Local communities in Tanzania’s Southern Highlands are involved in a forest restoration project aimed at protecting fresh water supplies, reforesting degraded areas and creating sustainable supplies of timber and fuelwood. Key to the project’s success will be the accurate monitoring of all trees planted to ensure that the newly planted seedlings survive and flourish – and this is being done through a mobile app.

In 2019, Trillion Trees partner The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) received support from Ecosia, the search engine that plants trees, to restore tree cover to Tanzania’s Southern Highlands.  Working in collaboration with district council and community-based organisations, the project aims to restore degraded areas, protect water catchments and create community woodlots, with the ambition of planting 900,000 new trees over two years, making a lasting difference for people, nature and the climate.

More than 1000 local people have so far been involved in training and planting sessions, and in 2020, despite setbacks due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a total of 541,000 seedlings were raised in the nurseries; and over 464,000 of those have been planted across 113 sites. These were a careful combination of indigenous species for forest restoration, to benefit biodiversity and safeguard resources, and fast-growing species for woodlots to provide a sustainable timber and fuel source for local people.

To make sure their planting efforts are successful, the communities are using an app to register and monitor the restoration work across the 113 planted sites in seven districts – including 38 water catchments, 16 restored areas, and 59 woodlot farms.

To facilitate this tree planting effort, Trillion Trees local partner WCS Tanzania has supported the expansion of seven local tree nurseries, some operated by community based organisations and is helping the nursery managers to develop business plans to ensure a sustainable supply of good quality seedlings in future years.

Vicky Mbofu, Assistant Programme Director, Southern Highland Conservation Programme, WCS Tanzania said:

Tanzania’s Southern Highlands fall within one of the world’s 25 ‘Biodiversity Hotspots’ and are home to over 2 million people, most of whom rely on natural resources for food, medicines, building materials and income. The mountains and forests are also vital to national and local economies but the forests have been targeted for timber, fuelwood and charcoal, and cleared for commercial farming, all of which pose serious threats to the region’s water supplies and cultural identity.”

“Our project harnesses the wealth of forest knowledge that the local people have and working with them, aims to restore tree cover and protect this forest which is of huge significance to the local economy, water supply and biodiversity in the region.”

Monitoring of restored areas of forest is crucial to ensuring the long-term success of the project. In the past this has been done through a time-intensive manual process. However, local communities are now using a mobile app to record and track tree-planting and the ongoing growth of the trees.

John Lotspeich, Executive Director of Trillion Trees said:

“We’ve recently seen a proliferation of tree planting pledges from around the world in response to the climate crisis. It is crucial that these pledges are borne out through sustained action to ensure these trees thrive. We know that the best way to keep local and global climates stable is to  first protect our standing forests, but where restoration does take place our efforts must be sustained and accurately monitored to ensure  long-term positive outcomes for people, nature and climate.”

“The good news is that technology can help us do that, if used in the right way. We’re excited about the streamlining of our project monitoring and want to work with Ecosia and other partners to ensure technology drives better practices and more transparency for all stakeholders.”

Mélissa De Hertogh. Ecosia’s Tree Planting Officer, shared:

"It's fantastic to work with partners who also stand by the importance of planting trees the right way, in the right place, and monitoring carefully to ensure the trees survive. This project is such a great example of harnessing technology for reforestation efforts and how positive collaboration between organizations and communities can have the best possible impact.”