Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) is supporting a project helping rural Ethiopian communities fight back against climate change impacts such as flooding and drought.
Trees for Life tackles climate change by planting trees in the highlands of Oromia and throughout the world to support the health of the planet, said Deborah Henderson, director of the institute for sustainable horticulture at KPU’s Langley campus.
The project also creatively uses art and storytelling to sustain and experience trees – not only from the ground but from the air and virtually – to learn more about the health of our local eco-systems and those from elsewhere too, she explained.
Led by Dundee City council in Scotland, a UNESCO City of Design, Trees for Life has contributing climate artists and partners, including the university’s horticulture department.
Central to the project is the establishment of an active tree nursery site in Kofele, Ethiopia, managed by the Rural Association for the Betterment of Agro-Pastoralists (ROBA) – a local non-governmental organization partner with KPU.
Establishing a tree nursery helps with greening, improves soil and air quality, and provides a long-term source of food and building materials, Henderson said.
Through the Trees for Life project, ROBA has developed a community skills training program for youth in silviculture, which is tree growth and management. The Kofele tree nursery is already producing 10,000 tree saplings this year.
“Our partnership with ROBA created the opportunity for this project whose legacy will be to provide digital and silviculture training, and produce trees into the future,” Henderson elaborated.
“We are delighted to be working with Dundee City council and the award-winning climate artists to bring this project to the world’s attention through earth art and the stories of Afan Oromo speaking children and youth.”
Dundee City council was keen to see digital artists involved to help create lasting solutions to addressing climate change.
Climate project artists Sylvia Grace Borda, a former KPU artist in residence from Vancouver, and J. Keith Donnelly, from Glasgow, Scotland, are working closely with ROBA and KPU to build and scale the project tree nursery to other sites with Ethiopian participants to continue assisting with climate mitigation action, increasing tree density, and providing youth with job opportunities.
Teaching children and youth about the value of trees and giving international voice to their storytelling helps to strengthen the sustainability of communities like Kofele, Borda said.
The artists are also working with local participants to plant trees in shapes and forms – including an Ethiopian lion – that can be seen from airplanes and by satellites. People around the world will eventually be able to see the lion on Google Earth.
“The Ethiopian tree nursery is the site of the world’s first earth observation artwork available for climate monitoring by satellite – call it Earth graffiti,” said Borda.
KPU’s research efforts, the artists, the Ethiopian partners and the other participants of Trees for Life were part of presentations by the British Council at COP26, the UN climate change conference recently held in Glasgow.
Trees for Life was one of 17 projects to receive funding from more than 450 worldwide submissions received by the British Council’s Creative Commissions 2021 program. The program highlights how artist-led creative commissions can be part of climate solutions through the application of art, science, and digital technologies.
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