A Travelogue by Shilpa Gulati, Head of Corporate Partnership at Treedom
The East African country of Tanzania is renowned for its vastness and diversity of landscapes. I recently had the opportunity to visit the United Republic for the first time. Although it was a personal trip, I wanted to take the opportunity to visit one of Tredom’s planting projects during my stay.
At Treedom, we closely work with 14,895 farmers in Tanzania, but we don’t do it alone. We work together with local partners such as the Rural Community Network Tanzania (RUCONET), a non-governmental, non-profit organization that advocates for the environment and social justice. They aim to improve the living conditions of indigenous populations and ethnic minorities in Tanzania.
Together with our agroforestry manager Luca, who oversees our projects in Tanzania, I was able to accompany our partner for a day. The meeting point was the nursery in Arusha, where the seeds are grown into small seedlings. In addition to fruit trees such as mango, papaya or orange, trees that have health-promoting properties, such as the majestic neem trees, are also nurtured here. Luca explained that the latter are particularly popular among the older generation of smallholder farmers, who appreciate their uses in health and personal care. The younger generation prefer trees with fruits that they can consume or sell, as they prioritise the economic benefits.
After having loaded the seedlings into the car, we drove out of the city to meet a group of smallholder farmers in one of the communities we work with. In each community, we always include local authorities such as priests or mayors. This creates a good system of "checks and balances," as community leaders keep meticulous records of recipients and number of trees received, just like our partners.
Many smallholder farmers had gathered, and among the people I spoke with that day was Aron, a young teacher. With a joyful expression, he held up a mango sapling in one hand and a papaya sapling in the other. He wanted to plant the seedlings on the school grounds "for the benefit of the children," excitedly explaining that his school was also allowed to take part in the project even though it is mainly geared towards smallholder farmers.
At Treedom, because we want our trees to thrive, the seedlings are not just given away. Instead, these gatherings take on the role of an exchange of experiences and advice. In a live demonstration, Luca and our partner RUCONET showed the various techniques for planting the seedlings. What impressed me the most, however, was the sincere enthusiasm for the trees: in addition to the opportunity for families to earn extra income – for example, to finance their children's education – many of the people I spoke with expressed a desire to make their area greener again.
Sustainability is an omnipresent topic today. We at Treedom cannot, of course, control all local circumstances. For example, virtually no recycling system for plastic exists in Tanzania. That is why I was proud to learn that we are working together with RUCONET to develop ideas - such as a circular system for the small plastic containers in which the seedlings are transported - to become even more sustainable.
Later in the day, we visited some more farmers. RUCONET is particularly keen to involve indigenous Maasai women. The nomadic people mainly engage in livestock farming and are sadly often threatened by land sales and displacement. Wherever we went, the joy of planting life was palpable, as was the serenity with which people faced the daily challenges of life in accordance with the prevailing motto here, "Pole, pole" (freely translated: "No hurry").