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national tree week

A child is fed porridge made from the leaves of the Moringa, a tree found across West Africa, which contains more beta-carotene than carrots, more protein than peas, more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk, more potassium than bananas and more iron than spinach.This year, National Tree Week (26th November – 4th December) presents an opportunity to promote the role of trees beyond protecting the environment. For some of the world’s poorest people, particularly Africa’s smallholder farmers, trees also provide a vital source of food and income.

Throughout Africa, lack of trees leads to land drained of goodness, failed harvests and the disruption of delicate ecosystems. It leads to less protection in the face of droughts and floods and, as once-fertile farmland yields to the desert, the migration of a generation of young farmers to the city slums in the hunt for work. 

As we are seeing in East Africa today, deforestation can also lead to families fleeing their homeland in search of food and water elsewhere as degradation of land and livelihoods leads to severe and prolonged famine. It is no coincidence that one of the worst hit countries, Ethiopia, has lost 95% of its tree cover in the past 50 years. 

Trees help protect the environment, are more robust than other crops in times of drought and provide a year round source of food through dried fruit, nuts and leaves. It is clear that when the trees are gone, small holder farmers pay with their lives.

Frustratingly, such situations can be avoided. As part of an ongoing evaluation into the nutritional value of trees, recent research commissioned by TREE AID in Burkina Faso indicated that, “…in the communities where TREE AID works, trees are providing 25% of food for 30% of the year, particularly during the hungry months when other crops are unavailable.”  Lucrezia Tincani, Researcher on Food Security Issues, School of Oriental and African Studies.

Further research by the FAO (Forests for improved Nutrition and Food security, 2011) also illustrates how trees provide marketable products such as sap, bark and honey – therefore income and further protection in the face of disaster.  Yet the most recent Millennium Development Goal progress report continues to restrict the role of trees to helping achieve Goal 7:  Ensuring Environmental Sustainability.  

This year, during National Tree Week, TREE AID will be asking why trees are so often overlooked as a way of ending poverty and hunger, and instead are primarily associated with carbon-offsetting and reforestation programmes that too frequently fail to promote the wider benefits of trees for poor communities. 

The ongoing famine in East Africa has highlighted people’s frustration at the lack of support for long term initiatives that address the environmental decline that is keeping so many trapped in poverty. Set up in response to the Ethiopian famine of 1985, TREE AID believes it is time that trees were put more firmly on the agenda. 

To find out more about how trees are ending poverty and famine in Africa, download TREE AID’s annual review ‘When trees mean life’ at www.treeaid.org.uk. To mark this year’s National Tree Week, support TREE AID’s work by texting TREES to 81400 to donate £3, the equivalent of three trees planted in Africa*.

* Texts cost £3 plus your standard text message cost. All donations go in full to TREE AID registered charity no. 1135156.

* For full terms and Conditions visit www.treeaid.org.uk.

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