Feb 25, 2020

Overstories Are Good But Let's Plant an Understory

It's wonderful to imagine a forest where there was no forest before.  To see that dream become a reality is a process that provides profound secondary benefits of personal satisfaction and learning.  Planting a forest is something a human being can do in a lifetime.  Or half a lifetime.  Or in a few years.  It's a beautiful path and one that is more accessible than you might think.  Planting trees where trees are needed is a proud feat, a reason to hold one's head high.

And as such we celebrate today a group of people who saw it worthy of their attention, attractive to their pragmatism, and needing of their action to plant the trees back into a landscape denuded of forest cover. 

You see, Northern Uganda used to possess an incredible mosaic of forest, savannah, farm, and pasture. Grazing areas, wild hunting grounds, rivers lined by monkey-dangled riparian thickets, fruit trees and wild fruit trees, agroforestry systems that are similar to ones that were here thousands of years ago, when millet cultivation and diversification became high arts amidst the emergence of Bantu movement influence from the south that imposed sorghum and new languages. 

More recently, in the last two centuries land usage patterns have changed dramatically in Uganda.  The mosaic landscape described above is still there, just in a damaged, degraded state.  By some calculations, Uganda has lost 80% of the forest cover it once had.  And most of this loss has happened in the last 50 years.  Violent conflict into the 00's saw the army burning down forests thought to shelter rebels.  Today, over a million South Sudanese refugees from just across the border forage for firewood in some of the few remaining forest stands, found adjacent to the semi-permanent refugee settlements.   

In the language most spoken in Northern Ugandan, Acholi-Luo, a Nilotic and a tonal language, the word for tree is the same as the word for medicine.  This fact is not lost on the region's many traditional healers, who implement their profound herbalist knowledge in service of the health of over 60% of Ugandans – the percentage of the population that reports lack of access to modern health care facilities, and whose principal healthcare recourse is with medicine men and women.  The loss of forests has resulted in a direct loss of healthcare resources, and at a time when the region is just recovering from violent conflict. 

The Wise Women of Uganda raised the flag of reforestation over 5 years ago, and since then have produced hundreds of thousands of native tree seedlings in their nurseries, planting trees in refugee settlements as well as on the lands of smallholder farmers in Northern Uganda.  This year the Wise Women, in collaboration with Wild Forests and Fauna, have completed the latest annual tree planting campaign with our widening farmer network, reaching more villages, more villagers, and planting more species than before. The images attach share some highlights directly from the field. 

Each time we update our amazing support base via GlobalGiving, we have been so thrilled to see your response and support of the extraordinary work being carried out by the Wise Women.  Now we're asking your help to organize for a new challenge.  As climate change and deforestation continue to present series challenges to Uganda's farmers, we have recently been astonished at the appearance of a new scourge – locusts that are now ravaging Northern Uganda.  We are asking your support at this time to purchase additional protective netting to isolate the tree nurseries from the devastating presence of these Biblical insects.  We know it sounds too crazy to be true, but it's true.

In the spirit of hope and of rebuilding lost forests,

Dec 23, 2019

The link between Refugees and the Climate

Recently I was reading an article that sent a multiplicity of neurons in my brain firing off in several directions, making connections between seemingly disparate global and local issues. Toward the end of my thought process, I trailed back around to our system of planting moringa trees and fast-growing timber trees with South Sudanese refugees in northern Uganda.

The article stated that for perhaps the first time in recently recorded history, natural disasters provoked the majority of new internal displacement cases in 2018, surpassing conflict as the primary factor for driving people from their homes worldwide. 

Let's put some numbers to that. According to the Global Report on Internal Displacement, an annual assessment carried out by the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, over 17 million people were newly displaced as a redult of weather and geophysical changes in 2018, compared to a roughly 10.8 million displaced by conflict. That means 61% of those forced from their homes within their country of origin were climate related, opposed to human-driven reasons such as war and conflict. 

This is big news, news that you probably won't see on CNN or even BBC. This puts climate-related migration on the map: not as a prediction of what will occur in coming years, but as reality today, and, according to this report, even last year. 

With the climate crisis only projected to get worse, than we can assume that these numbers will only grow in the coming years. Which means, that even if we manage to stabilize geopolitical tensions, the rate of global displacement will continue to rise. 

