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Beti Minkin
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Franziska Kaguembega–Müller
Helmy Abouleish
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Franziska Kaguembega–Müller and the Newtree Association 
in Burkina Faso

Franziska Kaguembega–Müller was born and raised in Switzerland and came to Burkina Faso as a master thesis student. She married a Burkinabe and has been living in this country for 12 years. She cofounded the newTree Association and remains the visionary person and driving force behind this project. Biologist by education she is also mother of two daughters. She is well accepted and integrated in the project communities and Burkinabes see her as one of her “sisters”. She is an environmentalist, a feminist and a sensitive person yet with “Swiss discipline” in organizing her tremendous work load besides running the family. In a society very much dominated by men she is highly respected. She is a strong and powerful woman, driven by a vision and fully engaged by her mission.

“Daring visions - living dreams” is the appropriate slogan of the newTree Association which was founded in 2001 centering its main activities around agro-forestry and reforestation in the Sahel region. A key objective is the protection of trees as an effective means to protect the environment while also combating poverty. newTree has its seat in Switzerland where fundraising and PR is coordinated. Its annual budget is about 600,000 Swiss Francs. Only 10 percent is spent for administration, communication and public relation.

The field work and projects are concentrated in Burkina Faso where seventeen Burkinabe staff members work. With its partner organization TOKOR newTree also reaches out to Mali and to Eritrea. In eight years, the foundation has been able to protect 400 hectares by fencing out grazing animals. The central problem of the Sahel region is overstocking and consequently overgrazing. Not only tree planting, but protecting the trees is the key as many reforestation projects waste money in that they merely produce fodder for the grazing flocks.

Fenced-in plots have about 700 trees and bushes per hectare. One protected plot has a size of almost three hectares and requires about 1,300 Euro worth of materials. 300,000 trees in Burkina Faso have thus been protected from being cut or destroyed by animals - namely sheep and goats. In Eritrea, already more than 80.000 trees could be planted. Very impressive is the diversity of plants that grow in a fenced area: (Monitoring has shown that) up to 140 different local tree species have been counted. Young trees already absorb 200 tons of CO2 per hectare. In addition to the impressive reforestation success people use the fenced areas to grow crops for themselves and for sale at local markets. Very important is the high-quality hay that is being produced on the fenced in plots that helps to cover the nine months of dry season.

newTree is active in almost 60 villages and presently works with 138 large family clans and women groups. The life and fate of far more than 3,000 people in villages and rural areas threatened by desertification has been changed through newTree. A new program explores money transfer opportunities for the needed up-scaling investments through CO2 compensations schemes. The fencing project is based on self-help. The family clans and women groups are taught how to build a fence and get the material, but have to do all the work themselves. Recently, more and more projects are transferred to women groups. This is important in a society where women are not even allowed to hold land titles. Yet newTree is much more than a reforestation program. The association is also very engaged in capacity building with the focus on the empowerment of women (in a predominantly Muslim society).

A central part of the project activities focuses on teaching and enabling women to build new efficient cooking stoves that reduce fire wood consumption by more than half. More importantly, the new cooking stoves protect woman and children from heavy toxic smoke and the stoves are also child-safe so that children cannot burn themselves.

The stoves use only local materials like clay, dung and straw. Women are taught to build these stoves in the villages and as “business models” in order to generate income. Until today, more than 1,300 stoves have been built. newTree also supports the farmers to market their products for a fair price. All the work is build on participatory principles. A new and ambitious project is the foundation of an ecological training center in the outskirts of the capital Ouagadougou. Beautiful buildings for housing, kitchen, dining and teaching have already been finished. All buildings are made from local materials using traditional construction methods. Many activities are taking place in the new Eco-Center even before it is completely finished. A women group for example is making high quality hay and has learned how to produce soap – products that have become essential income generators.

The successful projects with the improvements they bring to the villages, families and women groups are ready for a major roll-out. The interest in project cooperation is enormous and project applicants have to wait up to three years until they get the funds to start. The association shows among others how people can combat desertification successfully and significantly improve their livelihoods - especially the livelihoods of women and children. newTree fuels the optimism that we have solid solutions to make the world a better place even in the face of hardest environmental and difficult social conditions.

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