Situation Report
Preparing the land to plant the trees (Photo Credit: UNEP)

Community forests to fight climate change and build community resilience in North Darfur - The story of Shadia

In commemoration of World Humanitarian Day this year we demand climate action for the people who need it most. Time has run out and urgent action is needed to protect people and save the most vulnerable from climate disaster. #TheHumanRace

“The climate emergency is a race we are losing, but it is a race that we can win” – Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General.

Let us hear the story of Shadia, a housewife, and the women-led community forest program her village established with the help of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Wadi El Ku Catchment Management Project.

With climate change in North Darfur, rainfall has been erratic, and temperatures are rising, leading to food shortages and conflict as farmers and pastoralists compete for scarce natural resources. This put great pressure on local environments where they cut down trees for firewood, reducing forest and plant cover.

Under the UNEP Wadi El Ku Catchment Management Project in North Darfur, forestry and agro-forestry activities have been introduced, promoted, and spread to solve environmental problems and to benefit communities. This activity is considered one of the innovative, nature-based solutions to tackle environmental issues in rural areas.

Last year, more than 60,000 seedlings of native tree varieties (out of 150,000 planned) have been transplanted in different villages as community forests and shelterbelts (a line of trees or shrubs planted to protect an area from strong winds and the erosion they cause) by UNEP, the international NGO Practical Action and community-based networks in collaboration with the Forest National Corporation (FNC) in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur.

Allah Maragh village is about 15 km from El Fasher, and is one of the villages where 2,000 seedlings were transplanted for a community forest. Communities in the village had received extensive training on planting site preparation, seedling spacing by species, water harvesting, and irrigation techniques.

The 38-year-old Shadia Abdelkreem Adam, a wife who takes care of her husband's five children, said "When I was 10 years old, my family used to get extra food, fodders, local medicines, wood, fuelwood from the forest that surrounded our village. But there are no trees and no forests as a result of deforestation and conflict." Shadia explained that the forestation in her village was a women-led initiative from start to end. She said, "In 2015, the project's team conducted a participatory planning session with our communities to identify the village priorities and one of them was the establishment of a community forest. In the same year, a forest committee was formed to lead and manage all future activities. The committee includes an equal number of women and men, but women have played a prominent role in the success of all activities until date. We received extensive training and successfully transplanted different species of trees to kick start our new community forest before the end of 2015. Last year, more seedlings were transplanted."

The species of seedlings were selected by communities with the support of Practical Action and FNC. They included Grewia tenax, Hashab (Acacia Senegal), Katir (Acacia mellifera), Nabag (Ziziphus spina-christi), and Neem (Azadirachta indica). These trees were planted in an area of nine feddans (3.78 hectares).

Shadia concluded by saying, "It's been more than five years since we transplanted the seedlings, you can now see the trees are growing, with them the hope is growing inside us. Our forest is bringing our communities together, it protected our village from wind, it provides shade for everyone, community leaders, women groups, children, and even animals. Now, all meetings are taking place under the shade of these trees and vital decisions are taken there as well. Moreover, this forest opened an opportunity for women to be organized and to form a small saving group, which I'm personally benefiting from. More importantly in 2021 we are expecting high production of Gum Arabic from the tree. If that happens, the forest committee members - including me - will sell the products and generate money to support our village and communities."

The community forest has environmental benefits including improved biodiversity; reduced soil erosion; sand dunes fixation; improved water availability; climate change adaptation; climate change mitigation; wind speed reduction; soil fertility enhancement; evapotranspiration reduction; and increasing rainfall rate.

We asked Shadia to send a message, and she said, "My message to my community, the people of Sudan and everyone in the world, please plant more trees, protect the ones existing, and take care of them the same way you are taking care of your children and family."

Shadia and her community have proved that community-based forest management approaches can generate positive environmental and social outcomes. This in turn will help address other issues such as climate change and poverty.

The Wadi El Ku Catchment Management Project is funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented UNEP in partnership with the Government of Sudan, and the international NGO Practical Action.