There is something magical about taking part in a creative process that helps to bring something into existence that wasn’t there before. I believe that is why our Baobab Guardian program has been so successful; people love to be part of creative magic, and Nature is all about exactly that!
8 years ago, the Baobab Guardians program was inspired by Mary Grace and Natalie Nehoray (founders of Bonga Foods) who visited EcoProducts in 2013. After hearing that baobab tree seedlings struggled to survive in the wild due to domestic animal grazing, they suggested a tree guardian program.
We began with 50 women in Zwigodini village, who were trained in how to germinate and look after baobab trees in their home gardens. At this workshop all the women were shown how to plant baobab seeds in used milk cartons and then how to transplant them into larger planting bags once they had germinated.
However I quickly realized that the baobab trees needed more attention if they were to survive and thrive. Thus the concept of a person, a Baobab Guardian who would look after an individual tree until it reached a height of 3 metres, when it would be safe from domestic animal browsing, was born. Our aim initially was to plant 50 baobab trees in the wild.
Our Baobab Guardian Program Grows!
While the initial 50 seedlings were sponsored by EcoProducts, in March 2016 we got a wonderful donation from Sevenhills Organic Wholefood who sponsored 10 tree seedlings. Once the saplings were ready to be planted a year later, the location of each tree was given a GPS co-ordinate and their height was measured and recorded.
The first tree from the initial batch of 50 to reach its target 3 metres was in 2016. This tree’s guardian was Selina Manovhele.
All guardians whose tree reaches 3 metres are given a certificate of achievement at a special ceremony, the first of which was held in 2017 and the second in 2020. A third and perhaps even a fourth ceremony will be held as the current cohort of trees reach their target heights.
Over the last 7 year period, baobab trees have been planted in or near 6 villages in Venda. In 2017, we reached our 50 tree target, but there was such a demand from villages as well as sponsors, that we could not stop there. We increased our target to 100 trees which goes to show how when we work together with Nature to create something which inspires people’s hearts, momentum gathers and the project grows!
Thanks & Gratitude
Huge thanks and gratitude goes to our corporate sponsors:
- Bonga Foods (7 trees),
- Sevenhills Wholefoods (10 trees),
- Tri-K (6 trees),
- Lather (27 trees),
- Amka (15 trees)
- BaoMed (3 trees)
- Meester Masjineering (1 tree)
- Cosmetic Ingredients (1 tree)
- Protec Botanica (2 trees)
- Unrooted (3 trees)
- Park School, Bournemouth (1 tree)
As well as those many individuals who supported and sponsored the remaining trees.
Challenges We Had To Face
As with every far-reaching long-term initiative, there were challenges and setbacks along the way and not everything worked out exactly the way we wanted it to:
- Three trees planted at the Mukowawabale Pre-School were abandoned during the school holidays one year and goats got in and munched them down to the ground. We realised we needed to do an intervention of erecting little fences around every tree so that they would survive the holiday seasons over the next few years.
- Two guardians left the villages to work in the city. These trees needed to be re-assigned as there was no way they would have survived without their Guardians.
- One tree was planted in an area that had a very high salt content in the soil and also had to be transplanted into a better area.
Our Achievements So Far
Despite these setbacks, we’ve managed to accomplish the following:
- Bringing 28 new baobab trees into the world that would not have survived otherwise. With another 73 in the wings, this brings us to a total of 101 baobab trees once they become established.
- In every village the Baobab Guardians inspired other villages and children to plant their own trees and as a result many more baobab trees have been planted, not accounted for here.
- Many Baobab Guardians have started their own small home nurseries in which they grow baobab and other trees and sell them to people who want baobab trees and in this way are able to bring in an income.
- Baobabs are a symbol of cultural heritage and through the Baobab Guardians program, people can actively participate in preserving that heritage.
- The program has also been a vehicle for teaching the community about conservation of habitats and the importance of trees on our landscape.
My goal was to plant 100 new trees, but as we were planting the last few trees a neighbour of one of the baobab guardians called out that she too would like to be a Guardian, so I impulsively decided to make the final goal 101 trees!
So call us over-achievers! 🙂