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How to reach rural people in developing countries with quality tree planting material

Peter Ochsner, Iben Nathan & Anders Pedersen

Danida Forest Seed Centre Krogerupvej 21
DK - 3050 Humlebæk Denmark

Introduction: Why is it important for rural people to get access to quality tree planting material?

It has been stated that the future of trees is on-farm (Simons, 1997). This statement is likely to hold true because trends indicate that tree-planting on-farm is increasing, and because of the growing awareness of the need to grow trees on-farm in the future. Although uncertain it has been estimated that small farmers actually constitute a majority of tree planters, that the number of trees on-farm exceeds the number of trees in plantations, and that this gap tends to increase (Simons, 1997; FAO, 1997).

Worldwide deforestation has been estimated at 12.6 mill ha or 0.7 % of the total forested area annually (FAO, 1997). Deforestation and forest degradation result in a dramatic loss of present and, as biodiversity is lost, future options for use of trees (Kjær & Nathan, 2000). This represents a serious problem at the global level but in particular to the millions of rural poor in tropical countries who are dependent on trees. Trees provide important products such as fuel wood, building material, food and fodder. Moreover, trees provide important services such as shade, shelter, erosion control, watershed protection, soil enrichment, etc. As alternative sources disappear, rural people will increasingly have to plant trees on their own land to cover their needs for these products and services in the future.

Adoption of agroforestry innovations can increase agricultural production on a sustainable basis and hence improve food security for rural people. (ICRAF, 2000). In that perspective alone, rural people would benefit from planting more trees.

Lack of seed and seedlings constitute a serious constraint for smallholders to fully utilise the benefits of trees (ICRAF, 2000; Johansson & Westman, 1992; Aalbæk, 2001). Even when planting material is available, it is often insufficient with regard to choice of species or provenance as well as genetic and physiological quality.

It is important to use quality tree planting material for several reasons. First, the physiological quality of seeds and seedlings affects the success of establishment and the subsequent growth rate of the plant. Second, genetic quality is of great economic consequence (Foster, Jones & Kjær, 1995). The chosen material should be selected to suit local conditions and should be of sufficient genetically broad origin to ensure the stability, e.g. resistance against pests and diseases of the planted trees. Using quality plant material is one important avenue to ensure that farmers and other tree planters will gain from planting trees. Improvements, even very small improvements, in the productivity of trees will often be of great importance, especially to subsistence farmers who have invested some of their scarce resources in planting trees (Kjaer & Nathan, 2000).

National tree seed programmes

National tree seed programmes (NTSPs) exist in most countries where significant tree planting activities take place. These programmes have been established to ensure that tree planters get access to quality planting material (Graudal, 1998; Graudal & Kjær, 2000).

Tree planters range widely from government institutions over large-scale industrial plantations to NGOs and rural people. During the seventies and eighties, centralised national tree seed programmes supplied seed and training mainly to large-scale industrial plantations, government planting programmes, and donor supported development projects. Now, for the reasons mentioned in the previous section, emphasis is changing towards tree planting farmers (DFSC, 2000).

Many tree-planting farmers will obtain their planting material without the help from the NTSP. They may find it difficult or expensive to obtain what they need from the NTSP, or they may not have heard of NTSP at all. These farmers collect their own material in the form of seed, cuttings, or wildlings or they obtain plant material from other farmers, from local markets or nurseries (Edwards and Schreckenberg, 1997). The majority of this material will be collected locally or come from unknown sources and would often, as stated above, be of lower quality. This may be due to either a lack of suitable alternatives, or it may be due to lack of knowledge.

Hence, there are at least two possible strategies for a tree seed programme to ensure that tree-planting farmers get access to quality plant material. The first is to ensure that quality plant material is available to the user. The other is to ensure that providers of plant material as well as farmers who collect their own have the knowledge that is necessary for them to collect plant material of a sufficient quality.

In this paper, we will focus on the question of how NTSPs and other relevant organisations through extension can ensure that small-scale nursery owners and farmers collecting their own plant material get access to the necessary knowledge. Before making considerations about a future strategy, it will be relevant briefly to look at how national tree seed programmes previously have approached extension.

How have national tree seed programmes previously approached extension?

It is normally recommended that NTSPs have several functions, i.e. to procure/distribute seed as well as to offer training and extension for the benefit of farmers and other seed users (Graudal & Kjær, 2000). In reality, the designed training and extension strategies have rarely enabled NTSPs to reach small-scale farmers. This will be illustrated by two examples from Tanzania and Thailand.

