Farmer nurseries as a catalyst for developing sustainable land use systems in southern Africa. Part A: Nursery productivity and organization
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Trees play a critical role in the development of sustainable land use systems in the southern Africa region, but access to tree germplasm is limited. It was hypothesized that facilitating the establishment of farmer nurseries would promote decentralized tree seedling production in an efficient way, while at the same time provide opportunities for building natural, human and social capital. A study was conducted in Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania over 2 years to analyze the productivity of farmer nurseries and their functions in sustainable development. With limited outside support, farmers produced an estimated 6.2 million tree seedlings from 1901 nurseries across the three study areas over two years. Productivity of nurseries depended greatly on access to scarce water sources during the dry season. Farmers located the majority of nurseries therefore in ecologically sensitive dambo locations and along riverbanks, both posing possible land use conflicts in the future due to increasing human populations. Farmers organized two types of nurseries, with group nurseries producing significantly fewer tree seedlings compared to individual nurseries. This was attributed to larger transaction costs associated with organization and capacity building of group nurseries. On the other hand, the success of individual nurseries appeared to depend on human and social "start-up" capital being provided by group nurseries through previous training. In the absence of rigorous valuation of the longer-term effects of both types of nurseries in building natural, human and social capital, it appears that both have a role to play in meeting local demand for tree seedlings. Results generally suggest that smallholder farmers can play a pivotal role in providing tree germplasm for the development of sustainable land use systems.