Climate Change Chronicles, Part XV: Treepreneur Busisiwe Ndlela

Treepreneur Busisiwe Ndlela.(Photo courtesy of Jeff Kelly Lowenstein.)

Busisiwe Ndlela’s mother died from asthma in Verulam, South Africa when the girl was just 14 years old.

The girl had never known her father.

Her twin brother had died years before.

Her mother’s death, then, would leave her alone in the world.

But before her passing, her mother imparted a valuable lesson.

“You must depend on yourself,” Ndlela, who looks younger than her 60 years, said her mother told her. “You must work hard.”

“From that day I worked hard to today,” she said.

Ndlela first worked for her mother’s employer, raising that woman’s children for six years.

She then moved to a long-term stint with a family in suburban Durban North. In her second job, she cared for that family’s children, and then for the parents as they aged.

Since 2008, though, Ndlehela, whose name means, “The road where we are,” has turned her unwavering work ethic to planting trees.

About 1,200 of them.

Ndlela is one more than 600 “treepreneurs” in the Buffelsdraai area northwest of Durban who have been working with conservation non-profit Wildlands Conservation Trust on an innovative pilot program that seeks to restore a 2000-acre sugar cane field to its original state.

In so doing, the program seeks to educate residents about climate change, provide a much-needed boost to the local economy and become an eco-tourist destination.

The City of Durban purchased the property from sugar cane company Tongaat-Hulett prior to the program’s start in 2008.

Richard Winn, environmental manager at Durban Solid Waste, the city’s waste management department, explained that the project gives interested people trees to plant from seeds that have gathered in the area. His department supplies topsoil to program participants.

The amount of payment a treepreneur receives depends on the height of the tree.

A tree that is 1 foot tall pays 5 rand, or about 60 cents.

A 20-inch tree pays 7.50, or about 90 cents.

A tree that is about one yard high pays 10 rand, or $1.25.

The money has been a welcome addition for treepreneur Ziningi Gcabashe.

One of the program’s original participants, she has gone on to plant more than 15,000 trees. She’s used the money from the trees to pay for items like her children’s school fees.

Gcabashe said the program has grown in popularity since people have seen its success. Learning how to plant trees has also helped people do their part to combat climate change, she said.

Winn said that the trees are the first step in a three-stage process that will take place over several years as about 250 acres per year are altered.

Subsequent steps include having the treepreneurs shift to being “super growers” who work on planting second-level plants to achieve a higher level of biodiversity.

The third stage will involve hiring area residents to maintain the altered landscape.

As the metropolitan Durban area’s largest forest, Buffelsdraai could supply trees for people in the surrounding 30 miles, according to Winn.

He said it also could become an eco-tourism and residential destination.

“When they’ve got 800 hectares of forest doing its cleaning, people will want to move in,” he said.

Sean O’Donoghue, acting manager of Durban’s climate protection branch, said the potential jobs could inject a new element into the often heated debate between conservationists and those who want to develop the land for commercial purposes.

“This is the first time that conservation brings jobs to people,” he said.

Count on Ndlela to be one of the employees.

“It must carry on,” she said about the program. “We are not starving.”

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