This June, Tree Aid launched a new five-year strategy. Forming part of our wider plan to 2040, it’s been developed to take us towards achieving our vision of a thriving future for Africa’s drylands.
It’s an urgent mission - despite our success over the last 5 years, the situation in the drylands remains grave - the region is still facing a triple emergency of poverty, environmental degradation and climate change.
As a roadmap to achieving our vision, the strategy focuses on three key areas:
This focus has been shaped by a wealth of practical experience. We’ve been working across the Sahel for 35 years; in that time, led by the knowledge of local people, we’ve learnt so much about what works, and where support is needed most.
To create the scale of change necessary across Africa’s drylands, we need empowered families. Families are the beating heart of every community, and central to our theory of change at Tree Aid.
The image above shows some key factors required to create family empowerment – like reliable income and access to nutritious food. The projects behind Leaves For Livelihoods looked to address these factors.
Throughout the project, we worked with women to grow nutrition gardens – a nature-based solution for increasing diversity in families’ diets. Fast-growing, drought-resistant trees like moringa provide a reliable source of nutritious food even when other crops fail.
Our Growing Food & Incomes report evaluated the impact of the projects behind Leaves For Livelihoods. The report showed just how well the nutrition garden approach worked in Burkina Faso, finding a 42% reduction in chronic malnutrition in children under 5 years of age across the project! We also found a big increase in the proportion of calories that were sourced from tree products, rising from just 30Kcals, to 109Kcals per person, per day.
The report also showed how our Leaves For Livelihoods projects helped families to grow their incomes from trees. Across the project, we saw a huge 161% increase in average annual household income and a 12% reduction of households living in extreme poverty.
This data shows how the projects behind Leaves For Livelihoods were really effective at helping families to feel more empowered. At the local level, this is paving the way for a greener, healthier future; where families can thrive from the benefits that trees provide.
At the community level, we want to ensure trees can be used by everyone, in a sustainable way, and that communities feel empowered to take collective action to tackle poverty and climate change. The projects behind Leaves For Livelihoods promoted natural resource management (NRM) practices and supported local land management plans too. As a result, an area equivalent to 12,000 football pitches are now under sustainable management by the community!
In the Sahel, women make up roughly 80% of all agricultural labour, but gender inequality remains stark. These projects therefore looked to improve women’s access to trees, tools and training too.
We did this through the creation of village tree enterprises (VTEs). VTEs are co-operative business groups where women entrepreneurs can come together, pool their resources, and increase both their productivity and their bargaining power at market.
Through the development of VTEs, the project helped increase women’s access to natural resources. In 2019, 28% of women reported having as much control over trees and their products as their male counterpart; a percentage that increased by 18% to reach 46% in 2020!
We’re proud of the impact that our projects are having, but we’re equally clear that we need to scale-up dramatically in the coming years to prevent wide-spread ecological & human disaster. To achieve this, we must ensure that wider systems are empowering too.
Why are empowering systems important?
From government policies to international funding, it’s important that the voices and knowledge of local communities are recognised when creating change at a “systems” level.
The market for the tree products grown in Tree Aid’s projects has real potential to be scaled-up. There is already significant private interest in exporting products like shea, for use in beauty and cooking products, and emerging markets for the kind of tree products discussed throughout our Leaves For Livelihoods appeal, like baobab and moringa.
This growing interest from the private sector is exciting, but it must have the best possible impact for communities. Truly ethical investments must embrace a community-first approach.
That’s why we’re working with international trading associations, like the Global Shea Alliance, advocating that these emerging markets must be 'pro-poor' and 'pro-ecosystem'. By ensuring that new investment in the region does not follow a ‘race-to-the-bottom’ model, this advocacy work can help to avoid the pitfalls of many other so-called ‘green investments’.
Done right, pro-poor private investment can help improve supply chains, pricing and resources for entrepreneurs in the Sahel, ensuring farmers are paid a fair price that reflects the true value of their products.
This is an exciting time for Tree Aid. Interest in the Sahel’s Great Green Wall, and in ‘nature-based solutions’ to tackle the climate crisis, have never been greater. We’ve been investing in tools and staff to help us measure and share the impact of our work, and now our 35 years of expertise is proving invaluable to governments, funders and organisations.
Using our platform at international forums, like the recent COP15 summit, means that our projects start to have an impact far beyond the communities where we work.
Over the next five years, we’ll be pushing for policies and accessible funding which help communities take ownership of land and forests, and for investment in sustainable tree products markets too. We need to create a framework where local businesses can thrive, and feel supported to tackle the challenges their region is facing.