A project about people and trees.
As we enter the Anthropocene, our relationship to trees draws into sharp relief. We are realising that our survival is inextricably linked to theirs, as we grapple with the existential climate threat that we have wrought. Our dependence on trees is far more multi-faceted and direct than climate alone suggests. But we have increasingly lost sight of this through urbanisation and disconnection from the ecosystems that sustain us.
Journalists Laura Salm-Reifferscheidt, Kai Kupferschmidt and I developed the concept for Tree Palaver, focusing on relationships between humans and trees, and in particular on examples that provoke questions about how these could be re-imagined or reconsidered for the good of both people and planet. We won a European Journalism Centre Development Journalism Reporting Grant in partnership with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, and Laura and I spent a year working on a series of stories from around the African continent.
Links to the published stories:
Von allen Göttern und guten Geistern verlassen — fusing traditional beliefs with the modern to save forests and biodiversity in Benin
Ein fast verlorenes Paradies — deforestation and efforts to counter it in the Comoros
Eine Herznote für Chanel N°5 — deforestation, sustainability and ylang ylang oil, an ingredient in luxury perfumes
Das Labor im Regenwald — a wholistic approach to development and the revival of the Yangambi Research Station deep in the Congo Basin Rainforest
Triage für die Bergregionen — controlling invasive tree species to preserve biodiversity and save the city of Cape Town’s water supply
Plantagen im Indischen Ozean — seaweed farming, challenges and potential in Zanzibar
Khanya Bovungana leading a safety meeting in a remote montane catchment area that feeds the Theewaterskloof dam in the Western Cape province of South Africa. High-angle teams operate at height in dangerous and remote locations, using ropes and climbing harnesses to reach cliff faces and other difficult-to-access locations which they clear of invasive non-indigenous tree species.
Khanya Bovungana leading a safety meeting in a remote montane catchment area that feeds the Theewaterskloof dam in the Western Cape province of South Africa. High-angle teams operate at height in dangerous and remote locations, using ropes and climbing harnesses to reach cliff faces and other difficult-to-access locations which they clear of invasive non-indigenous tree species.
Richard Bugan, Monitoring & Evaluation Manager at The Nature Conservancy South Africa, runs through a thicket of invasive pine seedlings as he is dropped off by a helicopter in a remote catchment area that feeds the Theewaterskloof dam in the Western Cape province of South Africa.
Richard Bugan, Monitoring & Evaluation Manager at The Nature Conservancy South Africa, runs through a thicket of invasive pine seedlings as he is dropped off by a helicopter in a remote catchment area that feeds the Theewaterskloof dam in the Western Cape province of South Africa.
Nkosikhona Xashi in Cape Town, South Africa during training for potential recruits for teams that work at height to clear invasive trees from dangerous and remote locations. To pass, attendees must complete their assessments without a single error.
Nkosikhona Xashi in Cape Town, South Africa during training for potential recruits for teams that work at height to clear invasive trees from dangerous and remote locations. To pass, attendees must complete their assessments without a single error.
Alungile Mayekiso, a member of a high-angle tree clearing team, getting ready for the day at her team’s campsite in a remote montane catchment above Theewaterskloof dam in the Western Cape of South Africa.
Alungile Mayekiso, a member of a high-angle tree clearing team, getting ready for the day at her team’s campsite in a remote montane catchment above Theewaterskloof dam in the Western Cape of South Africa.
Sunset over a high-angle tree clearing team’s campsite above the Theewaterskloof dam in the Western Cape province of South Africa.
Sunset over a high-angle tree clearing team’s campsite above the Theewaterskloof dam in the Western Cape province of South Africa.
Team Leader Zikhona Gcakamani as she and the high-angle tree clearing team she leads check their equipment in preparation for the following day’s work.
Team Leader Zikhona Gcakamani as she and the high-angle tree clearing team she leads check their equipment in preparation for the following day’s work.
Carrying a first aid kit, ropes and climbing harnesses, Nobuhle Jali (left), Yandiswa Dineka and Khanyisa Mzayifani, Rope Technicians on a high-angle tree clearing team, hike from their campsite up to their worksite in a remote montane catchment area that feeds the Theewaterskloof dam in the Western Cape of South Africa.
