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Why seeds for trees matter in ecosystem restoration efforts in Burkina Faso

Bioversity International partner, Dr Moussa Ouédraogo, Director of the National Tree Seed Centre, Burkina Faso outlines longstanding efforts to supply quality seeds for restoration initiatives and the challenges they are facing in the second blog in the COP13 blog series.

The Aichi Biodiversity Targets agreed in Nagoya in 2012 included restoring 15% of the world’s degraded ecosystems by 2020 (Target 15). Subsequent assessments have led to estimates that for terrestrial ecosystems, this 15% means restoring a staggering 350 million hectares – and requires billions of tons of tree seed and trillions of seedlings.

In this second blog in the CBD COP13 Forest and Landscape Restoration Blog Series, Bioversity International partner, Dr Moussa Ouédraogo, Director of the National Tree Seed Centre, Burkina Faso, outlines longstanding efforts to supply quality seeds for restoration initiatives and the challenges they are facing.

When assessing ecosystem restoration opportunities in a country, it is important to analyze what institutional, policy, and legal frameworks, as well as financial and technical resources exist or are lacking that can either support or hinder ecosystem restoration plans. This need is also highlighted in the Short-term Action Plan on Ecosystem Restoration that the Conference of Parties to the CBD which is expected to be adopted in Cancun as a guidance to countries and other actors interested in restoration.

Regarding institutional capacities, one aspect often overlooked in restoration planning is the ability of existing tree seed supply systems to provide the quantity and quality of seed required for meeting restoration goals. We spoke to Dr Moussa Ouédraogo, newly appointed Director of the Centre National de Semences Forestières (CNSF – National Tree Seed Centre) in Burkina Faso about his research centre’s longstanding efforts to supply quality seeds for restoration initiatives in the country and the challenges they are facing. More than 30 years after its establishment, the centre remains a reference for the Sahelian region with its pivotal role in supporting tree planting efforts in the region.

Q: Why is restoration important for Burkina Faso?

Dr Moussa Ouédraogo: Burkina Faso is a land-locked country. We experienced major droughts in the 1970s, which caused large-scale tree mortality, land degradation and pushed desertification processes. Nature could not recuperate alone after these dramatic events and human intervention was needed to revert land degradation. The need to restore became evident.

At the technical level, many approaches were attempted in order to restore the resource base needed for agriculture and agroforestry. Soil restoration techniques, to improve fertility and soil quality, were adopted due to support and maintain agriculture production. These were coupled with water management techniques and with assisted natural regeneration. Re-establishing a tree cover could mean planting within an existing forest area, in order to increase diversity, or direct/sowing and planting on a totally bare land.

Q: What is the mandate of the National Tree Seed Centre (CNSF)?

Dr M. Ouédraogo: After a major episode of drought in the 1970s, a call at national and regional levels was put forward to take care of this emergency in the Sahel. Many international partners and donors responded actively. An important task was ahead: Several afforestation programmes were launched and the availability of quality seeds in large quantities was crucial for the success of these initiatives. In 1983, CNSF was created to address precisely this mission. An infrastructure was needed to take care of seed collection, and distribution of seeds and seedlings. Initially, mainly eucalyptus and other exotic species were planted, but soon it became evident that by using exotic species we were not really restoring because these species were not there before. With the creation of CNSF, we started to focus on indigenous species. The objective was to create a good stock of seeds of high quality and make them available for restoration purposes, whenever needed.

Q: Can you please tell us about the CNSF’s approach with respect to restoration?

Dr M. Ouédraogo: Our vision is threefold: seed production, reforestation and plantation. All these techniques require a sufficient availability of quality seed. Over the years, CNSF has made available large quantities of quality seeds for 160 indigenous species as part of restoration efforts. The challenges faced initially were how to conserve seeds viable in the long term, how to foster germination, and how to grow the seedlings in ideal conditions in the nursery. It was not simple as we had limited knowledge, so we focused on producing this knowledge on best seed management practices.

Now we are sharing this knowledge on improved seeds, and techniques for growing them, with farmers, to allow them to succeed in their restoration efforts. We hold training sessions and we also have pilot projects and strategic experiments, to understand the best ways to disseminate improved planting material, where there are bottlenecks, and to lift these constraints. The rate of adoption of improved tree seeds is low – about 10% – so we try to work with diverse actors including private nurseries and seed traders that sell horticultural seeds.

Q: What challenges have you faced in realizing your mission?

Dr M. Ouédraogo: It is not in the culture of Burkina Faso to plant trees. Only after 1976, after the major droughts, activities to establish large scale plantations were initiated. A major challenge we face is the very low survival rate of seedlings: below 25% in the three first years after planting. And we do not have accurate statistics. We need more data. A second challenge is to identify tree provenances that are adapted to future climate conditions and proper techniques to grow these. A third challenge is to convince farmers to use improved seeds. We have to raise their awareness.

Q: What future opportunities do you see for realizing your mission?

Dr M. Ouédraogo: There is a global consciousness now about climate change, and many forums to strengthen our capacities and to express ourselves to convince others of the value of our mission. We just have to be organized and persevere.

Bioversity International and the Burkina Faso National Tree Seed Centre (CNSF), together with other national research partners and the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences of Vienna, Austria (BOKU) began a collaborative initiative in August 2016 to enhance the capacity of rural communities in Burkina Faso to adapt to environmental changes through nutrition-sensitive restoration approaches. This will help to better understand institutional, technical and cultural constraints to forest and landscape restoration in the country, to develop research protocols and collect data on success in restoring Burkina Faso’s agroforestry parklands and forests and their services and benefits to surrounding communities.

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The initiative 'Nutrition-sensitive forest restoration to enhance the capacity of rural communities in Burkina Faso to adapt to change' is implemented in collaboration with the burkinabé association tiipaalga, the Institute of Research in Applied Sciences and Technologies (IRSAT) and the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU). It is funded by the Austrian Development Cooperation, with co-financing from the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry and CGIAR Fund Donors.

This blog is part of a series that Bioversity International is rolling out around COP13 - Mainstreaming Biodiversity for Well-Being. The blogs explain why mainstreaming agricultural and tree biodiversity is critical in sustainable food and production systems if we are to achieve the Convention on Biological Diversity's Strategic Action Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 that "By 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and widely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people".

Bioversity International and partners' COP13 Events

Photo: Dr Moussa Ouédraogo, Director of the National Tree Seed Centre, Burkina Faso. Credit: Bioversity International/B. Vinceti

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