Reforest native trees, empower women healers

by Wild Forests and Fauna
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Reforest native trees, empower women healers
Regreening Landscapes, One Farmer at a Time

Hey all,


It’s been a few months since our last project report. You might recall that in our most recent report, we were busy producing thousands of native tree seedlings in our tree nurseries in Northern Uganda. Since then, a lot has happened. Let me tell you about it. 


In April, the rains arrived to Uganda, which means our field staff was busy visiting villages, conducting Climate Change Resiliency Trainings with small-scale farmers. The arrival of the rains in April also meant that it was time to get our native tree seedlings out to those that need them most: small-scale farmers fighting climate change. Over the course of the months of April and May, our team conducted 18 trainings in 9 villages in Bungatira Sub-county, a small area in Northern Uganda a little outside of Gulu. In these 9 villages, we are working closely with 400 farmers to train them in the importance of native trees to protect their soil fertility and how these native trees can protect them and their families in the face of growing climate uncertainty. 


Over the course of these trainings, our dedicated team on the ground distributed 5,000 seedlings to the farmers with whom we are working. These seedlings are as varied as the croplands the farmers we work with tend to: from fast-growing timber species like African Mahogany to fruit trees like avocado and jackfruit to trees with potent medicinal properties like prunus africana, we are diversifying landscapes in ways that will provide tangible benefits to the people planting them. 


And this is our ultimate goal. How can we better landscapes while also bettering the lives of the people that tend to those landscapes? Through planting useful tree species with small-scale farmers, we’re able to make soils healthier and landscapes greener, while also providing families with a greater variety of fruits, medicines, and increased access to important things like firewood. 


But that’s not all. Aside from the 400 farmers we are working with directly, our nursery workers are busy producing seedlings for other organizations in the region that are doing similarly important work with farmers. In May, we got an additional 13,000 seedlings into the hands of 800+ farmers through formal partnerships with like-minded organizations. By using the networks and capacity with like-minded folks, we’re able to scale our impact and reach more farmers, more families, and more landscapes. 


As we ring in the beginning of July, marking our half-way point of 2018, we continue with the same momentum. Rains take a pause in June in Uganda, but return in July. Our team just did their first distribution of the second rainy season three days ago, getting 999 seedlings out to thirty new farmers in Lagwiny village. For the next few weeks, working in rhythm with the rainy season, our team will be getting more seedlings to farmers across northern Uganda. Their ability to conduct this work is in thanks to people like you–people who believe in the importance of forests, the necessity to combat climate change, and the hope that it is still possible to make a change. So, thank you. I hope you continue to support this work, and know that you are making a difference because of it.



--

With gratitude,

Georgia Beasley

Project Manager & Community Outreach Coordinator, Native Seeds Project, Uganda, WildFF | www.wildff.org
LEAF International Global Ambassador, LEAF Community Arts | www.theLEAF.org
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Julie talking about ecosystem with farmers
Julie talking about ecosystem with farmers

Over in Gulu, Uganda, our Native Seeds Project team has been hard at work these past few months. Let me give you a little context: in Northern Uganda, the dry season begins in December and normally lasts until the end of March. During this time, many trees are producing their seeds, making it the perfect opportunity to collect those seeds, dry them at the garden site, and plant them in the nursery. That’s what our team has been doing, day in and day out. With the help of an extensive network of farmers, elders, and other nature-loving folks across villages in the region, our team has been collecting hard to find seeds of trees that are rapidly disappearing. The fruits of their labor? There are currently nearly 30,000 seedlings planted in our tree nursery, and 20,000 more seeds ready to be planted in the coming months. 

As these thousands of seeds grow into healthy seedlings ready for planting, our outreach team has been visiting villages throughout Bungatira sub-county, talking with them about the ways they can take climate change action into their own hands. We call these visits our “Climate Change Resiliency Trainings,” whereby our team covers topics ranging from ecosystem functions to how planting native trees can restore soil hydrology and protect crops from erratic weather patterns.

The result: farmers validated in their suspicions that there is a correlation between the rapid destruction of their forests and rains coming early, late, or not at all. 

It is in these trainings that we begin to realize that climate change is just as much a matter of human rights as it is a matter of environmental well-being. While an abnormally warm winter intermittent with intense snow fall may just seem baffling in the US, overall it does not affect our day to day lives. Yet when the rains come late, as they did last year in Uganda, it is much more than just baffling: it is matter of a farmer being able to have a healthy harvest to put food on his or her table for the family. It is a matter of food security. It is a matter of whether you eat three meals a day or just one. 

