Agroforestry Systems

, Volume 82, Issue 3, pp 303–330 | Cite as

Tree species selection for land rehabilitation in Ethiopia: from fragmented knowledge to an integrated multi-criteria decision approach

  • Bert ReubensEmail author
  • Clara Moeremans
  • Jean Poesen
  • Jan Nyssen
  • Sarah Tewoldeberhan
  • Steve Franzel
  • Jozef Deckers
  • Caleb Orwa
  • Bart Muys


Dryland regions worldwide are increasingly suffering from losses of soil and biodiversity as a consequence of land degradation. Integrated conservation, rehabilitation and community-based management of natural resources are therefore of vital importance. Local planting efforts should focus on species performing a wide range of functions. Too often however, unsuitable tree species are planted when both ecological suitability for the targeted area or preferences of local stakeholders are not properly taken into account during selection. To develop a decision support tool for multi-purpose species selection, first information needs to be pooled on species-specific ranges, characteristics and functions for a set of potentially valuable species. In this study such database has been developed for the highly degraded northern Ethiopian highlands, using a unique combination of information sources, and with particular attention for local ecological knowledge and preferences. A set of candidate tree species and potentially relevant criteria, a flexible input database with species performance scores upon these criteria, and a ready-to-use multi-criteria decision support tool are presented. Two examples of species selection under different scenarios have been worked out in detail, with highest scores obtained for Cordia africana and Dodonaea angustifolia, as well as Eucalyptus spp., Acacia abyssinica, Acacia saligna, Olea europaea and Faidherbia albida. Sensitivity to criteria weights, and reliability and lack of knowledge on particular species attributes remain constraints towards applicability, particularly when many species are jointly evaluated. Nonetheless, the amount and diversity of the knowledge pooled in the presented database is high, covering 91 species and 45 attributes.


Afforestation Dryland restoration Local ecological knowledge Multi-purpose tree Rural appraisal Species selection tool 



This research was funded by the Flemish Interuniversity Council (VLIR-UDC) and the Research Foundation—Flanders (FWO). The cooperation with the MU-IUC programme, particularly with Dr. Kindeya Gebrehiwot, Dr. Mitiku Haile and Dr. Amanuel Z. Abraha (Land Project), has been very valuable. Special thanks go to Muuz Hadush, Romha Assefa, Bedru Babulo, Aklilu Negussie and Lies Huys for their contributions during fieldwork, to the inhabitants of the Degua Tembien district for their hospitality, patience and valuable input, and to many colleagues for their constructive comments.


