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Trees for Drylands

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Photo: Dryland Systems

On the occasion of Earth Day 2016: Trees for Earth, I take this opportunity to remind you of the important role of trees and tree-based systems research in drylands. Globally, about 1.6 billion people, including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures, depend on trees and forests for food, wood fuel, livestock feed, shelter, and income. However, the role of trees in dryland regions of the world has long been under-appreciated and frequently ignored.

Trees are an important natural capital that can help rural dryland communities achieve better economic and livelihood opportunities, improve nutrition, reduce poverty and ensure environmental sustainability. Moreover, trees provide other vital ecosystem functions, including improvement of soil fertility, prevention of land and water erosion, restoration, and protection of biodiversity. To commemorate this day:

  • We are launching Trees in Drylands, an Exposure story to highlight the manifold benefits and services provided by trees to people in the rural drylands of the developing world.
  • Adhering to our research commitment to strengthen resilience in marginal areas, we shine the spotlight on an important publication by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and partners on Treesilience: An Assessment of the Resilience Provided by Trees in the Drylands of Eastern Africa. 
  • As part of our dedication to share and communicate our scientific research findings, we invited Leigh Winowiecki and Tor-Gunnar Vågen at ICRAF to give us a few reflections in a Guest Blog about their research work in tree-based systems in Africa.

I am delighted to share with you two exciting videos about:

  • Roots of Recovery: Trees, People and Regeneration of the Sahel, to explore the impact of farmer managed natural regeneration on nutrition and food security in the Sahel.
  • A Tale of Two Villages, to showcase the inspiring evidence of how trees can transform peoples’ lives and landscapes through the story of two rural dryland communities in northern Ethiopia that were once scheduled for resettlement due to famine.  
  • I also invite you to peruse our recent List of Publications on tree-based systems research.

This year, Earth Day coincides with the signing ceremony for the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. To  build a sustainable and climate-resilient future for rural dryland communities, we must continue to invest in trees and systems research for developing practical solutions with multiple socio-economic and environmental benefits. This requires thinking outside the box, smart policies and holistic interventions, innovative partnerships and funding, and political commitment at the highest levels.

Happy Earth Day!

Dr. Richard Thomas is the Director of CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems.

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