Carrying a first aid kit, ropes and climbing harnesses, Nobuhle Jali (left), Yandiswa Dineka and Khanyisa Mzayifani, Rope Technicians on a high-angle tree clearing team, hike from their campsite up to their worksite in a remote montane catchment area that feeds the Theewaterskloof dam in the Western Cape of South Africa.
High-angle tree clearing teechnician Khanyisa Mzayifani ascending to her anchor point at the top of a cliff face in the Western Cape province of South Africa.
High-angle tree clearing teechnician Khanyisa Mzayifani ascending to her anchor point at the top of a cliff face in the Western Cape province of South Africa.
Rope Technicians Olwethu Gcakamani (left) and Khanyisa Mzayifani, members of a high-angle tree clearing team, cheer as a pine tree they cut down topples off a cliff in a remote montane catchment that feeds the Theewaterskloof dam in the Western Cape of South Africa.
Rope Technicians Olwethu Gcakamani (left) and Khanyisa Mzayifani, members of a high-angle tree clearing team, cheer as a pine tree they cut down topples off a cliff in a remote montane catchment that feeds the Theewaterskloof dam in the Western Cape of South Africa.
Clouds roll over the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.
Clouds roll over the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.
Professor Brian van Wilgen, an applied ecologist and expert on the management of invasive plant species, amidst fynbos vegetation in the hills near Betty’s Bay in the Western Cape province of South Africa. Fynbos is a unique plant kingdom found only in the Eastern and Western Cape provinces of South Africa. It is under threat from a number human factors, including non-indigenous invasive plant species.
Professor Brian van Wilgen, an applied ecologist and expert on the management of invasive plant species, amidst fynbos vegetation in the hills near Betty’s Bay in the Western Cape province of South Africa. Fynbos is a unique plant kingdom found only in the Eastern and Western Cape provinces of South Africa. It is under threat from a number human factors, including non-indigenous invasive plant species.
Burnt fynbos near Betty’s Bay in the Western Cape province of South Africa. Fynbos is a unique plant kingdom found only in the Eastern and Western Cape provinces of South Africa. Fire is a natural part of the fynbos ecosystem. But some invasive plants, such as pines and wattles, increase the fuel load and result in hotter fires which kill off the fynbos, but which the invasives survive.
Burnt fynbos near Betty’s Bay in the Western Cape province of South Africa. Fynbos is a unique plant kingdom found only in the Eastern and Western Cape provinces of South Africa. Fire is a natural part of the fynbos ecosystem. But some invasive plants, such as pines and wattles, increase the fuel load and result in hotter fires which kill off the fynbos, but which the invasives survive.
Fynbos teas for sale in Cape Town, South Africa.
Fynbos teas for sale in Cape Town, South Africa.
A view along the 12 Apostles mountain range from the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.
A view along the 12 Apostles mountain range from the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.
An oleanderleaf protea (Protea neriifolia), part of the fynbos plant kingdom, on a slope above Kogel Bay, South Africa.  Fynbos is a unique type of vegetation found in the Eastern and Western Cape provinces of South Africa, and the vast majority of its plant species are found nowhere else in the world.
An oleanderleaf protea (Protea neriifolia), part of the fynbos plant kingdom, on a slope above Kogel Bay, South Africa. Fynbos is a unique type of vegetation found in the Eastern and Western Cape provinces of South Africa, and the vast majority of its plant species are found nowhere else in the world.
A fisherman crossing the Congo River in the Tshopo province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Princip Alowakinnou emerging from a banana grove after performing maintenance on a beehive in Yangambi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Alowakinnou is with the FORÊTS (FOrmation, Recherche, Environnement dans la TShopo) project, and is responsible for developing beekeeping and honey production as an alternative livelihood to reduce pressure on the surrounding forest.
A fisherman crossing the Congo River in the Tshopo province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Princip Alowakinnou emerging from a banana grove after performing maintenance on a beehive in Yangambi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Alowakinnou is with the FORÊTS (FOrmation, Recherche, Environnement dans la TShopo) project, and is responsible for developing beekeeping and honey production as an alternative livelihood to reduce pressure on the surrounding forest.
A dusty map on a wall at the Institut Facultaire des Science Agronomiques (IFA) in Yangambi in the Tshopo province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Established in 1976, the institute declined to a state of decrepitude as a result of unrest, instability and government neglect. Though courses are no longer taught, a cohort of mostly elderly staff remain in broken-down laboratories and offices without electricity. There are hopes of a revival with the anticipated arrival of a new director.