This is why equipping farmers with the ability to bring back their native trees is so important. Study after study shows that ample trees in a farmers’ landscape; 1) improves food and water security, 2) protects local biodiversity, 3) increases climate change resilience by expanding dry season farming, 4) combats desertification by improving soil fertility, and 5) reduces disaster risk, when adding fruit-bearing trees to a landscape. 

As the rains come this April to Northern Uganda, we will begin distributing a vast mosaic of tree species to the farmers we work with. We will accompany them through the process over the next year of caring for these seedlings, ensuring that their roots grow firmly in the ground, so that these trees can provide the above services to farmers croplands. 

We are appreciative of you for being on this journey with us. And for the farmers in Northern Uganda, please, take a moment to share this important work with a loved one, and let’s grow this project together. 

Women farmers during training
Women farmers during training
Farmers in Pamin Onon Village!
Farmers in Pamin Onon Village!
Beyo tree seedlings in the nursery
Beyo tree seedlings in the nursery
The benefits of tree planting
The benefits of tree planting
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Ocaya tracking seedlings in the nursery
Ocaya tracking seedlings in the nursery

The end of the year is always a potent time of reflection: to look back at where we’ve been, and look forward to where we’re going. For us at the Native Seeds Project, 2017 has been a year of growth, a year that has allowed us to spread our impact to more communities than ever before. Let me give you a little recap of where we’ve been, and why 2017 has felt like such a momentous year.

This project, like many good things, was born from a conversation. In 2015, a group of rural women, all of whom are traditional healers, got together to talk about their lives, their communities, their struggles, their triumphs. Over the course of the conversation, many of them started talking about their medicine, and the plants they derive it from. One mentioned how one plant that she often uses to treat coughs has become incredibly difficult to find. How years ago she only had to walk a few minutes to harvest the leaves, and now she must walk several miles to find one of the trees that is still standing. The other women began to chatter along, fervently validating her experience with their own. It suddenly dawned on them: our trees–the plants we have always used for medicine, for food, for timber–are disappearing. Then the question came: what can we do about it?

They began galvanizing. Brainstorming. Talking. Realizing that in this modern day, where the youth are moving to the towns and farmers with extra land are planting monoculture plots of pine for commercial timber, no one was really interested in the issue of this disappearance of native trees. They realized it was up to them to do something about it. 

Of course, the task was daunting. These women already have a lot on their plates: they are healers in an area of the world where 60% of people still depend on traditional medicine as their primary source of healthcare. They are rural women in Uganda: some literate, some not, yet still expected to enter the cash economy so they can send their kids to school, their grandkids to school, and provide for their families. They are farmers, mothers, caretakers of their households. Suffice to say, they don’t exactly have a lot of free time on their hands. Not to mention that being a woman, and a poor woman, in Uganda doesn’t give you many opportunities to make you feel like you can start an association and get a project up and running off the ground. 

But, these women were determined. So, we started small. We talked about what our vision was, and made a road map for how to get there. We started with capacity building trainings for the women, and started a VSLA (Village Savings & Loan Association) so that they could get access to capital, learn to save money, and begin to find financial stability. Then, we raised money to buy a plot of land, in the women’s association’s name, as a site to construct a tree nursery and begin to plant these native trees that the women were determined to bring back. 

Flash forward two years to 2017. The small plot of land is now 7 acres, with a tree nursery that produced 12,000 seedlings this year. Our team is now 11 people, meaning we are providing full-time, eco-friendly jobs for 11 families. We just finished construction of a fully-equipped building so a nursery manager can live onsite, drilled a well for access to clean drinking water (for us and the neighbors), and finished fencing the land to keep our seedlings safe from grazing cattle and other animals. What was once just a field now is the home to demonstration agroforestry systems: groups of strategically placed native trees that provide different benefits to the people who plant them, from medicine to soil restoration to delicious fruits to sustainable firewood. 

Our Forest Program Manager, Lincoln Ocaya, created a year-long curriculum to teach the women how to produce seedlings, plant them, and care for them. The women just finished the year-long course, and are now primed to go into communities on their own to train and plant seedlings with farmers. From this work, they will receive a stipend that will boost their economic empowerment and financial independence, in a way that also fulfills their original vision: to bring back the trees that used to grace their landscapes. 

While the women were busy learning how to run a nursery and plant and manage tree seedlings, our Native Seeds Project head staff was conducting perhaps our largest success of the year: the distribution of the 12,000 native tree seedlings we produced. Village by village, our team talked with farmers, conducted climate change resiliency trainings, and got tree seedlings into the hands of those that need them most: family farmers that still depend on the land for their livelihood. 

