Today seed distribution has occurred at Ehleheni, Traditional Authorit...
Wells for Zoë – TREES for LIFE
We planted more than 4 million trees in the last two seasons with thousands of planters in hundreds of communities.
Having gained a lot of experience reaching these milestones we have renewed our strategy and will plant a mix of 100% indigenous forest trees as well as fruit trees from now on.
Discover our planting sites on explorer.land (along with our many many pump installations).
Women and girls carrying disease ridden water – and increasingly – firewood longer and longer distances all day every day is modern-day slavery. The Zoë pump is causing a quiet revolution against this horrific waste of time, talent, and gender inequality that certainly contributes to the economic disaster that is always just around the corner in Malawi.
When John and Mary Coyne first drove to Mzuzu in 2005 there were miles after continuous miles of mature forest, both sides of the road as far as the eye could see. Now these are almost totally gone; 99% of households are cooking with charcoal or firewood and the tobacco industry has gobbled up much of the remainder to enrich the rich with little or no benefit to the poor, leaving women to fend for their families through more endless hours of drudgery.
So, why do these women, who carry firewood, on their heads for miles and miles, not collect and sow seeds. What or who is preventing them. And the answer appears to be so simple:
We believe that growing local trees should be made easy for them; no development jargon, no fanfares, no flags, no sensitising meetings, no expenses for officials, no food, no drinks. It’s common sense. Seeds from trees almost insist on growing so we encourage local communities to live up to their full potential because we believe women should use their hard working spirit in better ways:
There are countless positive effects of reforestation: improving the microclimate, decreasing soil erosion, preventing rivers from drying out, carbon fixation and the list goes on… but our main story is that it will simply improve the quality of life nearby, be it through the availability of medicinal plants, firewood, fruits and timber. Of course the older and wiser people tell us that this will also bring back the rains.
Many local organisations & NGOs mainly provide and plant invasive exotic species which decrease the ground water level and soil quality. For these reasons we changed our strategy and switched to only providing seeds of indigenous trees, but which have in turn of course a lower growth rate and sales price. To incentivise planting and looking after indigenous trees nevertheless we often offer our Zoë pump for the community as well as fruit tree seedlings for the community during the three year establishment period.
To relieve pressure on forests we also teach how to build more efficient rocket stoves.
NOW, we have an ask, more in hope than expectation. Many people reading this have recently been on a plane, on holidays, adding to our global warming dilemma. If you were lucky enough to be one of these, you could at least try to negate this nasty footprint by helping us plant trees. Every little will help. Don’t moan about climate change: Do something about it. Plant trees or ask us to do it, in Malawi.
We believe that our tree planting model should be as transparent for our donors as possible so we have broken its 4 stages (Planning & Preparation, Planting, Monitoring, Evaluation) down into 12 individual steps.
Planting forest trees has the most long term positive effects when a mix of indigenous forest trees – well adapted to local climate – are being planted. That is why we changed our strategy and will only plant indigenous forest trees from now on. Our goal is to achieve productive land use with a mindset of a conservationist (We thank Arne Witt, cabi.org for sharing his expertise).
To achieve this we are carefully selecting species for different use-cases like coppicing firewood-trees, medicinal trees, timber-trees with termite-resistant wood, nitrogen-fixing trees for soil-improvement, fast growing trees for pole-production, as well as a variety of suitable fruit trees and fodder-trees. This selection process is driven through surveys in the field by our workers to find out which species people value and following research on the effects of preselected trees on the habitat to make sure they are suitable.
For now we partially rely on some purchased seeds but will educate tree planting clubs to collect many of the needed seeds in the following season to become sustainable and independent. As there are some very similar indigenous and exotic species e.g. acacia spec., this seems easier than it actually is and it needs proper education. That is why we are in contact with the botanical garden Lilongwe as well to discuss these matters. As indigenous tree seeds ripen in different months throughout the year we have to collect & distribute seeds multiple times a year resulting in a lot more work compared to most exotic seed treatment.
Our expertise with fruit trees is already well established and we have been teaching how to collect and propagate seeds of many fruits already with great success for many years:
Most seeds of different indigenous trees can only germinate and be sown after a multitude of different treatments to simulate various environments, e.g. a change from drought to rainy season, digestion by animals and so on. That is why we educate planters how to pre-treat seeds by drying them properly or soaking in hot or cold water or nicking them etc.
Collecting seeds and planting trees is not well established in Malawian culture. That is why we encourage forestry club meetings with all planters in an area to combine handing out seeds & potting tubes with a very welcomed course on the positive effects of indigenous trees vs. exotics. This is coupled with teaching planters the basics of seed collection, seed storage and treatment before sowing them.
We also show them how to set up a nursery and advise them to follow simple tricks, e.g. to always group 100 or 250 potting tubes together and to build a small sunroof with grass, as some seedlings are light-sensitive in the first weeks. We discuss the benefits of various planting-methods to achieve the best results, e.g. less soil erosion, improving soil quality, less flooding, higher yield in farmer managed approaches etc.
