May 29, 2020

Despite COVID-19, tree planting goes on, and the team is safe

Pre-COVID, a nursery worker harvests vegetables
Pre-COVID, a nursery worker harvests vegetables

Preceded by HIV/AIDS in the 1990s and Ebola off and on since 2000, COVID-19 is far from Uganda's first epidemic, and the country is doing a great job. By 29 May there had been zero deaths and just 317 confirmed cases. In Arua district, where our project is located, there have been 11 cases to date, most of them long-distance truck drivers who cross multiple borders.

Our team is wearing the protective gear required by the district, has had training and is taking all precautions. Our Agroforestry Community Learning and Innovation Centre remains a place of safety.  "Our people are protected," says project manager Joel.

Inevitably, however, our efforts to get trees to the refugee and host community have been hampered. Initially, the field team was restricted to staying within the Centre to avoid mixing with the community. And fortunately, we had a store building with two additional rooms and were able to accommodate the five nursery workers. 

With much of the team residing at the center, we also started providing meals for all staff, beyond the usual lunch. In this, the vegetable garden has been a great boon, providing a non-stop supply of delicious and highly nutritious African leafy vegetables. 

March and April are rainy months in which we must distribute our seedlings and make sure they get in the ground. But this was hindered by COVID-19, and we were very worried that we would miss the rainy season altogether. But eventually, by making a case that the seedlings would over-grow and become not fit to plant, the team secured authorization from government authorities to undertake a somewhat curtailed distribution of seedlings to selected sites.  

Seedling planting started in earnest in May, and so far 9500 seedlings have been planted with refugees and host community households in Rhino Camp and Imvepi settlements. The species include Afzelia africana (the hardwood that unfortunately is prized in the East Asian market), Balanites aegyptiaca (the amazing Desert date tree with vitamin-rich fruit, edible leaves and a precious oil in its seed), Artocarpus heterophyllus (also called Jackfruit), Gmelina arborea (a fast-growing exotic), Melia volkensii (an indigenous mahogany-like dryland tree), Khaya grandifolia (true African mahogany), Moringa oleifera (a small naturalized tree with edible leaves), and Papaya (the orange-fleshed fruit also called pawpaw). For me, this is a good mix of food trees, timber trees, and trees from which fuelwood and poles can be sourced. It is certainly what the community wants.

We delivered the seedlings using the tricycle van that we purchased entirely with funds from, yes, you! Our GlobalGiving donors. 

Our method is to give the seedlings to our Community-Based Facilitators (CBFs) who live within communities, and who in turn register community members interested in tree planting, noting their preferred species and the number of seedlings of each that they can absorb. All the time observing the recommended personal protection and social distancing, the CBFs guide refugees and hosts on how to plant the trees (e.g., spacing, size of the hole). Another 900 plus seedlings have been given to NGOs and government officials to plant at food distribution sites.  We hope to distribute the rest of the seedlings in May and June if the rains continue. We have 73,000 in the nursery, including grafted mangoes and tamarind. Then, as soon as the lockdown ends, we will follow up with all the planted sites to conduct beating up (a forestry term for replacing dead seedlings) and advise households on management.

That's how we roll basically! Slow and steady and addressing the needs of the population, who really want trees and use them every day of their lives.

And did I mention that the beehives have yielded? A group of farmers and refugees and centre team extracted 20 kilos of pure honey and much more honeycomb besides. It is being shared out fairly and some of it sold, in the center's first modest effort at sustainability.

Unable to travel to Uganda (the airspace is closed for both Kenya and Uganda), I am tracking this all from Nairobi. But as soon as I can, I will be across. We are not daunted by what might appear to be little funding coming in. Our budget is economical. Please continue to support us in any way that you can and thank us for what you have done.

Nursery worker in protective gear against COVID
Nursery worker in protective gear against COVID
Packing seedlings pre-COVID
Packing seedlings pre-COVID
Honeycomb from the centre beehives
Honeycomb from the centre beehives
Filling the water stand for handwashing
Filling the water stand for handwashing
Part of the nursery, fully stocked
Part of the nursery, fully stocked
Feb 11, 2020

Bees, trees, refugees and local communities

A refugee with her productive pawpaw (papaya) tree
A refugee with her productive pawpaw (papaya) tree

We have now been running this fundraising campaign on GlobalGiving since November 2018 and have raised $6257 from 53 donations. We are grateful for every one of them. As I write, we are completing a project at our center with Mercy Corps, a large US humanitarian organization, and entering five lean months as we wait for another agreement with a Danish NGO.

During those five months, we will keep the center running, mostly using funds from a small British NGO called Mvule Trust (their newsletter is attached below) as well as funds from you. Not all the $6257 has been spent and we will eke out what remains and what comes in.

All of this fills us with joy. Tree projects are never short term, and it is amazing for us to see trees planted in 2017-2018. We have provided a steady constant presence for other NGOs needing seedlings and technical advice on tree growing, which includes natural regeneration of vegetation. 