The example of the National Tree Seed Programme (NTSP) in Tanzania

NTSP was established in 1989 with financial support from the Government of Tanzania and the Danish International Development Agency (Danida). Danida’s financial support has recently terminated, but the programme continues. Since the start, NTSP has had the declared development objective to "improve wood production and provide other benefits from woody plants including rehabilitation of degraded environments meeting the requirements of the Tanzanian people". Provision of tree seed of a good quality as well as training and extension have been seen as important means to achieve this objective (Nathan, 2000).

A training strategy was sketched out for NTSP in May 1995. The strategy was based on a distinction between training and extension. Training was defined as improving the qualifications of the project staff. Extension was defined as the training and information services that the project offers non-project personnel (NTSP, 1995).

There was an intensive programme of training for NTSP staff in particular in the beginning of the programme. These courses were mainly technical by nature. Courses aiming at improving the skills of the staff to communicate with or provide extension directly to farmers (or to provide others with such skills) have been few (Nathan 2000).

Concerning the training (”extension”) services for non-project staff, it was stated in the training strategy that NTSP did not have the resources to reach the farmers of Tanzania effectively. Instead, the programme was suggested to work through other projects and institutions with the capacity to assist farmers in seed related issues. The main target groups would then be forestry and agriculture extension workers.

It can be calculated from NTSPs progress reports that NGO- and project staff, including forestry project technical staff, have constituted the largest target group for NTSPs training and workshop programme. Officials from various forest departments constitute another large group whereas extensionists constitute less than 10 per cent of NTSP’s trainees.

It has not been possible to make a systematic survey of the indirect beneficiaries of NTSPs training. However, interviews indicate that there are farmers who have ”benefited” indirectly in terms of learning from NTSP’s trainees. The farmers who were interviewed had very different opinions about the usefulness of the training they had received (cf. Nathan, 2001). Data are not available, however, with regard to how many farmers have benefited indirectly from NTSPs training activities. It can thus be concluded that only some farmers / nursery owners have benefited indirectly in terms of receiving training (“extension”) from NTSP’s trainees.

In the training as well as in the marketing strategy, training/extension and marketing are approached as two sides of the same coin. Thus, it is stated in the training strategy report that the courses and workshops serve the secondary purpose of raising NTSP’s profile and that advertising the products through training may actually boost sales of seed.

Examples of extension material produced by NTSP is:

  • A newsletter
  • Seed pretreatment notes in Swahili and English
  • A calendar with different NTSP motives
  • Wheel covers, pens, key holders and t-shirts with NTSP’s logo printed on them
  • Radio broadcasts

This material is distributed free to trainees, workshop participants, customers etc. In reality, most of this ”extension material” must be characterised as marketing material. Only the small seed notes produced by NTSP in Swahili and English contains information, which is useful for all kinds of seed users including small farmers. Still, they are not designed for illiterate farmers. Thus, some of the information is in a language used mainly by forest professionals, such as: ”The species fixes nitrogen and has also got mycorrhiza association”.

Concerning training activities, it can be concluded that:

  • NTSP has had an intensive training programme for its in-house staff.
  • the programme has emphasised to develop technical skills rather than, e.g., skills in communicating with farmers, facilitating farmers’ participation, etc.
  • NTSP has aimed its training and ’extension’ activities directly at institutions and individuals who can pay, and that it is mainly such institutions and individuals who have been the direct beneficiaries of these activities.

Concerning NTSP’s extension activities, it can be concluded that the programme has benefited some farmers indirectly, but it has not been possible to estimate how many.

The example of the Forest Genetic Resources Conservation and Management Project (FORGENMAP) in Thailand

FORGENMAP was established in 1997 with financial support from the Government of Thailand and the Danish Cooperation for Environment and Development (Danced). Danceds financial support will be terminated in 2002.

FORGENMAP is engaged with many of the same tasks as NTSPs in other countries, however with focus on conservation of forest genetic resources. As concerning outreach, it has a specific component on this comprising:

  • Issuing information/extension material
  • Establishment of demo plots for demonstrating superior “genetic quality”
  • Awareness raising in schools, temples, villages etc on advantages of using high-quality seed.

Because of a fairly centralised set-up, it is difficult to gain local awareness and thereby have a local impact (NIRAS, 2000). The main reason is that the extension is provided through Royal Forest Department (RFD). RFD has an unpopular, policing image among many villagers making it difficult to create an open dialogue. The conflict derives from both sides: the villagers tend to mistrust the RFD because RFD opposes agricultural expansion in forest reserves. RFD mistrust the villagers and their endless need for land, often far beyond the forest border and inside protected areas.

