Planting Hope Amid a Pandemic

Abuja, Nigeria

The Global Shapers Community is a network of youth activists taking an active role in shaping the future by driving dialogue and solutions for change. Recently the Abuja hub of the community was honored as one of five winners of the Climate and Environment Grant Challenge, initiated through the partnership between Rosamund Zander, The Climate Reality Project, and The World Economic Forum. 

The Abuja Hub took on the challenge of reforestation in Nigeria’s capital right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Undeterred, and noting the critical connection between deforestation and disease threats overall, the group continued, maintaining adherence to protocols to protect volunteers while doing the critical work of protecting the environment. 

Along the way, the activists committed to involving the neighborhood and students in the tree planting process in hopes of inspiring the next generation of mentors and climate activists:

“People are inclined to engage in things that are tangible and in which they can see a clear result. Telling people that we cannot cut down trees does not sound realistic because people are just trying to live their daily lives. Focus on making it tangible so that they can see the real benefits and the real effects of what they’re doing.” 

If you want to learn more about how to get involved in climate work in Africa, check out the African Climate Reality Project

In Their Own Words

What issue did you see?

Disadvantaged populations are particularly impacted by climate change. Since land-based conflict is a prevalent issue in Nigeria, aiding farming communities to protect, conserve and maintain their land was crucial. We worked to create a multifaceted strategy to combat deforestation. This meant working to preserve and restore land, thinking about strategies to increase the country's carbon sink, and raising awareness of catastrophic weather occurrences like floods. By protecting our biodiversity and forest reserves, we can significantly reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, while also protecting ourselves. 

What was your idea/insight to solve it and the end result/vision you wanted to achieve?

We thought a lot about how to ensure that the resources are used appropriately and that those resources have the greatest impact on communities. We were aware of the types of trees that we needed to plant to ensure that they thrived and that they created positive environmental change for the community. We had the ambition of working towards planting 5,000 trees with students, community members, and our partners. We surpassed that goal and planted 5,360 trees, not including the number of seedlings given away to residents. To achieve this, we knew we needed to have discussions and engagement with the members of beneficiary communities to bring awareness to their subconscious about the importance of trees. 

Why is this solution important to your country and community?

We want to support communities in protecting their land as well as help them practice agroforestry. When we do not protect our existing trees and just cut them down, there is an increased risk of disease. Experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic and seeing the impacts, there needed to be that awareness in our communities. For this reason we organized a webinar on the nexus between protecting biodiversity and preventing the next pandemic. 

Additionally, the tree-planting project compliments Nigeria’s commitment at the United Nations General Assembly to mobilize Nigerian youths towards planting 25 million trees to enhance the country's carbon sink, so we linked our efforts with this goal to show that we are a group of young leaders working to contribute to the country’s commitment. 

What were the biggest challenges you faced/ran into?

When COVID happened, we had to go back to the drawing board and determine the areas where we needed to readjust our project to ensure that we could deliver a positive impact. The social restrictions that were imposed by the government meant that it was challenging to initially engage in the training sessions. Another challenge was that we were not able to get government approval to create a buffer for the Usuma dam. This required adopting an alternative project. Working with the government comes with bureaucratic bottlenecks which often affect tree planting initiatives or climate projects.  

Who were the key stakeholders/partners that worked with you?

Our government stakeholders were the Nigerian Institute of Forestry, and Nigerian Ministry of Environment. We also met with various players in civil society and development partners who were working on communist resilience initiatives. As part of our engagement we also reached out to the British embassy because of their work around climate action in Nigeria. During the project, we would sit down and engage with the leadership of the villages and the contact persons in those communities. Our partners and community contacts became supervisors for the project and played a major role in reaching out to the community leadership, gathering the local people, and facilitating the education process. 

How did you mobilize people to take actions?

We initially did a call out for partners and got over 80 applications. That was cut down to 10 that had capacity to work with us to meet the targets of the project. We communicated on our vision and conducted an onboard program for our partners where we shared insights on the types of trees needed to survive and make impacts in communities.  We also reached out to the communities and leadership on why we wanted to plant them so that when we began the process, the communities knew that they were going to make a difference. In the villages, we gave the trees to young members of the household to adopt and nurture.  That way we created special family bonding with the trees. 

Another key aspect of tree planting is making sure the trees thrive and are taken care of. We would get them engaged in the process of planting a tree, have them dig the holes, put the tree in the ground, and then name it. People are likely to take care of something they have an emotional connection to, we also named some of the trees after the kids who planted them. It makes the tree feel as if it is a part of the family, it creates a connection. 

What insight, ideas, or suggestions would you offer someone looking to take action similarly?

People are inclined to engage in things that are tangible and in which they can see a clear result. Telling people that we cannot cut down trees does not sound realistic because people are just trying to live their daily lives. Focus on making it tangible so that they can see the real benefits and the real effects of what they are doing. Make the program sound fun, engage in a lot of community-based engagement strategies, and be intentional about working with the younger generation to understand and learn about the environment, how to take care of the environment, and how to plant trees. If you collaborate with others and create partnerships, you’ll be surprised at the kind of support organizations can offer to help your project make an impact. 

How did this project you created promote equity or justice in your community?

For climate awareness, people need to understand, and to do that you need to use practical and relatable language. No one wants to be left out of the conversation. We wanted to provide a platform and inspire young people to become future activists and engineers or work on the issues they are concerned about. We organized a "Climate Hang-out" for young people who are interested in climate issues to sit and voice their opinions on these key issues. We also shared our lessons to help others. For our tree planting, we targeted both urban and rural  areas to help support the communities.