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Toni Robinson, From Grundon Waste Management and Vivian Frost, Client Relationship Manager at The CarbonNeutral Company, are currently visiting the Uganda Community Reforestation Project. Toni's live account of the two-day trip reflects the individuals they meet and her first-hand experience of the project's significant impact on the community.
By Toni Robinson, Compliance Manager at Grundon Waste Management
On the (steeper) ground in Uganda
We began our day at the edge of the Queen Elizabeth National Park, which was uncharacteristically covered in mist and rain, a gentle nod to its English visitors perhaps.
After yesterday’s exploration and voyage of discovery, we were keen to get further insight into the role of quantifiers within the project areas and the challenges they face in capturing what's happening on the ground. We have been joined by the Bushenyi quantifiers for the duration of the visit and through their interactions and explanations, it’s clear they have developed strong relationships with the farming community.
They explained that the first audit of the trees happens after 6 months of planting and this involves the counting and recording of the number of trees. One year on from this stage, they then plot the GPS location of the grove through the use of handheld technologies while they walk the grove boundary. Each tree is also counted again and the first circumference measurement is taken, recorded and filed. Quantifiers annually revisit the groves and an auditor will accompany them to verify their work.
To appreciate the steep gradients and long distances the quantifiers cover on a daily basis, we walked one of the grove routes and our sturdy hiking boots proved their value against the uneven surfaces and flowing mud. Pamela, a quantifier in the Kabale region, showed her confidence and experience in this environment by wearing a smart pinstripe skirt and jacket with flip flops and remained immaculate throughout our day; a true expert in her field!
We visited a range of groves across different terrain; from very steep hillsides, to plots next to crater lakes and smaller plots behind houses and along roadsides. The range of locations and the use of available space emphasises the importance the reforestation has in the region. Despite this, the impact of deforestation does not go unnoticed. Areas used as timber plots, hillsides smouldering from burning cut-down vegetation and cooking wood and charcoal being transported between villages are all indicative that the problems of deforestation are still widespread here.
The TIST project is founded on five core values: honesty, accuracy, accountability, low-budget and volunteerism. These are embedded in the way they approach the people involved and the management of the activity. With wood appearing to be such a valuable commodity, farmers are encouraged to build an alternative source of income, such as crop or food selling. TIST ensure new farmers apportion enough land to cultivating food and creating space for household and livestock, in addition to growing the trees for carbon reduction. Often farmers who only plant trees are rejected from the project as experience has shown them this approach lacks sustainability in terms of food sustenance for families. With our arms laden with gifted fruits such as avocados, pineapples and local specialities, we certainly saw first-hand how prosperous the “beyond carbon” farming can be.
Our time here finished with a drive back to Mbarara with Pamela, who continued to share her knowledge with ardent enthusiasm. Goodbyes were sincere and heartfelt and the hospitality and kindness we’ve received over the last two days will never be forgotten. This experience has really brought the project to life for me and it’s been a privilege to meet such wonderful people who are passionate about the environment and developing their communities and lives in a sustainable way. Everyone we’ve met has offered a story and a smile and I will not be able to think of them without one myself.
On the ground in Uganda
Vivian and I have arrived in southwest Uganda to visit the community-based Reforestation Projects in the regions around Bushenyi, Kabale and Kanungu. Consisting of over 5,000 farmers, the scale of the operation is impressive and in addition to tree planting for carbon sequestration, the project brings many benefits to the communities and farmers involved. We have spent today visiting various groves and farms to get a deeper understanding of the livelihood impact this project has beyond the carbon.
The genuine passion and commitment to this initiative from the local people has been overwhelming and outdone only by their enthusiasm to meet with us. Ara, the lead administrator, met with us and shared his knowledge of the project functionality, emphasising the strong network it’s creating in each of the areas. The growith in community spirit, the training and education delivered and the emotional support offered to the smallhold farmers was apparent in any interactions we had - This was made clear to us, whether it be Enoch, who enthusiastically works as a trainer, to Pamela, a quantifier, whose job is to measure the carbon sequestered from the trees, or the wealth of farmers, trainers and other quantifiers eager to meet and talk with us.
Today’s particular highlight was in meeting Yasin Biraali at his grove in the Kanyinya small group. This eloquent farmer toured us around his smallholding with pride, distinguishing the fruit trees from cash crops, such as chilli peppers which he sells through a Ugandan government initiative. His enthusiasm was palatable and through his explanations we learned the importance of the fruit trees for food and trading. This importance is clear to Yasin, but he works hard to educate other farmers about the value of the fruit trees on their land - “He, who grows fruit, will have many grandchildren” is part of his endearing encouragement.
We then made a brief stop-over at the Local District Forestry Office to learn about how closely TIST farmers work with local government officials willing to share agro-forestry techniques. This open and helpful communication allows for best practice information sharing which is applied by farmers to enhance farm productivity.
Our day continued to educate and inspire us when we met a woman named Joyce, who was having a new fuel-efficient cookstove constructed in her out-kitchen. A large group of other farmers and project members had gathered to help and they explained the cookstoves are a new initiative, designed and implemented by the TIST farmers, which are being rolled out across their farming network. The stoves improve air quality and minimise smoke inhalation, compared with traditional cooking and heating methods, and this can lead to a positive impact on health, particularly for women who do the majority of these household roles.
We spent a lot of the afternoon at Joyce's farm and really saw conservation farming in action. Through training provided by the project trainers and at community farmer meetings, Joyce learned a range of farming techniques which enable her to grow healthy yields of pineapples, avocados, eggplant, and squash. This nutritious food can be both eaten or sold and is done alongside her tree farming, building a sustainable source of food and a livelihood for her.
Today has been an incredible journey of discovery, education and understanding. The number of farmers eager to speak to with us is encouraging and tomorrow promises to be another full and exhilarating day. I am as equally eager to get started!