Africa’s Youth make Land Restoration their Business

Drone visual of the area in Upper East Region, Ghana prior to
restoration taken in 2015. Experts say that Africa’s youth need
to become involved in land restoration projects. Credit: Albert
Oppong-Ansah /IPS

By Diana Wanyonyi and Nalisha Adams
ACCRA, Ghana/JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Nov 1 2019 (IPS)

The last time Siyabulela Sokomani ran a marathon he did so with
a tree strapped to his back. A native wild olive sapling to be
exact. It affected his race time for sure, with the seasoned runner
completing the 42.2 km race in 4.42 hours rather than his usual
3.37 hours.

But the entrepreneur, who is co-owner of the ethical South
African nursery Shoots and
, which uses controlled release fertilisers, which are
less harmful to the environment, and 70 percent less pesticides,
was doing it for a good cause.

The #runningtreecampaign — a fundraising effort by the
non-profit Township Farmers which Sokomani started with
children’s rights activist Ondela Manjezi — was raising funds
to plant some 2,000 indigenous trees in the former apartheid black
housing area of Khayelitsha. In addition to planting trees,
 also educates school kids about gardening their own
vegetables and how to plant and take care of trees.

Sokomani grew up in Khayelitsha an area known for the
distinctive white, beach sand — in which you can still find
seashells — which serves as soil. It’s an environment in which
only indigenous plants can flourish.

Under apartheid these areas received little or no services, and
had no green spaces. And many still lack this. It was only thanks
to a teacher who taught him and his classmates about the importance
of the environment, recycling and growing your own food that
Sokomani pursued studies and eventually a career in

“There was nothing. There was not even a culture of planting
trees. The main thing that people strived for was to get a job and
to feed their families,” he tells IPS.

So Sokomani and his friends and colleagues hit the pavement,
completed the Cape Town
and raised the money for the indigenous trees. They
have already started planting them in schools in Khayelitsha —
starting with Sokomani’s alma mater, Zola Senior Secondary

Dotted around the schools are now wild olive, sand olive and
silver oak trees, among others.

In September, horticulturalist and entrepreneur Siyabulela
Sokomani (right) and friends ran the Cape Town marathon with wild
olive saplings trapped to their backs to raise funding for 2,000
indigenous trees which planted in the disadvantaged township of
Kayaltishea, South Africa. Courtesy: Siyabulela Sokomani

Making a business out of land restoration

The 34-year-old Sokomani, who was elected as a youth ambassador
leading restoration initiatives by the 4th African Forest Landscape Restoration
, has just returned from Ghana’s capital, Accra,
where the annual meeting concluded this week.

His attendance at AFR100, a project where African countries have
committed to restore over
111 million hectares of degraded land by 2030
, was important.
As an entrepreneur Sokomani was there to show other African youth
how to create viable business opportunities within the land
restoration space.

Shoots and Roots has a number large clients in South Africa,
regularly providing 150,000 to 200,000 indigenous trees to single
clients in one order, and with a capacity to grow one million

“We are missing something. We are missing the youth being
actively involved in the management side of things,” Sokomani
pointed out.

The AFR100 Secretariat at the African Union’s development
agency, the New Partnership for
Africa’s Development (NEPAD)
, coordinates restoration
activities on the continent, with support from the initiative’s
technical partners, including the Center for International Forestry
, United
Nations Environment
and World
Resources Institute (WRI)
, among others.

Land degradation remains a threat to global security, according
to the U.N. Convention to Combat
, with two-thirds of Africa comprising desert or
drylands. UNCCD figures show that in 2019 some 45 million people
across Africa, mostly from East and Southern Africa, are food

Aside from restored land providing food security, the U.N.’s
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
released in August states that better land management
can help combat global warming and limit the release of greenhouse
gases. The report authors recommended vigorous action to halt soil
damage and desertification.

Engaging the energy and innovation of Africa’s youth

But many believe that without engaging the youth in these
activities, success may not be possible.

“We have to engage young people meaningfully, invest in them.
We need to harness their energy or get out of the way. Are we ready
for these young people?” Wanjira Mathai,
co-chair of the World Resources Institute’s Global Restoration
Council and the current Chair of of the Wangari Maathai Foundation,
told the meeting. Mathai’s mother was the late Wangari
— the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace
Prize in 2004 and an environmentalist and human rights

Speaking to IPS, Mathai said that youth were an “incredibly
important demographic in this restoration movement” as they were
Africa’s largest demographic. Some 60 percent of Africa’s
population is under the age of 25.

