Trees for life

Trees for lifeThanks to the vision and energy of Wildlands, funding from government, and support from BHP Billiton, the ‘Trees for Life’ project has been rolled out nationally. Good corporate backing, sound government support, a well-meaning environmentally savvy NGO in the middle, and a receptive community is the recipe for success.

Combine vision, collaborative partnerships, dedication and passion, and the result is sustainable community upliftment and a wonderful sense of pride and purpose.

‘Trees for life’

The ‘Trees for Life’ project was the brainchild of Wildlands, the first of which was started in the Uthungulu District Municipality, KwaZulu-Natal in 2007. BHP Billiton committed to being the project partners for this Community Ecosystem Based Adaptation (CEBA) venture in Unthungulu.

To add, in March 2013 Wildlands entered into a new partnership with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) to implement two projects, the Wildlands Community Carbon Project and the Southern

KwaZulu-Natal Working for Water Project: the development grants ensure maximum community benefit. The project started off in a very small way with a few community members collecting seeds, germinating and growing them into saplings, before bartering the trees for livelihood goods such as bicycles, product hampers, educational support, building materials, and water tanks.

Today nearly 3 000 tree-preneurs have bartered over one million trees per annum nationally for over R7 million in livelihood support across all the Wildlands CEBA projects. BHP Billiton have already invested over R6million in the 20-year lifespan project in the Uthungulu District Municipality and their aim, at least until 2027 is threefold:

  • To enable community members to create a sustainable livelihood through the cultivation of indigenous trees;
  • To rehabilitate and improve the environment through the planting of these trees, and
  • To gain carbon credits for its Hillside and Bayside aluminium smelters which are such critical contributors to the economics of Richards Bay, northern KwaZulu-Natal and South Africa.

Eight years on, ‘Trees for Life’ has become so much more than a venture aimed at planting indigenous saplings: it has become a high-impact cross-synergy project which is enabling community upliftment and helping people realise their dreams.

Ongoye Forest

Aroon Patel Head of Corporate A: BHP Billiton Aluminium South Africa, together with Zanele Dube and Mzomuhle Mkhwanazi of Wildlands hosted me for a day, sharing the heartwarming efforts and achievements of the ‘green-preneurs’ in the area. We started off in the Ongoye Forest, an exceptionally rare and diverse habitat, home to over 130 bird species and many tree rarities including the Forest Water Berry, Pondoland Fig and the Giant uMzimbeet. It also supports two endemic species – the Green Barbet and the Ongoye red squirrel.

There are around 500 tree-preneurs in this Ongoye forest alone, and the expectation is that by 2027, more than 500 hectares of degraded forest and riverine areas will have been restored to their natural habitat, making the ‘Trees for Life’ project one of the biggest and most impactful forest restoration programmes in South Africa.

Most green-preneurs (those who grow saplings and also collect recyclable waste) are female, demonstrating the value of this livelihood support model to the mothers and grandmothers in these communities. In practise, the green-preneur opportunity allows them to generate additional livelihood support whilst continuing to anchor the day-to-day lives of their extended families.

The majority of green-preneurs have no schooling, highlighting the fact that education is a real challenge. Green-preneurship provides an opportunity for those trapped by social circumstances and limited education to find a way out.

‘Emerging entrepreneur’ project

Here in this rural community, we met Sephronia Guduva Khoza. This resourceful woman began as a ‘tree-preneur’ in 2008. Seeing the positive impact on her and her family’s livelihood, she decided to enter in to the waste-preneurship scheme, collecting recyclable goods and reaping rewards for her efforts.

Wildlands, constantly striving to uplift the community, established the ‘Emerging Entrepreneur’ Project, supported through the Enterprise Development grant funding from the South African Sugar Association and Enterprise Development facilitation funding from Mondi Zimele. Mrs Khoza was successful in securing support from this ‘Emerging Entrepreneur’ project, and was granted R10 000 to fund her new business of poultry farming. Wildlands identified her as one of several people who were able to take their initiative and resourcefulness to the next level.

Mrs Khoza has not only secured a sustainable livelihood for her and her family, but now is putting two of her sons through university. This has only been made possible by becoming a green-preneur.

Riverside Nurseries

Tree-preneurs rely on sources of water, so what better place to nurture these saplings than in a forest on the banks of the small streams. We visited one of the riverside informal nurseries, where around 30 000 saplings are waiting to be planted. The benefits to the area are huge: the spread of Invasive Alien Plant species (IAPs) is being controlled; indigenous trees being restored to the area create a canopy limiting the spread of IAPs; the ecosystem remains healthy, with water resource management being carefully monitored; and diverse species of flora and fauna are protected.


eSikhawini, in the Uthungulu District Municipality is located 15kms from Richards Bay KZN. Here, there are another 500 green-preneur households. We met Lindiwe Mchunu, another recipient of the Emerging Entrepreneur fund. She has added the skill of dressmaking and sewing to her portfolio, using the money she was granted to purchase two sewing machines. Her business is a success and has changed the lives of her and her family. Her sense of pride and achievement was evident, the smile on her face said it all.

Further down the road was another enterprising lady, Shoti Sikhakhane. She has added to her ‘tree-preneurship’ income not only by recycling bottles, but cooking and selling hot lunches in the neighbourhood. At the end of my morning in Ongoye and eSikhawini, I could happily have walked away with a chicken under each arm, a new set of bed sheets and pillowcases, and a hot lunch comprising mealie bread and ‘slap’ chips! It was -wonderful to see the knock-on effects of the ‘Trees for Life’ project: how resourcefulness has resulted in sustainable community upliftment.

Recycling for life

The final part of the day was spent at the Alton Waste Recycling Centre. Wildlands, with the backing of BHP Billiton who have supported the expansion of this recycling depot, developed the ‘Recycling for Life’ initiative. A team of six permanent and six temporary employees, led by Christina Mngomezulu, spend their dedicated time here, sorting through the recyclables, with glass making up the bulk of the collected material. ‘Wastepreneurs’ generate approximately 150 tonnes of glass a month, at the value of 40c/kg. It is another way of cleaning the environment while at the same time generating an income. Currently four employees crush this glass by hand. The goal is to purchase a crusher; however, stolen power lines to the depot along with a lack of dedicated funding for this, means that manual crushing is all that can be done for now.

These projects are built on three pillars of sustainability: environmental protection, social equity and economic viability. No single pillar can support long-term success on its own. Only through the collaborative efforts of all involved, can these projects succeed. These projects epitomise the core belief of Wildlands, to reach for a dream and achieve it.

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