How Successful is Tree growing for Smallholders in the Amazon?

How Successful is Tree growing for Smallholders in the Amazon?


This study compares donor-driven and smallholder-initiated tree growing projects in the Amazon to assess outcomes such as tree survival, commercialization success, and environmental benefits of two different approaches to tree planting. Such research is important for understanding the limitations of both smallholder and donor-driven tree growing for reforestation, and for improving production of forest products outside of natural forests. The study also emphasizes the importance of capturing local knowledge.

Research Goals & Methods

The authors performed surveys with smallholders in Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador, with 61% of projects smallholder initiated and 39% donor-driven.

Conclusions & Takeaways

While donor-driven initiatives promoted single-species timber and non-timber forest product (NTFP) plantations and intercropped agroforestry fields, smallholders preferred to grow homegardens and to tend, plant, and transplant single trees. Homegardens, growing single trees, and management of natural stands showed highest production efficiencies with least inputs. Smallholder-initiated projects involved a greater diversity of trees than donor-driven projects, however, products could be commercialized in only 30% of smallholder projects. Donor-driven projects did not show greater commercialization rates than smallholder projects. Donor-supported high-value timber plantations and enrichment plantings had low growth rates and high mortality. After donor support stops, smallholders rarely continue to maintain plots established through donor support. Importantly, the authors found that establishing plantations through donor-driven schemes (a tactic promoted by environmental organizations) does not seem to affect how smallholders interact with primary forest. Due to the low success rate of plantations, reforestation efforts should favor natural regeneration rather than rely on the rehabilitative potential of plantations.The authors recommend that donor-driven projects focus more on supporting productive, low-input smallholder schemes, or that donor schemes provide long term extension assistance and focus efforts on NTFP with already existing, good markets.




Hoch L, Pokorny B, de Jong W. How successful is tree growing for smallholders in the Amazon?. International Forestry Review. 2009;11:299–310. doi:10.1505/ifor.11.3.299.


  • Institute of Silviculture, Albert-Ludwigs University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany
  • Center for Integrated Area Studies, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan