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Traditionally, agroforestry practices in developing countries focus on the introduction of high productivity and high cash value trees. However, despite many millions of seedlings planted every year, the improvement in income, ecosystem services, environmental resilience and climate change adaptation objectives that agroforestry claims to achieve simultaneously, are not to the standard of the effort. A mechanistic recommendation of planting high value species in mass did not result in the envisaged outputs because, for many small holder farmers, trees are not just trees, but understood and treated with in a complex background of social, economic, cultural, ecological and even religious influences. Through co-evolution and culturally charged interaction with tree species, with a back drop of changing climate and environment, specific communities have developed different extra-economic attachments and values to different species.
Unlike conventional agroforestry, where species for plantations and introductions are selected based on productive potential, be it timber, calories, livestock fodder nutritional value etc., local communities use complex criteria which are specific for specific demographic sects of communities such as villages, cultures, ethnicity, gender etc, for deciding to plant a seedling and nurse it to maturity. Look at for example the finding from one study of ours (Figure 1) where species which were introduced by highly funded and orchestrated government programs in northern Ethiopia were not well accepted by local communities, while Ficus thonningii, a little know tree with diverse locally appreciated qualities (mainly its resilience in a changing climate) has steadily increased in the number of cuttings planted and survived.
We have therefore, studied if factors other than productive potential, or nutritive value of fodder trees determine their acceptance by small holder farmers and pastoralists. We used a local board game, the ‘Gebeta’, to elicit quantitative information about local people’s preference of different qualities in indigenous trees . Moreover, we also scanned fodder samples from these indigenous tree species using near infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS) to assess their nutritional value (a conventional agroforesty quality). We then looked for relationships between the results from the two knowledge systems.
Results were clear, not only that ‘gebeta‘ values for most species did not correlate with NIRS values, but also that different demographic sects (ethnic, gender and age) had different preferences and valuations of same trees. This implies that agroforestry recommendations, based on technical merits of a species, without consulting local needs and priorities, will not bring the livelihoods and environmental change that agroforestry envisage to bring, just because most of the species that are introduced based on their technical merits are not planted at all or not cared for after planting. Therefore we developed a combined multi-criteria species selection process to identify those that fulfill the requirements of both animal nutrition science and local requirements, which ultimately resulted in different list of species than would have been expected from pure animal nutrition based selection.