Impact increases when publications are issued in the local language instead of English. Poor farmers especially those from the hill-tribes could only be reached sporadically. Four pilot-sites were created with the help of NGOs or other local organisations. Some of these may unfortunately be lost now due to government transfer of responsible officers. In terms of awareness raising it was found easy to create interest in quality seed. However, if quality seed is not readily available, people tend to loose interest. In addition, if the stated superiority of the seeds offered was not documented the villagers tended to mistrust these seeds. The belief that imported goods are better than homepro-duced is pronounced. Imports of seed of varying quality are still going on despite the fact that better national seed would normally be available.


In the two examples above, ”extension” was approached as training of staff from forest departments and other projects, or as an aspect of marketing. Although extension activities aiming at farmers have been declared to play a focal role in the strategies outlined for both NTSPs, it seems that these activities in reality have not been directed towards farmers. Consequently, the activities of the two NTSPs have not had any significant impact on farmers’ livelihood. When the two NTSPs have implemented extension activities, they usually have implemented them as a top-down process separated from extension activities in other institutions of relevance to farmers. In addition it seems difficult for NTSPs, having by “nature” a fairly centralised set up, to reach rural people in general. This is a general problem for many NTSPs (Graudal & Thomsen, 1998).

Extension in theory

Within the last decades, theory about extension has changed from emphasising a (top-down) transfer of technology and knowledge to an emphasis on the need for a bottom-up approach. Such an approach implies that the extensionist act as a facilitator, who assists farmers to identify the constraints, problems and opportunities affecting their daily lives followed by assisting the farmers to obtain the information and support they need to solve the problems. This type of extension requires greater interaction and an open dialogue between farmer and extensionist, and acknowledges the farmers' often lifelong expertise in identifying and solving problems and selecting options for improvement (Garforth & Harford, 1997, Neuchatel, 1999).

In this sense, extension is a process where all involved learn from each other. This enables scientists and extensionist to gain knowledge from farmers and discover what problems the farmers are facing and thereby hopefully try to solve the discovered problems in collaboration with the farmers (Neuchatel, 1999; Scarborough 1997).

Following previous experience as well as the latest developments within extension theory, it is necessary for NTSPs to adopt a new approach to extension. This will represent a challenge to NTSPs because it requires trainers and extension workers to change their attitude about how to perform extension. In addition they have to learn new techniques such as participatory methods, communication skills and facilitation techniques (Scarborough 1997).

Introduction to Danida Forest Seed Centre

Danida Forest Seed Centre (DFSC) is an institution under Danida, the Danish International Development Agency, which in turn is part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. DFSC has been in operation since 1969, and currently employs a staff of 14 people.

DFSC provides technical support to developing countries in the following fields:

Seed procurement, which includes methods for collection, treatment and storage of tree seed.

Tree improvement, which involves improving the quality of tree species already in use and introducing new and better provenances or species.

Conservation of forest genetic resources involves conserving threatened tree species which will allow the utilisation of these species now and in the future

Institutional development contributes to setting up efficient forest seed programmes and improving existing ones.

In the coming years, DFSC will focus on the following five working areas. It will be taken into special consideration the fact that trees are increasingly being used as integral parts of agriculture. The five focus areas are:

  • Integrated tree seed programmes
  • Quality seed for farmers
  • Conservation of the genetic resources of trees
  • The under-utilised species
  • Transfer and use of knowledge

DFSC collaborates with several kinds of partners worldwide mainly by providing information about tree seed in the form of books, technical notes, lecture notes and seed leaflets. DFSC is in contact with practically all NTSPs in the developing world, and in several countries the collaboration has been especially wide-ranging because Danida has provided funds directly to the NTSPs. These funds have been used to develop, staff and sometimes build modern tree seed centres.

DFSC is currently in a process of transformation towards greater emphasis on rural people. This is because the main objective of Danida is to reduce poverty among poor people in the developing countries. In the countries that Danida collaborates with the poor people are found mainly in the countryside amongst villagers and farmers.

