50.000 trees in Uganda
In its jubilee year, BAM has already planted more than 110,000 trees! Many of them are flourishing in the African rainforests. In Uganda, villagers – with the support of Uganda Wildlife Authorities (UWA) – are planting 50,000 trees on reclaimed arable land, where UWA and the villagers together have set up three tree nurseries. A total of 125 villagers have found employment through this #BAM150 project.
Over a century ago, British statesman Winston Churchill called Uganda the Pearl of Africa. And since gaining independence 60 years ago, that name has remained a source of pride in this greenest of countries that lies in the heart of Africa, run through by the Earth’s Equator. And yet the pearl has lost some of its shine. In the first decades of its independence, the country lived through a reign of terror. Ugandans who did not belong to the privileged tribes were forced to flee their homes and find refuge in the forests and the mountains. In order to survive they cut down trees to create fields and meadows among the natural forests.
In the 1990s peace was restored and a new government was democratically elected. The people who had fled into the forests were given the opportunity to build a new existence away from their fields. The deserted lands were overgrown by elephant grass, which in many places stands several metres high and leaves no room for anything else. It will take some form of outside help to restore the original rainforests with its variety of animal and plant life.
Kibale National Park in the western part of Uganda is one of the last rainforests in Africa that – apart from the deserted fields – is largely intact. It attracts many tourists who come here to see the large variety of primates, the best-known of which are the chimpanzees. These saw a reduction of their habitat when the refugees set up their villages and farms. Today, the heritage of the refugees is a 10,000-hectare area that can and must be replanted, or else it will still be covered in elephant grass 100 years from now.
The seeds and cuttings necessary to grow our trees were collected in the intact parts of the forest in late 2018. In the nurseries, specially built stands are covered in grass and leaves to mimic as close as possible the dense, damp forest climate that allows the seeds to sprout and the saplings to grow. In addition to species that will eventually be the giants of the rainforest, the villagers are growing trees that will bear fruits and berries to feed the chimps.
Meanwhile, all the trees have been planted in the forest. This was easier said than done: the villagers first had to cut out corridors in the metres-high elephant grass – a tall order in the humid rainforest air, where temperatures rarely drop much below 30oC. Every other few metres, the first trees are now growing in the corridors.
The month of May saw the onset of the rainy season. Watering the trees will not be necessary now, but for the next two years or so nursery staff will still have to clear the corridors of elephant grass. After that, the trees should have grown enough to withstand the elephant grass on their own. After all, with plenty of rain and heat, growing conditions are perfect in the Pearl of Africa. Trees can continue to grow throughout the year and mature much faster than in Europe.
Thanks to BAM, the African rainforests are given a chance to restore. Soon we will report from Bolivia, where we are planting another 50,000 trees.