It all started when Jeff Schnurr was living on the island of Pemba, Tanzania. He had worked in Canada as a tree-planter and after several months of living within a Pemban community his Tanzanian friend, Mbarouk Mussa Omar asked him if they too could plant trees as he'd done in Canada.
Although he knew it was possible, Jeff also knew that he wasn't the expert. He worked with Mbarouk to build a local team of gardeners, tree growers and foresters and began traveling to rural villages to see if communities wanted to plant trees. With limited resources, the group managed to collect seed from natural forests, grow seedlings and plant trees for fruit, timber and conservation.
Jeff teamed up with fellow Canadian tree-planters Daimen Hardie, Zach Melanson and Estelle Drisdelle to create an organization capable of supporting the growing tree-planting movement. Realizing that Tanzania efforts needed to be led by Tanzanians, the group helped their partners establish Community Forests Pemba, a locally owned and operated organization that works to make their own change. The two organization's work in partnership, as equals with a shared vision.
Pemban communities plant over 100,000 trees.
In 2009, the group wanted to make Pemba-style change at home and launched a workshop series in order to share the principles and practices of sustainable land use in Canada. This workshops series covers topics such as sustainable forestry, safe chainsaw use, native plant identification, permaculture, food forest gardening, beekeeping and timber framing.
In Pemba, communities began to manage planted forests for fruit and timber. Even though the end goal of planting trees was for environmental conservation and restoration, community members also need to make a living while caring for the planet.
As the organizations grew, Community Forests International established an office in an old school house in Sackville, NB. Community Forests Pemba set-up an office of their own in Pemba. Teams in both countries began to expand.
In order to raise funds, CFI staff started a for-profit business called Community Forests Canada Inc. Community Forests Canada Inc conducts landscaping, trail building and environmental work and donates profits, materials, equipment and labour to CFI’s work in Canada and Pemba.
As a small island, Pemba is particularly vulnerable to climate change - so why not change as the world changes? CFI communities began piloting new, lo-tech and affordable initiatives in order to adapt. The organizations began rolling out a new wave of projects, including beekeeping, earth block building, kitchen gardening, agroforestry and improved cooking stoves. These new projects received funding from the European Union through the Global Climate Change Alliance.
Climate change is the result of human caused carbon dioxide emissions – so how can we balance emissions with the forests that can store them? In order to create real, tangible and socially driven carbon solution, CFI began working with responsible businesses such as DIALOG and Free and Easy Traveler in order to connect the act of emitting carbon to the forests and people that can store carbon. The organization believes that a Canadian problem needs a Canadian solution and their carbon offsetting program puts this belief into action.
The small islet off of Pemba called Kokota wanted to plant trees but had one major problem. They had no water. Not for drinking, not for cooking and not for washing. Because all the wells they’d dug had produced only salt water, Kokotans had to travel by 4 hours via boat in order to collect drinking water from Pemba. It was pretty clear to both the community and CFI that something had to be done. So CFI supported the community to finish building a school on the island, and then used the school’s roof to direct rainwater into a 250,000-liter water tank - that's enough water for almost 200 days.
Clark Phillips and Susan Tyler of Whaelghinbran Farm had been practicing organic agriculture and restoration forestry for 40 years. Since hearing about the farm, the young CFI team had been working with Clark and Sue to learn about living, conserving and working on the Canadian landscape. Advanced in their years, Clark and Sue could no longer work and needed to sell the property. Other properties in the area were being bought and clear-cut, a reality no one wanted to face. By creating carbon offsets through the conservation and management of the property, CFI was able to purchase the property and begin the process of sharing the lessons of sustainable land-use through hands-on education and demonstration.
After developing rainwater harvesting systems on the islets of Kokota and Uvinje, CFI asked an important question. Tree planting was an act for the future, but what about the present? Several rural communities had no access to electricity so the group began working with community members to build solar energy systems capable of powering entire communities.
CFI communities plant their millionth tree.
Imagine if the solution to climate change came from those that need it the most. CFI believes that rural communities have the skills, work ethic, compassion and inspiration necessary to innovate solutions for a better tomorrow. In order to share Pemban-style change with the world, CFI will build a Rural Innovation Campus that will allow community leaders from Pemba, East Africa and beyond to come and share their knowledge through hands-on demonstration and rural incubation. This “hacker space” of the rural grows good ideas and follows CFI’s core belief: communities can make their own change.
To foster environmental stewardship internationally by establishing community forests, promoting sustainable forestry techniques and initiating environmental education.