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Reaching Sustainable Development Goals through the Forest Garden Approach (FGA)

Trees for the Future
Published: 25 September 2018
Last edited: 19 March 2019
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While industrial farming practices contribute to a changing climate, agriculture done right has the ability to save the planet! That’s why Trees for the Future (TREES) helps farmers in the developing world to increase food security, generate sustainable income, and revitalize degraded lands through the Forest Garden Approach (FGA). Each year, TREES works directly with about 5,000 farming families consisting of over 30,000 people and teaches them 14 different agroforestry modules over a 4-year program. Annually, TREES helps farmers plant 20 million trees and cultivate farms to grow, on average, 27 varieties of crops/shrubs on land thought to be infertile. This achieves average income gains of an average 400% over four years. TREES also collaborates with agricultural development and food assistance organizations to train extension experts in the FGA to help others adopt sustainable, climate-smart agriculture programming, amplifying these powerful impacts.


East and South Africa
West and Central Africa
Scale of implementation
Coastal forest
Desert ecosystems
Forest ecosystems
Freshwater ecosystems
Grassland ecosystems
Hot desert
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Pool, lake, pond
River, stream
Tropical deciduous forest
Tropical grassland, savanna, shrubland
Food security
Forest Management
Land management
Sustainable financing
Sustainable livelihoods
Other theme
Biodiversity mainstreaming
Connectivity / transboundary conservation
Disaster risk reduction
Ecosystem services
Erosion prevention
Fire management
Flood management
Gender mainstreaming
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Health and human wellbeing
Outreach & communications
Species management
Sustainable financing
Traditional knowledge
Water provision and management
Erratic rainfall
Extreme heat
Increasing temperatures
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Shift of seasons
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Pollution (incl. eutrophication and litter)
Ecosystem loss
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of food security
Unemployment / poverty
Sustainable development goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth
SDG 10 – Reduced inequalities
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 4: Sustainable production and consumption
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 8: Pollution reduced
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 11: Protected areas
Target 13: Safeguarding genetic diversity
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 18: Traditional knowledge
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge
Target 20: Mobilizing resources from all sources
Sendai Framework
Target 2: Reduce the number of affected people globally by 2030


Kenya | Uganda, Tanzania, Cameroon, Guinea, Senegal


  • Diseases/pests -  The plant diversity inherent in FGs helps stop initiation/spread of any 1 pest by mimicking nature, offering refuge for predators and buffers between potential disease transmittance sites. Our flexible trainings allow delivery of integrated pest management (IPM) trainings before outbreaks arise to prevent the spread of harmful insects, and to teach farmers to use homemade, non-toxic pesticides.


  • Climate changes & Water Access - We assess farmers' water access before projects and select sites with greater water access. Farmers maximize rainwater use by harnessing the slope/natural features of the land to help water flow where needed. We also plant locally-adapted, drought/flood tolerant species and ensure that seedlings are planted when rainy seasons begin.  


  • Market fluctuations - FGs provide larger sets of marketable products to generate revenue. Species grown in each FG are determined by market studies, partners, and farmers.


Each year, the FGA directly benefits a new set of 5,000 farmers and 30,000 indirect beneficiaries. We also train food assistance organizations to implement the FGA, so this wide network of practitioners/extension agents benefit from virtual training.

How do the building blocks interact?

These building blocks are the 5 phases of the Forest Garden Approach.  TREES begins the approach by undergoing the mobilization phase, where and how we hire local staff, obtain funding and partners for the project, which allows us to progress into the Protection phase. This phase protects farmers land from outside threats, like wind/animals, so they can begin planting higher-value crops, like they do in the Diversification phase.  This phase teaches them how to manage their FG, so they are able to learn important practices, such as conservation techniques in the Optimization phase for long-term success. This final phase teaches farmers how to be successful after the program ends, which readies them for the Graduation phase. The phases are designed to build upon one another and give each farmer the tools he/she needs for success after the four-year program, and the information to pass on a new way of farming to their own children and other community members.


Throughout this process, TREES is continually monitoring and evaluating projects on data points such as tree cover, economic and environmental resilience, food security, dietary diversity, etc. to understand how to improve these building blocks for current and future projects.


TREES measures our impacts in three categories: social, economic and environmental.


Social impacts include ending hunger for most families after only one year of the four-year FGA. Only 13% of FGA farmers are food secure when joining the program, and after just one year of planting Forest Gardens (FGs), 86% of FGA farmers are food secure. FGA success lies within the diversification of food crops and marketable products, which farmers increase from 2 to 7 for each farmer within the first 2 years.


Economic impacts include improving the lives of farming families and children. Farmers see significant income increases (up to 400%) with more than 92% of FGA farmers feeling capable with their new resources to brace for any unforeseen circumstances the future may bring.


Environmental impacts include ending deforestation, revitalizing soil through nitrogen-fixing trees, promoting healthy water tables, and maintaining/sustaining area biodiversity. By decreasing the use of harmful farming practices (burning, clearing, plowing), FGs reduce deforestation by eliminating farmers' dependence on forests for food, timber, and non-timber forest products. Furthermore, traditional agriculture has a heavy carbon footprint, mainly due to harmful agro-chemicals. FGs sequester carbon that is built up on-farm biomass. Each FG sequesters an average rate of 62.8 tons of carbon over about a 20 year period.



Trees for the Future

Malik doesn’t know about the Sustainable Development Goals: But he’s meeting them. Decades of backbreaking subsistence farming had left Malik Ndao and his family hungry and hopeless. He struggled for years, but the barren land with dying soils never produced enough to feed his children. Now he has a brighter future. A future filled with joy and hope. A future where his hard work in a Forest Garden provides a better life for his family. Malik and his wife have five children. Their farm never provided enough to feed the family. He was often away for months, desperately trying to make additional money to feed his family. He would search for work in markets across Senegal, attempting to earn tips by pushing wheelbarrows and carrying boxes. Sometimes hunger drove him to raid the local forest for wood and fruit, where he gathered anything he could eat or sell. He was barely surviving and never able to dream of a better life. Then, three years ago, Malik and his wife started his Forest Garden project with Trees for the Future. Now they have a Forest Garden System with 2,463 trees. The trees yield something of value to trade or sell every day of the year! Today, Malik does not feel desperate and hopeless. He no longer needs to leave his village to work. He is no longer away from his family for weeks and months at a time. Now his family, including his mother, wife and five children, are well fed. Last year, their two-acre Forest Garden generated over $1,260 – five times more than what maize and peanut farmers earn from the same amount of land. Now, Malik is doing something he never even dreamed he could accomplish. He is putting money aside in savings. Scaling up? But there are many others like Malik we can help feed their families and build a future filled with promise and hope. 90% of his neighbors and friends are still skipping meals and chronically worried they won’t have enough to eat. “I thank you to the point of wanting to dance!” says Malik. Together we can make many more families dance.

Contributed by

John Leary