A dusty map on a wall at the Institut Facultaire des Science Agronomiques (IFA) in Yangambi in the Tshopo province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Established in 1976, the institute declined to a state of decrepitude as a result of unrest, instability and government neglect. Though courses are no longer taught, a cohort of mostly elderly staff remain in broken-down laboratories and offices without electricity. There are hopes of a revival with the anticipated arrival of a new director.
Children atop gateposts at Place de Martyrs (Martyrs' Place) in Yangambi in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which commemorates Congolese employees of INERA (Institut National des Etudes et Recherches Agronomique/ National Institute for Agronomic Study) who were killed during post-colonial unrest.
Children atop gateposts at Place de Martyrs (Martyrs' Place) in Yangambi in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which commemorates Congolese employees of INERA (Institut National des Etudes et Recherches Agronomique/ National Institute for Agronomic Study) who were killed during post-colonial unrest.
Princip Alowakinnou emerging from a banana grove after performing maintenance on a beehive in Yangambi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Alowakinnou is with the FORÊTS (FOrmation, Recherche, Environnement dans la TShopo) project, and is responsible for developing beekeeping and honey production as an alternative livelihood to reduce pressure on the surrounding forest.
Princip Alowakinnou emerging from a banana grove after performing maintenance on a beehive in Yangambi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Alowakinnou is with the FORÊTS (FOrmation, Recherche, Environnement dans la TShopo) project, and is responsible for developing beekeeping and honey production as an alternative livelihood to reduce pressure on the surrounding forest.
What was once a bovine research laboratory building at the Yangambi research station in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A family now live in the part of the building that still has a roof. The station was established during the Belgian colonial period and was one of the most important agricultural and agroforestry research facilities on the continent. After independence it largely fell into a state of ruin and disrepair.
What was once a bovine research laboratory building at the Yangambi research station in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A family now live in the part of the building that still has a roof. The station was established during the Belgian colonial period and was one of the most important agricultural and agroforestry research facilities on the continent. After independence it largely fell into a state of ruin and disrepair.
Colonial era cottages that were accommodation for rubber plantation workers at the Yangambi Research Station in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Today some residents are officially employees of the research station, but others are the descendants of former employees who have passed away. In practice, even those who are officially employees have little formal work to do, and effectively make do with farming or other activities.
Colonial era cottages that were accommodation for rubber plantation workers at the Yangambi Research Station in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Today some residents are officially employees of the research station, but others are the descendants of former employees who have passed away. In practice, even those who are officially employees have little formal work to do, and effectively make do with farming or other activities.
A gliding squirrel is held up at the National Herbarium of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Yangambi, DRC. The building was renovated under the FORÊTS (FOrmation, Recherche, Environnement dans la TShopo) project framework and the plant collection, which was in danger of being lost, is being restored, recorded and digitised.
A gliding squirrel is held up at the National Herbarium of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Yangambi, DRC. The building was renovated under the FORÊTS (FOrmation, Recherche, Environnement dans la TShopo) project framework and the plant collection, which was in danger of being lost, is being restored, recorded and digitised.
A view over a stretch of the Congo Basin Forest in Yangambi in the Democratic Republic of Congo, seen from the 55m CongoFlux tower. The tower is the first of its kind in the globally-important Congo Basin, and is equipped with sensors that monitor a range of parameters in real time. This includes measurement of the net exchange of greenhouse gases between the forest ecosystem and the atmosphere.
A view over a stretch of the Congo Basin Forest in Yangambi in the Democratic Republic of Congo, seen from the 55m CongoFlux tower. The tower is the first of its kind in the globally-important Congo Basin, and is equipped with sensors that monitor a range of parameters in real time. This includes measurement of the net exchange of greenhouse gases between the forest ecosystem and the atmosphere.
The Isalowe plant nursery in Yangambi in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been revitalised under the FORÊTS (FOrmation, Recherche, Environnement dans la TShopo) project to support scientific research and reforestation endeavours.
The Isalowe plant nursery in Yangambi in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been revitalised under the FORÊTS (FOrmation, Recherche, Environnement dans la TShopo) project to support scientific research and reforestation endeavours.
