Creating a Culture of Caring
Why are we getting involved?
The baobab tree takes 200 years to produce its first fruits, can live for over 1000 years, survives and even flourishes in almost desert-like conditions; but even this mighty giant is succumbing to the environmental impact created by our civilization. While fruit collection remains a sustainable practice and doesn’t in any way impact on the ecology or wellbeing of baobabs, studies show that the survival of baobab populations is being threatened in the long-term by environmental degradation and climate change.
Impressively huge as baobabs are, like all growing things they begin very small and baobab seedlings don’t survive easily these days. Their tasty young tender shoots get eaten up by livestock such as goats, nor can they tolerate drought at this young age so it’s rare for a seedling to last the three years it requires until reaching self-sufficiency in the wild.
This is what we’re doing
As a baobab ecologist with a doctorate in baobab sustainability, this concerns me deeply. Ensuring the survival of baobabs needs an integrated approach; one which incorporates both human needs and environmental variables. So with this in mind I launched the Baobab Guardians Programme – a unique tree-planting program.
Our simple aim is to plant more baobab trees in the arid area of Venda where climate change and livestock is affecting the survival of young baobabs. It will do this by involving rural women fruit collectors and creating awareness of baobab ecology and conservation in South Africa.
How it works
Rural Venda women are given baobab seedlings to take care of in their homes – they become Baobab Guardians.
Once the seedlings reach 1 metre in height, they are ready to be planted out in the wild.
Each Baobab Guardian can decide where to plant the tree, taking into account proximity to the village (the roots spread wide), how they will protect the tree from browsing livestock such as goats, and ease of watering and caretaking.
Each baobab tree is identified by its GPS coordinates and its growth and progress is monitored and recorded annually by me.
Once the baobab seedling reaches 3 metres in height, it’s mature enough to withstand livestock foraging and drought; it no longer requires guardianship. This takes approximately 3 years.
Baobab Guardians are rewarded financially for each completed stage.
Since 2014 we have been actively involved in the Baobab Guardians project and have had unprecedented success. In 2017 eight baobab seedlings reached the target height of 3-meter and the Guardians received a certificate of accomplishment. We have another 42 baobab trees in the ground. These are being nurtured on a daily basis by their Guardians, each of whom will receive a certificate once their trees have reached the 3-meter target. Our youngest trees were planted in the spring of 2017 and have another few years to go before they have reached their safe height.
By the end of the project we would have achieved our 50-tree goal and have another 50 baobab trees in our world that will live for 1000 years.
I can’t imagine an African landscape without Baobab trees silhouetted against the sky. Baobab trees are an integral part of our natural heritage and our indigenous culture; quite simply they belong to Africa.
I have written a booklet that describes the ecology and uses of baobab trees and why baobabs are so important to us. This booklet has been translated into TshiVenda and is being given to local people, schools, government officers and traditional leaders in the Venda area.
We would not have managed to achieve this without the generous help of our sponsors, to whom we are extremely grateful.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to find out more or contribute by becoming a sponsor.
Dr Sarah Venter