The objective of DFSC is therefore, apart from still supporting the NTSPs, to support farmers and rural people in the developing world with planting more trees of good genetic quality, to collaborate with whoever is interested in domestication of new species and to promote planting of a variety of species. The difficulty that DFSC faces in this enormous task is that DFSC can not be in contact with every farmer in the developing world and besides it is better to leave this task to other institutions whose job it is do exactly that. Hence DFSC will collaborate with other institutions in their efforts to reach rural people with quality tree seed and with relevant knowledge about how to collect, handle, and use tree seed. These institutions can be either national, international, NGO’s or farmers organisations.

Developing an extension strategy for DFSC


The development objective is to improve farmers' livelihood through access to, and knowledge about, seed and planting material.

Activities where the “new” approach is integrated

  • DFSC should incorporate latest developments in extension and should into all relevant activities. The most important of these activities include:
  • When Danida are supporting new NTSPs “new” approaches to extension should be included as a main strategy. A clear distinction between marketing and extension should be made, perhaps allowing methods from one to inspire the other - but commercial goals should not be disguised under extension.
  • Training of NTSP management staff should emphasise “new” approaches to extension.
  • Whenever courses in training of trainers are conducted, “new” approaches to extension should be taught.
  • Extension material produced by DFSC should reflect recent theoretical developments within extension.

Important issues to remember

  • Extension must cross cut the five focus areas of DFSC.
  • Extension should be gender and minority sensitive.
  • Promote lateral exchange of experience between rural people.

Important questions to address

  • How to ensure that extension is designed to become a two way process?
  • Shall DFSC become extensionists and trainers of extensionists or shall DFSC establish a network of extensionists/trainers?
  • How shall DFSC define its outreach / extension focus area in relation to other organisations with similar target groups (e.g. ICRAF)?
  • Are DFSC prepared to change (e.g. strategy, publications etc.) if our end-users recommend it?
  • How can DFSC outsource activities to partnership institutions in order to obtain higher impact?
  • How to prioritise between proposed activities?

Activities to be carried out by DFSC

DFSC must improve its capacity to support NTSPs and partner institutions in addressing extensionists and farmers more directly with extension activities based on the extension approaches mentioned above.

Make reviews about:

  • Pathways in dissemination of knowledge to different groups of seed users.
  • Extension methods to different groups of seed users.
  • Experiences from demonstration plots
  • Existing knowledge/extension material in general and on seed in particular– starting with ICRAF and FAO.
  • The need of projects for support in extension.
  • Existing knowledge concerning extension to rural people.
  • Rural peoples needs in relation to trees and the gaps in their knowledge about how to reproduce trees.
  • Development of information models, which should include needs assessment, curriculum design, training of trainers, examples of methods and material. Conduct pilot studies where the models are used in practice.
  • Become active part of extension networks (i.e. IUFRO).
  • Establish contacts to persons who can be hired to implement extension courses
  • Collect extension material and literature from projects, organisations and research institutions for the DFSC library.
  • The extension material should include material with relation to trees, seed and farmers but could also contain other subjects as long as it can inspire and give examples of how extension material can look like.
  • The research material should include: a) agroforestry and forestry related extension; b) training and extension needs assessment; c) farmer-led extension etc.
  • Encourage co-operation between NTSPs and private seed dealers concerning marketing of tree seed in small quantities. The idea is that private seed dealers who already sell vegetable seed in small quantities can broaden their product range by including tree seed.
  • Encouragement of small private nurseries. Provide them with seed to establish seed sources of most wanted trees in the particular region.

Material published by DFSC


DFSC shall continue to produce technical notes, lecture notes, books etc. New subjects will be taken up especially if recommended by our users. We will make revisions of older technical notes in order to make them more understandable and up to date.

A new series of extension notes and other extension materials will be initiated. These can be own productions or be produced in collaboration with others. The material should be designed so it can be used directly by others or can be altered easily e.g. translation of text, adding or altering drawings/pictures etc. The material should be in the form of pamphlets and posters rich in illustrations and with simple and understandable text. The material could also include videos, instructions for role-plays and samples of small seed bags with simple information printed on the back.


The DFSC website will in the future contain all new publications from DFSC including extension material and will be free to download. Some types of extension material, like videos, posters, etc., will not be possible to publish on the website (at present), but will be promoted.

Demonstration plots

Demonstration plots will be planned and implemented in collaboration with NTSPs and other partners (c.f. IFSP / DFSC 2000). Local villagers should be involved in all decisions concerning the demonstration plots. Mobile demonstration units with everything in extension material could be considered.


DFSC and the organisations that DFSC collaborate with should get experience in training / extension needs assessment (no reason to teach people what they already know).

