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Treesilience: An assessment of the resilience provided by trees in the drylands of Eastern Africa

Baobab Tree in Kibwezi Kenya
Baobab Tree in Kibwezi Kenya. Photo by Stepha McMullin /ICRAF

The book Treesilience: Providing the Evidence on the Role of Trees for the East African Drylands, published by the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) is a synthesis of knowledge on trees and their role in the resilience of ecosystems, people and livelihoods in the drylands of Eastern Africa. First released in 2014, Treesilience is a first of its kind publication that brings together a wealth of knowledge and experience gathered from local residents, researchers and development agencies in the region. The integrated ecosystem approach of the book is further bolstered with the science of agroforestry research and knowledge acquired by the authors in the past decades.

“Although many people intuitively associate trees with resilience there is very little factual evidence on the role of trees in building resilience.” says Tony Simons, Director General of ICRAF (the World Agroforestry Centre) headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya.

Treesilience provides evidence spanning a range of themes on trees and the provisions they provide by maximizing value to ‘the five capitals’: human, financial, natural, physical and social benefits. It also addresses possible asymmetrical tradeoffs where the priorities of people may clash with the priorities of their environment.

Building and strengthening resilience is about continuously learning on how to reduce vulnerability to unexpected shocks and hazards, which many communities in the drylands face. Although shocks such as droughts, floods and other eco-physical dynamics, exacerbated by climate change, cannot be avoided, trees provide the crucial means to cope and survive the extremes of their effects.

An inspiring evidence of how trees can transform peoples’ lives and landscapes can be seen in the story of two villages in the drylands of northern Ethiopia. Here Abreha Atsbeha, a village that had been scheduled for resettlement due to famine, managed to restore its landscape to a thriving ecosystem through a substantial usage of soil retention methods, as well as multipurpose trees selected for fruits, fodder and soil enhancement. Today Abreha Atsebeha is touted as a successfully resilient landscape.

Abreha Atsbeha after. Photo: Ake Mamo/ICRAF

Abreha Atsbeha before. Photo: Ake Mamo/ICRAF








Treesilience delivers considerable evidence on where trees can and do contribute to the five capitals in many ways, through for example, regulating water and soil erosion,  providing forage for livestock, providing food and fruits, as well as medicines for both humans and the livestock on which many mixed farming systems depend.

The book also addresses knowledge gaps which need to be addressed before tree based interventions can fully succeed; for example gaps in domesticating and promoting wild fruit species which are crucial for the food and nutritional security of many rural communities.

In a world where getting accessible knowledge is difficult, Treesilience advocates for evidence based initiatives, and is a very useful book for anyone working towards the greater resilience of the East-African drylands.

About the author

Akefetey Mamo is a Communications Specialist based in Nairobi at the World Agroforestry Center.