Native Seeds Project

Seeding the Future of Uganda with the Wise Women

The Native Seeds Project is a collaborative effort of Wild Forests and Fauna and Mon Ma Ryek (Wise Women–Uganda), a community-based organization and cooperative of female, traditional healers in Northern Uganda.

Our mission is to make Northern Ugandan communities more resilient in the face of climate change by contributing to forest landscape restoration through community-based initiatives that endorse and strengthen an ancient relationship between people and plants.

The Trees We Plant Today are the Sanctuaries of  Tomorrow

The Native Seeds Project contributes to forest landscape restoration and sustainable livelihoods in Northern Uganda by creating agroforestry systems that focus on native tree species that can be spread to local communities. Our agroforestry systems address the multifaceted needs of both human and biological communities: food security, traditional herbal medicine, economic viability, soil restoration, and biodiversity.

The Native Seeds Project contributes to:

  • Empowerment of women by providing resources and ongoing training to the 150 women and traditional healers that make up Mon Ma Ryek. Areas of thematic interest include: beekeeping, native tree planting, care and management, product development of herbal medicine, and Village Savings and Loan Association support.
  • Environmental education by supporting a local secondary school with support and training to supplement their students’ Environmental Club and providing a reforestation demonstration plot and native tree species nursery from students and surrounding communities to learn from.
  • Community health by working side-by-side with traditional healers to develop herbal medicines that treat common, treatable illnesses suffered by people in Northern Uganda. These products are in process of being tested by Uganda’s Ministry of Health as a potential affordable and sustainable alternative to more costly treatments.

Uganda Has Lost Two Thirds of its Forests in the Past Two Decades

Northern Uganda, home of the Acholi people, suffered a brutal and devastating civil war that lasted over two decades, coming to an end in 2010. The return of peace in the region has been met with a strength and determination by local communities to rebuild their lives, their communities, and restore their way of life. Despite this determination, these communities face daunting challenges.

According to a 2008 report by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), at the current rate of destruction, all of Uganda’s forests could be lost by 2050. A small country of 30 million people, the main propellant of Uganda’s deforestation is two-fold: the conversion of forests into agricultural land and the conversion of trees into charcoal to meet the country’s fast-growing fuel and energy needs.

But let’s put the statistics and facts aside for a moment: What does this deforestation look like? Driving along any highway in Uganda, you see farmer after farmer on the side of the road with bags as tall as a ten year old filled to the brim with charcoal, hoping to sell it off to a truck traveling to the capital. It’s not that people want to cut down their trees–on the contrary, communities continue to revere and respect the natural world and all it provides. Yet, at the end of the day, But, at the end of the day, putting food on the table for their family takes priority.

But what if the protecting of one’s forests didn’t have to be in conflict with entering the cash economy and providing for one’s family? What if we could incentivize, with monetary and non-monetary benefits, the planting of trees and the restoring of native forests? What if we could make planting trees a sustainable income-generating activity for local communities? Understanding how the daily realities of local communities propels further deforestation, we utilize the problem to garner innovative solutions–for both the forests and its surrounding communities.

Traditional Medicine as a Catalyst For Forest Conservation

Traditional healers hold a wealth of indigenous knowledge regarding traditional plant uses, and the indigenous knowledge of where these plants used to be found, where they can be found now, and which ones are on the precipice of extinction. In a region where there is little formal documentation of native plant species and their uses, this indigenous knowledge is crucial for ongoing conservation efforts. By working with traditional healers as a catalyst for forest conservation, we are able to let these important, and often times unheard, voices help guide and inform our understanding of this complex ecosystem and our efforts of restoring it.

Equally as important is the vital role these traditional healers play in their communities. In Uganda, 60% of the population continues to rely on traditional healers as their primary source of health care. Partnering with these women for our conservation efforts also allows us to contribute to the ongoing availability of medicinal plants for community health purposes. In this way, we recognize the inter-connectivity of complex issues as we look for holistic solutions that take into account this complexity.

Women monitoring progress in the nursery
Women monitoring progress in the nursery

Like what you’re reading?

If you’d like to take part in our work in Uganda, the following donations are being accepted:

  • TIME — Join the next herbalist workshop or volunteer in the inventory/mapping of native species in Gulu
  • KNOWLEDGE — If you or your organization is interested in partnering with the Native Seeds Project, we welcome additional collaborators
  • FUNDING —our monetary gift will quicken our steps to restore the livelihoods of the Acholi and the forest frontier of Gulu

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