As the world becomes increasingly concerned about climate change, South Africans are turning to an incredible indigenous tree to not only help in the fight against this global problem, but also to create incomes for disadvantaged members of society.
The spekboom tree absorbs huge amounts of carbon dioxide – the main gas which is causing the world to become warmer each year.
Three years ago, Peter Shrimpton, founder of non-profit organisation Heart Capital, recognised the potential of the spekboom to fight climate change.
“I read an academic paper on the amazing ability spekboom has to absorb carbon, so I decided to plant a few trees,” said Shrimpton.
When he discovered that the tree was very easy to grow, Shrimpton saw an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged people around Cape Town.
“I thought it would be an incredible way to lift people out of poverty. I went into townships and enabled disadvantaged people to start growing spekboom for me by giving them the growbags, compost, mother stock and training on how to plant and grow spekboom.”
Through Shrimpton’s initiative, called Wonder Plant, five "treepreneurs" have been employed to grow spekboom. The trees are sold to members of the public and organisations and the proceeds are then used to provide an income for the growers.
“Each of the treepreneurs manages around 25 000 trees. I started with 300 trees, and we currently have 164 000 in stock,” said Shrimpton.
The treepreneurs all stay in Chic Shanty Town, a residency funded by Heart Capital to provide homes for disadvantaged community members.
Before coming to Chic Shanty Town, treepreneur Ashwell Musonza was working on a grape farm in the area but was not earning enough.
“I enjoy caring for the spekboom trees as they provide individuality and a sustainable income,” he said.
Shrimpton said Wonder Plant also assists other members of the community, as well as schools in the area. “We’ve just partnered with schools to enable poor parents to grow Trees for Fees. We'll provide them with the materials and then purchase the trees from them, so they can have money to pay for their kids’ education.”