Blue Planet United is supporting the work of WAEV – Women’s Agri-Enviro Vision in Tanzania
WAEV is currently centered in Lendikinya, a large Maasai community twelve kilometers southwest of Monduli, Tanzania. This village is one of many marginalized pastoralist communities in the Monduli district. As is typical in Maasai communities, women’s work never ends—food production, cooking, domestic chores, and the gathering of water and firewood from hours away. They are given little financial resources and, in most cases, have low social status in their families and communities. WAEV is determined to address these disparities and empower women socially and economically.
The Foundation: Women’s Groups
Each woman’s group participant initially receives 20 saplings to plant around her homestead. In addition, she receives training to ensure her trees are successfully maintained and sustainably cultivated. This training is further supplemented by individual check-ins and consultations throughout the program. To remain in a women’s group, a woman must effectively maintain at least 50% of her trees. Those who demonstrate this skill and commitment will have the opportunity to procure additional trees.
Since its inception, WAEV has grown from a single group of 17 women who met under an acacia tree, to now over 150 women and six cohorts. These women are the leaders of environmental and social justice in Lendikinya and are empowered change-makers in their communities.
We select trees that are either native to Tanzania or are noninvasive, and suitable to grow in the harsh, unpredictable conditions of Monduli. We choose trees that are relatively fast-growing, easy to harvest (i.e. do not have thorns), and offer positive results to the native ecosystem and the women who plant them.
Mature trees directly provide many different resources for the women, their families, and the greater community. Women use certain trees to fuel fires for cooking, collect fruit from others to feed their families, and harvest timber to sell for profit. Other trees will remain in their homesteads, revitalizing the local ecosystem, improving soil health and reducing soil erosion.
Despite the challenging environmental conditions in the Monduli district, most women are successful, and the average tree survival rate so far is 70%. In the last three years, our groups have planted over 12,000 trees!
DOME FIRE RESTORATION PROJECT
Mojave Desert, California
By Riley Scaff, Project Lead
The Dome Fire in August, 2020 was devastating to the Cima Dome area, a climate refuge for the endangered Joshua Tree and the site of one of the densest Joshua Tree forests in the world. However, it also provided an opportunity to investigate the impacts of fire on a fragile ecosystem, and how to promote its recovery while conserving an iconic symbol of the California desert.
During the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021, I began communicating with researchers at different organizations to design a restoration study for this area. I had fantastic correspondence with individuals such as Molly McCormick (ecologist, USGS Southwest Biological Science Center), Drew Kaiser (Vegetation Program Manager, Mojave National Preserve), Prof. Marty Meyer (Biology, Pomona College), and Prof. Colin Robins (Environmental Analysis, Keck Science Department), among others.
During my conversations with Molly McCormick, I learned about the USGS’s RestoreNet project, a networked restoration experiment being replicated across the southwest to test restoration methods in dryland systems. I adopted this experimental design as the structure for my study because it tested a host of restoration treatments but also provided opportunities for flexibility and follow-up research.
I then spoke with Drew Kaiser at the Mojave National Preserve to develop a list of plant species native to the Cima region that would be ideal candidates for restoration projects. I cross- referenced the list of plants we developed with previous postfire restoration projects in the Mojave Desert, and established six species ideal for a seeding experiment and six species to outplant later, with a few overlapping species. Drew was generous enough to provide a substantial quantity of seeds for the study.
In November, 2021, I constructed the first set of plots, which tested the impact of three experimental treatments (pits, mulching, and hardware cloth nurse plant structures) on seed germination.
In January, 2022, there was no observable germination, but in February some annuals had begun to sprout, but they were too small to identify. In March, these plants were still too small to identify, and extreme winds made fieldwork extremely difficult. By April, however, temperatures had gone up and the plants had grown significantly; flowers also made the plants easier to identify, so I was able to comprehensively survey the vegetation community inside the plots. Unfortunately, none of the species in my seed mix had appeared, meaning the community of annuals came from the seed bank that was present prior to the Dome Fire. Still, the study presents a fascinating opportunity to investigate the Mojave Desert ecosystem’s early successional stages in a heavily degraded region, something which has not been studied extensively.
I returned to the field site in May, 2022 and found that the plants had grown even further and more native species, including some native perennials, had sprouted up. There was also an abundance of insect life and, more surprisingly, a few birds could be heard in the burnt Joshua Tree skeletons.
One apparent pattern was that the charcoal rings around burned shrubs seemed to have significantly higher quantities of sprouting plants than the more barren interspaces. To investigate whether this effect was tied with soil characteristics, I collected soil samples inside and outside burned shrub canopies, which I plan to analyze geochemically for carbon and nitrogen, and send samples to a lab for fungal genetic sequencing.
