‘Farmers in sub-Saharan Africa aren’t interested in planting trees, and we need to educate them and persuade them to do so.’ This is what Seline Meijer was told was the case, when she announced that she was embarking on a study to explore why agroforestry (tree planting) rates in Sub-Saharan Africa are so low.
Seline wasn’t convinced. She didn’t want to take a traditional, colonial position of foreign knowledge and power, and tell the Malawi farmers she was working with that they needed to change their practices. She wanted to understand what they were actually doing, and why.
“Unfortunately, colonialism plays a part in it, and that’s created certain power dynamics and relationships.” – Seline Meijer
For Seline, climate conservation efforts are “all about the people”. Conservation is a conversation we all need to be having, because climate change affects us all. And that includes local communities. Indeed, farmers who rely on agriculture for their income and food are actually the most vulnerable to the impacts of environmental degradation and climate change.
Agroforestry is one way in which this vulnerability can be managed. Planting trees on farms increases crop yield, which in turn increases food security for the local community. Trees also benefit the environment in several ways. So why weren’t farmers in Malawi planting more trees? How do they engage with trees in their landscape? And why would female farmers be more likely to plant trees than male?
“I found that if it’s the woman who decides, that actually results in more trees being planted.” – Seline Meijer