The focus and involvement on rural livelihood by T.R.E.E. Initiative is based on available statistics that a sizeable fraction of global population is resident in rural areas. There is a huge rural population, and by this we refer to people living in rural areas. These rural areas have low population density; the environment in most rural areas is sparsely populated with scattered or unplanned houses and less infrastructures compared to cities and urban areas. It is estimated that almost a fifth of the world's population living in rural areas derives their livelihood from peasant farming. The large number of rural people and their involvement in peasant agriculture and other activities makes planning for rural people, peasants, and their livelihoods important for many reasons.
According to the World Bank, and as outlined in its Forest Strategy paper, forests resources are valued from a variety of perspectives and for a variety of purposes. Over 90% of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty depend on forests for some part of their livelihoods. Indirectly, forests support the natural environment that nourishes agriculture and the food supplies of nearly half the population of the developing world. In addition to contributing to food security, forest resources also provides commercial opportunities and employment.
The capabilities, assets and activities that rural people require for a means of living are termed as rural livelihood. Globally, about 500 million families are said to depend on earnings from their farms for survival.
Our sustainable livelihood activities include:
SAVE-THE-SHEA TREE FOR RURAL WOMEN LIVELIHOOD
For both the urban and rural poor, charcoal and firewood from trees like the Shea Tree provides an affordable alternative source of energy for cooking. As the production of charcoal from Shea Trees in particular to meet both local and international demand escalates, Nigeria’s forest resources is being depleted daily with dangerous consequences including soil degradation, deforestation, desertification, hunger and rural poverty.
Nigeria is ranked as the largest producer of Shea Butter globally. The Shea Tree grows in about 22 States across Nigeria including Niger, Kwara, Kogi, Kebbi, Ogun and Oyo States with production by rural women.
The growth in the Shea Butter market presents an opportunity to provide rural women with a sustainable source of income and a route to financial independence. There is an estimated half a million rural women currently engaged in the Shea butter business in Nigeria alone and their means of livelihood is now under serious threat.
While Government's focus has been on developing a strong Shea butter sector for national economic development by sensitizing players in the industry, little is being done in terms of advocacy to stop the indiscriminate cutting down and replacement of Shea Trees used for firewood and the production of charcoal which is now largely exported.
In 2018, T.R.E.E. Initiative in collaboration with a Foundation, the National Orientation Agency (NOA) in Kwara State, Kwara State Ministries of Information, Agriculture & Natural Resources, Nigeria Immigration Service among others kick started the "Save-The-Shea" campaign to sensitize the public on the environmental, health, and economic consequences of cutting down Shea Trees to promote the booming charcoal business.
The Save-The-Shea campaign flaged off in Ilorin, Kwara State is the first leg of a series of social advocacy that T.R.E.E. Initiative will be executing across the Shea Belt in Nigeria over the next 10 years. The Save-The-Shea has given impetus to the National Shea Tree Restoration Advocacy Program (NASTREP: 2019-2025) which aims to meet the immediate goal of planting about 2 million improved Shea Tree Seedlings across the Shea Belt by engaging small holder women farmers in clusters. Seedlings will be given to these women to plant and nurture under this comprehensive national plan.
T.R.E.E. Initiative will continue to mobilize Nigerians against the indiscriminate logging of Shea Trees and other tree species for firewood and Charcoal for export.
RESUSCITATION OF EXTINCT ECONOMIC SOURCES OF LIVELIHOOD
Since T.R.E.E. Initiative discovered that poverty to a large is responsible for the little resistance from the local communities to timber merchants who cut down trees legally or illegally, we adopted a strategy of resuscitating economic livelihood means that are no longer in vogue but crucial to the economic growth of such identified rural communities.
These are sources of economic empowerment that can create jobs particularly for rural women which in turn will address the poverty situation in rural households and environment.
In Akinyele L.G.A., for instance, a popular economic livelihood source which has gone into extinction is the famous “Akara Kengbe” (Spiced Beans Cake) which is made from processed raw cowpea. Akara Kengbe use to be a popular staple food in some communities in Southwest Nigeria for many decades. It was a major source of livelihood for several women who produce it daily and earn substantial income to sustain their families and educate their children.
This staple food made out of raw cowpea suffered setbacks when the demand for it dropped as a result of rumors and superstitious believes that the enterprise of “Akara Kengbe” is solely done by old women who are labeled as “witches.” It was also rumoured that the palm oil used in frying “Akara Kengbe” is usually mixed with human blood. This is similar to the superstitious belief that made many ignorant people cut down trees around their houses some years back with the assumption that “evil spirits and wizards” dwell and hold nocturnal meetings inside big trees.
T.R.E.E. Initiative has made a breakthrough in bringing the local government leadership and customary leaders in the communities to participate in this project and we are sure it will inspire many women, both old and young who have the economic means to reconsider going back into this source of livelihood.
This particular project will be replicated in selected local government areas across the nation after the evaluation of the pilot stage at Akinyele L.G.A. Under the Resuscitation of Extinct Economic Sources of Livelihood Program, T.R.E.E. Initiative will train and empower 20 women in each local government under this program.