Sweetwaters ‘tree-preneurs’ are growing places

2010-03-13 00:00

THE Hilton-based NGO, the Wildlands Conservation Trust, has spread its Indigenous Trees for Life programme to its own back yard. Started in rural communities in Zululand in 2004, the programme has now been introduced in the Sweetwaters and Swapo communities of Pietermaritzburg, with funding from Unilever SA.

Indigenous Trees for Life is a livelihoods programme aimed at uplifting poor and vulnerable children and adults. The “tree-preneurs” grow indigenous trees from seed, care for the plants until they reach a certain height and then trade them back to Wildlands for food, clothes, bicycles, agricultural goods and even school and university fees. The trees they grow are then used for reforestation projects or planted back into their communities.

In September 2009, facilitators were appointed from within the communities of Sweetwaters and Swapo. The facilitators approach children and adults who are keen to learn about growing trees and show them how to find indigenous seed in the bush. They then grow and nurture the seed into plants which can be traded for credit notes and spent at a “tree store” arranged by Wildlands.

Zanele Ngubane is 11 years old and in grade five at Mashaka Primary. She lives in Mbutshane in Sweetwaters and has 110 trees she has grown from seed. She has replanted them into containers of recycled yoghurt tubs and plastic bottles to allow them to grow to a height of between 30 and 50 centimetres.

Martha Ngcobo is unemployed and has four children. She has 187 indigenous trees planted out in plastic containers in her yard in Madwaleni in Sweetwaters. She hopes the trees will be tall enough to trade at the first tree store in April 2010 to buy groceries.

Siyanda Zuma is a facilitator with the programme. He says: “We are helping people, and they are helping us conserve nature. Before, I thought all trees were the same, but now it is part of my DNA, and how I look at things.” Siyanda has learnt to identify indigenous trees and teaches this to the tree-preneurs. He also explains that indigenous trees increase biodiversity of bird and animal species in an area, where alien plants tend to use a lot more water and often spread very quickly.

Project manager Hlengiwe Mthembu says they are hoping to hold four tree stores a year in the Pietermaritzburg projects, as the tree-preneurs now have trees reaching heights ready to trade.

“As soon as we hold a tree store, we will see interest in the project grow further as the rest of the community see the tree-preneurs spending their tree income.”

A further project will be started in Edendale shortly.

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