Tree Diversity, Domestication and Delivery

Tropical agroforestry systems are characterized by great diversity among and within tree species that are found in contrasting biological, complex niches in a spectrum from managed natural forest to intensive farmland production. Different species and production systems have immense value to communities that are dependent on trees (in forests and farmlands) and to local, national and international markets. The diversity of species and their unique biological characteristics, and the wide range of landscapes in which tree species are found, pose major challenges in developing generic models and principles for managing tree genetic resources effectively. The lack of quality germplasm, inappropriate farm management practices and a lack of market integration mean that a lot of the potential for improving livelihoods and the environment remain untapped. In particular, valuable opportunities to improve the livelihood of communities are being lost due to:

  • Threats to natural and planted populations of tree stands, with inadequate integration of trees into sustainable farming practices.
  • Under-performing trees species that are integrated in agricultural landscapes due to inadequate approaches for silvicultural/horticultural and genetic management.
  • Under-investment in the improvement, prioritization, domestication and wider cultivation of more high value tree species.

The World Agroforestry Centre is addressing these issues in the context of a range of global challenges to production, including climate change, continued deforestation, further land degradation, increased crop intensification, high levels of ‘hidden hunger’, increase in domestic and international trade, the widening of biotechnology applications to under-utilized species, and demographic changes and urbanization. To promote sustainable and productive agroforestry practices in a range of farming landscapes, our research focuses on the following key problems:

  • Limited genetic improvement programmes for smallholder tree species and a scarcity of tools and practices for on-farm propagation and management.
  • Absence of the minimum populations that are necessary for viable intergenerational sustainability of production for many tree species in farms.
  • Over-centralization of tree seed and seedling supply nationally and the scarcity of information for farmers and other stakeholders on the availability, management and use of agroforestry tree species.
  • Scarcity of well-documented, characterized and comprehensive tree germplasm collections for domestication and conservation of species, and for an understanding of negative environmental potentials such as invasiveness behaviour.
  • Inadequate national and international policies and efforts to address the utilisation, management and conservation of agroforestry tree germplasm.

In understanding current practices and systems and exploring future potentials through research, ICRAF aims to provide practical, direct approaches to increase the immediate and medium-term value of trees on farms, while conserving the broad pool of tree genetic resources that is needed to ensure sustainability of practices in the long-term.


Our activities are undertaken in several regions of the tropical world. At the regional level, key project areas include East Africa, West and Central Africa, Southern Africa, Latin America and South Asia.