So, when we reflect on the fact that two years ago all of this was just a conversation under the mango tree, it reminds us just how capable we all are of making a change in this world. We are reminded that with a little determination, persistence, hope, and the solidarity and support of people who share our vision, doing good in this world is not only possible, but destined. 

And it is this sentiment that we are carrying with us as we enter 2018. We are doubling our seedling production to 30,000 tree seedlings this year, and the 25 women we work with our more than ready to begin their new jobs as ‘tree trainers,’ going into communities to teach farmers about the importance of native trees in combating climate change and restoring their degraded landscapes, while also guiding them in the proper care and management of the seedlings they plant. We hope you will continue this journey with us, because what Margaret Mead said some years ago has never felt more true– to “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Wherever you may be, I hope this holiday season is filled with family, friends, and hope for the year ahead. 

Florence taking notes during tree trainer class
Florence taking notes during tree trainer class
Julie and Robin checking on a farmer's seedling
Julie and Robin checking on a farmer's seedling
Peter and David loading seedlings for villages
Peter and David loading seedlings for villages
Made, excited for our successes of the year!
Made, excited for our successes of the year!
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Ocaya training village women on reforestation
Ocaya training village women on reforestation

Opoka and his fellow farmers remember that the parish of Atiyaba in northern Uganda was once forested. This mosaic landscape of savannah-like grassland was punctuated by great swathes of tropical forest expanding out from river ways and swamps. Tree cover was the norm and not the exception, and even in grassy landscapes trees were everywhere. 

These trees were necessary to human survival, providing food, medicine, materials for building homes and for creating useful items like baskets and clothing. And in this regard, little has changed. Though the global economy’s reach has provided plastic replacements for some of life’s necessities, trees are still the only source for many of the essentials.

What has changed, and changed dramatically, is the area and quality of forest to be found in Atiyaba. Juliet, an herbalist who harvests medicines to heal her community, describes having to go further and further afield to find the plant remedies that once abounded much closer to home. “You just cannot believe how people are living without trees. It makes you sad to see it. Even now they take down mango trees for charcoal to sell, because the other species are not there any longer.”

Deforestation in northern Uganda is dramatic and has happened in just a generation or two. The way the land looks has been totally transformed within the span of Opoka’s lifetime. But he and other farmers in his area know there can be another way. They are part of a growing group dedicated to the reforestation of their villages and landscapes.  

Reforestation can mean many things, including exotic fruit orchards and commercial timber plantations that in ecological terms cannot really be called forests. What is unique about the farmers in Atiyaba and elsewhere is that they are planting native trees, the species that have always defined their homeland and which are now hard to find.  

Perhaps surprisingly, planting native trees was something of an unfamiliar concept to Opoka and his neighbors. That is, until Juliet and the group known as Wise Women - Uganda arrived to Atiyaba in May of this year. Providing training in tree planting basics and, later, seedlings of a variety of important native species, this group of women traditional herbalists arrived to Atiyaba with knowledge, with seeds, and with hope. 

Working with local leaders at a grassroots level, the Wise Women have reached 29 villages so far, and provided trees and training to over 350 farmers this year. In addition, several schools and institutions have joined the effort. While many farmers received a modest 10 seedlings, some frontrunners have planted a thousand trees or more. 

The tree seedlings themselves were produced locally at the Wise Women’s nursery in collaboration with Wild Forests and Fauna, a US-based non profit dedicated to the restoration and protection of wild forests the world around. WildFF first teamed up with Wise Women in 2015, and since has helped this community-based organization to grow into a force for native species restoration in the region. 

In fact, the real work begins after the trainings and the plantings. Somewhat rare among reforestation efforts in the area, the Wise Women are dedicated to follow up. Monitoring and evaluation is an ongoing task until the trees reach an age when they can take care of themselves. 

It’s amazing and it’s true: your support has allowed the planting of thousands of trees in climate-vulnerable communities throughout northern Uganda. And your support will help the Wise Women to ensure the success of the trees that have been planted, even while engaging with more farmers and planting more trees. It’s a model that embraces the age old practice of exchanging seeds and know-how from community to community, farmer to farmer. As this model is applied to a broader scale, you are helping to reforest northern Uganda, one farmer at a time. 

