Planting trees to prevent rape takes African youth to climate talks in Warsaw

A Ugandan man’s actions to prevent his mother and sisters from being raped have awarded him a voice at international climate talks in Warsaw.

Otim Joseph, a 29-year-old from Kitgum in northern Uganda, was one of 10 young entrepreneurs speaking at the

Young Ugandan leader 29-year-old Otim Joseph (front centre) donates native tree seedlings for school students to grow. His work to reforest post-war Ugandan landscapes was presented at the UN-backed Global Landscapes Forum in Warsaw.

Young Ugandan leader 29-year-old Otim Joseph (front centre) donates native tree seedlings for school students to grow. His work to reforest post-war Ugandan landscapes was presented at the UN-backed Global Landscapes Forum in Warsaw.

Image by Global Landscapes Forum

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The young leaders—chosen from 150 entrants from 50 countries—opened the global landscapes talks alongside the UN climate negotiations in Poland.

“During the civil war in Uganda, a lot of trees were cleared by the army to help with visibility to see the rebels,” says Joseph, who was only two years old when the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency began in 1986 in Uganda.

Now a forester for Uganda’s National Forestry Authority, he explains: “This meant that women had to walk to bush land, in some cases up to 10km away from their own communities, to collect firewood.”

This is when they would be raped.

“To witness this terrible thing … I had to stop it from happening to my mother and sisters,” says Joseph, who has four sisters.

In 2005, after almost 20 years of insurgency, he started collecting seeds from native trees to restore the forests on the post-war landscapes.

“I wanted trees to grow fast, so that women could collect firewood from closer to home,” he says.

Soon after he started a nursery which today has more than 400,000 seedlings.

“I only buy 10 percent of my seeds, like pine. The rest are all sourced from African natives, such as Cassia, Luciana and Markhamia.”

He donates trees to schools and communities, and also helps train teachers, school children, and even the Ugandan army, to plant trees as part of his reforestation work in Uganda.

“If children see me planting the trees, then they are inspired to plant their own trees,” he says.

And when asked how he communicates the benefits of the reforestation, he says: “I tell the school children to stand up in the classroom and look outside.”

“When they look, they can see the difference that the trees make to the landscape.

"The woodlots we establish will not only serve fuel wood purposes—timber, poles, food and herbs will also be derived from the trees," Otim says.

"We now plant short, medium and long-term maturing tree species and this goes a long way to the restoration and conservation of biodiversity."

Future typhoon recovery in Philippines needs 'financially stable' farmers


Who has the capacity to recover from typhoons is a question of wealth, according to a young Filipino speaking at the Forum.  

 

 
“Typhoons do not discriminate between farmers and non-farmers, but they can divide the rich and the poor,” says Karen Tuason.

“When the storm surge and the direct relief stage subside, we have to question who has what capacities for recovery.”

Tuason was one of 10 young speakers chosen to open the international UN-backed Forum this weekend, to showcase their efforts to achieve sustainable landscapes.

Her speech, about helping young landless Filipinos improve their access to farms and farming skills, was more poignant following last week’s devastating Typhoon Haiyan.

Tuason is a member of a peasant organisation called Task Force Mapalad that works to improve land tenure opportunities for young farmers, farm workers and indigenous communities across 11 provinces.

The agrarian reform group supports farmers in Visayas and Mindanao, in the Philippines where the history of feudalism is still prevalent.

Owning your own piece of land, she says, can make a big difference.

“I’ve witnessed how the transformation of socio-economic roles – from mere landless farm workers to new land owners and managers – has enabled young farmers to address and improve food security of their communities, raise their household income, gain access to education and healthcare.

“But having your own piece of land is not quite enough to improve your livelihood. We also have to raise the business capacity of farmers.”

Tuason hopes that her talk will encourage more investment in programs that can educate landless peasants and farmers across the Philippines to help them build their resilience in the face of future extreme weather events.


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