Since I last published a report on 11 November 2019, we have:

  • Supported nursery workers to raise 35,000 seedlings of various species
  • Hosted training for refugees and members of the local community in tree seed collection and handling, tree nursery management, tree planting, and management, bush fire management.
  • Trained refugee and host in improved apiary management and production of value-added bee products including honey, beeswax, candles, shoe polish
  • Planted trees with refugee and host community households with help of community-based facilitators and agroforestry technicians
  • Maintained the Community Learning and Innovation Center

During the lean months, Adriko, a seasoned forester and agroforester, will be in charge. We have every confidence in him.

So far in 2020, we have sown seeds for 110,000 seedlings. These include Tamarind (which many of you will know from cooking), Shea (which produces the oil eaten locally but also exported as a cocoa butter substitute and for cosmetics), and the endangered hardwood Afzelia africana. We have grafted 2,000 mangoes for planting by the host community in Rhino Camp in April 2020.

We also have many pawpaw (papaya) seedlings to give away. Pawpaw is the most sought after and planted exotic fruit tree. The fruits can be harvested just after 8 months. And each fruit can be sold at Uganda shillings 2,000 (equivalent to 60 US cents).  Each pawpaw tree produces an average of 17 fruits in a season, making them a good income earner, although they are also important for household nutrition and we hope that households keep some for themselves.

The dilemma of what to sell and what to keep for home consumption is very real for small farmers, a category into which the refugees we work with fall. I attach one or two papers below, however, on the positive effects of trees and forests on dietary diversity, which is a proxy for dietary quality. Fruits and other tree products are rich in micronutrients which are critical for healthy growth and a lack of which causes stunting. You can read more about this here http://www.worldagroforestry.org/blog/2019/11/29/year-round-micronutrients-ten-species-fruit-trees-are-better-just-few

We have not sat on our hands in trying to raise funds for the refugee work and specifically for the nutrition work. We entered the area and our work for the Food System Vision Prize run by Rockefeller. We will keep you posted. We never sit still! 

Peace still does not reign in South Sudan so we thank you for your support to the refugees, and were they to return home, we would continue to work with the host community, which has one of the highest levels of stunting in Uganda.

Thank you for your support from me and the team!

Seedlings of tamarind; its seed pulp is nutritious
Seedlings of tamarind; its seed pulp is nutritious

Links:


Attachments:
Nov 11, 2019

Quiet satisfaction: we like working with refugees

Beautiful traditional beehives next to the centre
Beautiful traditional beehives next to the centre

Dear supporters,

It is with quiet satisfaction that we continue quarter after quarter. Your funds via the Global Giving appeal allowed us to raise slightly more than 20,000 seedlings in the last quarter and get them out to beneficiaries in the trusty motorbike trailer that was entirely purchased with Global Giving funds previously.

These included five fruit tree species: jackfruit, a tree with huge delicious bumpy fruits; guava; pawpaw (papaya), the desert date tree with its fruit pulp high in Vitamin C; and shea with its fruit enclosing the oil-rich seed. Important longer-term timber trees raised and distributed were mahogany, teak and a mahogany relative called Melia volkensii. The endangered African hardwood Afezelia africana was also given out.

 Further deploying the Global Giving funded motorbike trailer (what-would-we-do-without-it?!), the project distributed 1500 grafted mangoes to improve household nutrition and incomes and promoted pigeon pea agroforestry in Siripi and Ofua 6; a total of 508 farmers; 135 nationals and 373 refugees planted them in their vegetable gardens. Pigeon peas are leguminous plants that fix nitrogen into the soil, thus improving soil fertility. Their leaves also add carbon. And the pea seeds can be eaten by people - not to mention, their stems which become woody after two or three seasons and can be used to cook with. What a lot of benefits!

Finally, the seed for indigenous vegetables, which we had not been able to resist buying in Arua market, germinated nicely and is now flourishing in beds in the agroforestry center, adding to the nutrition in the midday meal provided to the workers who are raising and caring for seedlings. 

We trained all community members on how to protect the young trees and their crops, the main threat being free-ranging livestock. This thorny issue has no easy solution. But some farmers and some refugees use old mosquito nets as a deterrent!

Our final news is that a new project has started based out of the agroforestry learning center. This will help activities you support but focus in addition on the circular bioeconomy of the area. This is a fancy term for reusing all agricultural, home and market waste to compost and build soil, or to make briquettes to cook with, a substitute for wood. It will also promote the reuse of greywater to irrigate crops. It is run by Kenyan researcher Mary Njenga and Ethiopian researcher Solomie Gebrezghaber. Ruth Mendum of Penn State also has a role. See the blog below.

Thank you all for your help to the refugee and host community in NW Uganda. 

A bed of indigenous vegetables
A bed of indigenous vegetables
Children offload seedlings for their homes
Children offload seedlings for their homes
Researchers S Gebrezgabher and M Njenga at centre
Researchers S Gebrezgabher and M Njenga at centre
A citrus seedling: is the protection adequate?
A citrus seedling: is the protection adequate?

Links:

 
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