  1. Aerts R, Negussie A, Maes W, November E, Hermy M, Muys B (2007) Restoration of dry Afromontane forest using pioneer shrubs as nurse-plants for Olea europaea ssp cuspidata. Restor Ecol 15:129–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aerts R, Nyssen J, Haile M (2009) On the difference between ‘exclosures’ and ‘enclosures’ in ecology and the environment. J Arid Environ 73:762–763CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Babulo B, Muys B, Nega F, Tollens E, Nyssen J, Deckers J, Mathijs E (2009) The economic contribution of forest resource use to rural livelihoods in Tigray, northern Ethiopia. Forest Policy Econ 11:109–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bekele M (2003) Forest property rights, the role of the state and institutional exigency: the Ethiopian experience. Dissertation, Swedish University of Agricultural SciencesGoogle Scholar
  5. Belton V (1986) A comparison of the analytical hierarchy process and a simple multi-attribute value function. Eur J Oper Res 26:7–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Berhanu G, Pender J, Tesfay G (2004) Collective action for grazing land management in crop-livestock mixed systems in the highlands of northern Ethiopia. Agric Syst 82:273–290CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bernard HR (2006) Research methods in anthropology: qualitative and quantitative approaches. Altamira Press, Lanham, MDGoogle Scholar
  8. Bruijnzeel LA (2004) Hydrological functions of tropical forests: not seeing the soil for the trees? Agric Ecosyst Environ 104:185–228CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Burgess SSO, Adams MA, Turner NC, Ong CK (1998) The redistribution of soil water by tree root systems. Oecologia 115:306–311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. CAB International (2005) Forestry compendium. CAB International, Wallingford, UKGoogle Scholar
  11. Causton DR, Venus JC (1981) The biometry of plant growth. Edward Arnold Ltd., London, UKGoogle Scholar
  12. Chazdon RL (2008) Beyond deforestation: restoring forests and ecosystem services on degraded lands. Science 320:1458–1460PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Darbyshire I, Lamb H, Umer M (2003) Forest clearance and regrowth in northern Ethiopia during the last 3000 years. Holocene 13:537–546CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Davis A, Wagner JR (2003) Who knows? On the importance of identifying “experts” when researching local ecological knowledge. Hum Ecol 31:463–489CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Descheemaeker K (2006) Pedological and hydrological effects of vegetation restoration in exclosures established on degraded hillslopes in the highlands of Northern Ethiopia. Dissertation, Katholieke Universiteit LeuvenGoogle Scholar
  16. Descheemaeker K, Muys B, Nyssen J, Sauwens W, Haile M, Poesen J, Raes D, Deckers J (2009) Humus form development during forest restoration in exclosures of the Tigray highlands, Northern Ethiopia. Restor Ecol 17:280–289CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Franzel S, Scherr SJ (2002) Assessing adoption potential: lessons learned and future directions. In: Franzel S, Scherr SJ (eds) Trees on the farm: assessing the adoption potential of agroforestry practices in Africa. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, UKCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Franzel S, Jaenicke H, Janssen W (1996) Choosing the right trees: setting priorities for multipurpose tree improvement. ISNAR Research Report No. 8. International Service for National Agricultural Research, The HagueGoogle Scholar
  19. Franzel S, Akinnifesi FK, Ham C (2008) Setting priorities among indigenous fruit tree species in Africa: examples from Southern, Eastern and Western Africa regions. In: Akinnifesi FK, Leakey RRB, Ajayi OC, Sileshi G, Tchoundjeu Z, Matakala P, Kwesiga FR (eds) Indigenous fruit trees in the Tropics: domestication, utilization and commercialization. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, UK, pp 1–27Google Scholar
  20. Friis I (1992) Forests and forest trees of Northeast Tropical Africa. Royal Botanical Gardens, London, UKGoogle Scholar
  21. German LA, Kidane B, Shemdoe R (2006) Social and environmental trade-offs in tree species selection: a methodology for identifying niche incompatibilities in agroforestry. Environ Dev Sustain 8:1–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gilliams S, Van Orshoven J, Muys B, Kros H, Heil GW, Van Deursen W (2005) Afforest SDSS: a metamodel based spatial decision support system for afforestation of agricultural land. New For 30:33–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gindaba J, Rozanov A, Negash L (2005) Photosynthetic gas exchange, growth and biomass allocation of two Eucalyptus and three indigenous tree species of Ethiopia under moisture deficit. Forest Ecol Manag 205:127–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Guthrie K, Nygren T (2007) Aluka: building a digital library of scolarly resources from Africa. Aluka, Princeton, USAGoogle Scholar
  25. Hurni H (1986) Guidelines for development agents on soil conservation in Ethiopia. Community Forests and Soil Conservation Development Department, Ministry of Agriculture, Addis AbabaGoogle Scholar
  26. Infoharvest Inc. (2002) Criterium DecisionPlus, the complete formulation, analysis and presentation for Windows. User’s guide. Inforharvest Inc., SeattleGoogle Scholar
  27. Kebede B, Bekele A, Kedir B (2002) Can the urban poor afford modern energy? The case of Ethiopia. Energy Policy 30:1029–1045CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kent M, Coker P (1996) Vegetation description and analysis: a practical approach. Wiley, Chichester, UKGoogle Scholar
