Forests

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Siyabulela Sokomani

Co-founder
Township Farmers and Nguni Nursery

“Township Farmers is a non-profit organisation trying to re-green the townships of Cape Town, one tree at a time. As well as slowly transforming the dusty, dry land, Township Farmers also focuses on food security and environmental awareness.

Growing up in Khayelitsha, Siyabulela Sokomani remembers a childhood without any trees around him. In Grade 10, he joined his school’s Environmental Club, where he was “bitten by the green bug”. After school, he studied horticulture.

In 2016, he co-founded Township Farmers with Ondela Manjezi. “We saw a need in our community for small-scale organic farms at early childhood development centres and orphanages,” says Sokomani.

Together with SouthSouthNorth, Township Farmers recently started developing food gardens. After identifying keen backyard gardeners in the Kuyasa area, Township Farmers provided them with training and support to start growing their own food.

“Nguni people and other tribes lived sustainably for centuries,” says Sokomani. “We are now looking into the past for solutions. For the future of biodiversity and humankind, we all depend on sustainability.””

“If we are to increase our climate change mitigation efforts, we have to involve everyone from the most vulnerable communities to the most affluent. It is up to us as citizens of these under-priviledged communities to be active in the creation of green areas in township schools and communities.”

Andie Reeves | mg.co.za
Sarah Bergs

Sarah Bergs

Founder and CEO
Nourish NPO

“Just 30km outside of the Kruger National Park lies Nourish, an eco village that has been bridging the gap between impoverished South Africans and the tourism industry for 10 years.

Having grown up in the area, Sarah Bergs, CEO of Nourish, has always had a deep love of nature. From a young age, Bergs was disturbed by the imbalances between wealthy tourists able to enjoy South Africa’s natural beauty and impoverished locals. “I wanted to find a way to make conservation and tourism more inclusive to marginalised wildlife communities,” says Bergs. “Nourish was born to create a space where communities could gain access to support, empowerment and upliftment.”

She approached the chief of Sigagule village and shared her concept: to reconnect the community to local wildlife, to educate children about nature and conservation, and to create ways in which villagers could begin to benefit from the tourism industry. Nourish now has a 99-year lease on a hectare of land.

“We are becoming a duplicable wildlife buffer zone community development model that brings about change in conservation in a sustainable way through inclusive tourism and enterprise,” says Bergs.”

“Rural communities are fraught with the remnants of well-meaning projects and outreaches, and what is left behind is nothing. In order for change to become impactful, there needs to be a real link between these communities and the reserves and tourism establishments. Conservation and a love of wildlife needs to become intrinsic. This is sustainability.”

Andie Reeves | mg.co.za
Lauren Teasdale

Lauren Teasdale

Co-founder and managing director
Greenpop

“As one of the most rapidly urbanising continents, the ecosystems of Africa are becoming ever more threatened. To Lauren Teasdale, co-founder and managing director of Greenpop, it is imperative that natural spaces are protected and that development takes place with nature as a top priority.

While she was working as a writer, Teasdale and her partner, Misha, had the idea for a small project that would one day become Greenpop.

“Misha, a group of friends and I wanted to plant 1 000 trees to compensate for the travel footprint of a trip Misha had recently done, and also because we all had environmental footprints and had never done anything about it,” says Teasdale.

They pledged to plant 1 000 trees in one month and, as the writer in the group, Lauren was tasked with all the communications for the project.

“I learned so much in that time: why, where and how to plant trees, what people in South Africa thought about trees, and how we could grow a culture of planting trees and, ultimately, hope.”

Once this initial, month-long project had come to an end, it felt natural for the couple and a friend, Jenny, to continue growing Greenpop. Ten years later, they have planted more than 130 000 trees. Greenpop has also hosted 572 sustainable development workshops, planted seven fynbos biodiversity gardens, and painted 20 conservation and nature-themed murals.

“I call Greenpop my first child because Misha and I started the organisation together,” says Teasdale. “It sometimes feels like we’ve birthed a child who teaches us so many lessons, thrills us and challenges us every day. I’m very blessed to say that I love what I do and I believe that restoration work is critically important.”

The philosophy of Greenpop takes into account South Africa’s unique sociopolitical context.

