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Supporting Friends of Usambara in tree growing efforts in Tanzania

Written by John Bett, Africa Regional Project Manager

Recently, as part of our verification process, I visited for the second time in 2023 our project, “Friends of Usambara (FoU)” in Tanzania.  

A key aspect of this visit was examining and reviewing how they monitor their planting activities and supporting the team in several aspects, such as how to conduct survival rate and tree density surveys. We also worked together on the process of recording and analyzing tree growth. The primary objective of my visit was to strengthen the team’s capacity to not only plant and grow trees but also to effectively monitor and report on their tree-growing enterprise. 

Over the last 12 months, the Friends of Usambara’s tree planting department has significantly expanded, with the addition of three new full-time staff members. Now comprising six full-time and six temporary staff, the team’s capabilities in monitoring and reporting have been substantially enhanced. Additionally, to ensure continuous support, five more volunteers are called upon from time to time, contributing their valuable expertise and enthusiasm to the cause. The expanded team capacity has instilled a sense of optimism, as the project is now on a better path to achieving its goals. 

The first order of business was to conduct training sessions on monitoring activities. Together with the staff, we delved into the intricacies of assessing the health and growth of newly planted trees. This included identifying potential threats and understanding the importance of watering and nurturing the forests. Through this, we were able to develop several aspects of the planting sites: 

Tree survival rates and tree density: 

To measure the success of the planting efforts, equipped with data collection tools and guided by the FoU experienced staff, we went to 6 of our large planting sites. Each tree was meticulously examined and evaluated (in measured survey plots – 90 plots in total, which meant at least 3 hours walking up and down the hills), allowing us to quantitatively measure the project’s impact. As a natural outcome, the survival of trees varied across the surveyed planting sites, but with an overall average exceeding 70%, demonstrating a commendable success rate. This underscores the inherent complexity of managing nature, and through ongoing improvements, we’ve achieved a survival percentage that is considered quite favorable. 

A crucial aspect of our monitoring efforts involved inspecting areas that had previously been deforested or cleared for farming. These instances of degradation had been identified by my  colleagues in the office, who utilized satellite verification techniques. The team and myself could not have conducted our monitoring and verification without their data. On-site we discovered that these areas had indeed suffered degradation, either through the logging activities of varying magnitudes.  

Fun fact:  During our journey two adorable dogs joined our team. They are locally trained by planters. The dogs, with their keen senses, played a vital role in sniffing out potential pests that could harm the young saplings and helping me “scare away” snakes as we moved through the thick forest (I have a phobia of snakes!).

With the objective of checking the number and species mix in each planting site, it was crucial to assess the density of trees. Through a tree density survey, we gained valuable insights into the distribution patterns and overall health of the species. 

My visit gave me the opportunity to do a pre-plantation visit to a new planting site called Mgwashi. It has the capacity to grow over 2 million trees in the period of 2 years. The unique aspect of Mgwashi is that it is entirely dedicated to Tree-Nation, ensuring accurate monitoring and reporting of its progress. A total of 12 different tree species are planned to be planted here, ensuring biodiversity and resilience within the ecosystem. You can find details on this planting site here: Planting site Mgwashi Planting Site (2024) 

Community engagement

The adjacent communities, primarily consisting of farmers, are expected to benefit greatly from this tree-growing initiative. They will have the opportunity to engage in casual employment as planters and be part of the monitoring team, actively contributing to the project’s success. 

Furthermore, the communities will also benefit from their labor by harvesting and selling fruits from the trees planted. This initiative not only brings economic benefits, but also generates valuable knowledge about sustainable tree-growing practices, fostering a sense of empowerment and environmental stewardship within the community.

Because of this additional capacity support from Tree-Nation, we expect that the team of Friends of Usambara will be able to better monitor, track and report benefits to the people they serve, including environmental benefits resulting from their tree planting activities. Enhanced project implementation and reporting is therefore anticipated in the coming months!

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