Norbert Yeni (left) and Fidéle Noa updating plant specimen classifications at the National Herbarium of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Yangambi, DRC. The building was renovated under the FORÊTS (FOrmation, Recherche, Environnement dans la TShopo) project framework and the plant collection, which was in danger of being lost, is being restored, recorded and digitised.
Norbert Yeni (left) and Fidéle Noa updating plant specimen classifications at the National Herbarium of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Yangambi, DRC. The building was renovated under the FORÊTS (FOrmation, Recherche, Environnement dans la TShopo) project framework and the plant collection, which was in danger of being lost, is being restored, recorded and digitised.
A participant practicing reading a compass during a wood biology workshop in the forest at the Yangambi research station in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The workshop was a FORÊTS project initiative for traders, harvesters and users of artisanal logging products, and sought to provide them with the basics of wood biology, the skills to recognise relevant wood types, and introduce them to sustainability considerations surrounding their work.
A participant practicing reading a compass during a wood biology workshop in the forest at the Yangambi research station in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The workshop was a FORÊTS project initiative for traders, harvesters and users of artisanal logging products, and sought to provide them with the basics of wood biology, the skills to recognise relevant wood types, and introduce them to sustainability considerations surrounding their work.
A participant examining a wood specimen during a wood biology workshop at the Yangambi research station in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The workshop was a FORÊTS project initiative for traders, harvesters and users of artisanal logging products, and sought to provide them with the basics of wood biology, the skills to recognise relevant wood types, and introduce them to sustainability considerations surrounding their work.
A participant examining a wood specimen during a wood biology workshop at the Yangambi research station in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The workshop was a FORÊTS project initiative for traders, harvesters and users of artisanal logging products, and sought to provide them with the basics of wood biology, the skills to recognise relevant wood types, and introduce them to sustainability considerations surrounding their work.
PhD student Nestor Luambua with a team cutting a research transect line through the forest as part of a FORÊTS project initiative at the Yangambi research station in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
PhD student Nestor Luambua with a team cutting a research transect line through the forest as part of a FORÊTS project initiative at the Yangambi research station in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
An afrormosia (Pericopsis elata) tree that at the Yangambi research station in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The endangered species is highly sought after for its dense, hard wood.
An afrormosia (Pericopsis elata) tree that at the Yangambi research station in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The endangered species is highly sought after for its dense, hard wood.
Growth ring markings on a tree trunk stem disk seen through a microscope at the wood biology laboratory at the Yangambi research station in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Growth ring markings on a tree trunk stem disk seen through a microscope at the wood biology laboratory at the Yangambi research station in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Laboratory technician Tresor Bolaya marking growth rings on a tree trunk stem disk at the wood biology laboratory at the Yangambi research station in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Laboratory technician Tresor Bolaya marking growth rings on a tree trunk stem disk at the wood biology laboratory at the Yangambi research station in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Technician Fabrice Kimbesa on the CongoFlux tower in Yangambi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The 55m high tower is the first of its kind in the globally-important Congo Basin Forest, and is equipped with an array of sensors that monitor a range of parameters in real time. This includes measurement of the net exchange of greenhouse gases between the forest ecosystem and the atmosphere.
Technician Fabrice Kimbesa on the CongoFlux tower in Yangambi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The 55m high tower is the first of its kind in the globally-important Congo Basin Forest, and is equipped with an array of sensors that monitor a range of parameters in real time. This includes measurement of the net exchange of greenhouse gases between the forest ecosystem and the atmosphere.
Victorine Monganga manages the FORÊTS project pilot farm in Yangambi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The farm uses a scientific approach to develop agroforestry and mixed cropping methods with a view to boosting yields and incomes, improving soil fertility and reducing pressure on the surrounding forest.
Victorine Monganga manages the FORÊTS project pilot farm in Yangambi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The farm uses a scientific approach to develop agroforestry and mixed cropping methods with a view to boosting yields and incomes, improving soil fertility and reducing pressure on the surrounding forest.
Agroforestry technician Augustin Iyokwa at the Yangambi research station in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Agroforestry technician Augustin Iyokwa at the Yangambi research station in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Lisasi Bolongola posing with he and his hunting partner's kills near a bushmeat market in the forest in Yangambi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He estimates they will earn about $30 between them after a week in the bush.
Lisasi Bolongola posing with he and his hunting partner's kills near a bushmeat market in the forest in Yangambi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He estimates they will earn about $30 between them after a week in the bush.
