Tree Nursery in the Dessert

Just imagine a region in East-Africa. It is a region similar to the Sahel concerning its climate. Just feature, that there was no rain for about three years and now think about, that thousands of people need firewood, because they have to prepare the food they get as destitute from an international donor agency.

In this situation I was responsible for about 8.000 people who lived in 23 small villages where they settled in order to get support. In their normal way of life, they would live as nomadic people with their animals and about 80% of their food would be a mixture of milk and blood.

And this food doesn’t need any energy to make it ready for consumption.

Due to the food (maize, dried fish, oil, milk powder and so on) the need for firewood was growing immense and it speeded up the desertification in the whole region. Seeing this problem I invited weekly (for several weeks) a special council of elders. It was from every village one member of their council of elders. So whenever we met, I spoke about the problem of firewood and the vanishing of trees and bushes. I always talked about the problem, but never suggested solutions.

During these meetings the male are sitting on a small chair which is used at night as a neckrest, whereas the female are sitting on the ground. During the fifth meeting – after I had talked again about the problem of firewood – one of the elders brought the idea up, to plant trees and bushes. I then played my role, because I was all the time waiting for such a proposal. So I jumped up on my feet, my chair fell down and immediately talked about this very clever idea and told them, that would like to assist and together we will find ways to put that idea into reality. I mentioned that I have a book in my house where there is written and shown how a tree nursery can be implemented and that I am willing to assist.

That was the kick-off of the tree nursery in that our region. We decided to place the nursery in one of the villages where we had already dug a shallow well and so it happened. After about six month the seedlings are big enough for planting. Each family got 15 to 20 small trees or bushes. Their task was to plant these seedlings, water them once a week up to the next rainy season and to protect them from being eaten up by animals.

This was in 1982. In 1985 this tree nursery still existed despite the fact that no volunteer from abroad was there since June 1983.

Conclusion: The tree nursery was seen as the own project of the people and not as the project of the “foreigner”. This was – and I am convinced till now – the reason that the tree nursery was still there.

[Michael Röhm, Thüngersheim/Germany]

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