Planting trees is one of the most effective ways to counter the effects of climate change. Numerous initiatives, some that entail spending hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, seek to plant new trees and replace those eliminated through clear cutting and other techniques. Late last year India, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines committed to planting trees to restore 64 million acres of degraded land by 2030. Countries in the Sahelian region of Africa have also committed to planting trees at the edge of the Sahara Desert to stop its expansion southwards.
Planting trees can be especially effective in low-income countries, where climate change increasingly affects agriculture, water supplies and migration. While it will take much more than retaining and increasing the number of trees to prevent large-scale harm to communities seeking to escape poverty, they can play an important role in helping catalyze sustainable economic and social development.
That is what is happening in Tanzania.
Most of Tanzania is rural, with an economy based on agriculture. Trees are an important part of the economy. They are used for fuel and building. Gathering branches for fuel can take up much of a girl or woman’s day, time which could otherwise be spent on agricultural work, a home-based business or education. In addition, a lack of wood for fuel can drive villagers into public forests. While taking wood for fuel is understandable, it is one of the factors leading to deforestation, and one of the very reasons foundations, governments and others are investing in tree planting.
World Neighbors, working with local partners, has helped communities in Tanzania plant and manage tens of thousands of trees. These include fast-growing varieties whose branches can be harvested more quickly, providing a steady source of fuel for cooking and other needs. Surplus is sold to neighbors, increasing family incomes. Since the woodlots are near villages, there is no longer the need to travel far and spend a great deal of time gathering fuel. That time can be used in farming and other activities, raising agricultural output and income. There is no longer pressure to cut down trees in public forests.
In addition, villagers also plant fruit trees, including mango, papaya and citrus. This is an effort to create what are called ‘food forests’, a practice that addresses both community food needs and ecosystem regeneration. Families eat the fruit, enhancing food security and nutrition. They also sell surplus output in local markets. This supplements family incomes. World Neighbors and its partners assist with trainings on book-keeping and other basic business skills. The next step is to develop plans and use savings and credit programs to amass capital to invest in fruit processing. Moving up the value chain is what transforms increased agricultural output to sustainable development and wealth creation.
Planting trees in Tanzania goes beyond mitigating the effects of climate change. Agroforesty helps address food security and nutrition challenges, increases household incomes and can serve as the basis for business development at a scale capable of lifting communities out of poverty. As organizations restore and even expand forests, it is important that they consider tree diversity and other factors that will ensure long-term sustainability. It may be even more important to consider the role trees and agroforestry can and should play in the decades-long effort to eliminate global poverty.
Chris Macoloo, Ph.D., is Regional Director for East Africa at World Neighbors