Greening and development of rural Acornhoek using trees

The northeast of South Africa is home to some of its best-visited tourist attractions. On the one side is Kruger National Park and the upmarket, private game lodges that surround it. On the other there’s God’s Window and the awe-inducing Blyde River Canyon.

But wedged in between these affluent, talked about regions lies a rural settlement. This is a community of more than 100 000 residents with no real industry to speak of.

The town of Acornhoek, situated in the larger Bushbuckridge and forming part of eHlanzeni District Municipality, has very few tarred roads. Locals walk along pothole-ridden gravel streets, because they have no other way of getting around. It’s not that they don’t want to work; it’s simply that there is no work.

The CBD consists of a warehouse-like shopping centre where there are many places to spend money, but not many ways to make any. Acornhoek is unemployed and uneducated.

You’ll find two types of people here: those who fled from Mozambique during the war of the 1980’s and those who were dumped here because of forced removals. It doesn’t rain often. The gardens, roads and open areas are sandy. Yet the people remain. This community is resilient.

There are many NGO’s at work in Acornhoek, but one project truly stands out.

Wildlands Trees for Life

Acornhoek falls inside the Kruger2Canyon Biosphere, and together with Nedbank, they launched Trees for Life – a project that not only reforests the community, but also teaches moms, dads and school children how to do business. The project kicked off in June 2014.

A tree-preneur will start by planting seeds found in the local forests in plastic, cut-off two-liter bottles that they recycle at home. They will then nurture these trees in makeshift greenhouses built from scratch out of branches and scraps of net.

Once the trees are a certain height (10cm, 20cm, 30cm etc.), they are equal to a certain value (R10, R20, R30 etc.). But a tree-preneur doesn’t receive the money in cash.

The value of their little plantation is bartered for bicycles fit for these harsh conditions, water tanks or even laptops to help their children study. They can also barter their trees for R500 boxes of supplies and open a small convenience store at home.

Driving between the community schools and visiting homesteads of tree-preneurs, you can see the commitment they have for these little saplings. Less than a year ago, these people didn’t know the difference between the trees that grow outside their homes and the plains beyond. Now they can tell you exactly which is a knobthorn, a marula or a moringa – the only exotic tree that is part of the project. The moringa leaves are believed to have medicinal value and locals pay an arm and a leg for dried leaves to use for tea or as herbs.

For the most part, the trees that are bartered are donated back to the community to be planted there or planted in other arid regions of the country.

We see many South Africans with jobs refusing to go to work because they want more money. It is refreshing to learn that there are people living with much less that are simply happy to have found a way to improve their lives.

Originally commissioned for The Green Times

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