Four things make ITF special
By Stephen Vickers, ITF’s Chair of Trustees
International Tree Foundation is special. But its uniqueness does not lie only in that it cares for trees. Here are four things make ITF special.
1. Firstly, while global in our orientation, we take pride in our Britanno-Kenyan origins.
At a time when Africa was beset, in Odinga’s words, by “a plague of Europeans”, Watu wa Miti (the original name of ITF) was founded jointly by Kikuyu Chief Josiah Njonjo and Anglo-Canadian civil servant, Richard St Barbe Baker.
It is a matter of immense pride to us that our founders rose above the all-pervading racism of their time, and focused upon their common humanity and upon the fact that the natural resources of an area, insofar as they belong to any people at all, belong to the indigenous people whose ancestors have learned to work within the local environment.
2. Secondly, Watu wa Miti was the first organisation to think of the role of ecosystems in benefitting all their component species, including people.
Humanity is not an enemy of nature, but part of it. ITF were not the first post-industrial revolution environmental organisation, the Sierra Club and the US National Parks, among others, predated us. However, I believe that we were the first to argue that human welfare can be maximised by thoughtful and purposeful human intervention in support of the natural world.
3. Thirdly, our founders followed a principle now familiar to all as a slogan, and occasionally in action, at least, when it was not fashionable to think in terms of one world, the idea “Think globally, act locally”.
Just a decade after Chamberlain excused British acceptance of the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia as “a far-off country of which we know nothing”, Richard St Barbe Baker invited thousands of people each to bring a peach stone to central London for use in a belt of trees to stop the Southward march of the Sahara, and published his book “Sahara Conquest” to show how this was to be achieved.
It took fifty-nine years for the global community to catch up, but in 2007 eleven African countries, backed by the World Bank and by France, began to build this wide shelter belt across the continent from West to East. This “Great Green Wall” has already restored degraded land, stabilised soils, and provided plenty of employment, initially in Senegal.
4. By far the most special thing about ITF and Watu Wa Miti, however, is that we are not just about trees. We’re about people, ecosystems and livelihoods. There is little that community-led initiatives cannot achieve, but there is a corollary.
On our own we are powerless. ITF must operate in support of a local partner. Moreover, we cannot hold on to good ideas as though our longevity grants us a monopoly of the relationship between people and trees. Our aim is to help people and community groups achieve things of lasting benefit to themselves and the environment.
Without our network of supporters, donors, staff and Trustees, we can achieve nothing and help nobody. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an army of goodwill and kindnesses to reclaim a forest or equip a farm with fruit trees.
“We should continually be establishing new bases for human happiness and creating and promoting new instrumentalities toward this end,” St Barbe Baker read in the scripture which motivated him. International Tree Foundation is a long-lived example of such an institution.
Join us. Become a member of our community of people planting trees.