Nurturing trees from an early age
FAO and partners set up school clubs for Tanzania’s children for a forest-friendly future
A project in Tanzania supported by FAO, through the Forest and Farm Facility, is setting up forestry and land restoration schools clubs to impart skills to children so that they grow up with a practical knowledge of how to restore and conserve forests. ©MVIWAARUSHA/Damian James Sulumo
When it comes to learning how to nurture seedlings to grow into trees, improving your surroundings and restoring the land around you, you’re never too young to make a start. That’s the thinking behind a project in Tanzania, supported by FAO and its partners, setting up more than 30 clubs in primary and secondary schools to impart these skills to children from an early age.
The students have already started to transform the dry, dusty and windswept degraded lands around their schools into greener, shadier and more pleasant places to be. In the long run, they hope to be able to harvest fruit from the trees and prune the branches for firewood.
As well as engaging in practical work to change their surroundings, the children, aged eight to 16, are also learning about landscape management, techniques for mitigating climate change, using mulch to save water and, for the older kids, linking up with parents to learn how to use biogas instead of firewood. The aim is for new generations to grow up with a practical knowledge of how to restore and conserve forests and confront a growing climate crisis.
The programme, in the northern Arusha and southern Njombe regions, is run by local farmers’ organisations and supported by the Forest and Farm Facility (FFF), a partnership between FAO, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the farming organisations’ alliance, AgriCord.
The impact of the project’s tree planting activities is already visible, reducing the wind and dust around the school and reviving land that was once severely degraded. ©MVIWAARUSHA/Damian James Sulumo
The impact of the initiative goes far beyond the surroundings of the childrens’ schools. “We have acquired skills on how to protect planted trees by watering, applying manure and mulching. We also apply the same skills at our individual homes,” said Prisca Regnald Gibesh, a 10-year-old student at Arusha’s Simba Milima Primary School.
Under the project, FFF provides funding to two forest and farm producer organizations’ regional networks, called MVIWAARUSHA and MVIWWAMA, their acronyms in Swahili. Their staff deliver services such as business incubation trainings, entrepreneurship methodology and community microfinancing to the adults in the community. They organize tree-planting campaigns and have started tree nurseries supervised by environmental teachers. FFF has further encouraged the organizations to engage with schools on restoration programmes, working in partnership to raise awareness together with district and regional government.
These efforts form part of the Pan-African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative, or AFR100, in which Tanzania pledged to restore 5.2 million hectares of its degraded land and forests by 2030. Tanzania joined in 2018, setting up a national task force led by their National Forest Service and the Tanzanian Vice President’s Office.
“The effects are already there for all to see,” says Lotha Paulo Zairiam, head teacher at Prisca’s school. “When we started this project, the school was bare, no trees in this area. It was dry, windy and dusty. We planted trees of many purposes, for example fruit trees, timber trees, shade trees and many other trees.” He says the trees are already growing rapidly and helping to mitigate the wind and dust around the school. But “the most important thing we gained are skills and knowledge to plant trees and contribute to sensitize villagers in environmental protection.”
Up to 65 percent of productive land in Africa is degraded and 45 percent of the continent’s land area faces desertification. While there is overall improvement in the trend of desertification and land degradation, net loss of forests is still increasing in Africa. ©MVIWAARUSHA/Damian James Sulumo
FAO’s involvement in the programme testifies to its commitment to help reverse the widespread land degradation and deforestation affecting many parts of the world. The Review of Forest and Landscape Restoration in Africa 2021 , published by FAO and the African Union Development Agency – NEPAD, shows that more needs to be done to tap into the continent’s potential to return land to sustainable production, protect biodiversity and shield livelihoods in the battle against climate change.
Up to 65 percent of productive land in Africa is degraded, while desertification affects 45 percent of the continent’s land area, according to the review. And while there is overall improvement in the trend of desertification and land degradation, net loss of forests is still increasing in Africa, with four million hectares of forest disappearing every year.
“It is clear that FAO’s work together with our partners in FFF to promote practical skills and understanding among school children in Tanzania is doubly important in helping to address present issues and lay the foundations for a more sustainable future,” said NyabenyiTito Tipo, FAO Representative in Tanzania.
Hope and purpose are clearly visible as these Tanzanian school children get their hands dirty and their ideas broadened by the work of cultivating trees and restoring their surroundings.