Helena Yenga washing one of her pigs early on a Sunday morning before heading for the local market, where she buys and sells bushmeat, in Yangambi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is participating in a pig raising pilot which aims to develop a more sustainable alternative to the hunting, sale and consumption of bushmeat.
Helena Yenga washing one of her pigs early on a Sunday morning before heading for the local market, where she buys and sells bushmeat, in Yangambi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is participating in a pig raising pilot which aims to develop a more sustainable alternative to the hunting, sale and consumption of bushmeat.
Members of the Akilimani fish farming women's cooperative in one of their ponds in Yanonge in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The initiative is supported by the FORÊTS project as part of efforts to develop sustainable livelihoods that reduce pressure on surrounding forests.
Members of the Akilimani fish farming women's cooperative in one of their ponds in Yanonge in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The initiative is supported by the FORÊTS project as part of efforts to develop sustainable livelihoods that reduce pressure on surrounding forests.
A view of the Congo River from what was once the residence of the director of National Institute for Agronomic Study of the Belgian Congo on the grounds of the Yangambi research station in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A view of the Congo River from what was once the residence of the director of National Institute for Agronomic Study of the Belgian Congo on the grounds of the Yangambi research station in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A man walks past homes in the village of Romé, which lies on the banks of the Congo River in the Tshopo province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The FORÊTS project is working with the community to formalise their ownership of nearby forest, with a view to helping the community develop the ability to manage and derive income from it more sustainably. Residents say the forest used to reach the edges of the village, but shifting cultivation and logging have pushed it boundaries further and further away.
A man walks past homes in the village of Romé, which lies on the banks of the Congo River in the Tshopo province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The FORÊTS project is working with the community to formalise their ownership of nearby forest, with a view to helping the community develop the ability to manage and derive income from it more sustainably. Residents say the forest used to reach the edges of the village, but shifting cultivation and logging have pushed it boundaries further and further away.
Hamadi Ali Ali at his seaweed farm near Makangale on the island of Pemba in Zanzibar.
Hamadi Ali Ali at his seaweed farm near Makangale on the island of Pemba in Zanzibar.
Mwanaisha Simai, a seaweed farmer, at her farm off the beach in Paje on the island of Unguja, Zanzibar.
Mwanaisha Simai, a seaweed farmer, at her farm off the beach in Paje on the island of Unguja, Zanzibar.
Bahari Musa Hamadi harvesting seaweed from he and his wife’s farm in Makangale on the island of Pemba, Zanzibar.
Bahari Musa Hamadi harvesting seaweed from he and his wife’s farm in Makangale on the island of Pemba, Zanzibar.
Seaweed farmers Mohammed Rashid Mbarak (left), Jabir Muhamad Mrisho and Mohammed Rajab Makame at Mrisho’s farm in the Pete Inlet Bay on the island of Unguja, Zanzibar. The seaweed is covered in a filamentous brown algae that is a seasonal problem, and which farmers have to remove.
Seaweed farmers Mohammed Rashid Mbarak (left), Jabir Muhamad Mrisho and Mohammed Rajab Makame at Mrisho’s farm in the Pete Inlet Bay on the island of Unguja, Zanzibar. The seaweed is covered in a filamentous brown algae that is a seasonal problem, and which farmers have to remove.
Members of the Wema Hauozi (“Goodness Never Fails” in Swahili) seaweed cooperative sharing a lunch of foods they prepared using seaweed as an ingredient as they participate in a value addition workshop in Makangale on the island of Pemba in Zanzibar. The workshop was organised by seaweed expert and advocate, Dr. Flower Msuya.
Members of the Wema Hauozi (“Goodness Never Fails” in Swahili) seaweed cooperative sharing a lunch of foods they prepared using seaweed as an ingredient as they participate in a value addition workshop in Makangale on the island of Pemba in Zanzibar. The workshop was organised by seaweed expert and advocate, Dr. Flower Msuya.
Mwanaisha Simai with artisanal cosmetics at the Furahia Wanawake (“Be Happy with Women” in Kiswahili) seaweed product cooperative in Paje on the island of Unguja, Zanzibar.
Mwanaisha Simai with artisanal cosmetics at the Furahia Wanawake (“Be Happy with Women” in Kiswahili) seaweed product cooperative in Paje on the island of Unguja, Zanzibar.
