Greening Africa, Galvanizing Resiliency

Ocaya, Forest Program Manager, with a local tree
Ocaya, Forest Program Manager, with a local tree

We often think of landscapes as stagnant and unchanging. Covering vast terrain and spanning many countries, the Sahara Desert seems immutable and eternal, yet its boundaries do shift like extremely slow-moving tides. This process of fluctuation is natural but of course has been profoundly influenced by humankind. In the face of growing public awareness of climate change, more recently there have been efforts to re-green Sub-Saharan Africa – and to halt the long-term trend of the Sahara’s advancing front of desertification.

On 2002’s World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, in N’djamena, Chad, a vision emerged for a Great Green Wall of trees to halt the Sahara’s southward expansion into Africa’s Sahel belt.  Wikipedia notes that the Panafrican Agency of the Great Green Wall’s most important finding was “to understand the need of an integrated multi-sectorial approach for sustainable results.  From a tree planting initiative, the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel has evolved into a development programming tool.”

More than a decade later, as part of the ambitious international program AFR100, African nations committed to restore forest on an unprecedented scale as a contribution to the global effort for climate stability.  With larger countries taking on more ambitious goals, tiny Uganda promised to restore an impressive 2.5 million hectares of forest.

The strategies and skills required to hit this ambitious target largely exist on paper only.  Where trees have been planted in this once-forested nation, they have mostly been exotics – pine, eucalyptus, and teak. Ecologically speaking, it’s hard to call these commercial plantations “forests.” Broad experience with restoration in the complicated land tenure system of post-colonial sub-Saharan Africa simply is not yet there – so far, nobody in Uganda has restored a hundred thousand hectares with native trees, let alone the 2.5 million the nation plans to see restored by 2030.

Gratefully, solid, road-ready strategies for restoration are not unknown. Simple techniques accessible to small farmers and practicable at large scale do exist, thanks to the ingenuity of indigenous agricultural practitioners and scholars alike.  Some of the most salient methodologies are:

  • Agroforestry – a catchall term for tree-based agriculture systems, ranging from indigenous household gardens to community food forests to commercial silviculture and beyond, usually refers to production- oriented rather than restoration-oriented systems
  • Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) – careful management of the abundant volunteer seedlings and re-sprouting stumps found on many farms, a resource-saving strategy that also enhances crop development due to drought-mitigating effects
  • Native Species Restoration – in Sub-Saharan Africa as elsewhere, over-exploited native tree species are not being reintroduced into the landscape at a viable replacement rate, with unforeseeable consequences for local ecosystems and landscapes; planting the most utilized tree species as conservation targets as a key imperative in any landscape-level interventions

Wild Forests and Fauna is proud to be one frontrunner in the broader effort to restore forest landscapes in climate change-vulnerable Uganda, with climate change-affected communities. The Native Seeds Project’s purpose is to bring back Northern Uganda’s tree cover for the benefit of future generations of human and other biological communities. But that’s not all. In the process of planting trees, we are creating sustainable and eco-friendly income generating activities for local communities. In so doing, these very communities are rendering themselves as resilient in the face of climate change.

Last year we piloted a nursery with 25 species of native trees, rarely planted elsewhere. This year, we look to ways to scale up our activities, planting more tree species and reaching more communities than ever before.

With your help, we were able to purchase more land for the women’s cooperative garden site. Hosting the largest native tree species nursery in the country, this land is also host to several agroforestry and native species restoration demonstration plots. With planting season rolling around, the extra land will be planted out by the women with tree seedlings from the nursery. In the coming months, we will be piloting our first broader community outreach program, bringing surrounding communities to the garden site to train them in proper tree planting care and management, and equipping them with the resources and tools they need to reforest their own communities. We will discuss with these farmers the effects of climate change, and how they can better cope with erratic weather patterns that are affecting the crop harvests upon which their livelihoods depend. With your help, we will be distributing 300,000 native tree seedlings to these communities in 2017!

Together we look toward a greener future for Africa and our planet. We’re grateful to be part of the effort. And we’re grateful that you have graciously joined our journey. We hope you will keep walking it with us.

Concy and Georgia with Concy
Concy and Georgia with Concy’s tree seedling
Women learning tree seedling care!
Women learning tree seedling care!
Women at a Tree Care Workshop!
Women at a Tree Care Workshop!
Ocaya with Shea Seedlings in the Nursery
Ocaya with Shea Seedlings in the Nursery
Seedlings of Afzelia Africana, a local tree
Seedlings of Afzelia Africana, a local tree

About the Author

Robin Van Loon

Robin Van Loon

Robin is the founder and Executive Director of Camino Verde, and has been based in the Tambopata region of the Peruvian Amazon since 2004. A long-time student of traditional and indigenous agricultural and medicinal practices, Robin's work has focused on developing community-based reforestation strategies to preserve important endangered plants of the Amazon. He is a writer, regenerative designer, and consultant in agroforestry, reforestation, and sustainable development.

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