As the aforementioned results illustrate, seeding experiments have a questionable success rate in the desert because drought, extreme heat, and high winds can all threaten seed germination, and desert plant species tend to exhibit low rates of seed viability. Outplanting, which involves growing plants in a greenhouse for 5-10 months prior to planting in the field, is more costly but has a higher long-term success rate for returning native plants to a disturbed desert area.
Fortunately, the Mojave Desert Land Trust—a conservation nonprofit based in the Mojave Desert—not only granted permission to conduct this experiment on their land, but they also run a native plant nursery. I contracted Madena Asbell, the director of the nursery, to supply ~450 plants of six different native plant species for an outplanting experiment as the second component of the restoration study. Blue Planet United generously agreed to fund this contract.
The experimental design for the outplanting study will follow a slightly different format from the seeding. Each species will receive one 2 x 2 plot containing 36 individuals, which will be used as a control to evaluate the rate of survivorship over time. In the remaining plots, I will mix and match combinations of different plant species to evaluate whether plant biodiversity affects how well the plants survive, and how productive they are. If the polycultures do differ from the control plots in terms of productivity and survivorship, I will also be able to evaluate whether certain key species are responsible for these effects, or whether the effect of biodiversity does not discriminate by species.
I also plan to collect soil samples inside each plot to evaluate how the plants alter the biogeochemistry of the soil as they grow. This is an entirely uninvestigated question in dryland
restoration, but it could help us determine whether outplanting specific species can help rehabilitate desert soils, which are highly sensitive to the effects of wildfires.
The National Park Service is currently working on an outplanting effort for Joshua Trees in this region. This data will help determine whether planting them in conjunction with other native perennials will improve success, and if so, which species would be the best pioneer plants to pave the way for the recovery of the Cima area from the Dome Fire.
PAVEMENT TO PARADISE PROJECT
Blue Planet United is creating a demonstration garden – one that will show how to turn a pavement driveway into a garden which will include fruit trees, vegetables, herbs, flowers and water (a solar fountain). The garden will not use electricity or herbicides/pesticides. We will not dig up the driveway, but rather, build raised beds on top.
The objective is to:
- sequester carbon,
- feed people,
- encourage wildlife, particularly butterflies, bees and birds,
- provide shade that will lower the temperature outside the house that will in turn lower utility bills,
- be a showcase for one way to rewild a paved area without major construction,
- use waterwise conservation practices, including a rain barrel, that will keep water use within the new CA regulations,
- demonstrate a worm bin and composting,
- use solar outdoor lighting,
- and provide practical steps people can use to move toward net zero carbon emissions.
We will gather data, and learn best practices that we can share with others. One important part of this project is raising public awareness of the possibilities and advantages of living locally—buying locally, eating locally, being more aware of ones community and bioregion, making more deliberate choices.
In a world that seems to be increasingly fragile, one way to stay strong is to build resilient communities:
- Resilient – because the complex economic, energy, and environmental challenges we face not only require solutions to make problems go away, but responses that recognize our vulnerabilities, build our capacities, and enable us to adapt to an increasingly unpredictable future.
- Communities – because the future is grounded in local relationships—relationships with the ecological resources that feed and sustain us, among families and neighbors, and through the institutions we use to govern ourselves.
THE NET ZERO CARBON PROJECT
The Climate Emergency is here now. Human development since the industrial revolution has led to increased greenhouse gases which have caused a rapid increase in temperatures that now threatens life on Earth.
To ensure a livable world, it has become clear that humans (particularly industrialized societies) must move quickly to lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) caused mainly by the use of fossil fuels. The bottom line: We need get off fossil fuels as fast as possible. We need to reduce carbon emissions and absorb more carbon. How can this be done?
A large part of the solution is to change our habits. Part of the solution involves technologies; fortunately many existing technologies are available, and many more are coming soon. Our initial focus will be on simple solutions, not complicated expensive technology.
The main objective, in response to the climate crisis, is to give people a range of ideas of how to get off fossil fuels. And in the process, create more resilient communities. We will:
1) Research existing net zero projects and/or movements, and make a list of the projects including the name, location, website address, and a short synopsis of what they do.
2) Keep a separate list of specific suggestions of “best practices”, things individuals can do.
Can we live comfortable net zero lives? Each year we will keep records and assess progress—successes and failures—toward getting off fossil fuels. We will share that progress through our website, articles and tours.