The Unsung Heroes of Creation Care (Plant With Purpose)
The Unsung Heroes of Creation Care:
Rural Farmers and Environmental Restoration
By Becky Rosaler & Annelise Jolley 2015 (updated in 2017 by Valerie Foulkes)
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for He founded it on the seas and established it on the waters. Psalm 24:1-2
King David’s famous psalm praises the Lord for His creation and His sovereignty over it. God created an interdependent planet in which species depend on other organisms for life. Humans are no exception; our health is linked to the health of natural resources. Nowhere is this interdependence more evident than in rural com-munities where people survive off what they can grow. Though these communities remain some of the poorest on earth, they are at the forefront of restoring the earth’s natural resources.
More than 30 years ago Tom Woodard, Plant With Purpose’s founder, asked an inspired question: what if planting trees was a solution to rural poverty, a solution that would provide jobs, improve food security, and restore the land? Since the first trees were planted in the Dominican Republic, farmers partnering with Plant With Purpose have planted 23,060,534 trees across seven country programs. Tiny seeds have grown to form Plant With Purpose’s holistic three-part development approach, with environmental restoration as a pillar.
As global environmental conditions worsen and reports of droughts, floods, famine, and climate change increase, over 35,000 Plant With Purpose partnering families are doing their part to make a positive impact and heal the land.
Taking David’s psalm to heart, farmers in Tanzania have set out to change the trajectory of their surroundings, including the iconic Mt. Kilimanjaro. In 2012, Plant With Purpose Tanzania developed a group competition to inspire further good work from program participants. As the competition evolves each year in scope, so does its impact. Initially groups competed to plant the most trees. The following year groups worked to heal local water sources through reforestation. In 2014, the competition encouraged farmers to use organic, sustainable methods that would add to the soil instead of stripping it of nutrients.
Plant With Purpose Tanzania’s unique approach exemplifies the innovative way rural communities are healing their land. Inspired by competition, partners in Tanzania have seen an increase of nearly 1,000 percent in the number of trees planted per family. As Country Director Richard Mhina said, “The competition concept motivates people. It engages people as they are doing their weekly activities.”
HEALING COMMUNITY LAND
Mungubariko Tarimo from Masia Mamba speaks proudly of his farm and its produce, and with good reason. Cabbage and other crops cover the hillside plot. “When you look at my farm today, I can tell you that it didn’t use to be like this,” Mungubariko says. “There were no trees here and no one in the community was in the habit of planting trees. We didn’t do anything to conserve the soil and it would wash away with the rain. The land was degraded and snows from Kilimanjaro were melting and not returning.”
Mungubariko encouraged participation in the group competition. “We learned from Plant With Purpose the importance of planting trees and that God cares about the environment and we have a responsibility to protect the environment. So we started the first tree nursery in this area. We also learned about protecting the land with terracing, which has reduced erosion and also allowed us to grow a lot more crops. In just the last few years we have planted over 13,000 trees in this area. We have fruit trees of many kinds, and forest trees that grow tall and protect the land.”
Environmental restoration is taking place not just on Mungubariko’s farm but across Masia Mamba. Even the backdrop of the village has changed as snows return to Mt. Kilimanjaro. He says, “The snow on the mountain was almost gone before, but now it is starting to return and we know that if we continue planting trees it will be like before.”
HEALING WATER SOURCES
Thanks to the group competition, partnering farmers now plant an average of 400 trees a year. With limited acreage—average property size is 3.3 acres according to the 2014 Impact Evaluations—personal farms quickly become saturated with veg-etation. Participants in the annual competition have extended their impact to reforesting Tanzania’s sloped riverbeds. These steep ravines are typically public property and as groups have discovered, they’re a great place to plant trees.
Farmers whose properties include water sources are also reforesting river ravines. On Lucas and Paslida Tarimu’s farm you can find avocado, corn, coffee, lettuce and tomatoes. Yet the most dramatic improvement to their farm did not come from the variety of crops but rather the 2,000 trees planted along the steep slope of their property. Many of these trees are now more than thirty feet tall.
“In the past the stream here was dry and we had no way to get water,” Lucas remembers. “We have seen the rains return and the land become more fruitful. Now the stream runs year round and the land has been protected. There are also 3,000 people living in two villages who depend on this stream. Now all of us are benefiting.”
HEALING FAMILY FARMS
Last year’s group competition emphasized organic farming methods and it was only fitting that the competition commenced with an organic agriculture festival. More than 3,000 people attended and farmers from across the Kilimanjaro region contributed their organic vegetables to the rich display of local produce.
Local government official Herman Kapufi spoke at the festival sharing, “It is high time for our farmers to embark on the type of farming which is friendly to the environment. Environmental degradation contributes to poverty so people need to change the way they do things. We believe that agribusiness will address poverty, and hence we need to use small pieces of land to get high productivity.”
Plant With Purpose partnering farmers cultivate plots that integrate beneficial plants, increasing crop yields and improving pest management. Agroforestry training encourages the integration of planting trees, raising livestock, and growing vegetables in biointensive double dug gardens. As partnering farmers learn to make both compost and organic pesticides from resources on hand, their health and the health of their farms increases.
Partnering farmers are cultivating bananas, vegetables, coffee, sweet potatoes, and cassava at a higher rate than comparison households. In fact, their crops are 42 percent more diverse than those of nonparticipants. This crop diversity, along with organic farming methods, heals the land they depend on for survival. By cultivating healthy and organic family farms, they are restoring natural resources like soil and inspiring neighboring communities to do the same.
FORCES OF CHANGE
As farming families restore Tanzania’s natural resources, positive stories abound. Stories of birds returning to the area speak of increasing biodiversity. Stabilized mi-croclimates are more conducive for plant growth. Trees planted in ravines allow wa-ter to soak into the soil and refresh streams.
As rural farmers embrace their calling to care for creation—and in Tanzania’s case use competition to drive creation care—the environment is being restored. The activities of planting trees and farming sustain-ably are core to Plant With Purpose’s global program. But they aren’t only activities; they are forces of change, creating a positive impact on the earth while reversing the cycle of rural poverty. Truly, these farmers affirm in word and action “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”