An octopus releases a cloud of ink, a defense mechanism, after having been caught and speared by Hamadi Ali Ali, a seaweed farmer, near Makangale on the island of Pemba in Zanzibar. Farmers will often hunt for octopus opportunistically while tending to their farms.
An octopus releases a cloud of ink, a defense mechanism, after having been caught and speared by Hamadi Ali Ali, a seaweed farmer, near Makangale on the island of Pemba in Zanzibar. Farmers will often hunt for octopus opportunistically while tending to their farms.
Red cloth signifies a grove of oil palm trees in Wamon, Benin has been protected with curses, and that misfortune will befall would-be thieves or trespassers. Witchcraft and spiritual attacks, defense and protection are an accepted reality in the country. Historically, similar taboos around sacred forests where vodoun spirits or deities are believed to dwell had the effect of preserving forest ecosystems.
Red cloth signifies a grove of oil palm trees in Wamon, Benin has been protected with curses, and that misfortune will befall would-be thieves or trespassers. Witchcraft and spiritual attacks, defense and protection are an accepted reality in the country. Historically, similar taboos around sacred forests where vodoun spirits or deities are believed to dwell had the effect of preserving forest ecosystems.
A felled tree beside a highway near Bassila, Benin. Over 90 percent of the nation's households are dependent on wood or charcoal for cooking. Together with one of the world's highest population growth rates and corresponding demand for agricultural land, this results in an alarming rate of forest loss.
A felled tree beside a highway near Bassila, Benin. Over 90 percent of the nation's households are dependent on wood or charcoal for cooking. Together with one of the world's highest population growth rates and corresponding demand for agricultural land, this results in an alarming rate of forest loss.
Sedogbo Mehounou, 72, a member of a village committee responsible for a small sacred Oro secret society forest grove in Kotan in southern Benin. Local NGO GRABE Benin is working with Mehounou and the community to protect the grove and its biodiversity. The erosion of tradition, the growth of christianity, population growth, fuel wood demand and a period of government-mandated destruction caused tremendous forest loss. A handful of grassroots NGOs are now reviving traditional beliefs and once again harnessing them to forest protection, alongside education and livelihood alternatives.
Sedogbo Mehounou, 72, a member of a village committee responsible for a small sacred Oro secret society forest grove in Kotan in southern Benin. Local NGO GRABE Benin is working with Mehounou and the community to protect the grove and its biodiversity. The erosion of tradition, the growth of christianity, population growth, fuel wood demand and a period of government-mandated destruction caused tremendous forest loss. A handful of grassroots NGOs are now reviving traditional beliefs and once again harnessing them to forest protection, alongside education and livelihood alternatives.
An endangered red-bellied monkey (also known as the white-throated guenon or red-bellied guenon) at a forest sanctuary created by Peter Neuenschwander in Drabo Gbo, Benin. Once thought to have been hunted to extinction for its pelt, the species is only found in isolated pockets of forest in Benin and Nigeria. It remains under pressure from habitat loss.
An endangered red-bellied monkey (also known as the white-throated guenon or red-bellied guenon) at a forest sanctuary created by Peter Neuenschwander in Drabo Gbo, Benin. Once thought to have been hunted to extinction for its pelt, the species is only found in isolated pockets of forest in Benin and Nigeria. It remains under pressure from habitat loss.
Kakpo Somonnin, a diviner, demonstrates how he consults the oracle at his home in the village of Koko in the Collines province of Benin.
Kakpo Somonnin, a diviner, demonstrates how he consults the oracle at his home in the village of Koko in the Collines province of Benin.
A family belonging to the Celestial Church of Christ worshipping on the beach in Cotonou, Benin. The church forbids idolatory, fetish ceremonies, cult membership, sorcery or amulets and charms. This puts it at odds with the traditional vodoun religion and animist cults. One unfortunate consequence of this, and of the growth of Christianity in general, is the erosion of beliefs and taboos that had the effect of protecting and conserving forests, where deities and spirits were believed to reside.
A family belonging to the Celestial Church of Christ worshipping on the beach in Cotonou, Benin. The church forbids idolatory, fetish ceremonies, cult membership, sorcery or amulets and charms. This puts it at odds with the traditional vodoun religion and animist cults. One unfortunate consequence of this, and of the growth of Christianity in general, is the erosion of beliefs and taboos that had the effect of protecting and conserving forests, where deities and spirits were believed to reside.
