12 December 2005

South Africa: Indigenous Trees Feed Rural Families

Durban — Hundreds of rural families, many of whom are child-headed households, are securing sound incomes by growing indigenous trees from the seeds found in local forests and using the saplings as currency.

The project, which aims to help people out of poverty, got a boost yesterday when 100 new bicycles, food, clothing and building materials became the anchor products for a range of stores that will barter trees for goods.

According to the 2001 census, the total number of households headed by children under the age of 19 in the country was 248424.

The Indigenous Trees for Life project is spearheaded by the Wildlands Conservation Trust, a nongovernmental organisation concerned with conservation-based community development in KwaZulu-Natal.

That project began last year with the concept of encouraging children living near indigenous forests to gather and plant the seeds and sell the young trees to pay for school fees.

Unilever and Investec bought the trees from the youngsters and sold them to nurseries and landscaping companies.

Dubbed "tree-preneurs", the youngsters have sold the trees for greening projects in rural areas, townships and new commercial nodes such as the Umhlanga Ridge north of Durban.

Trees for Life programme manager Charmaine Veldman said when several youngsters bartered for new bicycles earlier this year, the directors realised the initiative could be expanded beyond paying for school fees.

The Wildlands Conservation Trust is also negotiating with Unilever for its surplus production to be made available to the tree stores, while a supermarket chain is considering donating food vouchers in exchange for the trees.

The trust is also encouraging firms to hold corporate drives to donate goods to the tree stores.

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