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Tree-preneurs make ‘green jobs’ a reality

29 Sep  2010

Small groups of entrepreneurs in rural KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Gauteng are earning livelihoods and supporting themselves while helping to green South Africa and reduce the impact of climate change.

The initiative is run by the Wildlands Conservation Trust’s Indigenous Trees for Life Programme, supported by the Old Mutual Foundation in the Mzimela and Luphisi communities. It’s enabling the so-called tree-preneurs to grow thousands of trees while earning sustainable livelihoods.

The trees are then traded back to Wildlands for food, clothes, bicycles, agricultural goods and tools at ‘Tree Store’ days, and even school and university fees can be traded. The trees are either planted back in the communities or in Wildlands’ forest restoration projects.

An example of the project’s success is the Mzimela tree-preneur node, established around the edge of the Ongoye Forest within the community of Mzimela, outside Mtunzini in KwaZulu-Natal.

More than 55 000 trees have been propagated to date by Mzimela tree-preneurs since 2008. By the end of this year another 25 000 trees will be planted on local community members’ land that is adjacent to the forest, once the spring rains have fallen. The tree-preneur node was established in this particular community to supply trees for the establishment of a carbon sink. A carbon sink is a storage mechanism that absorbs and retains carbon. Indigenous forests are excellent carbon sinks as they absorb carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Susan Viljoen, Indigenous Trees for Life’s Assistant Programme Manager says: “The aim is to re-establish indigenous forest on areas that historically were covered in forest, but have since been cleared for subsistence farming. As an incentive to planting and keeping the indigenous trees on their portions of land, Mzimela landowners will be recompensed for each month that the trees survive.”

Laying the foundation

The Old Mutual Foundation’s support since 2007 has laid the foundation for enabling tree supply to the reforestation project from local tree-preneurs, she adds.

Mrs Viljoen notes that in the community of Luphisi near Nelspruit, Mpumulanga, tree-preneurs have since 2008 propagated more than 39 000 trees, including an abundance of Marulas, Combretums (Bushwillows) and Weeping Boer Bean trees.

Their zeal has enabled them to acquire much-needed goods, such as Hippo Rollers, which are 100-litre drums with a handle that can be rolled along the ground, alleviating the back-breaking task of carrying water. Luphisi tree-preneurs have also been able to acquire school uniforms and have their school fees paid for with their tree credits.

At least 10 000 of the Marula trees grown by Luphisi tree-preneurs have been purchased by the Seriti Institute, which will use these trees to green 24 different communities around the country.

In the last financial year, 557 beneficiaries in Mzimela and Luphisi have benefited from the project and earned goods for themselves to the value of nearly R260 000.

Old Mutual Foundation spokesperson Ayanda Sema says: “Projects like this are an excellent example of how ordinary South Africans are eager to grasp the idea of ‘green jobs’ to forge livelihoods for themselves and their communities.

“These are just some of the ways in which Old Mutual Foundation’s support is being used to enable innovative initiatives that provide green jobs and make a difference to not only the environment and climate change mitigation, but to many individual lives,” says Ms Sema.


Gogo Mzimela with her grand-daughter Sibusiswe Nxele
joined the tree-preneur project in 2008 and have
traded at Tree Stores since then, earning
themselves food, basic goods and even a soccer ball.
Download (720kb)

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