  29. Kindt R, Simons AJ, Van Damme P (2005) Do farm characteristics explain differences in tree species diversity among Western Kenyan farms? Agrofor Syst 63:63–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kindt R, Lillesø JPB, Mbora A, Muriuki J, Wambugu C, Frost W, Beniest J, Aithal A, Awimbo J, Rao S, Holding-Anyonge C (2006) Tree seeds for farmers: a toolkit and reference source. ICRAF, Nairobi, KenyaGoogle Scholar
  31. Kindt R, Lillesø JPB, Van Breugel P (2007) Comparisons between original and current composition of indigenous tree species around Mount Kenya. Afr J Ecol 45:633–644CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kizito F, Dragila M, Sene M, Lufafa A, Diedhiou I, Dick RP, Selker JS, Dossa E, Khouma M, Badiane A, Ndiaye S (2006) Seasonal soil water variation and root patterns between two semi-arid shrubs co-existing with Pearl millet in Senegal, West Africa. J Arid Environ 67:436–455CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Le Houérou HN (2000) Restoration and rehabilitation of arid and semiarid Mediterranean ecosystems in North Africa and West Asia: a review. Arid Soil Res Rehabil 14:3–14Google Scholar
  34. Love B, Spaner D (2005) A survey of small-scale farmers using trees in pastures in Herrera province, Panama. J Sustain For 20:37–65Google Scholar
  35. Mengistu S, Keftasa D, Yami A (2002) Productivity of four Sesbania species on two soil types in Ethiopia. Agrofor Syst 54:235–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Mengistu T, Teketay D, Hulten H, Yemshaw Y (2005) The role of enclosures in the recovery of woody vegetation in degraded dryland hillsides of Central and Northern Ethiopia. J Arid Environ 60:259–281CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mng’omba SA, Akinnifesi FK, Sileshi G, Ajayi OC, Chakeredza S, Mwase WF (2008) A decision support tool for propagating Miombo indigenous fruit trees of Southern Africa. Afr J Biotechnol 7:4677–4686Google Scholar
  38. Muys B, Gebrehiwot K, Bruneel S (2006) The environmental, socio-economic and managerial aspects of dryland forest rehabilitation in Ethiopia. J Dryland 1:95–97Google Scholar
  39. Negussie A, Aerts R, Gebrehiwot K, Muys B (2009) Seedling mortality causes recruitment limitation of Boswellia papyrifera in northern Ethiopia. J Arid Environ 72:378–383CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Nyssen J (2001) Erosion processes and soil conservation in a tropical mountain catchment under threat of anthropogenic desertification—a case study from Northern Ethiopia. Dissertation, Katholieke Universiteit LeuvenGoogle Scholar
  41. Nyssen J, Poesen J, Moeyersons J, Deckers J, Haile M, Lang A (2004a) Human impact on the environment in the Ethiopian and Eritrean Highlands—a state of the art. Earth Sci Rev 64:273–320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Nyssen J, Veyret-Picot M, Poesen J, Moeyersons J, Haile M, Deckers J, Govers G (2004b) The effectiveness of loose rock check dams for gully control in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia. Soil Use Manag 20:55–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Nyssen J, Vandenreyken H, Poesen J, Moeyersons J, Deckers J, Haile M, Salles C, Govers G (2005) Rainfall erosivity and variability in the northern Ethiopian highlands. J Hydrol 311:172–187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Nyssen J, Naudts J, De Geyndt K, Haile M, Poesen J, Moeyersons J, Deckers J (2008a) Soils and land use in the Tigray Highlands (northern Ethiopia). Land Degrad Dev 19:257–274CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Nyssen J, Poesen J, Descheemaeker K, Haregeweyn N, Haile M, Moeyersons J, Frankl A, Govers G, Munro N, Deckers J (2008b) Effects of region-wide soil and water conservation in semi-arid areas: the case of northern Ethiopia. Z Geomorph N F 52:291–315CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Nyssen J, Descheemaeker K, Zenebe A, Poesen J, Deckers J, Haile M (2009) Transhumance in the Tigray highlands (Ethiopia). Mt Res Dev 29:255–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Orwa C, Mutua A, Kindt R, Jamnadass R, Anthony S (2009) Agroforestree database: a tree reference and selection guide. Version 4.0. ICRAF, Nairobi, KenyaGoogle Scholar
  48. Owino F (1992) Improving multipurpose tree and shrub species for agroforestry systems. Agrofor Syst 19:131–137CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Pausewang S (2002) No environmental protection without local democracy? Why peasants distrust their agricultural advisors. In: Bahru E, Pausewang S (eds) The challenge of democracy from below. Elanders Gobab, Stockholm, pp 87–100Google Scholar
  50. Raintree JB, Warner K (1986) Agroforestry pathways for the intensification of shifting cultivation. Agrofor Syst 4:39–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Rescia AJ, Schmitz MF, Deagar PM, Depablo CL, Atauri JA, Pineda FD (1994) Influence of landscape complexity and land management on woody pant diversity in Northern Spain. J Veg Sci 5:505–516CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Reubens B (2010) Woody vegetation for gully rehabilitation in northern Ethiopia: species suitability, root structure, and seedling establishment, growth and management. Dissertation, Katholieke Universiteit LeuvenGoogle Scholar
  53. Reubens B, Poesen J, Danjon F, Geudens G, Muys B (2007) The role of fine and coarse roots in shallow slope stability and soil erosion control with a focus on root system architecture: a review. Trees 21:385–402CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Reubens B, Poesen J, Nyssen J, Leduc Y, Zenebe A, Tewoldeberhan S, Bauer H, Gebrehiwot K, Deckers J, Muys B (2009) Establishment and management of woody seedlings in gullies in a semi-arid environment (Tigray, Ethiopia). Plant Soil 324:131–156CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Reynolds KM, Schmoldt DL (2006) Computer-aided decision making. In: Shao G, Reynolds KM (eds) Computer applications in sustainable forest management including perspectives on collaboration and integration. Springer, The Netherlands, pp 143–169Google Scholar
