In much of the world, students of all ages and studies are graduating over the next month – celebrating their hard work and successes over years of schooling. The same is true for Forest Garden farmers in Kenya and Tanzania. More than 5,500 farmers celebrated their successful completion of Trees for the Future’s (TREES) Forest Garden training program in April and May.
“This day means that I have graduated, and I have reached such a level that I am an expert and am better than before,” says graduate farmer Peter Ngigi.
Celebrating Four Years of Hard Work
Peter and his fellow graduates joined TREES’ training program four years ago and have been hard at work ever since. TREES works with farming communities in challenging climates where hunger and poverty are persistent. Local staff provide training, seeds, and resources to farmers. Soon, they transform unproductive, degraded land into thriving Forest Gardens full of thousands of trees and dozens of species. Using permaculture and nature-based solutions, farmers are able to restore their land and provide for their families year-round.
“Before joining the Tree for the Future program, I had so many problems,” recalls graduate Perpetual Njoki. “I was not able to stand on my own, but now I am able to. I am not idle, I am self-employed. I am not looking for work from other people, I work using my own hands.”
Building a Forest Garden
On average, farmers establish a one-acre Forest Garden, they plant 2,500 – 4,000 trees. They gain access to everything they need to eat and sell on their own property. Peter, for example, went from growing six food crops on his land when he joined in 2019 to growing 18 different types of food crops in his Forest Garden. Before, he had two crops to sell, now he has 23 different crops and products serving as streams of income throughout the year.
“When farmers join our program, they have very little to rely on,” says Tanzania Country Director Heri Rashid. “Today, being able to celebrate all these farmers and all their accomplishments over the last four years is proof that the Forest Garden Approach has a powerful, lasting impact on people and planet. We are so proud of all the graduating farmers and are confident that they will continue to show the power of the Forest Garden for years and years to come.”
Although their formal training with TREES ends with graduation, their Forest Gardens are only just beginning. With the trees they’ve planted and the knowledge they’ve gained, every farmer graduating now has the tools they need to succeed in the long term. In addition to their continued growth and success, farmers often have the option to “Plant it Forward.” They can share their knowledge with other farmers in their communities through TREES’ growing network.
“Anyone who would like to learn they can come [to me] and I will train them so that they can help themselves and their families… so that they can reach where I have reached,” says Perpetual.
Celebrating Graduation with the Community
The April and May graduation graduations welcomed entire communities for the celebrations. Farmers gathered with their family members, community leaders, government officials, and TREES staff.
“It is a joy to celebrate these accomplishments with farmers and encourage them to continue in their journey to prosperity,” says Brandy Lellou, Trees for the Future Vice President of Programs. “Our training program may end after four years, but these inspiring graduates are planting the seeds of transformation for generations to come.”
The 5,500 graduates make up the largest graduating class from the Forest Garden training program ever and represent 14% of all farmers trained by TREES to date. There are currently 25,000+ farmers enrolled in TREES training programs across Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Senegal, and Mali.
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