Awakening The African Wilderness Through An Initiative To Wake Opportunities

Planet Women

An NGO has recognized the profound significance and allure of preserving the African wilderness, understanding that its protection might not solely rely on pouring vast sums into bolstering park infrastructure and increasing ranger presence. Instead, they propose a novel approach: empowering the farmers of Africa through the dissemination of straightforward agro-forestry techniques.

This initiative is embodied by Trees for the Future, which at first glance may appear as just another addition to Africa’s repertoire of tree-planting endeavors. However, it distinguishes itself by presenting a paradigm shift: it aims to directly invigorate rural farming economies rather than merely acting as a carbon-offset scheme.

As reported by The Guardian, an astonishing 41,000 hectares, a landmass seven times larger than Manhattan, have been transformed into forest farms under this program’s auspices. Here, indigenous trees serve as anchors within a rich tapestry of crops, comprising both subsistence staples and cash-generating produce. This diversified approach proves to be more ecologically harmonious, fostering environments more conducive to avian and insect populations compared to conventional mono-crop agriculture.

Unlike the plethora of tree-planting initiatives proliferating worldwide, Trees for the Future delineates a distinct objective: the creation of 230,000 employment opportunities, transcending the mere numerical count of trees planted. Nevertheless, it is estimated that such a surge in agro-forestry employment could equate to the cultivation of approximately one billion trees, further fortifying the environmental impact of this endeavor.

“This is a massive restoration movement using regenerative agriculture,” Vincent Mainga said to the Guardian. He is the Kenya director of Trees for the Future. “This model is very easy to adopt. We work with the farmers for four years. After that, they can understand all the components and they can use what they learn from our technicians to produce thriving farmlands, usually with a surplus. It is self-sustaining.”

The program operates pilot initiatives across 9 countries, with one notable site situated in Kesouma, on the Kenyan shores of Lake Victoria, demonstrating significant progress.

Allegedly, 17,000 smallholder farmers have been provided with tools, training, and seedlings to embark on forest farming at this location. Forest farming, an age-old practice, has persevered through the ages despite the modernization and commercialization of agriculture in Europe and America.

Essentially, a forest farm is a sophisticated cultivation system structured around the premise that forests represent highly fertile ecosystems. Nut and fruit trees are strategically planted to shade the soil, locking in moisture and yielding crops. Shade-tolerant vegetables and bushes are cultivated amidst the trees, while sun-loving vegetables thrive in clearings or on the peripheries. This flexible format allows farmers to explore various avenues, such as integrating livestock like goats or chickens, or even cultivating mushrooms.

In Kesouma, the area is subdivided into units comprising 20 landholders each. A designated community leader receives a stipend of 3,000 Kenyan shillings to procure materials for initiating the project. Regular workshops are conducted for all members to receive training and acquire new techniques. On average, each individual oversees approximately 1 hectare of land, encompassing around 5,800 trees.

An outer perimeter, typically formed with Acacia polyacantha (white thorn bush), encloses the growing operation.

Some farmers are pursuing soil carbon credits, enabling them to generate income through the sale of carbon credits to large corporations seeking to offset emissions.

In 2020, the program introduced an additional training component to ensure farmers can enhance both their wealth and their tree-based operations: Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) training.

VSLAs typically consist of 15-30 individuals who collaborate to save money, offer low-interest loans to one another using their pooled savings, and share the resulting profits. In Tanzania, 2,100 forest farmers are actively expanding their operations through VSLA loans, as highlighted in a recent blog post by Trees for the Future.

“VSLA training has improved my record keeping skills, I can now save, plan, and budget my money,” participant Rukia Mwanja said. “I have used my savings to increase my livestock, I was also able to pay my children’s school fees and I managed to start a tailoring business.”

Those interested in fostering indigenous economic development in Africa will have the opportunity to contribute and help in the initiative for future of the forests everywhere.


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