After conversations with our partners in Tanzania, it was time for Tommaso (Treedom’s Head of Content) and me (Treedom’s Content Manager) to talk to another long-time partner: the Association for International Solidarity in Asia, or more simply ASIA.
ASIA is an Italian NGO that works to promote sustainable development, especially for ethnic minorities, in Asia. We’ve been working together in Nepal since 2017. We spoke to Marilena Albanese, who represents ASIA in Italy, and Marco Amendola, who works in the field in Kathmandu. A conversation about intercultural cooperation and big plans for the future.
(Marilena and Marco from ASIA in conversation with Treedom)
Treedom: Hi Marilena, hi Marco! Nice to finally meet you in person. Marco, you’re in Nepal at the moment, right?
Marilena: Hello to both of you! I’m in Rome and I’m very happy to meet you. When I have to interface with Treedom, I normally speak to Tommaso Tusa, the Forestry Manager. So it’s good to see new faces!
Marco: Hi! That’s right! I’m in Nepal at the moment.
Treedom: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. It’s great to be able to introduce our community to the people who work on our project in Nepal every day. Could you briefly introduce yourselves?
Marilena: Of course – I’m Marilena and I work as a Desk Office Manager here at ASIA. I’m responsible for international projects in Nepal. Our Italian office is in Rome – we coordinate our work from here. Before joining ASIA, I did humanitarian work in Africa for many years.
Marco: I’m Marco, an ASIA representative in Nepal since April 2021. I’m Italian, but Nepal has become a kind of second home for me and I’ve lived here for many years now. I first visited in 2004 when I wrote my Master’s thesis with UNESCO here.
Treedom: Well, you’re an expert on Nepal... how can we picture life there? It has an almost mythical aura for us.
Marco: True... it's difficult to compare Nepal to anything else you might know. Plus, the country has undergone huge change in recent years. What’s happened here in 10 years is what we experienced in Europe over the last 100 years. When I arrived, no houses had hot water or electricity. Now there’s internet everywhere, at least in Kathmandu, the capital. There are also lots of expats living here, more than you’d think.
Treedom: ASIA has been working in Nepal for many years and started collaborating with Treedom in 2017. How did that come about?
Marilena: It was precisely the time when I started working at ASIA. We were aware of the particular challenges in Nepal: two years earlier there was the earthquake, which took everything from the people there. So our main problem was the lack of income. There was a tradition of coffee cultivation, so we decided to focus on restoring this heritage to provide sustenance for the people. Treedom was the perfect partner for this. That’s how our joint project “Tree in a Cup” came about. It all started with coffee, then later we added fruit trees like macadamia and jackfruit.
(Project participants plant seeds)
Treedom: What are the particular challenges of working in Nepal?
Marilena: We work in the Rasuwa district, in the central region of Nepal near the Himalayas. Here, at an altitude of 1800 metres, there’s always the risk of landslides and monsoon rains. Trees help improve the quality of the soil and make the land safer. As for the post-planting work, well… it wasn’t easy to explain the GPS technology and geolocation to the project participants, but with a bit of patience anything’s possible.
Marco: Marilena’s right – then, of course, there are the logistics. The topography of the terrain here makes the work in the project areas much harder: transporting plants and tools can become particularly challenging. That’s why we work with local partners, like the Nepal Agroforestry Foundation, who know how to get around. And also to help with the language barrier, since there are often communities that only speak local dialects. In the end, though, it’s worth the effort because we can really make a difference here.
Treedom: How would you describe the goal of the project?
Marilena: We want to offer people an income. To do this, we need to diversify, because coffee, our core product, only generates income after 3 years. So it’s important to plant other species as well, so that families can generate income independently of a single species.
Marco: It’s important to respond specifically to people’s needs. Eventually, project participants can sell their crops with us directly at local markets. This allows us to bypass middlemen and traders, who don’t usually have the best interests of small farmers in mind. It’s a development project. Working with Treedom helps us create the necessary infrastructure to do this in the future. Because we’re growing every year.
(ASIA training on coffee cultivation)
Treedom: That’s right, Marco, it all started with 12,000 trees, now there are “slightly” more... what are the plans for the future?
Marco: The project is developing very quickly. There are now 77,000 trees. In 2022, there will be between 150,000 and 180,000. This kind of increase is only possible with the right training for project participants. After all, projects are supposed to be transferable – so they can be reproduced elsewhere. If the farmers are trained on many species, they can harvest all year round. This in turn arouses interest among their neighbours, and more and more people want to be a part of it. People are slowly losing their initial scepticism and welcoming us more enthusiastically, because they can see the success with their own eyes.
Marilena: It’s important to realise that many of these people have never left their village. It took a long time for them to trust us and understand the value they can actually generate for themselves. In the past, middlemen took advantage of their lack of knowledge. Today, we’re creating small agricultural cooperatives that can really make a difference.
Treedom: Well, to wrap things up... what’s it like working with Treedom?
Marilena: It’s really fantastic! Tommaso Tusa (Forestry Manager, Treedom) has become like a friend to me over time. We talk a lot. The project is going well and we thank everyone who’s planted trees through Treedom. Thank you! It means we can do our job properly.
Marco: I don't think there's anything more I can add to that. It’s an exciting journey and I’m happy to be part of it. Perhaps you’ll get the chance to visit the project yourselves. You’re always welcome!