Trees and their guardians in North Darfur

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Re-greening North Darfur

Over the past few decades, Darfur has experienced rapid population growth alongside several environmental challenges. The impact of conflict has also been felt – taking its toll on Darfur’s economy and environment. Increasing concentrations of displaced rural populations around major towns has exerted huge pressure on natural resources, leading to overuse. Manifestations include accelerated deforestation, over-use of groundwater resources, over-cultivation of available arable land, and overgrazing of available rangeland. The combined overall impacts have had unfavorable consequences for local ecosystems and livelihoods.

Despite the challenges, efforts are being made to re-green Darfur. At state level, the Forest National Corporation (FNC) is leading this effort, and communities and town citizens are doing their part, too. As one citizen of El Fasher town puts it,

“You could basically say I was born in the middle of mango and guava fields. I wanted to bring this back to my new home and community in El Fasher” - Ibrahim Adam Mohamed Sidiq 2nd place private tree garden winner - North Darfur National Tree Festival.

State and community led forestry in North Darfur

Seedling nurseries are an important foundation for a healthy forestry sector in the state, and North Darfur is home to one main government tree nursery as well as numerous privately owned nurseries. The government’s main tree nursery is the FNC’s central nursery (mashtal markazy), which houses up to one million seedlings. Although the nursery faced a lot of challenges due to conflict (at one point turning into a temporary home for many displaced people in the area), the government made substantial efforts to rebuild it. This central nursery supplies communities and others with tree seedlings and is also home to a wildlife enclosure, providing a weekend escape for many families living in the El Fasher area. Additionally, the FNC uses it as a venue to host educational events related to forestry, catering primarily to students, as well as for meetings, like those recently held by UNEP in El Fasher. Other FNC nurseries are spread across North Darfur, cultivating around 150,000 seedlings.

In El Fasher town, private tree nurseries are increasing, with many households contributing to seedling production and marketing. Together with community nurseries in the rural areas, this gives a sizeable boost to tree planting in the state. FNC supports both community and private nurseries by providing technical support, like guidance on nursery techniques as well as seeds and tools, when requested. It also provides extension services throughout the process of establishing, running and caring for nurseries, also on request.

NGO and UN actors have also contributed to seedling production and forestry in the state. About a dozen or more community forests were established in North Darfur with assistance from the international NGO Practical Action and the United Nation’s World Food Programme. However, their combined production capacity does not exceed 5000 seedlings. Among the most limiting factors linked to this low production capacity is limited access to water, as women are often responsible for retrieving water from water points far away from the community nursery. Substantial loss in forest cover in North Darfur has brought home the value of these resources to communities. Combined with support provided through NGO, UN actors and other actors, including food-for-work programmes that supply food in return for forestry work, this has encouraged people to take greater strides towards re-greening North Darfur, at the same time providing alternatives to less environmentally friendly livelihoods in the region (e.g. coal production, which relies on energy from wood fuel and contributes greatly to deforestation in Darfur). “Forestry needs not only to put seedlings into the ground, but also food on the table” (Anwar Hassan, Director General, FNC North Darfur).

Several communities started their community forest without food for work assistance. These forests inspire others to take similar initiative towards contributing to forestry in the state. However, there is still considerable need at the community level for technical support and also food for work contributions. FNC contends that technical assistance is available on request.

State level and community efforts also contribute greatly to forestry related projects in North Darfur, e.g. the Wadi El Ku project, which is implemented by UNEP in partnership with government and civil society (primarily Practical Action). For example, floods in 2014 took a heavy toll on many of the North Darfur tree nurseries supporting the WEK project area, and the loss was felt heavily at both state and community levels. But thanks to the efforts and mobilization of the South Darfur FNC, over 10,000 seedlings were donated to FNC North Darfur to compensate for the loss. In addition, and as part of the Wadi El Ku project, community tree planting plays a large role in efforts to stabilize wadi banks to slow down sand encroachment, and in many areas is led by women and women’s networks.

