Collaborating to Meet Global Restoration Goals: The East Africa Seed Network for Restoration

February 15, 2024
Marian Chau
Head of Restoration Ecology

Imagine you’re part of a small but dedicated team working to reforest land in a remote region of Tanzania. As a member of the local community, you’ve been troubled to see the steady depletion of the forests since you were young, and you know this has been driven by poverty in surrounding villages.

Now a restoration project has brought new hope, and your goals are to restore biodiversity in the degraded wildlife corridor while also developing a means of livelihood for your fellow community members. 

Your team recently had a successful harvest of native seeds from the nearby national park, but you’re having trouble germinating seeds of one species, and for another species, insect pests you’ve never seen before are attacking the seedlings in your nursery. You’re worried these seeds and seedlings — and all that hard work — will go to waste. What do you do? 

This is the type of challenge faced by community restorationists every day — where the solutions exist, but local teams lack the resources or specific areas of expertise to overcome these hurdles. Yet ecosystem restoration is needed on a massive global scale to mitigate climate change, protect and restore biodiversity, and support human communities — and no single organization can achieve this alone.

It requires urgent action from every sector, but the only way we can scale up effectively and quickly is by building strong networks of collaboration.


Building foundational infrastructure


Even those who strongly support ecosystem restoration are often unaware of the daunting challenges of sourcing native seeds. As forests are cut down or degraded, the seeds of locally adapted trees and other plant species become more and more scarce, and climate change further exacerbates these challenges. In this context, collaboration and resource sharing are critical to ensure the carefully collected seeds — including those from threatened or endangered species — do not go to waste.

My favorite success story at Terraformation is our facilitation of the East Africa Seed Network for Restoration (EASNR). This network was founded with 7 of our partner organizations in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda working to restore native ecosystems, and they wanted to come together to collectively solve challenges like the ones I described above.

We provided each team with modular, off-grid seed banks with the potential to store up to 10 million seeds — supporting the restoration of up to 6,000 hectares over 10 years. As we found in our study The Global Seed Bank Index, thousands of seed banks are needed to address seed supply shortages in ecosystem restoration.

Hundreds of seed banks are needed in many countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, and since tropical regions are the highest priority for restoration (based on biodiversity, carbon sequestration potential, ongoing land degradation, and cost effectiveness), each seed bank added in East Africa can have outsized impacts on restoration outcomes for the region.


Coming together to build capacity


Perhaps the more powerful result of the EASNR was bringing the partners’ teams together for cohort training, building relationships with us and among each other, then supporting them to become a self-sufficient network. While each partner came to Terraformation’s Restoration Ecology Team for technical training and support, they also carry rich experience and local expertise among their teams.

In teaching the member groups of EASNR and encouraging them to share their knowledge too, our team learned from them, and they learned from each other. Following training, we facilitated strategic planning, providing a framework and guidance, and encouraging EASNR to take full ownership of their vision, mission, goals, and decision-making processes.


The EASNR elected Benson Tillya of Saving Africa’s Nature (SANA Tanzania) as the first EASNR Coordinator, and each organization designated one representative for an EASNR Committee. These leaders continued strategic planning, setting 2023–2024 objectives for each of their goals, and began work on those objectives — with our support as needed, but largely independently.

We are proud of them for all their accomplishments, thrilled we could be a catalyst for the network, and look forward to seeing them fulfill their vision “to restore East African ecosystems to mitigate climate change, and improve biodiversity and livelihoods through the promotion of sustainable utilization of the biological resources, for current and future generations.”

Growing the network

The EASNR has already grown by adding another Kenyan forestry team as an eighth member organization. They have also expanded on a seed storage and germination assessment provided by Terraformation, adding 25 more species assessments to their shared database in less than a year — a valuable resource for the network and the whole region.

The network is also providing solutions to each other; for example, sharing knowledge about how to germinate those tricky seeds, and helping identify the new insect pests and treatments to protect seedlings in the nursery. In another case, one team had challenges identifying some of the seeds they had collected, and other EASNR members were able to assist in identification.


Benson shared with us, “EASNR is not just a network; it’s a beacon of hope, a testament to what can be achieved when dedicated individuals come together for a common cause. Together, we’re not just setting goals; we’re turning them into reality, one ecosystem at a time. I am thrilled and deeply honored to be part of this remarkable journey, and I cannot wait to witness the remarkable heights EASNR will reach as we continue to grow, evolve, and make a meaningful difference in the world.”


Scaling up to meet global restoration goals


The EASNR is also one inspiration for Terraformation’s approach to scaling up our Seed to Carbon Forest Accelerator training with Accelerator Regional Hubs. We are piloting the first of these, an East Africa Hub, at Centre for Ecosystem Restoration Kenya (CERK), another member organization of EASNR. Two of their staff experts, Victor Otieno and Lucy Adhiambo, are undergoing trainer-training with Terraformation’s Restoration Ecology Team, and in the process, CERK is supporting Accelerator partners in East Africa with localized guidance and expertise. 

Lucy shared with us, “As a participant in the Accelerator Regional Hub trainer-training and a member of the EASNR Committee, I am excited to witness the synergy between the two. This collaboration not only strengthens local expertise but also amplifies the impact of ecosystem restoration efforts in East Africa. ​​I envision the Regional Hub as a vibrant center of innovation and knowledge exchange, and a catalyst for empowering communities across our region to spearhead sustainable change.”

We are in early development of Accelerator Regional Hubs in other parts of the world, working to fulfill our own long-term vision of facilitating a hub-and-spoke network of trainer-training to scale up to levels needed to meet global restoration goals. We are excited about this progress! 

Additionally, the EASNR has inspirational long-term goals, such as establishing a sustainable business model of selling and trading native seeds and seedlings for regional restoration projects, which could have significant impacts well beyond the network. We would love to see similar outcomes at future Accelerator Regional Hubs. 

At Terraformation, it has been our goal from the beginning to solve bottlenecks for community-based restoration, enabling local stewards of the land to achieve their vision of restoring biodiverse, native ecosystems. The EASNR sets a new example for how, with the right resources and support, local restoration initiatives can create momentum for broader regional success. 

This year, as we begin work with a new cohort of forestry teams, we are happy that the legacy of EASNR thrives independently, in support of our shared values and mission to reforest the Earth.

Marian Chau
Head of Restoration Ecology
Seed, ecology, and biodiversity scientist. Founder of IUCN Seed Conservation Specialist Group. Botany PhD. He haumana mau loa o ka ʻāina.
About the
Who Will Speak For The Trees?

At a time when human economic development is prioritized over the needs of nature, the Who Will Speak for the Trees? series features top reforestation leaders with a broad range of restoration expertise, including climate tech, monitoring, science, finance, media, and more. These diverse voices offer expert viewpoints to instill confidence in how humanity can support nature to deliver a forested future for all living things on Earth. Join us for this ongoing series to learn more about the science of reforestation and how restoring ecosystems is part of a comprehensive climate solution.

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