Trees for Refugees

Where there are trees, there is hope. 

A little over a year after planting trees in and around the Minawao Refugee Camp in Northern Cameroon, Jurriaan Ruys, CEO and Harrie Lövenstein, Head of R&D at Land Life Company, returned to see, first-hand, how making Minawao Green Again is improving the land and lives of the people living there.

Recently, an outburst of violence by Boko Haram forced another 30,000 people into migration towards Cameroon. In that tough context, a successful regreening project was much needed.

Author: Jurriaan Ruys, CEO of Land Life Company

A little over a year ago, Land Life took on an ambitious reforestation project. Together with UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency), Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and Dutch National Postcode Lottery,  Land Life pledged to re-green 100 hectares of severely degraded land in and around Minawao.

After only 14 months, over 32,000 trees are flourishing and Minawao really is turning green again. It is wonderful to see some of the trees are already over three meters tall and are providing much-needed shade. It’s easy to visualize how in a few years time, the canopies of these trees will be large enough to create little forests between the homes, returning Minawao to the lush, green land it once was.

Making Minawao green again has only been possible through partnerships and we are extremely grateful to the Dutch National Postcode Lottery for their funding and to UNHCR and LWF for their unwavering support and implementation of the program.

(Source: UNHCR)

During our visit, we were lucky to spend time with some of the key people in the field to hear their stories of how the trees are changing life at the camp. Luka Isaac, Director of Nigerian Communities explained the shelter the trees provide. “Trees break the wind and stop roofs blowing away in storms. The shade they give is also important when temperatures reach over 40 degrees Celsius”.

Keeping Promises, Protecting People and Restoring Pride

From the onset of the project, we were careful to manage our expectations when planting tree seedlings in the middle of the dry season in the Sahel. We also appreciated the already heavy burden on the refugees when it came to taking care of the trees as they grew.  

It was therefore incredibly rewarding to see first-hand how Cocoons have kept their promise and provided the seedlings with enough water, shelter and healthy soil to establish strong root systems in time for the arrival of rain.© UNHCR/Xavier Bourgois

What made the biggest impression on me, however, was witnessing how the refugees take enormous pride caring for the young trees and protecting them from animal damage.  Ruffine Ebene Zobo of UNHCR expressed it well when we spoke about the role of tree care in the camp, “Women and girls especially feel great ownership over the trees. They keep goats away and look after the trees”.

© UNHCR/Xavier Bourgois

Job Nguere, Project Coordinator at LWF explained the satisfaction the trees are bringing to the camp. “Taking care of trees gives purpose and fulfillment. That is much needed in Minawao”.

From Providing Shelter To Creating Self-Sustainability

In parallel with the reforestation work throughout the camp, we were impressed with the work the LWF has done to reduce the demand for cook wood. The Federation has created facilities for refugees to produce charcoal briquettes from farmland waste.

Finally, I am pleased to report that our work with UNHCR to help refugees does not stop in Cameroon. Later this year we will be working together to re-green a Sudanese refugee camp, this time funded by Innovation Norway and supported on the ground by the National Forestry Corporation (FNC). Our mission is to reforest 3,000 hectares of degraded land over the next three years, again using Cocoons and other technologies to create a sustainable agroforestry system and future for refugees and local communities.

Read the full story of making Minawao Green Again

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