The tree-planting champions of Sierra Leone

The tree-planting champions of Sierra Leone
10 July 2024

By the IFRC

(This story appeared first on last week.)

With her watering can in hand, Mariam Albert (photo) carefully sprinkles each of the many tree seedlings that cover the ground around her.  

Some day these young trees will bear fruit and nuts, and provide oil, cacao and wood for local communities. Just as importantly, they will help diminish the impacts of climate change and deforestation, while providing a vital source of local income.

The tree seedlings were planted by Miriam and others in a community nursery as part of the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society’s (SLRCS) Tree Planting and Care Project.

As one of the project’s champions, Miriam sees her hard work as not just a duty; it is a passionate pursuit to secure a greener and healthier future for generations to come.

“I take deep pride in seeing my community embrace our initiative,” she says. “The trees not only provide green cover but also benefit families nutritionally and economically. This is because we focus on fruit trees like cashew, oil palm, cacao, avocado, and timber trees such as Gmelina [beechwood].”

Her role as a tree planting champion goes beyond tending for plants. It’s also about inspiring a sense of environmental stewardship among fellow members of the Gbandi community, within the Baoma chiefdom of Bo district.

Her responsibilities are multifaceted. She mobilizes the community, educating them on the importance of nurturing seeds, transplanting them, and providing ongoing care. Her leadership is pivotal in organizing regular community activities centred on environmental conservation.

Funded by the Icelandic Red Cross and implemented by the SLRCS with assistance in the field from Finnish Red Cross experts, the project aims to combat deforestation, promote biodiversity, and mitigate climate change. It’s a vital response to the urgent need for environmental action in Sierra Leone and beyond.

‘The trees provide green cover and also benefit families nutritionally and economically’

The tree planting in Sierra Leone is part of a larger initiative that spans the African continent.

In the face of increasing natural disasters and humanitarian crises in Africa, which are exacerbated by climate change and conflict, the IFRC launched the Pan-African Tree Planting and Care Initiative in 2021.

This initiative tackles these challenges by integrating environmental interventions with traditional humanitarian aid. It emphasizes large-scale tree planting and nature-based solutions to enhance climate adaptation, disaster-risk reduction, and improved food security.

With a goal to plant and care for 5 billion trees by 2030, the initiative promotes sustainable practices, strengthens community resilience, and advocates for stronger policies that support environmental protection.

Trees play a critical role in absorbing carbon dioxide, thus mitigating the causes of climate change while adapting landscapes to its consequences. They also reduce soil erosion, conserve biodiversity, and enhance water quality.

The SLRCS empowers individual women like Mariam to lead and facilitate the tree-planting process in their respective communities. These women champions establish and maintain nursery sites, mobilize community members, and ensure the ongoing care of the trees until they reach maturity.

To date, there are 52 dedicated women champions in 52 communities actively involved in similar efforts in Sierra Leone. Together, they have planted more than 55,000 trees, roughly 60 per cent of the project’s goal.

The SLRCS’s planting efforts are ongoing, with the expectation that these numbers will continue to grow as champions like Mariam persist in their work.

Mariam Albert waters seedlings of trees that will one day bear fruits and nuts, and provide oil, cacao and wood for local communities, as well as diminishing the impacts of climate change and deforestation. (Photo: SLRCS via IFRC)