Our approach focuses on three strands of activity that combine to achieve the most efficient and community-appropriate method of activity:
- Tree planting
- Preservation of existing woodland
- Provision of alternative technologies
Each of these activities begins with the building of strong relationships within communities, based on mutual trust, including close liaison with traditional leadership, schools and churches.
“We just have to plant trees…the right trees in the right places”.
1. Tree Planting Programs
Once we have established grassroots relationships with the community, sites are volunteered to the Trust for restoration. Appropriate sites are selected with the aim of creating contiguous forest cover connected by a network of habitat corridors. Each site is evaluated to determine a planting or preservation regime, including choice of optimum and appropriate indigenous species mix and silvicultural treatment. All saplings are grown by My Trees nurserymen within communities, using locally collected seed.
The Trust then selects one of five regimes to apply to the chosen site, depending on remaining forest cover and the current land use. A contract with the local farmer is then made to secure the financial expectation of the farmer and their obligation to see the trees to maturity.
Some Tree Species in the Landscape
Whilst restoration is a vital part of reversing deforestation, the business of actually planting trees is expensive and painstaking work. It therefore makes every sense to PREVENT trees from being cut in the first place!
A first step towards the preservation of existing woodland is to enforce existing legislation that protects intact habitat. My Trees has therefore embarked on an extensive ambition to co-manage or lease large concessions that are historically protected by either ZimParks (Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority) or Rural District Councils as part of the once successful CAMPFIRE program. These concessions are identified as having protected status but have seen wildlife assets and critical habitats eroded due to agricultural expansion and demands for fuelwood.
In the short time we have been active, we have already secured 120,000 ha of vulnerable wilderness within the Zambezi Biosphere Reserve under long term co-management. The management of these areas is provided by a professional team who have a track record of expertise to optimise antipoaching, develop critical infrastructure and a reduce Human Wildlife Conflict in the region.
Restoring Biodiversity within the Zambezi Biosphere Reserve
The areas My Trees is helping preserve lie within the 3.5 million ha Mid/Lower Zambezi Biosphere Reserve, of which 2 million ha is contiguous wilderness, stretching along 250 km of Zambezi river frontage in the heart of the iconic Zambezi Valley. These wilderness areas continue south to where they meet community farmlands. The concessions My Trees is co-managing are therefore home to a wealth of threatened wildlife, including iconic species such as elephant, lion and wild dog. The one abundant biodiversity has been severely depleted through illegal hunting over the last 20 years and habitat loss is an additional and immediate threat, driven by encroachment from communities who are extracting firewood for cooking and curing tobacco, as well as clearing land for agricultural use.
The role that My Trees plays in the ongoing conservation of this unique and precious geography is huge, and the link between the development of community based economic activity (job creation through tree planting) and landscape level preservation is critical at this point in time. We have prospects and pipeline projects to secure further areas to double our conservation footprint in the next two years. A very exciting challenge indeed.
The third strand of activity pursued by the Trust is the provision of alternative incomes, fuels, and technologies to communities who currently rely on exploitation of natural capital to survive. These communities need alternative sources of income to reduce reliance on tobacco, they require alternative technologies that burn fuel more efficiently and they need viable fuel source replacements. The Trust provides all three of these:
The Trust recognises that many previous tree planting projects have failed because the local communities live hand-to-mouth and do not have the resources to commit to the establishment of wood reserves for the long-term future. The Trust therefore specifically employs community members to plant trees and care for them, assigning an immediate monetary value to their woodlands. In the context of rural Hurungwe, this additional household income is a significant incentive and our hope is that it will allow communities to diversify from tobacco.
The majority of deforestation in Zimbabwe can be attributed to wood-fuel being cut for domestic use. Improving cook stove efficiency is an effective, measurable way to tackle this aspect of deforestation.
My Trees has rolled out a 1,000 stove trial in Hurungwein 2020, building fuel-saving clay stoves, as well as using certified metal cook-stoves. The metal woodstove we distribute has been independently assessed and United Nations approved, having been shown to use 70% less fuel than a three-stone fire. It has been the stove of choice for similar projects in Kenya and Zambia. Our aim is for all My Trees growers to receive a fuel-efficient stove. Over the 2021/22 period, the trust will distribute 50,000 fuel efficient wood-stoves in rural communities.
We are rolling out a woodlot programme this season, which will see our growers receiving 200 indigenous trees, each selected for their commercial, nutritional or medicinal value. As part of this package, we include a fast-growing indigenous bamboo that produces ideal fuel for the rocket stoves described above. This woodlot programme will be open to all our growers as well as small-scale tobacco growers in the area.
The Zambezi Biosphere Reserve
In the short time we have been active, we have already secured 120,000 ha of vulnerable wilderness within the Zambezi Biosphere Reserve under long term management. The management of these areas is provided by a professional team who have a track record of expertise to optimise antipoaching, develop critical infrastructure and reduce Human Wildlife Conflict in the region.
These preserved areas form part of 2 million ha of contiguous wilderness, stretching along 250 km of Zambezi river frontage in the heart of the iconic Zambezi Valley, to community farmlands to the south. The concessions are home to a wealth of threatened wildlife, including iconic species such as elephant, lion and wild dog. The abundant biodiversity has been severely depleted through illegal hunting over the last 20 years and habitat loss is an additional and immediate threat, driven by encroachment from communities who are extracting firewood for cooking and curing tobacco, as well as clearing land for agricultural use.