Now, we realize that the majority of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda–whom we work with–were primarily driven from their homes due to a protracted conflict rather than climate insecurities. However, these new statistics are still relevant to our work with South Sudanese refugees. You see, our system aims to innovate the refugee service delivery system by building in sustainable and regenerative design into the very structure of refugee settlements and camps themselves. The system we designed is meant to be scalable and replicable in nearly all areas of the tropics–meaning that as global displacement continues with fervor, there are strategies in place to accomodate such an influx of displaced persons in a way that is also accounting for the need to address pressing climate issues, making sure that our strategies to deal with the effects of the climate crisis aren't contributing to the exacerbation of these issues. 

This is why we believe in tree-based and bio-mimicry-based solutions. We can look to nature to reveal patterns that we can apply to the problems we face in this day and age, and that can help us not only manage those problems but to fix them at their roots, not just their surface-level symptoms. 

Join us today to continue to supplement refugees' food rations with sustainable sources of nutrition, while also deterring further deforestation surrounding the camps–ensuring the longevity and fertility of the lands they inhabit. 

Sep 25, 2019

The Future of Native Seeds

Our farmers with their growing trees
Our farmers with their growing trees

Climate week is this week, and it couldn't have come at a more auspicious time. We've seen our Earth up in flames over the past few months, as if the Earth is speaking to us the only way she knows how, urging us to take action to protect our planet if we want to continue to inhabit it. It started with the ferocious fires in the Amazon, but happening congruently are the fires in the Congo Basin in central Africa. 

Greta Thunberg, the 16 year-old climate crisis activist, has taken the world by storm by saying unapologetically what most people are shy at admitting: what we face is not just climate change, it is climate crisis. We are living amidst the fifth mass extinction occuring on the planet we inhabit. The last mass extinction was during the reign of dinosaurs, and the extinction was largely caused by an asteroid. This time, the asteroid is us: our species has taken for granted the delicate balance of ecosystems that keeps us, and everything around us, living. 

But, Greta Thunberg, as well as many climate scientists, and the thousands of people that are doing small-in-scope but massive-in-impact eco-restoration projects, are firm in the conviction that while yes, what we are facing is a crisis and we must stop sugar-coating that fact, we also have a chance to save what we have. 

That's where our work comes in. Study after study shows that our best weapon in the fight against the climate crisis is not some high-tech technology. Rather, it is the support of advancing what nature does best: growing and regenerating itself. One way we can do this is the planting of trees in a way that mimics the natural growth of ecosystems. 

For us, this is not new. In northern Uganda, we have been at the forefront of planting trees to mimic the natural Ugandan landscape: giving the ecosystem a little boost to restore itself. We were planting native trees at a time when it wasn't yet 'cool,' and before it was common knowledge that native tree species has more of an impact in guaranteeing crop harvests and soil restoration and the creation of microclimates that ensure rain fall. We're happy that this low-tech, high-impact solution is consider 'cool' now, and that farmers and organizations and governments alike are all hopping on board to utilize agroforestry, biomimicry and 'smart reforestation' to give our earth a chance. 

And as for us? We will never stop in our mission to spread the ecosystem-saving solutions that agroforestry, agroecology and tree planting provides to landcspes across the globe. 

Our team on the ground in Uganda continues to conduct climate change adaptation programs to the people affected the most by the climate crisis: small scale farmers that depend on the land they till for their livelihood and the wellbeing of their villages. Our team on the ground continues to distribute important tree seedlings to farmers throughout the region, while providing important follow-up to ensure those trees are growing happily and healthily in their new homes. Our team on the ground continues to preach what we believe is a worthy gospel: our Earth is the only home we have, and we must restore it to ensure that the millions of species, including our own, can continue to exist. 

So, this climate week, we encourage you to do everything in your power to take the climate crisis seriously, and to take the necessary steps to live a sustainable and regenerative life. 

Agroforestry and tree planting in the tropics is our most powerful tool to mitigate the climate crisis. Support us, and small organizations like us, to make croplands more resilient, and give the power back to the smallscale farmers that are doing the gruntwork of keeping our planet healthy. 

With love from Northern Uganda to you,

The Native Seeds Project

Agroforestry in Action - African Mahogany
Agroforestry in Action - African Mahogany
Farmers cropland with 2-yearold trees
Farmers cropland with 2-yearold trees
Adding local trees to the landscape
Adding local trees to the landscape
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