We believe enabling people to act is nearly all that is needed for sustainable change.
When we visit communities to educate them how to plant indigenous trees we hand out seeds and polyethylene potting tubes (which when spent we collect and up-cycle to pump valves). We instruct them how to properly set up a nursery and take care of seedlings. We call the responsible people and also visit the nurseries to make sure all is set up properly.
Typically there are about 20,000 seedlings in one nursery.
We experiment and test different plant propagation methods and procedures on our eco-farm in Lusangazi to make sure our workers are well trained and able to instruct villagers in the field. This is particularly important as knowledge about indigenous trees is generally very scarce in Malawi compared to exotic species – a paradox of sorts!
Some trees need more attention than others and so as payment in kind for planting indigenous rather than exotic species we are budding and grafting tens of thousands of fruit trees on our farm which will then be distributed to the communities. This is professionally managed by Lovemore, our botanist, farm manager and Planting Trees project boss.
Our efforts concentrate on small communities in rural areas who contact us, and not only do we encourage women to participate, but we deem it to be mandatory. Planters form planting clubs with an average of about ten members. Lately we had full female as well as youth clubs which we are particularly happy about.
We encourage riparian planting to stabilise riverbanks as well as other areas heavily affected by erosion. We recommend planting neighbouring to indigenous forests to increase habitat for wildlife. Fruit trees are ideal close to their houses as undernourishment is an issue in Malawi.
Often planting is on community-owned land with trees, fruits and all benefits belonging fully to the members of the community club. In other cases individual club members plant on their own land and reap the benefits, but this is often shared with extended family.
We call and visit our tree planting clubs regularly to show continued support, remind them to maintain firebreaks and in future to collect and properly store seeds. But we also want to show our donors our achievements. That is why our workers are all equipped with GPS-enabled cameras or camera phones.
During these visits we collect a lot of additional data like GPS-polygons, contact-information, distributed amount of seeds, species and a personal feedback of the planters.
Following the geo tagging strategy of each pump we started mapping forestry plots with GPS-polygons in February 2020. Our workers walk around each plot during their inspection with the planter and record a shapefile. These are sent to us via phone app. As we receive new datasets on a daily basis we now import the info semi-automatically and layer the planting polygons on a satellite-map (we thank volunteer Max for his custom written software for us!)
We can now validate all mapped areas and guarantee that donated trees are actually planted. Geo-mapping is a time-consuming endeavour but we feel that thorough monitoring is important for us to improve upon our practices as well as to keep the trust of our donors.
We plan to partially create aerial maps as well as aerial panoramas from our reforested areas with consumer drones in remote areas where satellite imagery is not regularly updated. As creating flight patterns is rather complex, we do this remotely. We thank ugcs.com for supporting us with their universal ground control drone mission planning software and actual drone mapping will hopefully begin after travel restrictions to Malawi due to Covid-19 are lifted.
Photogrammetric drone mapping needs hundreds of aerial photos taken in a lawnmower pattern over the area of interest. Flying a predefined waypoint mission to cover a certain area is a relatively easy process and we hope for one of our workers to be licensed by ADDA (African Drone and Data Academy) for this task. If you have an older consumer drone we would be happy to give it a second life in Malawi! All photos will finally be converted to a map remotely in the cloud. We thank pix4d.com for their support.
We have high aspirations to use software based on neural networks to identify and quite possibly count trees as well as measure tree growth over time. This will advance our monitoring process even further and early tests look very promising.
Thorough monitoring of planted trees is only a partial aspect of our evaluation process. We have come to understand that planting indigenous trees is constantly being rivalled by planting exotic species or tobacco because of its higher financial turnover. These more lucrative endeavours come with support from other organisations, with tobacco being even more detrimental to the environment as a lot of firewood is needed to cure it.
Being able to do what we do is only possible as we ask planters for personal feedback and listen closely to their needs. But being around since 2005 communities know they can count on and trust our reliable and long-term support because of the great successes of our Zoë pump, fruit trees, Girl Child Student project, preschools etc.
Regular visits to areas by our various teams also ensure that agreements are met and after a season is over we can decide what should change (if necessary) to improve things for the next season.
We reward planters for successful reforestation by giving them fruit trees from our WfZ-nursery in Lusangazi as well as fruit seeds, as they are highly valued by the communities. This can be seen as the last step in the continuous circle of planting and evaluating the work.
A future endeavour is to investigate solar drying of fruits to improve the positive effect of having fruit trees close by people’s homes.
We try to document and present all different stages of our work with geo-tagged pictures and stories and GPS-polygons on a satellite-map to give you a detailed impression of Malawian life and our work. Our photos might not look as glossy as you might be used to from other organisations but that is because we send workers with smartphones in the field to work and additionally take some photos… not really what you might call a PR-team!
However you generally find the most up-to-date posts on the bosses blipfoto a/c, or on some of our social media accounts (accessed from the footer of any of the pages on the site).