Environment, Development and Sustainability

, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 535–552 | Cite as

Social and environmental trade-offs in tree species selection: a methodology for identifying niche incompatibilities in agroforestry



Natural resource degradation in highland regions is of increasing concern to the global community due to its role in aggravating poverty and the loss of environmental services to local and downstream users. The integration of trees into smallholder farming systems has been promoted as a means to enhance rural livelihoods while reversing the degradation of soil, water, biodiversity and related environmental services. Yet in addition to these benefits, negative impacts of trees on certain stakeholders or system components have also accompanied such efforts—suggesting that important trade-offs accompany afforestation. This paper presents a methodology for diagnosing problems stemming from cultivation of certain tree species in specific landscape niches. Data derived from the application of this methodology in two sites in the eastern African highlands are presented. Participatory diagnoses of landscape-level problems suggest that the negative impact of trees on water resource availability and crop yield are of critical concern to smallholder farmers. Ethnoecological data highlight the properties of different tree species that determine their suitability to specific farm and landscape niches. These data point to important opportunities for more socially- and environmentally-optimal integration of indigenous and exotic tree species into agricultural landscapes, and highlight the critical importance of local knowledge in forging solutions appropriate to contemporary realities.


Agroforestry Africa Community-based natural resource management Stakeholder 


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The authors would like to acknowledge the conceptual contributions of AHI site teams of Ethiopia (Holetta Agricultural Research Centre) and Tanzania (Mlingano Agricultural Research Institute, Selian Agricultural Research Institute); the African Highlands Initiative (in particular Dr. Ann Stroud); and our donors (Rockefeller Foundation, SDC, the Netherlands and Norwegian governments, IDRC and DFID) for their generous financial support.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura A. German
    • 1
  • Berhane Kidane
    • 2
  • Riziki Shemdoe
    • 3
  1. 1.African Highlands Initiative, ICRAF/AHIKampalaUganda
  2. 2.Holetta Agricultural Research CentreAddis AbabaEthiopia
  3. 3.University College of Lands and Architectural StudiesDar es SalaamTanzania

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