Gashaw Tahir stands among bamboo and other plants that have grown since the reforestation project began. The effects on the climate can already be felt.

By BRANDON BLOCH | America.gov

Gashaw Tahir is an American citizen born in Ethiopia. He started the Greenland Development Foundation (GDF) as an effort to plant 1 million trees in his native country, with the objective of revitalizing natural resources and providing opportunity and employment to those who helped with the effort.

America.gov and fans of our Global Conversations: Climate Facebook community (http://www.facebook.com/ConversationsClimate) asked Tahir about his experience.

Question: What inspired you to focus on tree planting?

Tahir: When I went back to my birth country, Ethiopia, after so many years of living in the US, the dense forests near my hometown, which used to shelter wild animals, was completely gone. They became eroded, degraded and abandoned. I also witnessed so many young people on the streets with no hope. That opened up an opportunity to start the reforestation project and empower and inspire young people at the same time.

Q: What’s the toughest challenge you faced in implementing this project? How did you overcome that challenge?

A: The toughest challenge was getting permission from the local community and securing the land from the government. However, by explaining the benefit of the project that would bring economical, environmental and social benefit to the community, I was able to collaborate with local and regional government. We showed them results and got more land.

My passion is to make a difference for young people. So no matter what the challenges or circumstances, I had to go out and act with what I had available at the time. Once you start, things get easier and easier.

Q: What other benefits have come from this project?

A: It created jobs and opportunity for over 450 skilled workers, and training for unskilled workers. This project brought together young people from local Muslim and Christian faiths. They got to know each other by working together.

Q: How would you encourage young people around the world to take action in their community, even if they live in a dense urban environment?

A: I would encourage wise use of resources, planting small gardens, planting trees everywhere and promoting the use of recycled products. In addition, educating young people about the impacts of climate change and creating a possibility for them to take part [in curbing it] is also of paramount importance.

Q: Where does GDF go from here? Do you have any other projects you’re working on?

A: We are in the initial stages of planning our next projects, which include spreading to other regions and focusing more on [jobs for] women, who are often the breadwinners and will help their families. GDF hopes to plant more trees on 11,000 acres of land. Planting fruits and vegetables for the livelihood benefits community and also creates jobs in farming and marketplaces.

Q: Global Conversations: Climate fan Efren Cajurao asks: “It’s important that trees must be well cared for to thrive. How will the trees you plant be taken care of throughout their life as they grow?”

A: We use water-retention mechanisms and do the planting during the rainy seasons. In addition, we also protect the trees from direct human and livestock contact so they are safe to grow.

Q: Global Conversations: Climate fan Lorvi Barrun Pagorogon asks: “What are your thoughts about the Jatropha plant and proposals that it be planted throughout Africa for biofuel production?”

A: The Jatropha plant is a drought-resistant perennial which grows in marginal poor soil with minimal inputs of water. Therefore it will be a typical plant to grow in Africa. When Jatropha seeds are crushed, the resulting Jatropha oil can be processed to produce a high-quality biodiesel that can be used in a standard diesel car, while the residue can also be processed into biomass to power electricity plants. It is also useful for restoring soil, combating desertification, and providing fertilizer. Since it has no direct implication on food supply, as using corn [would], it will be a favorable plant to grow in Africa. The benefits can be alternative fuel supply, rehabilitation of the land and increased carbon sequestration.

Q: Global Conversations: Climate fan Sam Mwaniki asks: “Do you think your project will end when you are not there? How will it be passed on and continue?”

A: GDF is functioning as a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Ethiopia, and we hope that as it grows, it will spread throughout Africa. GDF is training individuals to be leaders and manage the project as long as needed. Collaboration with international organizations and governments will also help to keep the project alive and increase community involvement.