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Adopting trees to improve environment, mitigate climate change

Dr.Charles Batte, Chief Executive Officer, the Tree Adoption Uganda (TAU).(PHOTO/Abraham)

KAMPALA – Tree Adoption Uganda a youth-led not for profit organisation is geared towards reviving the environment.

PML Daily’s Abraham MUTALYEBWA spoke to Dr. Charles Batte about his passion for the environment and how they together with others came to start the organisation

1. What is Tree Adoption Uganda?

Tree Adoption Uganda (TAU) is a youth-centric NGO powered by the vision of creating communities where people and nature flourish. Through landscape restoration activities like planting trees and agro-forestry, we build resilience for smallholder farmers against the changing climate while economically empowering unemployed young people in Uganda’s rural communities through education and training on setting up and managing indigenous tree nurseries and tree farms. We bring tree planting to the very heart of each individual family all over the country, focusing on inspiring a nature-inclined transformation and change of heart in each member of a household. This way we arouse a passion among community members to work towards sustainable agricultural practices, conservation and restoration of under green areas.

2. Many NGOs are emerging in the environmental field, especially on climate change, but we don’t see any impact. What is so unique about Tree Adoption Uganda?

At TAU we use a people-centred design approach to our work. Our solutions/interventions are not prescriptive or thought out in boardrooms of expensive hotels but are created together with the communities they are intended to impact. We focus more on a change in the mindset of the people concerned because we know that the only way to see the positive social impact we so seek is to create millions of environmental stewards that understand what is at stake for them and for our planet and are intrinsically motivated to preserve, restore and conserve.

3. What areas of the environment are you focusing on?

Our work is focused on three core areas:

i) Environmental education & Youth empowerment: Our focus here is to meaningfully engage young people in the creation of environmentally conscious communities. We are cognizant of the fact that today’s young people are tomorrow’s social, economic, political and environmental leaders. Their future leadership styles, choices and decisions will be immensely influenced by what they see, hear, learn and engage in today.

Our environmental education aims to create a change in young people’s mindsets, knowledge, attitude and behaviour towards the environment. We conduct context relevant environmental education for young people, to increase their environmental awareness, foster a connection between youth and nature and guide their formulation of knowledge, beliefs, perception and civic engagement on environmental issues such as conservation, restoration and sustainability.

ii) Transparent Reforestation: Over the years we noted that transparency and efficiency of tree planting (TP) initiatives are limited due to the manual processes of recording TP data. Through work on pilots with our partners at EcoMatcher Ltd, we identified that emerging technology, not yet highly utilized by TP organizations, could increase transparency and efficiency of recording and managing TP data.

Together with our partners, we have completed the development of a technology platform and mobile phone application that enables tree data for every tree planted to be recorded easily. This robust and user-friendly platform eliminates doubts about TP data and is almost immediately accessible by anyone.

Currently, we capture an image of each tree we plant, species of the tree, a farmer planting the tree, date of planting and Global Positioning System (GPS) location of the tree with one-click of the mobile application. The data is saved to the cloud and can be accessed remotely. This gives confidence to institutions that want to fund/invest in tree planting because they can then monitor the trees planted on their behalf and have data about the individuals or communities whose lives the trees they donate impact.

iii) Environment and Health: Climate change is closely related to health. A worsening climate means poor health for our communities. Poor unpredictable rains threaten food security for our communities. Reduced crop yields lead to malnutrition, hunger and starvation. Changing temperatures result in changes in vectors of diseases making their spread more rampant. Natural catastrophes like floods, mudslides, et al lead to loss of life. We aim to demystify the linkages between climate and health and advocate for a multi-sectoral, multi-disciplinary approach to policy formulation.

4. Which communities/areas have benefited from TAU?

We started our work in the central region communities of Mpigi District where we have so far worked with 835 individual households on sustainable land management approaches and planted over 85,000 trees through collaborative agro-forestry in communities – 5,000 of these trees have been mapped by GPS coordinates in our new innovative tree tracking effort.

In addition, we have trained 2,500 young people across the country on variable aspects of environmental conservation ranging from setting up tree nurseries, grafting, pruning, propagation, human and nature interactions.
The global community has benefited as well from our activities, our recently concluded #TreeHuggers challenges saw over 60,000 people across the world connect with trees in their communities and share their experience which has been a great way to create awareness.