  56. Reynolds JF, Stafford Smith DM, Lambin EF, Turner BL, Mortimore M, Batterbury SPJ, Downing TE, Dowlatabadi H, Fernandez RJ, Herrick JE, Huber-Sannwald E, Jiang H, Leemans R, Lynam T, Maestre FT, Ayarza M, Walker B (2007) Global desertification: building a science for dryland development. Science 316:847–851PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (1999) Survey of economic plants for arid and semi-arid lands (SEPASAL) database. Available at Accessed 26 June 2009
  58. Saaty TL (1992) Multicriteria decision making. The analytical hierarchy process. RWS Publications, PittsburgGoogle Scholar
  59. Salim AS, Simons AJ, Orwa C, Chege J, Owuor B, Mutua A (2002) AgroforesTree database: a tree species reference and selection guide. Version 2.0. ICRAF, Nairobi, KenyaGoogle Scholar
  60. Segers K (2009) An ethnography of rural development and local institutional change in Tigray (Ethiopia) in four essays. Dissertation, Katholieke Universiteit LeuvenGoogle Scholar
  61. Segers K, Dessein J, Nyssen J, Haile M, Deckers J (2008) Developers and farmers intertwining interventions: the case of rainwater harvesting and food-for-work in Degua Temben, Tigray, Ethiopia. Int J Agric Sustain 6:173–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Sheil D, Liswanti N (2006) Scoring the importance of tropical forest landscapes with local people: patterns and insights. Environ Manag 38:126–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Shiferaw B, Holden TS (1998) Resource degradation and adoption of land conservation technologies in the highlands of Ethiopia: a case study of Andit Tid, North Sheawa. Agric Econ 18:233–247CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Siegel S, Castellan NJ (1998) Non parametric statistics for the behavioral sciences. McGraw-Hill book company, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  65. Simons AJ, Leakey RRB (2004) Tree domestication in tropical agroforestry. Agroforest Syst 61:167–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Simons AJ, Salim AS, Orwa C, Munjuga M, Mutua A, Kindt R, Muasya S, Kimotho J (2005) AgroforesTree database 3.0, a tree species reference and selection guide: tree seed suppliers directory, botanic nomenclature for agroforestry species database. ICRAF, Nairobi, KenyaGoogle Scholar
  67. Sprague RH, Watson HJ (1989) Decision support systems: putting theory into practice. Prentice-Hall International, London, UKGoogle Scholar
  68. Taddese G (2001) Land degradation: a challenge to Ethiopia. Environ Manag 27:815–824CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Teketay D (1997) Seedling populations and regeneration of woody species in dry Afromontane forests of Ethiopia. For Ecol Manag 98:149–165CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Teketay D (2000) Status of forestry development, conservation and utilization in Ethiopia. In: Kaudia AA, Mwanycky SW (eds) Proceedings of the first meeting of the Eastern and North-Eastern Node of the African forestry research network. Academy Science Publishers, Nairobi, KenyaGoogle Scholar
  71. Verheyen K, Honnay O, Motzkin G, Hermy M, Foster DR (2003) Response of forest plant species to land-use change: a life-history trait-based approach. J Ecol 91:563–577CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. von Carlowitz PG, Wolf GV, Kemperman REM (1991) Multipurpose tree and shrub database version 1.0. International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), Nairobi, KenyaGoogle Scholar
  73. von Gadow K, Bredenkamp B (1992) Forest management. Academica, Pretoria, South AfricaGoogle Scholar
  74. Warner K (1994) Selecting tree species on the basis of community needs. Community forestry field manual no 5. FAO, Community Forestry Unit, Forestry Department, RomeGoogle Scholar
  75. Webb D, Wood P, Smith J, Henman G (1984) A guide to species selection for tropical and sub-tropical plantations. Unit of Tropical Silviculture, Commonwealth Forestry Institute, University of Oxford, UKGoogle Scholar
  76. White R, Nackoney J (2003) Drylands, people, and ecosystem goods and services: a web-based geospatial analysis. World Resources Institute. Available at Accessed 26 June 2009
  77. Wilson RT (1977) The vegetation of Central Tigre, Ethiopia, in relation to its land use. Webbia 32:233–270Google Scholar
  78. Zubair M, Garforth C (2006) Farm level tree planting in Pakistan: the role of farmers’ perceptions and attitudes. Agrofor Syst 66:217–229CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bert Reubens
    • 1
    • 7
    Email author
  • Clara Moeremans
    • 1
  • Jean Poesen
    • 2
  • Jan Nyssen
    • 3
  • Sarah Tewoldeberhan
    • 4
  • Steve Franzel
    • 5
  • Jozef Deckers
    • 6
  • Caleb Orwa
    • 5
  • Bart Muys
    • 1
  1. 1.Division Forest, Nature and LandscapeKatholieke Universiteit LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  2. 2.Division Physical and Regional GeographyKatholieke Universiteit LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  3. 3.Department of GeographyGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  4. 4.Land Resources Management and Environmental Protection DepartmentMekelle UniversityMekelleEthiopia
  5. 5.International Centre for Research in AgroforestryUnited Nations AvenueGigiriKenya
  6. 6.Division Soil and Water ManagementKatholieke Universiteit LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  7. 7.Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research (ILVO)Plant Sciences Unit—Crop Husbandry and EnvironmentMerelbekeBelgium

Personalised recommendations