Malawi is a unique and breathtaking country in East Africa: it has a total of 1.8 million hectares of national parks and nature reserves. The largest of them is Lake Malawi, an incredible ecosystem that is home to thousands of unique plants and animals. This here, on the coast of Lake Malawi, is the site of our new project that we are carrying out together with our local partner NBUC.
It was high time that Luca (Forestry Manager) and I (Content Manager) had a chat with the local project manager, Geoffrey Manasseh. Geoffrey – his upbeat charisma is almost impossible to resist – launched the project himself a few years ago. A conversation about its history, the situation in Malawi, and big plans for the future.
(Treedom in conversation with Geoffrey of NBUC)
Hello, you two! Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Geoffrey, for the sake of those of our users who haven't met you yet, could you briefly introduce yourself? :)
Geoffrey: Thank you! And I'm delighted that we're finally getting to meet in person. My English isn't perfect, but let's see how it goes! (Laughs). I'm Geoffrey, I'm 35, and I'm the project manager for the tree plantings we're doing together here in Nkhudzi Bay. I love our environment, and I believe that change is necessary.
So let's go right back to the beginning. How did NBUC start, and how did the project come to be?
Geoffrey: We're in the eastern part of Malawi. It's a region that sadly is struggling with a weak infrastructure and lots of poverty. Added to that are the effects of climate change in recent years, which have affected us here as well. I'm a middle-aged man, and I remember that things were better here a few decades ago.
Luca: Wait a minute – middle-aged? I'm nearly 40, and now I feel really old (laughs). But seriously, it makes me realise what a young country Malawi is. I see this again and again whenever I visit. It's up to all of us to change things.
Geoffrey: That's right! There are so many young people here who lack opportunities. Malawi has huge potential. Anyway, NBUC has been around since 2013, and even then the focus was on improving the living conditions of these young people.
Thank you! So what happened next? When did the trees come into it?
Geoffrey: We invited people to look for solutions with us. Eventually, we returned to traditional cultivation, away from monocultures and short-term thinking. And towards something that our ancestors practised for thousands of years. And what can I say: it works! Instead of constantly sticking new plasters onto this wound, we want to heal it from the bottom up.
Luca: Nicely put, Geoffrey! Long-term thinking is the key. And we (Treedom) also need to do our bit.
Geoffrey: Exactly… knowledge, experience and financial support as well. We've had lots of visits from representatives from the government and other initiatives along our way. But we still have our logistical problems, such as the irrigation of thousands of seedlings. However, in Treedom we found a partner who would help us turn our mission into a reality.
(Construction of a nursery school in Nkhudzi Bay on Lake Malawi)
And speaking of Treedom! How exactly did you make contact with each other?
Geoffrey: It really is quite a crazy story. I had written about our activities on an environmental blog, and also mentioned our problems. An environmental coordinator from the USA saw these posts and offered to help. I think it was she who contacted Treedom in the end.
Luca: Correct! It really was a massive coincidence! This lady, Lauren, told us about the work "this guy in Malawi" was doing. And that's how we came to be in touch with each other. We couldn't be happier with the way things have worked out. Just a few months later I was already there.
Malawi is a country of staggering beauty, but it does have its own problems to deal with. What were the challenges?
Geoffrey: Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. A lot of people earn less than $100 a month, even here. In addition there is also what I think is a wrong mindset: a lot of people were cutting down the trees – which they actually needed – just so they had a little firewood for the next day. But we want to look further than just from day to day! What was missing was a clear long-term plan, technical support for transport and cultivation, and high-quality seedlings.
Luca: It wasn't always easy to explain something that would (literally) not bear fruit for several years. This is with a mixture of fruit trees and supporting local species. But I think we have a good foundation of trust now.
It has already paid off: last year you planted over 20,000 trees. What is your aim for the future?
Geoffrey: We're really happy about that! Getting this project off the ground has been a lot of work. But we're proud of what we have achieved. Today, more and more people are coming to us, wanting to learn about what we are doing and to become part of it.
Luca: NBUC's most important decision was investing in a sustainable structure. I hope we have been able to contribute to it – because we believe in what we are doing here.
Geoffrey: We certainly do! Our aim for next year is 42,000 trees, and I'm sure we're going to achieve it.
(Training for participants in the project)
So are we, Geoffrey! And finally, in your own words... what is NBUC's mission?
Geoffrey: We have a great opportunity here, and I feel this responsibility. What is clear to me is that we want a green future for our region, and economic safety and food for these people. But I'm also thinking about the country's young people. Education, training and perspective – we can change the future for young people here and give them a reason to stay. I see it like this: in a way, every single tree will benefit all 19 million people in Malawi. We are young Malawians who are committed to this. And this is what drives us!
Thank you for the interview!
If you would like to plant a tree in Malawi too, you can do so here. Find out more about the history of NBUC and Geoffrey on the website. They regularly post new pictures of the Nkhudzi project there.