Trees give life and hope around Lake Victoria

Published 11 December 2017 in:

Farmers in four countries around Lake Victoria in eastern Africa are turning over a new leaf by stopping the clear-felling of trees and branching out into agroforestry. The move will not only improve their local environment and livelihoods, it just might bring them out of the woods when it comes to climate change.

Soil erosion, wind-damaged houses, drowned children, hunger: all of this can be prevented by planting trees and the application of agroforestry know-how. The Swedish aid organisation Vi-skogen is working with four countries around Lake Victoria to reverse the trend of deteriorating ecosystems.

The land around Lake Victoria in eastern Africa is fertile and the natural conditions for life are good, but considerable deforestation and climate change have led to a deteriorating ecosystem and major challenges for the impoverished people who live there. The negative trend can be reversed, however. Below, four people explain how.

Fatuma Yasin, Tanzania, is a just a child but she has already experienced how extreme weather events can claim victims. One day, not so long ago, it was pouring down and the road in front of her family’s house was rapidly transformed into a torrent. From her window, Fatuma witnessed some of her schoolmates being swept away in the flood waters. A couple of weeks later they were found drowned in Lake Victoria. But Fatuma and her friends believe in a better future and therefore joined the ‘tree club’ at Nyamugere Primary School. With the support of Vi-skogen, children learn about the environment, and the climate, and how they can fight climate change together. “The tree club has changed my life. We have learned how important it is to take care of the environment, and that we can help to save the climate by planting trees,” says Fatuma, who has also been taught how to establish and cultivate kitchen gardens.

When 70-year-old Jane Okoth, Kenya, was a child the mango trees around her village were weighed down with fruit. “When there was no work and no food to sell, people started to cut down the trees to earn money,” says Jane Okoth. “The land in the village was cleared and the soil became dry and dusty. It was difficult to make the crops grow and produce enough food. The lack of trees also meant that the area was exposed to the wind. On several occasions, roofs were blown from houses.” But today it is quiet here. Thanks to the work of Vi-skogen, Jane and her husband received training in sustainable agricultural methods and how trees can play a crucial role. So far, the family has planted more than 1 500 trees on their land. “We learned about the benefits we can gain from trees. I have really learned that we must take care of the environment. If we stop planting trees, the land will die again,” she says.

Jean-Marie Vianney Ntakirutimana, Rwanda, lives in a rural area, as do 90 per cent of the country’s population. It is a hard and vulnerable life. The slightest change in the weather can have serious consequences. Too much rain and the harvest will be washed away. Too little rain and the crops will be ruined. It often ends in hunger. But Jean-Marie has a trump card: he is a member of his school’s tree club. Thanks to the support of Vi-skogen, he and his friends at Kinishya Secondary School are learning about the environment, the climate and how planting trees can reduce the effects of droughts and floods. They take what they learn at the tree club home with them – and into the future. With the right knowledge, they can take the step out of poverty and turn the family farm into a source of income, not just a source of food on the table. “I have taught my family how to take care of the environment by planting trees and terracing our land to protect it from soil erosion. I have planted 20 trees on my own,” he says.

Saidat Nakayinga’s farm in Uganda is flourishing. But this has not always been the case. The barren hills around the town of Mpigi still bear witness to this. Seven years ago, tree-felling began here, leading to the eradication of plants and animals, desertification, floods, hunger and poverty. Deforestation is creeping ever closer to the farmers’ homes. The turning point for Saidat’s family was when they joined the village farming group. Through Vi-skogen, Saidat Nakayinga and her husband received training in agroforestry, which involves planting trees and crops side-by-side, building swales to save rainwater and composting with the help of leaves from the trees. “Vi-skogen taught us how to take the best care of the soil, and we started by adding manure from animals and compost. Now the soil is much more fertile and we get good harvests,” says Saidat Nakayinga.

This case relates to Global Goal 15: Life on land

Read more about Vi-skogen