“South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world,” says Teasdale. “Green space and valuable ecosystem services should be equally accessible to everyone. Unfortunately, the most vulnerable communities often lose access to these services first.”

Motivated by the recent devastating drought in the Western Cape, which peaked in 2018, Greenpop realised the need to prioritise restoring the Cape’s fynbos ecosystems. Their Fynbos for the Future programme plants water-wise fynbos gardens in under-greened schools in the Cape Flats. Besides the biodiversity these gardens bring, they also create opportunities for learning and inspire community members to take an active interest in the environment.

The company’s Forests for Life programme has an ambitious goal: they’ve pledged to plant 500 000 trees by 2025. Their aim is to restore degraded forest areas, increase biodiversity and expand ecosystem services across sub-Saharan Africa.

“In addition to putting trees in the ground, we reduce threats to restored areas by providing locally relevant support services, including alien clearing, wood lot development and alternative livelihoods training, to ensure the sustainable management of our forests,” says Teasdale.

In collaboration with The Big Food Drive and Urban Harvest, Greenpop is also launching a food accessibility project. The project will start by creating a large community food garden in Cape Town’s Masiphumelele township in 2021, with the aim to spread the project further into the future.

To Greenpop, sustainability is not just about planting trees, but needs to be approached with a more holistic understanding.

“We need to think about sustainability in everything we do – how we live, what we buy, what we eat, what we wear, how we travel,” says Teasdale. “Our planet’s resources are finite. Sustainability has to be a top priority for everyone in everything we do.””

“It’s time to move from our culture of extraction to a new culture of restoration – for the sake of our children and all life on Earth.”

Andie Reeves | mg.co.za
Maarten Groos

Maarten Groos

Director
South African Reforestation Trust

““When you consider South Africa’s many mono-culture tree plantations and alien invasive trees, we need to remember that a tree is not simply a tree,” says the director of the South African Reforestation Trust, Maarten Groos. “Natural and native ecosystems and their biodiversity hold the key to life on this planet. On top of that, natural and diverse forests sequester more carbon dioxide than mono-culture plantations or agroforestry, which means they’re much more efficient in combating climate change.”

The South African Reforestation Trust started 10 years ago with the aim to create and expand pristine indigenous forest ecosystems. Initial pilot projects were set up to learn how afforestation and reforestation could assist in the rehabilitation of areas that had been cleared of alien invasive vegetation. A decade on, indigenous forests have flourished on what was once scarred and burnt land.

SAReforest is a co-operative platform and multiparty network that takes an area-by-area approach to reforestation. To date, they have planted more than 18 000 trees at six reforestation sites.”

“Forests produce oxygen, store carbon, clean the air, create rain and make soil. Forests keep us alive. That calm and tranquil feeling when you walk through a natural forest – the smells and sounds you take in – it all tells you that that is the world as it should be.”

Rosie Goddard | mg.co.za
Zeldeen Muller

Zeldeen Muller

CEO
AgendaWorx

“InSite Innovative Education’s flagship product, AgendaWorx, provides digital solutions to help businesses save money and the environment.

While working as a consultant at a retirement fund, Zeldeen Muller noticed how much paper was being wasted. “I spent many nights preparing, printing and binding agendas,” says Muller. “Some of these included 100 to 250 printed A4 pages. With 15 to 20 attendees per meeting, it was a lot of wasted effort and paper.”

InSite Innovative Education Solutions went 100% virtual a few years after its 2007 inception. “It was essential for us to leave as small a carbon footprint as possible,” says Muller. “The challenge was how to assist our clients to do the same.”

Using AgendaWorx, businesses can create and distribute interactive agendas virtually, securely and quickly.

“There are more than 3 000 meeting attendees on AgendaWorx, equating to a saving of at least 2.1 million A4 pages per year. Many people are afraid of changing their ways because they fear it will affect the bottom line. We prove that you can be a sustainable, green company and, in fact, increase your profitability,” says Muller.”

Many South Africans appear to have a very apathetic attitude towards sustainability. This attitude of climate nihilism is just as dangerous as a total denial of climate change. We all have to do our part for the sake of our long-term survival as a species.

Andie Reeves | mg.co.za