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November 2007: International Partners

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A Reforestation Project

By Joseph Ssuuna, of Zambia


            My grandfather was born in 1875. As a young man he was lucky to land an invitation to the King’s Palace, which in those days doubled as the highest level of training. When the missionaries came to my country a few years later they asked the king to give them young people to be taught reading and writing. He was one of the pages at the king’s court who were taken in for training.
A few years later, in the 1890s, members of the British East Africa Company arrived in the country and desired to set up tea plantations. They asked the king to give them a young man who could speak some English to go and work with them as interpreter and headman for several years. He was however frustrated with the way people were treated and how poorly they were paid. He wanted to change things and in order to do so he encouraged the workers to grow their own tea on their land so that they could sell it to the company as out growers. In those days that was very unacceptable and, although the people grew the tea, the company refused to buy it from them.
This refusal frustrated my grandfather so much because even he himself had bought a piece of land on which he had planted tea. Because of the frustration he abandoned his post as headman and interpreter and decided to start a primary school in 1928. The white farm owners were unhappy with him, and they connived with a few local people who reported him to the king for bringing girls and boys together in classrooms, an act which in those days violated social norms. He was tried by the king’s court. In his defense he informed the court of all his frustrations and how the people were being mistreated mainly because they had not been educated. He told the court that starting the school was the only way in which the king’s people would escape being harassed as laborers.
He won the case and the king gave him permission to run the school. His first students were his own children as well as those of his friends and relatives in the nearby villages. He used to move around in the morning with a drum asking the children to come to school. He would meet parents in the gardens and ask them to give him the children for a few hours after which the children would return to continue working in the gardens. He also used to threaten them that he would report them to the king if they refused to send the children to school, since the king had authorized him to teach the children. The school still runs to this day and at one time was the best primary school in the district.

About the Trees

            At the time of my grandfather there were very few people, and actually, according to my father, their house was located deep in a forest. However, as time went on and as the population of the village expanded, more and more trees were cleared for farming and housing.
            When my father, one of the first students in my grandfather’s school, completed his school in his father’s school he went to other missionary schools until he completed his studies in the colonial government survey training school. He decided, as our culture deems, to return to the village and build his own home there. He got himself land on a hill that faced the hill on which my grandfather’s house was. Both hills were separated by a valley that in those years was covered by a thick forest and which had a permanent stream that flowed through. During the rainy season this stream actually turned into a big river that as young kids we dared not cross without the company of an adult.
            In later years, a road was constructed on my father’s side of the village. This was later coupled with electricity and consequently a small trading center grew. I recall in the 1960s that this trading center boasted of two bars with juke boxes. As a consequence many people tended to gravitate and settle on my father’s side of the village. Even the school that was started by my grandfather was relocated to the more accessible side of the village. Consequently and progressively all young people gravitated and settled on my father’s side of the village and left mostly older people on the other side.
            Two developments happened to marginalize my grandfather’s side of the village even more. He died in 1967. Fewer people were going to that part of the village and hence the footpath that joined the two villages was overgrown with grass. The stream in the valley became soggy and treacherous, although in the meantime the rate of deforestation of the valley went on unabated.

The Revelation!

            Two years ago, while on holiday in my father’s village, I walked to my grandfather’s side of the village. I met with one of the still-surviving old women in the village who narrated to me the ordeal of being cut off and the fact that the rainy season made their part of the village extremely lonely and ugly.
            I shared this with my father, and we both agreed that it was essential for us to find a way of linking up the two hills with a more reliable road. I agreed to fund a village reunification project. We employed several young men in the village for whom this was an opportunity to earn some money. Their assignment was to excavate the approximately 150-meter swampy stretch, guide the water through one channel and ultimately place culverts across the road.
            This entire exercise cost $890. However, along the way we realized three other opportunities which we are now working on:

  • We realized we could use the 150-meter stretch of new road as an embankment to hold water so that we created a small lake. The lake once formed could serve two purposes. It could be used as a fish pond so the people in the village will farm their own fish. Secondly, it could be used as a water retention facility.
  • We also realized that if we do not do something, all the trees in that valley will be extinct in a few years. We therefore decided to embark on a program aimed at reviving the forest and replanting the indigenous trees that existed in that village.
  • We also realized we could transform our village land use practices by encouraging people to reforest their land and revive the tree cover in the village. Our vision is to recreate the natural environment in the village to the levels of at least 1960 in 5 years, which we hope will also attract back some of the animals such as monkey, that used to be in the area. We hope that if this happens we shall be able to market our village as an eco-tourist destination and all people, including the aged in our village, would be able to earn some proceeds by simply reviving the tree cover.

We set up a tree nursery and encourage all who find any form of seed to bring it to the nursery. During my leave we planted close to five thousand trees. We also undertook the development of a cultural site in a neighboring community and have progressively developed it into unique forest aspects. One has been developed and is maintained as a thick tropical forest fully composed of indigenous trees. The other part we have developed into a nice botanical garden in which we have intercropped both indigenous trees and others from elsewhere.

This is an exciting project for us, but we hope it also generates excitement for others. We are looking for partners who can come to work with us and also who can learn from our experience and use it to encourage indigenous afforestation programs elsewhere.



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