Obstacles to greening North Darfur

“Tree nurseries need both a constant supply of electricity and water,” says Anwar Hassan. The primary issues faced by both government and private tree nursery owners and foresters in North Darfur include access to the electricity required to maintain water pumps, access to water, and more particularly for private owners – access to land.

According to Abuelgasim Adam, Senior Environmentalist at UNEP Sudan, “Water is a particularly limiting factor in North Darfur especially for seedling production. However, for tree establishment, if good water harvesting structures were put in place, and trees were irrigated during one dry season, the trees would then only need protection from grazing animals for another 1-2 years before they mature and can rely solely on rainwater.”

“State and community nurseries receive support from the government, but more support is needed”, states Anwar Hassan.

Healthy competition in North Darfur

Despite the obstacles faced by many tree nursery and private garden keepers in North Darfur, the state promotes healthy competition to support tree planting and forestry work. Both the Director General of the FNC and the Secretary General of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Development (Darfur Regional Authority) contend that the Annual National Tree Festival, first celebrated in Sudan in 1963 - and becoming an official national festival in 1991 - plays a major role in fueling healthy competitiveness around forestry at both state and community levels.

Every year, the festival runs a competition to single out and acknowledge the best nurseries, forests and home gardens at state level.

“People that enjoy forestry and tree keeping should be championed within the community and we should work to support them”, says Anwar Hassan. “We develop criteria every year for the [forestry] competition, and those who don’t win this year take great strides towards improving for the following year.” In this photo, a festival participant opens the doors of his home to proudly showcase his garden. The criteria developed for the competition either at home garden level, nursery or community forest levels, are carefully thought out and serve as effective monitoring tools from year to year – tracking the progress of state and community level forestry across Sudan. Winning in the tree festival comes with great recognition at the state and national levels. Winners are promoted as champions of forestry in Sudan – a recognition that has fueled positive competition amongst participants over the past few decades.

The festival also provides the opportunity for communities and government to come together and discuss the benefits and value of trees – both tangible and intangible - for the environment and for people. The FNC, the state level entity in charge of the event, alongside other government and civil society organizations, takes the festival as an opportunity to raise awareness on the disadvantages of tree removal and to exchange and share information on various aspects of tree production in the region, often utilizing song and dance to promote positive action towards re-greening Sudan. This year’s event in North Darfur saw the state FNC and the Darfur Regional Authority’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Development come together to organize the 51st tree festival. Both the FNC and DRA were able to utilize their respective resources and partners to harness substantial participation across the state. A celebration both in El Fasher town and in the rural Shagra area of North Darfur brought together many institutions and community participants that aspire to improve forestry in Darfur.

According to Abbas, North Darfur’s 1st place private nursery winner in this year’s 51st National Tree Festival, the 3 main benefits of trees in Darfur is that they provide shade, they beautify homes, and they produce fruit for consumption and sale.

Although Abbas tends to sell his tree seedlings to community members in El Fasher, Mohammed, 1st place private garden winner in this year’s festival, adds that he benefits greatly from the added value of selling fruits in El Fasher market, produced from his home garden.

The future of forestry in North Darfur

As the majority of individuals interviewed for the piece contend, the future of forestry in North Darfur looks positive, with high expectations at both state and community levels. “If there was a real strong focus on community forestry, we could succeed in re-greening North Darfur” says Anwar Hassan. Darfur’s current crisis has resulted in a focus on short-term humanitarian initiatives that cater more to immediate response and relief. More effort is needed to rebuild livelihoods in the longer term to support recovery and development. Forestry in North Darfur has provided an opportunity at both state and community levels to do just that.

Efforts to re-green North Darfur are underway, yet at both state and community level it is evident that support is needed, particularly in terms of improving access to resources (water, land, electricity, equipment and tools) and providing extension services and training. Abuelgasim Adam (UNEP) adds that forestry efforts in North Darfur need to continue to become more forward thinking; forestry activities need to take a longer-term approach that emphasizes community ownership and participation. “In North Darfur the scarcity of natural resources, especially trees, has increased community awareness in terms of what the of value these resources really is. This is why communal efforts are more easily mobilized, especially in terms of replanting trees”.