Almost half of the African continent’s tropical rainforests are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But its forest is being destroyed primarily by small-scale farming, where local farmers chop down trees to make way for crops. A recent study found that an average of 70,000 hectares of forest were being lost every year in the Democratic Republic of Congo, due, in part, to agricultural expansion and an ever-growing population.

Our Observer Joseph Tsongo lives in the North Kivu province in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He told us about his “One child = one tree” project linking education and conservation. It’s a project that takes advantage of the changing demographics of the country to fight against global warming.

“Using the country’s population growth to fight climate change”

The idea is that each child adopts a tree. The project is intended for schoolchildren in particular. They plant a tree with us as soon as they start at school, and they have to look after this one tree for the whole of their schooling (12 years). They plant all sorts of different trees: acacias, coffee bushes, avocado trees and mango trees.

If everyone got involved in this project, we would have thousands of trees planted every year.

Deforestation is a big problem where I live. You just have to go out into the countryside to see trees which have been cut down or ripped out of the ground by farmers and locals. We need charcoal and wood for fuel. Even the Virunga National Park, which is supposed to be secure, has people cutting down trees. It’s a big problem. And it’s the generation after us who are going to suffer due to climate change.

“You have to get the local community involved”

I started experimenting with the idea about three years ago alongside my normal job as a radio journalist. I introduced it to around a dozen children from the local area. We planted trees and still look after them together.

Then earlier this year I started the project with schools around the Virunga National Park. We’ve started off with around 250 children aged between four and 11, around 50 children in each school, and we’ll see how that goes before we try expanding the project further. I financed it myself by buying the seedlings.

You have to get the local community involved. I explained the project to locals in the villages, and we go together with the children to tend to the trees. To persuade people to get involved, you have to first show what the problems are, the risks [of deforestation], and then how planting trees could be a solution. This was the hard part: people’s mentality. Villagers often don’t like change, and they were resistant to the project at first. Most of the villagers haven’t had an education. There’s always some suspicion, because locals find it difficult to believe in phenomena like climate change.

I thought it was important to make sure the same child looked after the same tree that they ‘adopted’ for the whole of their schooling, that way, the child already has an affection for the plant.

They have to understand that global warming is a human problem, and so it’s humans who have to solve it. I want children to learn how to save trees and not cut them down. At the same time, they enjoy it – it’s a fun activity!



Tsongo is currently trying to organise the creation of plant nurseries, to enable others to buy their own seedlings and plant trees. He’s also trying to partner with locals to keep the project going across schools around the Virunga National Park, and hopes to launch it in other schools by next year.
 

This story was written by Catherine Bennett.