Cape Town — It's Arbor Month in South Africa and the government has encouraged its citizens to get their hands dirty and plant trees. Dedicating a month to tree-planting may seem a laudable goal, but one person chose to take that vision further and combat deforestation in Tanzania. But what would an initiative that aims to introduce 50 million trees around Mount Kilimanjaro require and what was the inspiration for it?
allAfrica's Andre van Wyk spoke to Trees 4 Kilimanjaro's (T4K) Jeremy Lowney to find out more.
The path to growing a forest
For Jeremy Lowney, combatting climate change in Tanzania was more than just a moral obligation. It was a divine directive. His brainchild, the T4K project, aims to tackle deforestation at an unprecedented scale and came about shortly after his arrival in Tanzania.
"My family and I came to Tanzania for the first time in 2001 as Christian missionaries. My background was in Forestry and Natural Resource Management. My friend, Terevael Nasari, invited me to come and see what is going on in the country and I saw Mt. Kilimanjaro's glaciers for the first time. Sadly, I saw the heavy exploitation and mismanagement of resources also," Lowney said.
Three years later, Lowney and his mission began planting trees to act as a windbreak against dust devils, small whirlwinds that posed a threat to the mission's farmland in Boma Ng'ombe during the dry season. "I was informed that Boma was formerly bushland full of wild animals less than 20 years prior. The rivers were drying up. The glaciers on Kilimanjaro were obviously melting."
The mission's efforts eventually started bringing greater change to the local flora and fauna in the area."In our 28-acre property owned by the mission, we have planted thousand of trees and fenced the land. The indigenous trees and shrubs are coming back by the thousands. We are amazed by the number of species of plants, birds, small animals, insects (bees), and other associated species which are thriving here." While numbers of spiders dropped, insect varieties like beetles, butterflies and other beneficial species flourished, an environmental transformation that did not go unnoticed by Lowney.
Changing Kilimanjaro's environment
By 2012, he decided to reverse the effects of the area's deforestation, taking it as a mission from God. "It was a huge endeavour, but with a very small budget and willing hearts, we started growing trees in nurseries to supply to our neighbours, churches, missions, and schools."
Lowney's dedication has seen over 120,000 trees planted around the lowlands of Mt. Kilimanjaro, from Same to Kingori. "We established 13 'Tree Schools' in Hai District to teach young students the value of trees and how to grow them. Students grow trees from seeds and then plant them at their schools and homes," he added.
The project has seen cooperation with local government and fellow tree growers as well, supplying schools, churches and community reforestation areas with trees that Lowney says has brought a noticeable difference to Boma Ng'ombe. "People who know Boma now see it and say 'It is so green!' That makes me very happy. One day it will be a forest again."
Why reforestation is more important now
T4K's reforestation efforts mirror calls from Greenpop which aims to plant 500,000 trees by 2025. The non-profit-organisation has planted trees and worked on environmental projects across sub-Saharan Africa, having planted just over 115 000 trees in the last nine years in urban greening, reforestation and conservation agriculture projects.
Zoe Gauld-Angelucci, Greenpop Head of Programmes, says: "The drivers of forest degradation in Sub-Saharan Africa are multiple and compounding. From unregulated logging (often by foreign companies) to clearing for cash crops, to overuse of trees for fuel, human activity is putting increasing and devastating pressure on forest ecosystems."
According to Greenpop, focused mass reforestation efforts have the potential to restore ecosystems while also improving the integrity of the soil and increasing water quality. Misha Teasdale, CEO of Greenpop, says: "We don't have time to wait. Individuals, organisations, companies, and governments must take action. We have an opportunity now. There is a window to actively do something that can change the course of our existence. We can make history or let our inaction decide for us."