Rebecca Johnson
5 minute read
14 Jun 2008

Project spreads its seeds

Rebecca Johnson

Indigenous Trees for Life: With success, ITFL turns national

What began as a unique initiative aimed at protecting biodiversity and helping to alleviate poverty in rural Kwazulu-Natal, has now proved so successful that facilitators, The Wildlands Conservation Trust, have recently announced plans to extend their Indigenous Trees For Life (ITFL) programme to other parts of South Africa.

The initial impetus for the programme’s expansion came from some of the Trust’s longstanding corporate supporters, namely Unilever and Old Mutual, who have witnessed first hand the success of ITFL: “They love the work that ITFL has done, so they approached us to extend it into other communities that they are working with,” explains Simone Dale, media manager for the Trust.

The Trust has plans to extend the programme into three new communities. Under the auspices of Unilever, the programme will be launched in Vosloorus, Gauteng, in conjunction with an existing HIV/Aids orphan’s support programme called ‘Thokomala’, as well as in Humelani, Phalaborwa (a community of approximately 13 500 poor and marginalized individuals) with a business and income-generating support initiative called ‘Project Reach the People’. The third community to benefit (with support from Old Mutual) will be in the Nelspruit area.

Although ITFL will be joining forces with already existing projects, the aim of the programme will remain the same, namely to provide a sustainable source of income for the “poorest of the poor” in the communities, while simultaneously growing indigenous trees for greening those areas and for use in carbon sink projects (of which four have already been established in KZN) —with the added benefit of increasing environmental awareness. The Trust is also hoping to use the ITFL programme as a means for expanding their activities in these areas, explains Dale: “Through Indigenous Trees for Life we can create a foundation in the area and then spread our sphere of influences from there, depending on the conservation needs in that area’.

The Trust also hopes to include community challenges as part of the roll out of the programme. The first of these was held earlier in the year in eSikhawini (Richard’s Bay), and was open exclusively to 400 child “tree-preneurs” in the area. Prior to the race, all the participant’s ‘purchased’ (through the exchange of 150 trees) a special terrain-suitable bicycle (supplied by the Qhubeka Initiative) and helmet; which were then used in a 10 km running and cycling duathlon. The challenge was endorsed as an official event by Triathlon South Africa and all the participants received free t-shirts and medals and had their race results printed in the Sunday Tribune newspaper. These challenges serve as a reward for the communities, help to nurture self confidence, and are ultimately aimed at shifting the sense of disillusionment and despondency that is often the legacy of critically poor areas: “You don’t realise just how an event like this can make them believe that there is more possible for their lives. To be part of something that exciting, to be on TV and get your name in the newspaper — it gives them a sense of possibility,” says Dale.

With a similar objective in mind, the Trust also has plans to implement an environmental awards programme to serve as an additional (and educational) incentive for their tree-preneurs, whereby they can earn day trips, wilderness trail experiences and overnight stays in game reserves for reaching the goal of growing a specific number of trees.

Dr Andrew Venter (CEO of the Trust) explains the importance of expanding ITFL: “We are really excited to be extending this phenomenal programme nationally because it will bring livelihood support to the poor whilst also growing environmental awareness. It will also provide us with a foundation for ultimately achieving our vision of conserving South Africa’s biodiversity.” The expansion of ITFL thus looks set to herald a new phase of development not only for the Trust but also for the new communities it will help.

What is indigenous trees for life?

Indigenous Trees for Life is an environmental and humanitarian project that aims to help to restore forest eco-systems while providing a sustainable livelihood for some of South Africa’s most vulnerable and poverty stricken communities.

The project targets single parent and child headed homesteads, and gives them the skills and resources to grow indigenous trees which can be exchanged in special “tree stores” for food, agricultural supplies and clothing.

The programme benefits about 2 000 “tree-preneurs” who grew more than 250 000 trees last season.

“Green Teams” of previously unemployed community members plant the trees in urban greening projects in eSikhaweni, Sokhulu, Mbonambi (all in Richard’s Bay), Khula (St Lucia area) and Waterloo (Umhlanga).

Some of the trees are used to create pilot carbon-sink projects associated with the restoration of the Mkhuze riverine forest and Ongoye scarp forest.

For more information about the programme, e-mail or visit

What is the qhubeka initiative?

“Qhubeka” is a Zulu word meaning “to move forward”, which is precisely what the Qhubeka Initiative hopes to achieve by providing mobility to rural communities where children walk long hours to school, shops and other amenities.

The organisation designs “terrain-appropriate” bicycles that stand up to the rigours of rural roads, or lack of them, and distributes them to communities through various partnerships.

One such partnership is the “Trees for Bikes” project with the Wildlands Conservation Trust and its Indigenous Trees for Life Project.

It enables children to earn their bikes by growing indigenous trees.

The initiative has so far provided 800 bicycles to these “tree-preneurs”.

This enables them to get to school with less effort makes them better able to absorb lessons and so progress to better life choices.

MTN has also recently joined the partnership and aims to sponsor a further 2 000 bikes a year for the next three years, to be used in the project.

For more information about the Qhubeka Initiative, visit