Trees, bees and UBCs

Tonnes of aluminium cans and foil recycled in the UK are being turned into new trees to provide food, medicines and income for the people of Burkina Faso in West Africa - one of the poorest countries in the world. This article explains the workings of an innovative collaboration.

A30-year-old subsistence farmer and mother of five stands proudly next to a sapling in the stifling heat of an early African afternoon. The young tree is growing in the red, baked earth next to her mud brick home in Silli, a remote village in Burkina Faso - one of the poorest countries in the world. The baobab tree is barely 23 centimetres (9 inches) high and is surrounded by a pyramid of sticks to protect it from foraging animals.

For the tribeswoman, Sankara Minata, the tree is a godsend that will offer riches in the years to come. Its edible fruit are rich in calcium, its leaves can be used to make a cooking sauce while ropes and cloth can be woven from its bark.

It is hoped that, as a result of a recycling initiative, this will be one of 40 000 trees - acacia, mango, cashew, baobab and nere - to be planted in Burkina Faso’s Gabio forest by October this year.

Tackling climate change in Africa

For every tonne of aluminium collected for recycling in the UK, usually by local authorities, the Aluminium Packaging Recycling Organisation (Alupro) pays for a tree to be planted in Burkina Faso as part of its Trees For Africa campaign. This links the energy-saving benefits of recycling in the UK with tackling the problem of climate change in Africa.

Alupro is a not-for-profit body sponsored by aluminium packaging and reprocessing companies to encourage recycling. Based in Redditch in the UK, it has signed up more than 300 local authorities to help encourage local people to recycle aluminium.

Each time someone in the UK recycles a drinks can or foil tray rather than throws it away, this energysaving gesture counts towards a tree being planted in sub-Saharan Africa where climate change has caused widespread and devastating deforestation.

While Alupro is managing the campaign, the tree planting itself is overseen by Bristol-based charity Tree Aid, which supports community forestry projects in West Africa. Planting is assisted by a Burkina Faso-based conservation organisation.

A tree nursery has been established in the village of Silli using seeds provided by the National Centre for Forest Seeds, which is based in the country’s capital Ouagadougou. Seedlings are planted out in more than 30 villages within the Gabio forest when just four months old; the aim is to establish them during the rainy season and encourage speedy, maximum growth.

The seedlings, which are free to villagers or which are offered at a token price to commercial growers, are paid for by the Trees for Africa programme: the greater the tonnage of aluminium collected in the UK, the more trees are planted in the forest.

For years, the Gabio forest has been suffering from serious deforestation caused by diminishing rainfall due to increasingly hot summers, over-felling for firewood, bush fires, and clearance for farming. In the 1970s, the forest was a deep, impenetrable mass of large, tall trees. Today, however, the trees are much shorter, less bushy and more thinly spread. Some species have disappeared altogether and others are under threat of imminent extinction. One of the key culprits is climate change: temperatures are constantly rising and water is becoming scarcer.

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