Wildlands Conservation Trust, one of South Africa’s leading environmental organizations, facilitates connections between local communities and their supporting ecosystems. Its “Trees for Life” initiative trains citizens to become “Tree-preneurs” who harness the opportunities to become viable small businesses in their own right. Here, Andrew Venter, CEO of Wildlands, gives Handshake readers a tour of the successful program.

The Green-preneur concept was born in the rural village of KwaJobe in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, in 2004, as our Wildlands Conservation team was running environmental workshops with local schools. The team had gathered around 200 local scholars and was showing them the basics of tree propagation, using seeds indigenous to the area. The participants had a thirst for knowledge.

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A few weeks later, when we returned to the site to see if any of the seeds had grown, we were surprised to see that the majority were flourishing despite any obvious care. That’s when the idea behind our “Trees for Life” program started to take root, and today it’s making it possible for the poor to feed, house, and educate themselves by growing indigenous trees.

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In Wildlands’ “Trees for Life” Program, Tree-preneurs grow trees and then barter indigenous trees they plant for food, building material, educational support, water tanks, bicycles, and solar panels. This program has spread to over 100 communities, involved over 8,000 individuals, and enabled the propagation of millions of trees.

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Based on the success of the “Trees for Life” initiative, our team developed the program “Greening Your Future,” which enables tree planting across 24 community-based ecosystem restoration sites.

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Greening your future

“Greening your Future” faced the challenge of reintroducing trees into the flood plain used by the community for farming, while helping the community improve farming activities to make the most of what the local environment offers.