This policy brief, published by the research network NCCR North-South, argues for policies that promote planting trees in drylands on a small scale, because large-scale projects can negatively affect local ecosystems.

International aid agencies and governments have been promoting large-scale planting for more than a century. But the practice is becoming increasingly controversial.

Advocates say it improves land control, raises its value, helps combat desertification and creates jobs. Opponents argue that planting trees in large areas means that communities using the land get evicted. New forests can also change ecosystems and negatively impact biodiversity.

Small-scale forests are a sustainable solution, say the authors. They have none of the drawbacks of large-scale projects yet benefit the environment by storing carbon and restoring degraded land. To encourage this practice, developing countries can use carbon payments as an incentive. As these payments are not high enough, farmers should be allowed to plant tree species that can also provide other services. But future research must evaluate whether using the same piece of land for different purposes brings more benefits.

Other measures could also raise the financial rewards of small-scale tree planting. These include schemes that provide dryland farmers with information about the carbon market, annual payments and microcredit, and support in using the right techniques and predicting how much carbon is stored in trees and soils.

These measures could be funded by public money. And to cut down costs for farmers, local institutions or non-governmental organisations could act as mediators to represent their interests, distribute payments from the sale of carbon credits, and keep them informed about changes in procedures.

Link to full policy brief from NCCR North-South [1.13MB]

This policy brief was written by Henri Rueff from the Centre for Development and Environment in Bern, Switzerland, and Inam-ur-Rahim, from the University of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan.

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