In Amuria District, Eastern Uganda, ITF partner Save a Seed for the Future (SAFE) have started work with 10 schools. Working with both children and teachers, Amuria Schools Tree Planting Project (ASTREPP) aims to raise awareness about environmental degradation and give students practical skills in tree planting. Although the project is primarily targeting schools, SAFE believe that learning will trickle down to household level across the communities.
Environmental education challenges
In Uganda, the syllabus of primary and secondary education focuses on understanding the environment and its resources. However, the curriculum has little content on environmental degradation and sustainable use of natural resources, according to Researchers from the Mountains of the Moon University. There is also a lack of practical skill development and encouraging positive attitudes to promote environmentally responsible behaviour among learners.
SAFE aims to tackle this education gap and involve various schools in the area. The project is a part of ITF’s Sustainable Community Forestry Programme, and was sponsored by the United Bank of Carbon as part of the BBC Terrific Tropical Trees project.
Education as a way forward
The project began in May 2017, and through collaboration with 10 local schools SAFE aims to educate local communities including teachers and students, deliver training and plant 25,000 trees. Project activities intend to foster and promote interest in the natural environment and tree planting among children and neighbouring communities. Teachers will also incorporate some of the knowledge and skills into their daily classes, and in their management of school gardens.
The economy of Amuria District is based on agriculture and livestock, focused on small-scale subsistence farming. Over 90% of the local population practice crop and livestock agriculture.
Therefore, one of the best opportunities to fight poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition in the areas is to increase the productivity of agricultural activities. Any successful human development is dependent on the environment, and failure to acknowledge this relationship ultimately reduces the benefits communities receive from their environment, threatening their livelihoods.
In fact, during the launch of the project, District Natural Resource Officer Mr Otim Charles stated: “There is an urgent need to change human attitudes that lead to exploiting natural vegetation cover without planting trees. I encourage every stakeholder present here to embrace this project and work towards its success.”
In targeting schools, SAFE aims to inspire the next generation to improve their environment, as well as their livelihoods. Added to this is a conscious attempt to target adults through the children. The first steps towards achieving the aims of the project have been to develop a strong relationship with various stakeholders: schools, associated parent teacher groups and various local community institutions.
In the first six months, teachers from chosen schools took part in training on tree nursery establishment and management as well as tree planting techniques. Each of the schools also established a tree nursery and formed ‘Green Clubs’, aiming to mobilise the students.
The trees in schools
Two species of native trees will be planted, namely: Markhamia lutea and Maesopsis eminii. Both are fast-growing native species which can be integrated into agroforestry systems or grown as windbreaks around the schools. They are ornamental trees beside other uses such as timber, fuel or fodder. Both species are also useful for medicinal use: M. lutea is used to treat various conditions from skin-related problems to toothache and venereal diseases; whilst the bark of M. eminii is used as a purgative and diuretic agent.
So far, the seeds and most of the equipment needed to look after the seedlings have been purchased, and the seeds have been planted. Each of the schools have managed to raise approximately 2,300 seedlings ready to be planted later this year.
The trees will mainly be planted by children in the school woodlots, but also in the neighbouring community homesteads. Interestingly, when SAFE went to the National Tree Seed Centre in Kampala to get seeds, they were offered exotic species such as eucalyptus, pine and grevillea for free. The Government of Uganda is determined to promote fast growing exotics for economic reasons. SAFE declined the eucalyptus and pine but accepted grevillea – a good agroforestry species.
Further activities will involve planting of the seedlings and their care. We look forward hearing from them in the coming months!