Traditional priest Yatta Chabi Ota on the edge of a tiny sacred forest in Kikele, Benin. The forest is home to approximately 30 white-thighed colobus monkeys (Colobus vellerosus), one of the last remaining populations of the primate—only 1500 are believed to exist in the wild.
Traditional priest Yatta Chabi Ota on the edge of a tiny sacred forest in Kikele, Benin. The forest is home to approximately 30 white-thighed colobus monkeys (Colobus vellerosus), one of the last remaining populations of the primate—only 1500 are believed to exist in the wild.
Fabienne Boton using a tablet and mobile app to record plant biodiversity in a small sacred forest grove along the Ouémé River in Benin. What was once a forest has dwindled to a grove of less than 1ha, which local NGO ODDB is working with villagers to protect and restore. The grove is home to a colony of endangered bats.
Fabienne Boton using a tablet and mobile app to record plant biodiversity in a small sacred forest grove along the Ouémé River in Benin. What was once a forest has dwindled to a grove of less than 1ha, which local NGO ODDB is working with villagers to protect and restore. The grove is home to a colony of endangered bats.
Competing demands for grazing and agricultural land are a source of conflict in Benin, as in much of West Africa. This pushes herders into forest rangelands, where cattle damage forest ecosystems and worsen what is already a severe deforestation problem.
Competing demands for grazing and agricultural land are a source of conflict in Benin, as in much of West Africa. This pushes herders into forest rangelands, where cattle damage forest ecosystems and worsen what is already a severe deforestation problem.
Traditional priest Yatta Chabi Ota outside the vodoun temple in Kikele, Benin. A sacred forest the edge of the village is home to approximately 30 white-thighed colobus monkeys (Colobus vellerosus)—only 1500 are believed to exist in the wild. The people of Kikele believe they are spiritually linked to the monkeys, said to date to times when the monkeys' cries would alert villagers to slave raiders, and thus hold the monkeys as sacred.
Traditional priest Yatta Chabi Ota outside the vodoun temple in Kikele, Benin. A sacred forest the edge of the village is home to approximately 30 white-thighed colobus monkeys (Colobus vellerosus)—only 1500 are believed to exist in the wild. The people of Kikele believe they are spiritually linked to the monkeys, said to date to times when the monkeys' cries would alert villagers to slave raiders, and thus hold the monkeys as sacred.
Men launching a ‘vedette’, as such small boats are known locally, off the beach in Moya on the Comoros isle of Anjouan.
Men launching a ‘vedette’, as such small boats are known locally, off the beach in Moya on the Comoros isle of Anjouan.
A view over mangroves on the island of Mohéli in the Comoros. The surrounding waters and most of the island itself have been designated a national park, providing a framework to preserve the environments and develop ecotourism—if the government commits to it being a park in more than name alone.
A view over mangroves on the island of Mohéli in the Comoros. The surrounding waters and most of the island itself have been designated a national park, providing a framework to preserve the environments and develop ecotourism—if the government commits to it being a park in more than name alone.
Only minutes old, a green sea turtle hatchling (Chelonia mydas) dashes for the ocean on a beach in Itsamia in the north of the Comoros island of Mohéli. The area is globally significant nesting site for this endangered species.
Only minutes old, a green sea turtle hatchling (Chelonia mydas) dashes for the ocean on a beach in Itsamia in the north of the Comoros island of Mohéli. The area is globally significant nesting site for this endangered species.
A young male (above) and elderly female (below) Mongoose lemur (Eulemur mongoz) at a lodge on the island of Mohéli in the Comoros. Native to Madagascar but introduced to the Comoros, they are critically endangered.
A young male (above) and elderly female (below) Mongoose lemur (Eulemur mongoz) at a lodge on the island of Mohéli in the Comoros. Native to Madagascar but introduced to the Comoros, they are critically endangered.
Smoke from cooking fires rising above Bazimini on the Comoros island of Anjouan. The island is the most populous in the archipelago and the majority of its residents use wood for cooking, which contributes one of the highest deforestation rates in the world.
Smoke from cooking fires rising above Bazimini on the Comoros island of Anjouan. The island is the most populous in the archipelago and the majority of its residents use wood for cooking, which contributes one of the highest deforestation rates in the world.
