Plant a Tree, Grow a Friend

CFI's Rural Innovation Campus allows local communities to experiment, pilot, and demonstrate new ideas in forest conservation in Pemba, Tanzania. (Credit: Community Forests Pemba)
CFI’s Rural Innovation Campus allows local communities to experiment, pilot, and demonstrate new ideas in forest conservation in Pemba, Tanzania. (Credit: Community Forests Pemba)

How does a grassroots organization match effective sustainable development with meaningful forest research in rural Africa?

Through true partnership.

There is something incredibly valuable about a community project starting out of friendship. The goals of the project then go beyond the scope of the project itself. Community Forests International began when Executive Director Jeff Schnurr’s friend Mbarouk Mussa Omar asked Jeff if they could plant some trees together on his home island Pemba, Tanzania. Rather than playing the role of an “expert” with a limited timeline, Jeff was simply being a friend. He and Mbarouk were learning and generating ideas together. And when Jeff returned to Canada, there was a continuing sense of responsibility to work alongside his friend.

This commitment to relationship building has moved beyond the two friends to become the cornerstone for CFI’s community development initiatives across Pemba. Since 2008, more than one million trees have been planted on Pemba, and many more projects have grown from this.

In the past year, Community Forests Pemba, under the leadership of Mbarouk, built the facilities for a Rural Innovation Campus. Community members from across Pemba can come to learn, share, and conduct their own research around building the island’s resilience to climate change and creating economic opportunities at the same time. The Rural Innovation Campus puts the values of incentivization and participation at the centre of its applied research model.

CFI and CFP projects and research are incentivized. This means that we commit to finding projects that conserve and restore Pemba’s forests, and also provide new economic opportunities for local community members. In one exciting project, a women’s group from the town of Chasasa learned how to manufacture technologically appropriate fuel-efficient clay stoves that use half the amount of wood as traditional models. These women then went on to train people around Pemba, providing opportunities for new small businesses to grow. The Rural Innovation Campus offers similar opportunities on a greater scale. New technologies can be piloted and communities on the island can witness the possibilities for the positive outcomes of forest conservation and expanding Pemba’s resilience to climate change.

CFI and CFP projects are participatory. We seek to first build trusting relationships in the communities in which we work. This involves giving communities ownership over the projects and the space to refuse work they are unsure about. When tree nurseries are established, Community Forests Pemba acts as a facilitator between different community groups and local leaders, ensuring the full participation of locals who want to be involved. The local community decides together what types of trees they want to plant and how they want to sustainably manage the forests. Community Forests Pemba is also committed to obtaining the rights to the common forested land for the communities. This is a significant step in CFI’s participatory approach. When communities have complete ownership over the land, they are able to plan for the long-term sustainable management of the land.

The research carried out at the Rural Innovation Campus is rooted in participation as well. CFI believes that the best technology and greatest innovative ideas that will mitigate climate change in rural Africa will come from rural Africans themselves. Providing the space for those on the forefront of climate change research to experiment, pilot, and demonstrate new ideas will allow the work of CFI to reach other rural communities in Tanzania, and East Africa.

This applied research model to forest conservation and sustainable development requires constant feedback, a high level of self-awareness at the organization level, and the ability to self criticize when projects are not working for everyone involved. However, the long-term impacts of building trusting and meaningful relationships with those directly impacted by the work has far-reaching benefits that will be seen for generations to come.

Community Forests International and Community Forests Pemba are sister organizations that work to connect people and their communities to the forests that sustain them, in Pemba, Tanzania; New Brunswick, Canada; and beyond. To find out more, check out CFI’s website here: http://forestsinternational.org/about-us

Written by: Madeleine Smith
Affiliation: Community Forests International
Country: Canada


 

This post is entry #26 in the #IUFRO2014 Blog Competition. The most popular entry will receive a certificate and 500 USD. The second and third most popular entries will receive a certificate and copy of the new book, “Forests and Globalization: Challenges and Opportunities for Sustainable Development”.

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