By Joy Crane
Unlike most forestry companies, Better Globe Forestry (BGF) has chosen crowdfunding as a financing model for its operations.
Better Globe AS is a Norwegian social enterprise that sells trees and donation packages to counter poverty and corruption in Africa. Its products help crowdfund BGF’s plantation operations in Kenya and Uganda.
Customers of Better Globe either buy individual trees or a donation package. According to its website, “A subscription is better to create social change in Africa over time, and it can even give you bonus trees. One tree costs €20, and the donation package costs €59.” The Norwegian organisation has a 20-year buy-back agreement with BGF that benefits its donor customers.
Jan Vandenabeele, the executive director of forestry at BGF, says the company’s long-term goal is “to reduce poverty and corruption in eastern Africa”. It does this through social entrepreneurship and sustainable development of tree planting projects in arid and semi-arid areas.
“By operating tree plantations and working with contract farmers, the number of people in employment increases. Better Globe’s donation package subscribers contribute monthly, which helps fund community-owned microfinance banks and the construction and renovation of schools and water projects,” he explains.
“BGF aims to become the biggest tree-planting company active in arid and semi-arid lands,” remarks Vandenabeele. “Our mission is to, through social entrepreneurship, plant as many trees as there are people on this planet. Our vision is to eradicate poverty and corruption in Africa by working with all the smallholder farmers in the areas where BGF operates.”
BGF established its head office in Nairobi, Kenya in 2004, and began operations in Uganda in 2009. The plantations are in the Kiambere, Seven Forks, and Sosoma areas of Kitui County and Nyongoro in Lamu County in Kenya. Its forests are also in Dokolo and the surrounding districts in northern Uganda, with prospects to expand to the agro-pastoral zone of Karamoja. There are plans to establish a pilot sawmill and value-adding facility.
Certification for exports
Vandenabeele says an objective of BGF is to export sustainably produced timber products to international markets. This aim prompted the company to embark on a journey to obtain sustainable forestry management certification for its Kenyan forestry operations
“There are different certification schemes through which this can be achieved, and BGF chose the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) because it is the leading player in the sector,” he says.
The first thing the company did was to hire an intern to review the FSC standards and to identify and document all the requirements. The second step was to host a field visit in March by the regional director of FSC Africa, Dr Harrison Kojwang and the manager of the FSC’s labour department, Paul Opanga.
“The visit was fruitful and was our first milestone towards certification, ” says Vandenabeele. “FSC certification is a complex process looking at all aspects related to afforestation. The process includes the technical, legal and safety measures of the operations as well as social issues such as workers’ rights and environmental aspects. We are confident that by putting efforts and resources in the process, BGF will obtain FSC certification.”
Seven Forks Farmers Programme
The FSC team also visited BGF’s mukau (Melia volkensii) plantations of hardwood in Kiambere region, and several farmers enlisted on its Seven Forks Farmers programme.
The Seven Forks Farmers programme is a collaboration between BGF and smallholder farmers. Seven Forks is an area around the Tana River where Kenya has created five artificial lakes for electricity generation. It is a big expanse, over a 100 kilometres long and some 30 kilometres wide, with well over 30,000 farmers.
Farmers who comply with a set of criteria sign a contract with BGF and agree to meet conditions such as spacing, area to be planted, and quality care for the seedlings and trees. In return, they receive the seedlings for free, technical training, and a guaranteed market at 10% above the market rate once the trees mature.
The programme started in the second half of 2015, and some 5600 farmers have signed the contract so far, 49% of them women.
Since BGF started in 2004, the company has overcome many obstacles that are unique to the challenging work-environment found in arid and semi-arid lands. The successes include:
- Over 2,700,000 trees planted on lands that no one thought suitable for forestry
- Paid financial returns to tree owners since 2010, on time as planned
- Funded the construction of two schools in Uganda built by its partner, Child Africa
- Funded renovations and supported several schools in Kenya through Child Africa
- Funded a new school in Kabale, Uganda, Child Africa’s first college
- In addition to company staff, employed several hundred seasonal workers in areas where there previously were almost no job opportunities
- Funded two micro-loan banks that have lent money to over 5,000 families who are now stakeholders
- Started a partnership with thousands of farmers who have added tree cultivation to their business activities.