Baobab Guardians Programme

Baobab Guardian Doris Nekhumbelo

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

  • Seedling

    Rural Venda women are given baobab seedlings to take care of in their homes – they become Baobab Guardians.

  • 1 metre straight tree

    Once the seedlings reach 1 metre in height, they are ready to be planted out in the wild.

  • Garden

    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.

  • GPS

    Each baobab tree is identified by its GPS coordinates and its growth and progress is monitored and recorded annually by me.

  • 3 metre

    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.

  • Payment

    Baobab Guardians are rewarded financially for each completed stage.

I know it might seem strange to get excited about something that will only be visibly productive in the next 200 years, but this is about playing the long game, looking much further into the future than just the next 20 years.  We want to make sure baobabs will still be seen in our landscapes for many thousands of years to come!

The Baobab Guardians Programme has been in existence since November 2013 when the first pilot was launched and seedlings were planted.  We’ve run training courses and follow-up workshops with groups of women and the process has worked wonderfully!  We now have 5 baobab trees planted out in the wild, being taken care of until they are big enough to look after themselves.

It’s my dream to have FIFTY strong healthy new baobabs planted and thriving out in the wild by 2017. This will provide additional fruit annually, increase the genetic diversity as well as ensure a new generation of young vigorous baobabs complementing the much older generations of trees currently around.

Another dream has been to create an educational booklet for distribution in schools, libraries, tourist outlets and government offices about Baobabs, about how much they contribute to our environment and local economy and why they are so important.

 “It’s about creating a culture of caring for the future, for our communities and for our earth”

Up until now, EcoProducts has financed the Baobab Guardians Project but now we’re ready to take this project global!  We’re thrilled that Bonga Foods and the Bonga Foundation has stepped forward and generously offered their contribution.  They’ve provided sufficient seed-funding to get this project started.  We’re also very grateful to Sevenhills Wholefoods who have so generously funded one year of the program.

Timeline

This 4-year project is made up of the following phases:

Phase 1 (2014 – 2015)

Train rural women in the ecology and conservation of baobabs and how to grow baobab seedlings. The trained women grow baobab seedlings in their home gardens until they are strong enough to survive being planted out (1m). Seedlings are planted in the village and they are taken care of by the women who grew them, who are then known as the baobab guardians.   This takes place at the beginning of the summer season.

Phase 2 (2015 – 2017)

Growing trees until they are 3 meters high and can survive on their own without being damaged by domestic animals and can survive drought.   The trees are evaluated annually and each guardian is rewarded for each centimetre the trees grow.

Phase 3 (2016 – 2017)

An information booklet on baobabs will be produced and workshops will be held to showcase the Baobab Guardians and create awareness of the achievements of the project.

We will also engage with the Department of Education and give talks at local schools to disseminate baobab information booklets and brochures.

At the end of 2017, there will be an evaluation and celebration of the project accomplishments.

Phase 4 (2017 – 2019) – New Extension of Project

To have more baobab trees being planted in more villages.

Bi-annual measurements will continue

The Baobab Booklet to be translated into TshiVenda and distributed to different schools.

How can you get involved?

In addition to rewarding our Baobab Guardians and creating this website, we still need to source donors and set up donation channels for donors; in other words, lay the basic foundations required for launching a successful project. We need a total of R400,000 to ensure that our 5 year plan succeeds.

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.

Contact me at sarah@ecoproducts.co.za if you’d like to find out more or contribute by becoming a sponsor.

Thank you.

Sarah Venter

Dr Sarah Venter