


Step in the theory of change Baseline survey highlights
Provision of contextually appropriate restoration support

• Farmer receipt of agroforestry-related training or extension in the 12-month period leading to baseline data collection was low at 15% overall (11% women and 18% men) but with statistically significant variation across countries.

• The most popular types of support reported were related to tree planting (8.6% of households) and nursery establishment (7.5% of households).

Households and communities scale up both ecologically and socio-economically impactful restoration activities

• Overall, 59% of households undertook at least one restoration activity 12 months prior to being surveyed but, again, with statistically significant variation across the seven countries. Kenyan households exhibited the greatest breadth and depth of restoration, followed by Ethiopia.

• The most popular action undertaken was pruning existing trees on farms (36% of households), a common practice under farmer-managed natural regeneration, followed by tree planting (20% of households).

• While 34% of respondents across the seven countries reported awareness of community-level restoration activities in their local area, only 16% reported their households were involved. The exception is Ethiopia, where 50% of respondents reported such engagement.

More optimal integration of trees into farming systems and wider landscapes

• Across the seven countries, 94% of households reported the presence of at least one tree on their farm or homestead, with the bulk of trees for most households located in niches other than their main cropping field.

• Overall, the estimated average number of trees per hectare was 150, but with a huge range both across and within the seven countries e.g. 195 trees per hectare on average in the East African countries with much smaller land holdings, and 12 trees per hectare on average for the Sahelian countries with much larger land holdings.

• In general, households tended to have more native tree species on-farm (2.9 on average) compared with exotic species (1.79 on average). This trend is the case for all countries, except for Rwanda, where the average number of native tree species is only 0.44, against 2.2 for exotic species.

Improved soil, land health and other ecosystem services

• Using the Land Degradation Surveillance Framework database, predictive models were applied to satellite imagery of the main cropping fields of sampled households to derive three key indicators of land health: fractional vegetation cover, soil organic carbon and erosion prevalence.

• Fractional vegetation cover, the percentage of land with green vegetative cover, was lowest in Niger and Mali (3% and 6% on average, respectively) and highest in Ethiopia and Kenya (54% and 63% on average, respectively). Given that the trees targeted for establishment will be young by the end of the project, this method of measuring changes in vegetative cover was deemed appropriate.

• Soil organic carbon follows a similar trend: it is very low for the Sahelian countries, and higher for those of East Africa, but with considerable variation within the latter.

• Overall, soil erosion prevalence — the weighted mean probability of severe

erosion within each farm field — was found to be high across all seven countries but highest in Niger (most fields were > 75%), and with the highest variation in Kenya (with approximately 50% of fields both above and below 50% erosion prevalence).

• Fuelwood, timber, fruits and edible leaves were identified as top value-chain priorities by men and women in the direct intervention sites, with variations across sites and countries. Common constraints affecting the development and successful integration of farmers into the prioritized value chains include a) weak market links and access, including involvement of the larger private sector; b) mismatch between skills and needs; c) limited access to quality germplasm; d) unsustainable exploitation and extraction of seeds, which undermines natural regeneration of trees; e) access to finance; and f) low empowerment of women and youth.

Sustainable increases in productivity and farm income

• An agro-ecological economic model was used to generate farm cash-flow projections over a 25-year period for each surveyed farm’s baseline tree crop portfolio, representing the ‘business as usual’ situation.

• The projections were analyzed both annually and over an initial 10-year period on a per capita basis adjusted for purchase power parity. The ‘without-project’ projections are generally low but with considerable variation across countries and households. For example, average Year 1 projections ranged EUR 590 for Niger to EUR 2683 for Mali.

• The 10-year projected returns for tree products was found to be highest for Rwanda at EUR 4140 on average, followed by Kenya (EUR 1385) and Mali (EUR 1234) at distant second and third places. Rwanda was the only country where tree products make up a significant share of projected farm returns. Therefore, there is significant room to bolster the economic contribution of trees in the farming systems that Regreening Africa is targeting.

• A desk review of policy documents in all seven countries found that almost all countries explicitly reference agroforestry, with four having specific agroforestry policies or strategies, at least in draft form. Key issues identified include no or sub-optimal policies pertaining to tree tenure and poor coordination among relevant government sectors.

• Poor coordination among actors working on land restoration was further evidenced through social network analysis on information provided by stakeholders at national level workshops. Network density scores were found to be particularly low (0.1 to 0.2), demonstrating that while there are many organizations working on restoration (between 29 and 77 in each network), they are not well coordinated or connected. Poor access to quality, accessible and relevant evidence to inform decision-making was highlighted as an additional issue.

• Implementing partners also identified a plurality of structural and behavioural barriers hindering successful land restoration at the local level, including a) poor access to quality germplasm and water; b) poor infrastructure; c) limited market access and economic incentives; d) poor policy and heavy handedness in law enforcement in tree protection by governments; e) land and tree tenure insecurity; f) women’s disempowerment; and g) beliefs that trees will compete with crops and attract unwanted wildlife.

Improvements in household food security, overall income and resilience

• Dietary diversity is low across the seven countries, with only 13% of male and female respondents on average estimated to have adequate micronutrient intake. However, this varied considerably, e.g. 2.2% for Niger compared with 31% for Senegal.

• Reported food insecurity experience is also a cause for concern, but again, with significant variation across countries. Half of respondents in Kenya, Rwanda and Niger indicated severe food insecurity experience, with fewer problems reported among both male and female respondents in Ethiopia, Mali and Senegal.

• As would be expected, food insecurity experience correlated negatively with household wealth status. Interestingly, the reverse is true for the breadth and depth of regreening action, which correlated positively with household wealth across all countries.


Read the report

Hughes K, Oduol J, Kegode H, Ouattara I, Vagen T, Winowiecki LA, Bourne M, Neely C, Ademonla DA, Carsan S, van Schoubroeck F, Chomba S. 2020. Regreening Africa consolidated baseline survey report. Nairobi, Kenya: World Agroforestry (ICRAF).


About Regreening Africa

Regreening Africa is an ambitious five-year project that seeks to reverse land degradation among 500,000 households, and across 1 million hectares in eight countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. By incorporating trees into croplands, communal lands and pastoral areas, regreening efforts make it possible to reclaim Africa’s degraded landscapes.

This story was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Regreening Africa and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.