5. Briefly tell us about your success stories so far.

For me success is when an individual that has either volunteered with us or heard about our work and mission becomes intrinsically motivated to take action. When young people in India, Peru, Australia, Nigeria, Ghana among other places across the globe write to me and say we want to do the same work in our communities or when an individual makes the decision to take action every day at his home or community then I have achieved my goals – yes even if it is just a single individual.

However, TAU’s work has had success on the global stage with recognition such as: Having the Winner, Your Big Year Global Award for Social Enterprise (2012), His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales Sustainable Living Entrepreneurs Award (2014), Winner, Commonwealth Youth Bright Ideas (2015) , Winner, United Nations Framework for climate change Convention (UNFCCC) Youth Impact Video Award, Winner, World Global Energy Award (2017), Regional Winner, Commonwealth Youth Worker Award (2017).

Our work has also been presented in keynote speeches at global events such as the World Forestry Congress – Durban, The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) – Malta, The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Committee on Food Security (CFS) in Rome, The Conference of Parties (COP 21) and United Nations Framework for Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) – Paris, among others.

6. Which measures have you put in place to make sure that there is the sustainability of the trees planted?

A tree needs to be cared for closely until at least its third birthday to ensure that it continues to grow. This is challenging because we plant in several communities and our small team cannot thus monitor each individual tree. We have addressed this by creating partnerships with families in the community where we work.

Each tree we plant has an individual family or household taking care of it. We share the benefits – as the trees grow and sequester carbon from the atmosphere (which is what we want to see as TAU and its partners) the household enjoys all the other benefits of the tree such as environmental modification, fruits, fodder for animals, mulch and also owns the tree. This way, people are motivated to take care of the trees because of the shared benefits.

7. TAU is a youth-led organisation, what should the youth do to contribute towards this initiative?

The key is participating, take action and spread the word. We have several tree planting campaigns where young people can join and get their hands dirty while interacting with communities and nature, for example, we plan to plant 15,000 trees in Nakaseke this rainy season starting May 25th. We also have several online campaigns on social media intended to create awareness and also encourage the youth to take action in their communities and share their activities with us.

8. How should corporate bodies join TAU to make a difference since they have a CSR component?

When I was young my father would occasionally come home with a pen branded with a logo of a bank or any other corporate company. Today, I see diaries, notebooks, caps custom made by companies to gift the loyal customers. We are working on disrupting this corporate gifting space and encouraging companies to harness environmentally focused sentiments in rewarding their customers. They can engage with us in the following ways:

a) Corporate Gifting: For each tree or trees planted we produce a Green Certificate with the company name, tree species and GPS location. The company can use these certificates as gifts for its loyal customers instead of for instance giving out pens or diaries. The tree on the certificate will be the customer’s adopted tree. The customer feels good that a tree was planted in his or her name by the company that he/she banks with, buys a drink from among other things, arouses his/her environmental conservation interest and awareness. The customer places the certificate in his/her office or living room – and tells everyone who sees it about the tree and the company that rewarded their loyal customer. What better way to market your brand?

Some the youth at one of the tree planting campaign. (PHOTO/ Abraham)

b) People of the world forests: Companies can use their CSR budgets to sponsor our “people of the world forests” – this is a new product that involves identifying an acre or more of land and planting it with a mix of local indigenous tree species that will not be cut down. The companies participate in the selection of what species they want to be planted and their employees come out to do the planting which can promote team building. We will create these small pockets of forests in communities around the country and also allow people (individuals) to adopt trees planted in these “people of the world forests”.

9. The culture of preserving and conserving the environment among the millennial is phasing out and most do not even bother about it. How can they get involved?

We need to make environmental conservation activities fun and tailor them to what attracts young people. In other words, we need to make activities like tree planting, recycling plastic among others the next cool thing. We cannot undermine the importance of environmental education and creating awareness, though. TAU is currently engaging in writing storybooks about the climate change story and developing an environmental education curriculum for young people that will introduce these concepts early to the next generation and foster an environment centred world view for them.

10. TAU is organising a project in Nakaseke. What should we expect?

Trees4Nakaseke is aimed at planting 15,000 trees in Nakaseke in the months of May and June. In addition, we shall create two “people of the world forests” where we will allow individuals to adopt trees in this forest as their contribution to the environment. On May 25th we will have a massive planting day and we encourage people to sign up and join us in

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