The species most responsive to change

Today's quote on the back page of the East African edition of Business Daily is from someone described as an English naturalist. "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change", said Charles Darwin.

Surely this sums up the future of Africa, and indeed of the whole world. I would add that a little intelligence, and strength of will, won't go astray.

This is post follows on my last, Seeding Africa, and is being written at the end of the indoor part of Kew's Millennium Seed Bank International Forestry Workshop in Nairobi.

Clearly there is a huge need for planting trees and forests in Africa. Deforestation continues, albeit at a reducing rate, and forests are needed for the livelihoods and survival of most Africans. New trees must be the right ones (either indigenous or unlikely to cause additional harm to the environment), from quality sourced and stored seed, and able to grow and reproduce by themselves over time.

Already community engagement is strong is all the projects reported to the workshop and this has to remain part of any successful tree-planting programme. Government support at highest level is important, but only if backed up with funding and clear policy direction (with out these it can be more harmful than good in the longer term).

Partnerships within Africa will continue to be important, as will those with the 'facilitating partners' or what are sometimes confusing referred to here as 'multinationals' (e.g. Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, Forest and Landscape Denmark, Food & Agriculture Organisation Rome).

In most countries there is now a good track record of delivery on the ground and this is the strength of the emerging network in Africa.

Many of the trees planted can be described as 'useful plants' and work will continue on collating existing uses and finding new ones. Of course these plants can be useful directly or for earning revenue: forest industries contribute US$468 billion (1%) to the world economy each year, including $75 billion from pharmaceuticals of 'natural origin' and $15 billion in trade of wildlife products.

There are hurdles and bumps in the road of course (literally plenty of the latter in Nairobi at the moment!). Funding is also short. It is increasing difficult to get seed in some areas - excuse the pun, but all the low hanging fruit have been collected. There are problems in some regions with seed supply and quality. Technical support is always in short supply, and greater access is needed to markets and customers.

Against this background the group was keen continue, and to expand its work. It was agreed that we need to form a consortium of technical partners that can 'deliver on the ground'. To do the delivering we need strong leadership, quality assurance (throughout the process - from seed to seed!), technical expertise, ability to up the scale of activity, and a package that appeals to donors and customers.

What sets this group apart from others planting trees in Africa is an emphasis on quality and on the 'right plant for the right place' (often Indigenous species but at least suited to environment and sustainable). Innovation and biodiversity conservation will be encouraged.

So that's where it sits towards the end of an informative, inspiring and invigorating workshop. May we be strong, intelligent and responsive to change!

Images: Something that used to be called Acacia and some things that are probably still storks, in Nairobi yesterday.