We spent two months in Tanzania this summer volunteering for the organisation Envirocare, which is fighting deforestation and working to help people transition into sustainable agricultural practices through agroforestry. We stayed in Mpemba, a dusty little town near the border of Zambia, where we lived in a house alongside Chris, the leader of Envirocare, and his wife Veronica.
The project consisted of two things: First, going to schools and teaching students about the impacts of deforestation and climate change. Second, establishing tree nurseries with the schools. A tree nursery is a small patch of land where tree seeds are planted with the intention of being relocated once they sprout, so that they can be replanted in areas affected by deforestation. This is needed work in Tanzania, as most of the population rely on firewood as their source of fuel, and this is leading to widespread deforestation. It is estimated that within about two years, the projects we participated in will result in ten million trees being planted in collaboration with schools.
We visited 21 schools during our time in Mpemba. Many of them were situated far into the remote countryside, and we had to travel along extremely bumpy roads in cars that frequently broke down to get to them. In one memorable incident, the exhaust pot completely fell off our car as we were trying to cross some train-tracks in a five-seater filled with nine people. The students we taught were very curious about us, and at every school, once the roughly two hour lesson (Covering the importance of trees, deforestation, climate change and agroforestry) was over, and the tree nursery had been established, there was about a half hour or more at the end of the day that never failed to turn into a photoshoot in which both students and teachers participated eagerly.
In our lesson, we taught the students about the role trees play in local and global ecosystems, and and also underlined the benefits we get from cutting them down, and how deforestation, which most of the Tanzanian population rely on for firewood etc. is in fact needed and natural. But the emphasis that we kept returning to throughout the lesson was that problems arise when trees are cut down on a large scale, and not replanted. We then spoke about the negative effects deforestation has both ecologically and socially. For example, soil erosion, which is one of the effects of deforestation, causes harm to all plants and animals, including food crops that people need to survive. Next we spoke about how deforestation inks into the bigger issue of climate change, and emphasised the ways in which climate change will in particular affect the global south; even though young Tanzanians are among the people least responsible in the world for climate change, they may be among the first people in the world to bear the brunt of the negative effects of it, especially through droughts, which was a serious problem in the area of Tanzania we were in. We concluded the lesson on a hopeful note, by talking about agroforestry as one way we can fight these alarming trends. Agroforestry is integrating trees into farming systems. One of the primary causes for deforestation is clearing land for agriculture. However, there are ways one can combine trees and crops so that there is a symbiotic relationship between the two, that could end up with more agricultural output and more healthy robust soil and crops.
When the lesson was over, we established a tree nurseries with the students at the school, with the intended purpose of the seedlings being planted on the school grounds as well as the students being able to bring seedlings home to plant on their family farm or otherwise around their local community. This was gratifying work, and we are very happy we got the opportunity to support Envirocare, led by Christopher Simwinga, in the important work he and his organisation are doing.