“If you don’t work with youth, who are you working with
because they are after all the majority.

“Restoration and many environmental initiatives are very slow
and deep because they take time, it takes 30 years for some trees
to mature and that is fast in our tropics, it could be even longer
— 90 years in Scandinavia. The generation that is actually going
to deliver a lot of these ambitions and ambitious commitments that
are being made today are the youth,” Mathai told IPS.

She said young people “want to be involved in entrepreneurship
ventures many of them are environmentalists but we have not created
spaces for them, we only often think they are too young”.

Mathai said that it was not obvious to many nations that the
youth should be involved in land restoration and environmental
efforts and that new and innovative ways needed to be explored to
support youth engagement.

“What we know for sure is that if we leave them out, we leave
them out at our own peril because they are energetic, they think
differently and they are operating on a completely different level
of consciousness that is needed especially for this decade that
2013 is end of a lot of different ambitious targets,” Mathai told

According to the African Development Bank,
420 million of the continent’s youth aged 15 to 35 are

Creating jobs by financing entrepreneurs

This challenge can be solved if the youth venture into
agroforestry, says Honorine Uwase Hirwa, founder Rwanda’s Youth
Forest Landscape Restoration initiative, which has trained more
than 15,000 young Rwandans to plant trees.

“There’s an opportunity especially on this restoration
movement, one can establish a tree nursery, one can plant fruit
trees and sell the fruit, there is a lot of opportunity when it
comes to restoration it’s a matters of empowering them with
knowledge and making it easy for them to access the finance,” she
told IPS.

Sokomani agrees.

As a South African in the Western Cape province, where
only 4,9 percent of agricultural land is owned by the black
, for Sokomani it was particularly hard to succeed in
a business that requires land.

But Sokomani has not received bank or grant funding for his
business and instead was able to make a success of the business,
thanks to the involvement of a business partner and former client,
Carl Pretorius.

But he tells IPS, “you won’t get anywhere unless you have a
passion for trees…it’s all about the passion and what you

Land restoration more than planting trees

“Forest landscape restoration is more than just planting
trees,” Mamadou Diakhite, Sustainable Land and Water Management
(SLWM) team leader at NEPAD, told the meeting.

Later, he told IPS why this had to be differentiated: “We had
to  make this statement loud and clear because their some papers
now including scientific papers that are being written and
disseminated that portray and show AFR100 initiative as only
planning trees, fencing them and preventing communities and people
to access it which is the exact opposite, that’s is why we say
that restoration is beyond only tree planting. It is more about
agro forestry and agro ecology systems.”

Mathai concurred: “Sometimes there are agro forestry which
are food production and trees and sometimes they are purely for
food production. It is about understanding the landscape, the
mosaic of the landscape and then maintaining the integrity of the
landscape as a whole. The reason you hear us mentioning that all
the time is to remind ourselves that landscapes occur in

Horticulture — a business opportunity right in front of you

For Sokomani, the type of trees planted remains important. He
said that while we often hear about large, bold initiatives of
forests of trees being planted in a single day, he questioned the
types of trees planted.

“If we don’t create entrepreneurial opportunities through
the establishment of nurseries that are growing [indigenous] trees
and, in some areas, [indigenous] grasslands and bulbs and plants
that actually thrive in those areas, we are really going to be
messing up,” the horticulturist said.

He said he heard of land restoration efforts where the Chinese
Popular, a non-indigenous tree, was being used. “You can’t
restore degraded land with exotic species.”

He said indigenous trees should also be grown and propagated
among local communities and the resultant horticultural enterprises
could also prevent migration of local populations to larger

“For the youth out there in Africa, Asia and South Africa, I
always say it is very easy to start a horticulture business because
your initial inputs are right in front of you. You can get seeds
from a tree, from your block or from a forest, you can do division,
you can do many other propagation techniques that you actually just
start your business,” he said.

Sokomani said that if someone didn’t study horticulture like
he did it would require a little bit of effort to learn the
techniques, but he insisted that he didn’t believe in the myth of
“green fingers” and anyone could learn to propagate and grown

This weekend the horticulturist/marathon runner will slip into
on running shoes and participate in one of South Africa’s
well-known races – the Soweto marathon. This time though, he will
be doing it without a tree strapped to his back.

“Let’s start today, because we really don’t have time when
it comes to mitigating climate change.”

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Africa’s Youth make Land Restoration their Business
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Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Africa’s Youth make Land Restoration their Business