Geoff Holder, APF’s Project Coordinator, updates readers on Jubilee Trees, an exciting new APF partnership with Climate Stewards and the Baptist Union of Uganda:
Trees have a special place in African culture. As the biggest plants on the planet, they give oxygen, store carbon, stabilise the soil and give life to the world’s wildlife. They also provide people with food, medicines and wood for tools and shelter. In many traditional African cultures, trees have a spiritual connection to the supernatural world of the ancestors.
Recently, I’ve been researching the role faith plays when African Christians think about the environment. My study demonstrates that trees still retain a very special place in African people’s thinking.
From Malawi to Uganda, from Cameroon to Ethiopia, Christian leaders responding to the research made a direct link between climate change impacts (changing weather patterns, increasing droughts and floods) and the dramatic loss of trees the continent has suffered over the last 50 years. One pastor put it this way: “Trees and African people are one. You cannot separate us.” Many expressed a sense of regret around the continent’s deforestation, but the reasons behind it are complex. Rapid population growth, demand for charcoal, poverty, and the erosion of traditional value systems which protected forests: none of these have helped.
Although responsibility for climate change undoubtedly lies primarily with industrialised nations like the UK rather than in Africa, Africans are showing how we should respond. The African church is at the forefront of action on climate change. In Uganda, the Bishop of West Buganda, Rt Rev Katumba Tamale recently announced his support for Ugandan school children joining the famous Fridays for Future global school strikes.
Decrying that so many trees had been cut down and not enough planted, “The lives of our children are now at stake,” he said. Most Rev Thabo, Archbishop of Cape Town, says people of faith must walk the walk when it comes to climate change: “We depend on this beautiful web of life God created… The challenge now is for us to become healers because we have failed to be stewards.” After all, Africans are collectively the most vulnerable people in the world to climate change impacts whilst having the fewest resources to adapt to and mitigate for these.
But now, the Baptist Union of Uganda, in partnership with APF and Climate Stewards (a UK Christian charity providing carbon offsetting through carbon mitigation projects in the developing world), has launched the Jubilee Trees campaign. Funding from APF and Climate Stewards is helping local Ugandan Baptist churches plant indigenous trees on church land. Hundreds of Maesopsis, Grevillea and Terminalia tree saplings are now growing on five church sites in central Uganda.
This small pilot is only the beginning. Plans are already coming together for more planting next year. Climate Stewards has created a unique online tool called CQuestr that projects the amount of climate change causing carbon dioxide each tree plantation will capture and lock away. The projection is used to estimate a carbon price for the plantation, a monetary value for the carbon captured by the trees.
And as the trees grow, the churches will benefit from shade, timber, fruit, better soils, water retention and wildlife which will support higher crop yields. They’ll protect people, buildings and soils from strong wind, heavy rainfall and scorching sunshine.
This exciting project was conceived by Revd Peter Mugabi, BUU General Secretary. Peter has seen first-hand the impact of deforestation in Uganda. To implement the project, Peter is being supported by Bernadette Kabonesa, an expert in indigenous forestry from the Ugandan National Forestry Resources Research Institute.
With Peter’s passion and Bernadette’s expertise alongside APF’s project management experience and Climate Stewards’ CQuestr toolkit, this project has already captured the imagination. Last year, Christian Aid filmed Peter, Caroline Pomeroy (Climate Stewards’ Director) and myself as we began to put the Jubilee Trees project together. Christian Aid will use the short film as part of their campaign to coincide with the United Nations’ COP26 international climate change conference which will take place in Glasgow in 2020.