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How You Can Help Protect the Environment, One Tree at a Time
April 8, 2022

A man kneels behind green plants at his plant production nursery. A canopy covering the plants are behind the man.
Siyabulela at his plant production nursery.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.” This is 2021 Mandela Washington Fellow alum Siyabulela Siya Sokomani’s favorite Chinese proverb. We must act now to mitigate the effects of climate change and see success in the future for our environment.

Deforestation is one of the leading causes of climate change. “Deforestation is the purposeful clearing of indigenous natural forest land by humans,” Siyabulela said. “Humans have been clearing forests to make space for agriculture and animal grazing, obtaining wood for fuel, manufacturing, construction, and other reasons. Scientists now inform us that the eradication of our natural forests and other landscapes causes climate change, desertification, soil erosion, fewer crops, flooding, increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and a host of problems.”

Siyabulela grew up in Khayelitsha in an “informal community” outside Cape Town, South Africa. The community did not have proper housing, indoor plumbing, or electricity. He recounted growing up in Khayelitsha as challenging, but he is grateful for his upbringing, which influenced the work he does for his community today. 

Siyabulela first became interested in environmental protection as a teenager after his geography teacher introduced him to the school’s environment club. He competed in environmental competitions against other schools in Cape Town and won trees to plant. “We managed to win trees for our school, which planted a seed in me to pursue a career in the protection of the environment,” Siyabulela said.

An overhead sky photo of a plant production nursery. There are green plants and production trucks.
Nguni Nursery is a plant production nursery founded by Siyabulela in Cape Town, South Africa.

Today, Siyabulela is the founder of a plant production nursery called Nguni Nursery. The nursery focuses on working against deforestation practices and cleaning the air with trees, which absorb harmful toxins such as carbon dioxide. “Nguni Nursery grows indigenous plants for communities that cannot afford to buy trees by partnering with international climate mitigating NGOs like One Tree Planted. We create an entrepreneurial ecological restoration ecosystem by ordering our own growing media, plastic tree packets, irrigation [systems], fertilizer, and seeds. We have created eight permanent jobs and up to 25 vocational and casual work for the community. In the past two years, Nguni Nursery has grown more than 300,000 trees and plants,” Siyabulela said.

One of Siyabulela’s greatest challenges in starting his plant production nursery was securing funding. “I have never had funding [to] start this business. I had to show people what I was doing with the little I had,” said Siyabulela. His commitment paid off, as Nguni Nursery is now a funded project of Africa’s Top Restoration Enterprises and Projects, supported by TerraFund.

Siyabulela ran the Cape Town Marathon for the non-profit TownshipFarmers to raise awareness for environmental justice.
What actions can beginner climate activists take to reduce deforestation and climate change? Siyabulela suggests:
  • Join a social movement or campaign that focuses on environmental activities.
  • Do not litter.
  • Do not cut trees down for unnecessary reasons.
  • Avoid meat and dairy products whenever possible, as these products have a heavy impact on the planet.
  • Use energy wisely.
  • If you plant trees, make sure you are planting suitable trees for your landscape and local environment.

Siyabulela invites YALI Network members to follow Nguni Nursery on Twitter and Instagram.

Are you interested in learning more about how to make a positive change in the environment? Visit our YALI4OurFuture page for more tools and resources.

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.