Opoka, in his village, praising native trees
Opoka, in his village, praising native trees
Outreach trainings with local villages
Outreach trainings with local villages
Planting native tree seedlings with local farmers
Planting native tree seedlings with local farmers
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Wise Women of Uganda - traditional healer co-op
Wise Women of Uganda - traditional healer co-op

This is the story of our world:

For the first time ever, more than half of all people live in cities.  Cities are simply something that didn’t exist for most of the human era – indeed, what we now mean by city has scarcely existed for a hundred years.  

For the first time ever, most humans live within a landscape that was constructed almost entirely by and for humans.  And cities are on the rise.

As just one example from around the world out of hundreds we could choose: Kampala, Uganda went from being a set of densely gardened and forested hills to what we now recognize unmistakably as a city – in the span of a mere four generations. The transformation has been total.  Teeming slums and manicured golf courses have erased the memory of the intensive indigenous agroforestry systems and towering African mahoganies that shaded the well-populated hill citadels of the Baganda kings.

But Kampala is a capital and a former colonial seat, so perhaps its recent rise to metropolis status is unsurprising.  For a more stark example of the unprecedented speed and span of urbanization around the world we can look slightly north to Gulu, Uganda, a frontier city of a hundred thousand that has sprung up in just a few decades. The circumstances of Gulu’s rapid growth are unique to Gulu – violent conflict, forced displacement – but the fact of its urban burgeoning is representative of an overwhelming trend repeated around the globe.

We can learn a lot about the world from Gulu’s example.  In the era of cities, this small newcomer’s rise has been concurrent with the destruction of its forested hinterlands, felled to feed Kampala’s growing demand for charcoal – a commodity used for cooking and for industry (think charcoal-burning factories).  In a familiar way, the forests are fueling the fires of progress.  

On a human level, cash economies have penetrated into areas where barter and cashless self-sufficiency were very recently the norm.  Traditional mechanisms for obtaining food and healthcare have quickly eroded.  The setting of prices for goods and services that previously stood outside of a black-and-white valuation system often occurs with a sort of violence toward the have-nots.  Traditional people are marginalized in the transaction, and expected to catch up or perish. 

Gulu’s story is a microcosm of vast processes affecting the whole globe, and not just in the sense of urbanization.  Gulu is a mirror of the world in which we live, unique to our time.  In this young city just a few degrees from the equator, the weather is not as it once was.  Droughts are becoming more frequent, and drought means crop failure and hunger.  Age-old agricultural practices have become unreliable as if by black magic.  The connection is not lost on farmers between the overall trend of a drying climate and the loss of the majority of Uganda’s forests in the last brief decades.

Often overlooked, a principle underlying factor in urbanization is desperation.  As elsewhere, many people have moved to Gulu because the rural predicament became untenable, sometimes tragically so.

When I first visited Uganda in 2015, I heard stories that were familiar to me from other places in the world.  I heard about a younger generation estranged from traditional ways and suffering from previously rare mental and physical diseases.  I heard about the almost universal perception that the loss of trees has worsened the severity and damage of storms and droughts.  I heard about languages dying out and places that were once considered holy desecrated to bulldozers.  I felt echoes of a legacy of colonial oppression which could well be described as collective trauma.  

This is the story of our world.

And I saw people doing something about it.  I met foresters and farmers, women and men who have overcome extraordinary hardship and have seen a better way.  I saw the spark of inspiration in people’s eyes and it was a sign in itself of healing having occurred.  In Gulu, I met the Wise Women of Uganda, a group of traditional healers who heeded a calling to serve their communities as alternative healthcare practitioners – and, remarkably, to restore their forests by planting native trees.  

In the few years since, when I have returned to Uganda I have seen, well, more.  Burgeoning nurseries stocked with dozens of native medicinal tree species.  Highly trained forestry technicians alongside medicine women – both with their hands in the dirt.  People going out on a limb to plant trees that nobody has really even tried to plant before, knowing they’re doing the right thing.  (You can hear more about their work in our past project reports.)

Our world is full of extreme forces, some of which are cataclysmic. But when I see what is possible with the work of our human hands I feel hope for the future of the story of our world.  Cities can become intensive gardens again, and perhaps they will have to.  In a crowded world, people will only need more plants that heal.  Perhaps more of us will work toward a better way.  Perhaps we will yet assume the mantle of responsible stewardship for the world that we as humans are uniquely capable of healing or harming.  

This could be the story of our world. 

Thank you for supporting the work of the Wise Women of Uganda, and thank you for all the ways you help make the world a better place.  


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    Organization Information

    Wild Forests and Fauna

    Location: Carnation, WA - USA
    Website:
    Facebook: Facebook Page
    Twitter: @WildForestFauna
    Project Leader:
    Georgia Beasley
    Seattle, WA United States

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