Fighting Climate Change, One Tree At Time

South Africa has experienced a variety of environmental hardships stemming from climate change and the threat of global warming. Land has been left barren due to heavy settlement, urban development, and poor land management. Additionally there is widespread soil erosion, wetland degradation, and endangered species. Recognizing that the simple act of planting a tree could be an effective mitigation tactic, Jeunesse Park founded Food & Trees for Africa (FTFA) in 1990. What started with the Trees for All program has since expanded to include 6 programs dedicated to mitigation, education, sustainability, and improving the environment and surrounding communities.

  • Trees for All: Helps individuals and businesses distribute and plant trees in communities across Southern Africa with the goal of offsetting carbon emissions
  • Trees for Homes: Combines tree planting in low-income communities with education and short-term employment opportunities
  • Food Gardens for Africa: Helps to ensure food security in schools and communities by fundraising and providing resources for permaculture food gardens
  • Eduplant: Blends gardening and food education with a student competition that has been implemented in thousands of schools
  • Farmer Eco Enterprise Development (FEED): Supports new organic farmers through land and infrastructure development
  • SED: blends a past project, Bamboo for Africa, and FEED to help entrepreneurs and micro-entrepreneurs through their first stages of development

Food and Trees for Africa has become a vital component of the sustainable development and mitigation of climate change in South Africa. Through these diverse programs and continued efforts, the quality of life in communities and the environment in South Africa are improving. FTFA is the only South African social and environmental enterprise of its kind that develops, promotes, and also facilitates its programs. A social enterprise is a hybrid of legal forms that blends elements of a non-profit with a for profit business. FTFA works closely with the government, private and public sectors to develop a sustainable future in the country. They are largely funded by donations, membership support, tree/garden sales, and crowd funding.

I had an opportunity to chat with Kate Bezuidenhout from FTFA about how the enterprise has uplifted the quality of life in South Africa and addressed the ominous challenge of climate change:

What would you describe as the biggest accomplishment of FTFA to date?

Planting over 4.2 million trees across underprivileged communities in South Africa. These trees have provided shade for many people, dust control around the community, play areas for children, respite for animals, biodiversity in denuded areas, carbon offsets, increased property value for the area and many more benefits. We reduce food insecurities by training and planting permaculture-inspired food gardens to empower and feed communities through schools (EduPlant program) and Food Gardens For Africa (FGFA program).

In general, have you been successful in mitigating climate change and creating social change?

Yes, education is a key component to our projects and is integrated through childhood learning and building community skills. Our Food Gardens For Africa (FGFA) program provides training and education for the development of permaculture food gardens which alleviates food insecurity and provides income generating opportunities. Enabling communities to create their own businesses and nutritious meals reduces crime and builds morale in the townships. The multitude of trees have removed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, regulated rain run-off in the communities where they were planted, and increased the resilience of communities.

What is the biggest challenge facing FTFA?

The biggest challenges we face is fundraising. The organizations that support us are experiencing budgets reductions; companies are investing in renewable energy rather than trees and food security; there is less disposable income in society so our donations have decreased; and lastly “climate change fatigue/green fatigue”. We find this is playing a bigger and bigger role over time. There is complacency in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change because people are ”fatigued” — they have a lot to worry about already, and climate change is hard to make real, tangible for people.

What do you see in the future of FTFA? Are there any projects that are in the works that you could discuss?

Small Enterprise Development (SED) builds our green economy. FTFA offers our larger sponsors the opportunity to sponsor the development of small-scale agricultural projects through our Farmer Eco-Enterprise Development (FEED) program. Our Bamboo for Africa program is being re-launched in the coastal areas of South Africa, specifically KwaZulu Natal and Eastern Cape. This carbon registered project will allow companies in South Africa to offset their carbon emissions and ultimately their tax liability under the new Carbon Tax due to be implemented in 2016.

Food and Trees for Africa has proven that planting trees can breathe life back into a community. Could their model help revive a world fatigued by climate change?

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