by Hamisi Mushamuka.
Trees represent life. They have many practical uses and they are part of our lives whether we live in an area with many trees or just a few. Trees play an important part in our environment, our health, our economy, our culture and our society.
- Trees provide firewood and charcoal which are often the main sources of energy.
- They are part of the local water cycle. If trees are removed, water is lost.
- They provide materials for construction, furniture, paper, musical instruments and for producing works of art.
- The leaves and bark of some trees can be used for food and medicine for people and animals.
- They fertilise the soil and protect it from erosion, landslides and rockslides.
- They provide shade and purify the air.
- In some cultures they are valued because of traditions.
- They absorb carbon dioxide which contributes to climate change.
- They are an important part of the urban environment. They have an effect on weather patterns and climate.
- They protect and encourage biodiversity, which is essential for supporting human life and animal life as part of the local ecosystem.
Land clearing is taking place on a massive and devastating scale in various parts of the world. Large, multinational companies are often responsible, but land clearing can have a number of causes.
- Logging companies and other industries such as mining and commercial farming acquire forest land and clear it for profit.
- A growing population increases the demand for wood.
- Large-scale displacement of populations as a consequence of war and/or natural disasters puts a high demand on trees and forests in particular areas.
- Other forms of energy such as solar, wind and electricity are not available or affordable.
- Poverty means there is an immediate need to make money from selling wood.
Almost all of these causes could be addressed by better enforcement of policy in the areas of protection and safeguarding the environment.
The results of uncontrolled land clearing include: a shortage of firewood, soil erosion, landslides and rockslides, which significantly reduce farming production, the main economic activity of millions of people; and deforestation, which has negative consequences for climate change and which, in the long term, leads to desertification.
In order to address these problems at a local level, it is vital to help communities through action and raising awareness. The responsibility for this lies with all of us – people of goodwill, NGOs, churches, governments.
Here are some ideas and recommendations for action, based on our experience.
How to start and run a community reforestation project
- First identify the problem and the needs and propose ways to respond.
The community and other individuals and groups benefiting from the project should be involved at every stage. Their sense of ownership and active participation in the project activities depends on it. Tearfund’s Environmental assessment tool can be used to help people understand the local environment and to ensure the project brings benefits and no harm to the local environment.
Starting the project – training
- Organise a training session for the project leaders.
This should last two or three days. The project leaders should learn the techniques involved in tree production. These include germination, the care of seedlings, setting up and running a nursery, questions of quantity and quality, how to plant and care for trees on different sites and how to maintain written records. The training should take into account the needs of the community and the realities of their environment. An overview of project management can also be provided.
Decide which trees to plant
- When the planning and the training have been done, it is the responsibility of the community to choose wisely which tree species will be planted.
Consider the types of trees regularly planted and those which local people believe will be helpful to their environment. The project leader may, however, propose introducing other agroforestry tree species and/or fruit trees in order to meet the needs identified at the start of the project and encourage species diversity. For example, some trees protect other trees or provide conditions for them to thrive. The project leader should also explain why some trees are unsuitable. Trees that are planted in the wrong place can harm other trees. When planted nearby, conifers kill fruit trees because they turn the soil acidic.
- A good way to begin community education is to prepare a flyer or leaflet.
This should mention the benefits of trees, agroforestry, the socio-economic and environmental harm caused by land clearing, and the roles and duties of citizens to protect the environment. Depending on the community, you may wish to add what the Bible says about environmental protection. Present the information in the form of pictures as much as possible and keep the written explanations short. Before printing, test the leaflet by checking that people understand it. Making such information available will encourage everyone to continue with the project.
Popularising efficient wood stoves Efficient wood stoves contribute to a reduction in the consumption of firewood, so they are useful for people living in towns and cities as well as for people in rural areas. Tell people about their importance and benefits, and ways of making them using local materials that are easily accessible. People can be shown models of improved stoves, with adaptations if possible. It is also a good idea to hold a few experimental sessions in order to compare the results of traditional stoves with those of improved stoves. Examples of efficient stoves can be found in Footsteps 82, Footsteps 21 and Footsteps 5.
Improving the project From the start of the project, a good system of follow-up and evaluation should be put in place in order to ensure that improvements can be made and the project is successful.
Hamisi Mushamuka is the Development Co-ordinator for the Province of the Anglican Church of Congo (Province de l’Église Anglicane du Congo), based in Bukavu, South Kivu province, Democratic Republic of Congo.