As October rolls around and we begin to witness the subtle changes of the seasons in the US, so too are we in the Native Seeds Project preparing for changes and growth here in Uganda. If you were following the COP21 meetings in Paris last November, you might recall the acronym AFR100. It may only comprise 6 characters on paper, but its potential weight in the world of ecological restoration in Africa is tremendous. AFR100, the African Restoration Initiative, is the effort and written agreement to bring 100 million hectares of degraded forest landscapes into the process of restoration by 2030. Over a dozen African countries are in on the deal, and Uganda is one of them. What does this mean? Ideologically, it represents a potent shift in the way governments and large international institutions are thinking about reforestation and conservation.
In the recent past, the bulk of environmental work has been focused on isolated conservation or reforestation projects as an act of putting trees in the ground. But one thing that we at WildFF know to be true is that not all reforestation projects are created equal. For example, nearly all reforestation in Uganda has focused on monoculture plantations of exotic timber tree species: pine, eucalyptus, and teak. This puts trees in the ground, yes, but does little to amend soil, promote local animal species habitat, and restore local ecology. The solution: mimic forests of the past to create forests of the future. For the Native Seeds Project, this is our mantra, one that we repeat over and over again in our advocacy and unwavering commitment to native tree species restoration in the northern Ugandan region. With the recent advent of AFR100, this mantra is soon to be sung by a multitude of stakeholders involved in reforestation and conservation throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
As we gear up for our next trip to Uganda next week, we are contemplating how our impact can be most meaningful and farthest-reaching. This upcoming trip is seminal for the Native Seeds Project: armed with the two largest native tree species nurseries in the region established during previous trips, and a holistic strategy that takes into account economic livelihood and public health to complement our focus of ecological restoration, we are positioned to move from fact-finding and strategic development to full, year-round implementation. With AFR100 in place, we can begin to look for governmental partnerships and allies that are committed to make a meaningful shift from simple reforestation to the more complex, and more worthwhile, effort of restoration.
The timing couldn’t be more perfect. For the women on the ground, the traditional healers that are the true heart and soul of this project, this news is greeted with big smiles and gleeful ululations, in that characteristic Acholi way. Over the past several months, they have been caring for the many native tree seedlings at our nurseries, the first batch of many to come. Day in and day out, these women have been watching their seeds grow, giving them the nourishment they need to be strong enough to leave the nursery and be planted in the fields. Just recently, the women mobilized to plant the first round of native trees at the Mon Ma Ryek Cultural and Reforestation Center from seedlings out of the nursery. Elated from this first planting round and proud of their months of hardwork, many of the women addititionally brought some seedlings home to their families and communities–a strong and heartfelt outreach to our broader communities about what we are doing, and why we’re doing it.
With our first trees in the ground, we are now looking to the future. We have more seedlings coming out of the nursery soon, and we will be using those to continue planting at the Reforestation Center, representing the agroforestry systems that will down the road be used as demonstration plots for farmer to farmer outreach and plant management workshops. Our team arrives to Uganda next week, to move forward with the women, network with allies, and continue to let this vision unfold. We will certainly be updating you with all the juicy details while we’re in the field. Stay tuned.
As always, the work we are doing in Uganda can not be done alone. We need to the commitment of our partners on the ground, the solidarity of allies doing similar work, and the support of people like you–people who believe in our world’s forests and the life-giving beauty that they provide. So, from the bottom of hearts, we thank you. Or, rather, apwoyo matek!