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A battle against time: Climate action on the frontlines of a changing world

08th November 2023

The world is changing. Temperatures are rising. Weather patterns are becoming scattered – unpredictable.  

In the battle against the climate crisis, it so happens that the most vulnerable regions on earth are the ones that have contributed to it the least. The Sahel region, like the island nations, is an indicator of this. It’s here where temperatures have been rising twice as fast as any other place on the planet. By the end of the century, it’s predicted to reach between three to four degrees Celsius of heating. And in this unthinkable event, the people living here are the ones who will suffer the most.

But there is still hope. In the race against time, these same people are the ones taking action. Communities are coming together to grow climate-resilient trees, restore land, and support each other to create safer futures.

From Senegal to Ethiopia, individuals are leading, teaching, and innovating to thrive against the odds. This is what climate action looks like on the frontlines of the emergency.

Seid, The Teacher

Seid standing in front of Sahel tree holding dried herbs

We met Seid in his village in Metema, a rural area in northern Ethiopia, on a very hot day in February.  Dry seasons in Ethiopia run from October to May, and in the lowlands, temperatures can soar to 40 degrees Celsius. The day we met; the mercury was nearing 37. Finding shade in a restored forest area close to his house, Seid talked to us about the power of education in the fight against global heating.   

“Do you see these things now?”

He picked a plant from the ground.

“This has the potential to treat countless illnesses. For instance, we use this particular herb to cure wounds.”

It’s this kind of ancestral knowledge that is in danger of being lost as the forest disappears.

“When we first arrived here, the entire region was covered with forest… But now, I think it's down 90% as a result of decreases year over year.”

Seid is a father, village elder, and member of a natural resource management cooperative. In his community, incomes can be made from tapping frankincense trees— offering people a lifeline out of poverty. But the traditional means of tapping is often destructive. This, among other issues, means that deforestation is increasing. Where there used to be plenty of tree cover, now there are vast areas of empty land. Droughts are longer, more frequent. And when the rains come, the downpour can be so fierce that water simply slides off the earth, turning into dangerous floods.


“We believe that the forest is gone, and now awareness education is needed to replace that forest… Today, we are striving to reestablish it" - Seid Mohammed

Working with members of his community, Seid teaches others agroforestry techniques, including how to tap trees sustainably. Through his work, acres of ancient forest land are being restored for future generations.

Seid standing in front of Sahel tree and looking at camera

“We believe that the forest is gone, and now awareness education is needed to replace that forest… Today, we are striving to reestablish [it]. We are confident that we can reclaim and restore the forest with the help of the government and NGOs…There is nothing the populace cannot accomplish if they believe it… comprehend it, and teach it.”

Niportiwe, The Innovator 

Two pictures of a woman standing smiling at camera, and sitting with grass briquettes in bowl

On the other side of the continent lives Niportiwe, a Ghanaian mother, farmer, and innovator.

Niportiwe’s community is in northern Ghana, an area with some of the most degraded land in the country. Deforestation is high in rural regions such as these, as many people rely on firewood to meet their basic needs. But with fewer trees, soil dries, erodes and eventually loses its fertility. To make matters worse, every dry season brings the threat of raging wildfires— heightened by the climate emergency.

Niportiwe is just one of the people working to provide a solution.

"We used to cut trees to burn for charcoal. We never knew that we could use grass" - Niportiwe Umborode

We met her during the rainy season. The day was humid, heavy with the promise of a nearby storm. But during the dry months, droughts are common and long-lasting. Grass that is green for half the year dries out and becomes kindling for wildfire. That’s why Niportiwe’s community have been trialling a solution—energy-efficient briquettes made from dried grass.

“In the dry season… we go with our sickles and harvest [the grass] from the river, and then carry it to the houses where the briquettes are made. That is the first step.”


A man gathering dried grass and a group of women watching the process

By collecting dried grass from around the base of trees, the community are working with Tree Aid to find a pioneering answer to problems made worse by the climate crisis.  

“We used to cut trees to burn for charcoal. We never knew that we could use grass that is abundant in the community to make briquettes. So, when this machine came in, we realised we could use grass instead of trees.”


Dried grass in a bowl, and hands holding a finished briquette

There are millions more people like Niportiwe and Seid, across Africa’s drylands. Fighting the crisis requires a global effort. It will take farmers, teachers, entrepreneurs, innovators, leaders and more– sharing skills, ideas and resources to help each other adapt to a rapidly changing world. But it isn’t just up to them. It takes us all.

That’s why we’re backing people – supporting communities with the right training and tools to help them turn the tide and thrive against the odds.

With your support, climate champions can continue rising to the challenge, securing better futures for all.