More than a third of humanity lives in drylands, which are particularly vulnerable to climate change and affected by ongoing land degradation. The Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) is building local chapters around the world that are restoring degraded landscapes, networking with each other, and sharing knowledge and experience. We asked activists from five African initiatives what drives them – and what they love about nature.
Steve Makungwa: "Malawi's entire economy is based on agriculture. But of our 9.4 million hectares of land, 8 million hectares are already degraded. Many forests have been cut down to create new land for farming or to get wood for cooking and heating. This is worsening the situation of the land more and more. In our GLF project, we bring together different actors to make the soil more fertile again. I see our task in building connections and bridges. For example, we offer training for young people or talk to representatives from churches and mosques so that knowledge can be spread among people."
Name: Steve Makungwa (52), GLF Lilongwe, Malawi
Job: Lecturer in Forestry at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Favorite plant: Mulanje cedar (Widdringtonia whytei)
"In addition to communication, the issue of private land ownership is also important. Until now, a lot of land has not belonged to individual farmers, but to tribal leaders. The government is now introducing legislation to change this. People need to feel that they can make their own land fertile.
Malawi has set a goal of restoring 4.5 million hectares of land by 2030. That is very ambitious. Global politics also influences our project. For anything to grow at all, farmers need fertilizer, and the prices for it have risen a lot due to the war in Ukraine. The situation in the world has a direct impact on our food supply."
Emem Umoh: "Our community project in Nigeria has been running for eight years. We have already planted thousands of seedlings and are far from finished. In the next five years, we want to plant one million trees. Since we started working with GLF, everything has improved again. We have brought so many people on board. Key tribal leaders are now on board and supporting the project, and we’re working closely with them. That's the local level. At the national level, the GLF has empowered me to network in order to get the issue of reforestation on the agenda of the Nigerian people."
Name: Emem Umoh (47), GLF Uyo, Nigeria
Job: Initiator of various nature protection projects
Favorite plant: Prickly pear (Annona muricata)
"Currently, I am in our capital Abuja for this purpose and want to gain even more important supporters. We want to ensure that Nigeria's large forest reserves are restored in ten years. We are starting with Stubbs Creek in the Eket Offiong community, where we want to replant many of the illegally logged native tree species. Then the animals will also return – the elephants, turtles, and all the others. That is my dream. My favorite tree is the prickly pear. Its leaves have an anti-inflammatory effect – plus it's beautiful."
Sunday Geofrey: "For the past four years, we have been facing a political crisis in Cameroon, which means climate change has not been a priority. The biggest challenge for us, therefore, is to mobilize resources for our young initiative, both financially and in terms of staff."
Name:Sunday Geofrey (37), GLF Yaoundé, Cameroon
Job: Founder and coordinator of Support Humanity Cameroon
Favorite plant: Wenge tree (Millettia laurentii)
"Large forests are still being burned down in Cameroon to gain land. And when we plant new trees, there is no protection from the herds of cattle that roam the country. Therefore, we now want to protect the planted trees with fences. We have big plans for reforestation. But the challenges are also great.
For example, the Mbingboh River has lost a lot of water. It has 15 springs, but in the dry season only one of them supplies water. Yet four large communities depend directly on it. The Mbororo who live in the river region live pastoral lives and have to supply their sheep and cattle and, of course, themselves with water. When the water dries up, the people have to leave their homes.
So, we plant trees that store a lot of water. We also want to promote beekeeping. In the next ten years, we want to create an ecotourism site here. The beautiful Mbingboh Waterfall will become the center of a botanical garden. I have been able to convince many young smallholder farmers to join our project, and we have already planted 7,000 trees."
Laura Mukwhana: "I live in Kajiado County, which directly borders on Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. Here, you can clearly see how the construction of highways around the metropolis is destroying nature. So, nature conservation is important in cities as well. The Nairobi National Park was simply cut through for the Southern Bypass highway project, as was the Ngong Forest. More and more people are protesting against this. Young people, in particular, are volunteering to preserve and restore nature."
Name: Laura Mukwhana (33), GLF Nairobi, Kenya
Job: Environmental activist and researcher
Favorite plant: Mugumo fig tree (Ficus sycomorus)
"Recently, a huge Mugumo tree, more than 100 years old, was to be cut down in Nairobi. The Mugumo tree is sacred to Kenya’s Kikuyu tribe, who pray to their gods there. Protests have led to this tree being saved. Local conservation groups are increasingly networking with each other. It feels good to be part of the GLF community now. It has given us new opportunities, such as receiving social media training on how to raise awareness of our own projects. At the international GLF conferences, we can present our work – and learn from the experiences of others. It feels good not to be alone."
Emma Jones-Phillipson: "South Africa has a unique wealth of different ecosystems. So, the organizations that protect these landscapes each need different tools and methods. A new network of diverse organizations has emerged in the GLF Cape Town chapter, including our NGO Greenpop."
Name: Emma Jones-Phillipson (29), GLF Cape Town, South Africa
Job: Freelance consultant in the fields of climate, politics and gender
Favorite plant: Yellowwood tree (Podocarpus latifolius)
"Each organization in the network has a different focus. At Greenpop we are involved in urban greening, reforestation, food growing, and environmental awareness. Other organizations do policy advocacy or research. For example, in the “African Climate and Development” study, many local communities were asked what nature-based solutions they knew for problems caused by climate change. The goal is to show what local people are experiencing. These local, sustainable methods have great potential. That's why we need to share them with other GLF chapters."
The Earth’s drylands are extremely complex, delicate and ever-evolving structures that provide vast amounts of the world’s food. At the same time, they are home to more than 38 percent of the Earth’s population. They also support around 44 percent of the world’s cultivated systems and half of its livestock. Despite their outsized contributions to the global food system, dryland dwellers are among the world’s poorest. By supporting the project of the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) we strengthen its framework to decentralize and democratize access to knowledge: The project facilitates knowledge exchange between local and local-global actors, it provides local actors with targeted learning opportunities and resources and it seeds and scales positive action to reverse land degradation at the local level.