Harvesting ylang ylang flowers on the Comoros island of Anjouan. Oil distilled from the flowers is used in perfumes such as those by Chanel, Dior and Guerlain. Distillation requires wood, and furnaces may burn a tonne of wood to produce 3 - 4kg of oil. The Comoros has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world and ylang ylang oil production is estimated to be responsible for 10-15% percent of it.
Harvesting ylang ylang flowers on the Comoros island of Anjouan. Oil distilled from the flowers is used in perfumes such as those by Chanel, Dior and Guerlain. Distillation requires wood, and furnaces may burn a tonne of wood to produce 3 - 4kg of oil. The Comoros has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world and ylang ylang oil production is estimated to be responsible for 10-15% percent of it.
Fuel wood being delivered to an ylang ylang oil distillery on the Comoros island of Anjouan. The owner uses an improved furnace and says it reduces wood use by about 50%. Comoros has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, and ylang ylang oil production accounts for 10-15% of this. The oil is used in perfumes such as those by Chanel, Dior and Guerlain.
Fuel wood being delivered to an ylang ylang oil distillery on the Comoros island of Anjouan. The owner uses an improved furnace and says it reduces wood use by about 50%. Comoros has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, and ylang ylang oil production accounts for 10-15% of this. The oil is used in perfumes such as those by Chanel, Dior and Guerlain.
Wood supplies at an ylang ylang distillery on the Comoros island of Anjouan. The furnace is an improved model and the owner says it reduces wood use by about 50%. Unimproved furnaces may consume a tonne of wood to produce 3-4kg of oil. Comoros has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, and ylang ylang oil production accounts for 10-15% of this. The oil is used in perfumes such as those by Chanel, Dior and Guerlain.
Wood supplies at an ylang ylang distillery on the Comoros island of Anjouan. The furnace is an improved model and the owner says it reduces wood use by about 50%. Unimproved furnaces may consume a tonne of wood to produce 3-4kg of oil. Comoros has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, and ylang ylang oil production accounts for 10-15% of this. The oil is used in perfumes such as those by Chanel, Dior and Guerlain.
Ylang ylang oil in a collector made from a Coca-Cola bottle, a typical practice, on the Comoros island of Anjouan.
Ylang ylang oil in a collector made from a Coca-Cola bottle, a typical practice, on the Comoros island of Anjouan.
Low cloud over crop fields on once-forested highland slopes on the Comoros island of Anjouan. Cloud forest loss has resulted in water stress—40 of roughly 50 perennial rivers no long flow year-round. Over 80 percent of the island's forests have been in the past couple of decades. Local NGO Dahari is working with communities to plant useful and ecologically appropriate indigenous trees along field borders to mitigate forest loss and its effects.
Low cloud over crop fields on once-forested highland slopes on the Comoros island of Anjouan. Cloud forest loss has resulted in water stress—40 of roughly 50 perennial rivers no long flow year-round. Over 80 percent of the island's forests have been in the past couple of decades. Local NGO Dahari is working with communities to plant useful and ecologically appropriate indigenous trees along field borders to mitigate forest loss and its effects.
Hassan Mamji harvesting ylang ylang flowers from a plantation on what was once a forested slope on the Comoros island of Anjouan.
Hassan Mamji harvesting ylang ylang flowers from a plantation on what was once a forested slope on the Comoros island of Anjouan.
Saïd Bacar at his ylang ylang oil distillery on the Comoros island of Anjouan. He and his wife live in a shed behind the distillery. After having invested in a more wood-efficient distillery he'd hoped it would see them through their old age. However, a crash in the price of ylang ylang oil means the couple are struggling.
Saïd Bacar at his ylang ylang oil distillery on the Comoros island of Anjouan. He and his wife live in a shed behind the distillery. After having invested in a more wood-efficient distillery he'd hoped it would see them through their old age. However, a crash in the price of ylang ylang oil means the couple are struggling.
Attoumani Kombo, 75, lost his eldest daughter when the small boat she was travelling in capsized during an irregular crossing to the French island of Mayotte, some 80km distant. Economic conditions and medical needs fuel irregular migration from the Comorian islands to Mayotte.
Attoumani Kombo, 75, lost his eldest daughter when the small boat she was travelling in capsized during an irregular crossing to the French island of Mayotte, some 80km distant. Economic conditions and medical needs fuel irregular migration from the Comorian islands to Mayotte.

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