The impulse to found TREE AID arose from the 1984 Darfur famine, a crisis reported by Michael Buerk on the ground as “a tragedy of Biblical proportions”. This led to the pioneering Live Aid Concert in July 1985 which, as well as raising £125 million for famine relief, was transformational and inspiring in its engagement of the media and youth. The world was rightly responding to an immediate need for relief aid. But as a tree person, seeing this massive human response to a famine born of an environmental crisis, this raised the question ‘what is the correct response from the sector that deals in tree-time?’
I gathered a small group of friends and colleagues from forestry, arboriculture, woodland management carpentry and the law to learn about the problem. Inspired by the community-based African Green Belt and the Indian Chipko Village movements, we saw the possibility of how arid landscapes could be stabilised to recreate a sustainable future for the heroic inhabitants of those environments.
Inspired by the community-based African Green Belt and the Indian Chipko Village movements, we saw the possibility of how arid landscapes could be stabilised to recreate a sustainable future for the heroic inhabitants of those environments.
TREE AID was born. From the small seed of these ideas, it became the International charity that it is today. From these early idealistic and imaginative beginnings hardcore principles were laid down that remain the foundation of the charity’s work and achievement:
- the identity principle – that those who give from their wealth are connected to those who give through their need and effort in planting and maintaining trees for a healthy environment
- the community basis – sustainability is achieved through empowering partnerships where communities determine their needs and participate in the solutions through shared knowledge and expertise. In this sense, generations who plant trees create enrichment through stabilising soil, fostering food security and sustaining rural livelihoods. This must be a long term vision.
- the pleasure of giving and receiving – that this should be fun and have a sense of reciprocity, not based on guilt and an outmoded model of dependency and poverty but based on a concept of equal sharing in our global environment: planting done in distant lands contributes to the cooling of the atmosphere for all.
It’s hard to believe that thirty years ago, global warming was a live concern. TREE AID, 25 years ago, a leader even then, held a Bristol conference on the environmental crisis in Africa on climate change and desertification and community tree solutions.
These issues are as alive today as they were then. But in the meantime TREE AID has, through the dedication of its African communities, planted 13 million trees in arid Africa, achieving a staggering survival rate. The problems remain for the communities who live there but the skills and lessons are contagious and as news spreads, success breeds success.