  • Evaluate existing training courses and include if relevant.
  • Ensure that elements of communication with farmers are integrated in training courses.
  • Increase awareness about farmers as ultimate beneficiaries.
  • Review the form of the training courses – not just ”sit and listen” courses.
  • Be better at targeting the trainees with appropriate training material.
  • When training extensionist the trainees should be trained by using the same material as they will use with the farmers.
  • New training courses conducted by DFSC or consultants.
  • Training in assessment of farmers needs for knowledge
  • Training in how to produce extension material
  • Training in establisment of seed sources and demonstration plots
  • Training in training/extension
  • Training in training needs assessment

Training of DFSC staff

  • Upgrade the training and extension skills of DFSC staff by conducting courses at DFSC or participating in courses elsewhere


1. Aalbæk, A., 2001: Farmers' tree planting and access to germplasm in the southern highlands of Tanzania. Unit of Forestry, Department of Economics and Natural Resources, Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Copenhagen. In press.

2. DFSC, 2000. Challenges and Priorities in Management of Forest Genetic Resources 2000-2005, Danida Forest Seed Centre.

3. Edwards, D. and K. Schreckenberg, 1997. Demand from Smallholder Farmers for Multipurpose Tree Germplasm. Implications for Policy, Research, and Development. Advance proceedings of the International Workshop on Policy Aspects of Tree Germplasm Demand and Supply organized at ICRAF, Nairobi, Kenya, 6-8 October 1997.

4. FAO, 1997. State of the World’s Forests. FAO. Rome, Italy.

5. Foster, G.S.; Jones. N. & Kjær, E.K. 1995. Economics of tree improvement in developing projects in the tropics. In: Environmental & economic issues in forestry: Selected case studies in Asia (Edited by S. Shen & A. Contreras-Hermosilla). p. 95-128. World Bank Tech. Pap. No. 281. The World Bank. Washington D.C. USA.

6. Garforth and Harford, 1997: Extension experiences in agriculture and natural ressource management in the 1980s and 1990s. Scarborough, Vanessa; Scott Killough, Debra A. Johnson and John Farrington (eds.), 1997. Farmer-led extension. Concepts and practices. Immediate technology Publications on behalf of the Overseas Development Institute.

7. Graudal, L. 1998. The Functions and Role of a National Tree Seed Programme. Danida Forest Seed Centre.

8. Graudal, L. & Kjær, E.D. 2000. Can national tree seed programmes generate economic, social and/or environmental benefits that cover their costs? Danida Forest Seed Centre.

9. Graudal. L. & Thomsen. A. 1998. Institutional Development in Forest Genetic Resources. Danida Forest Seed Centre.

10. ICRAF, 2000. Paths to prosperity through agroforestry. ICRAF´s Corporate Strategy, 2001-2010.

11. IFSP / DFSC 2000. Establishment of field demonstration plots by the regional tree seed centres in Indonesia. Indonesian Forest Seed Project. Bandung. Indonesia.

12. Johansson, L. & P. Westman, 1992. The Forest, trees and people project in Babati District, Tanzania: Experiences from field work and studies, 1987 - 1990. Working paper 204, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, International Rural Development Centre, Uppsala.

13. Kjaer, E. D. & Nathan. I. 2000. Three Approaches for Integrating Conservation and Development. Danida Forest Seed Centre.

14. Nathan. I. 2000. Decentralisation, Small Farmers and Sustainability: the Case of the National Tree Seed Programme (NTSP) in Tanzania. Danida Forest Seed Centre.

15. Nathan, I. 2001. Decentralisation, Small Farmers, and Sustainability. A Case Study of the National Tree Seed Programme (NTSP) in Tanzania. A joint NTSP/DFSC publication.

16. Neuchatel Group, 1999: Common Framework on Agricultural Extension.

17. NIRAS. 2000. Mid-term review of FORGENMAP Thailand. DANCED No. M 129-0029.

18. NTSP, 1995. Training and Extension Strategy: National Tree Seed Project, Tanzania.

19. Scarborough, Vanessa; Scott Killough; Debra A. Johnson; and John Farrington 1997. Introduction. In: Scarborough, Vanessa; Scott Killough; Debra A. Johnson; and John Farrington (eds.), 1997. Farmer-led extension. Concepts and practices. Immediate technology Publications on behalf of the Overseas Development Institute.

20. Simons, T., 1997. The Importance of Germplasm Policies in Tree Domestication. Advance proceedings of the International Workshop on Policy Aspects of Tree Germplasm Demand and Supply organized at ICRAF, Nairobi

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