Living Wangari Maathai’s dream

Wangari Mathai: Nobel prize winner, she helped plant a billion trees and paved the way for SGI.

It started more than six years ago, when in 2009, the Senegalese officials in Africa announced the Great Green Wall (GGW), a proposed wall of trees, stretching from Senegal to Djibouti. The aim is simple and of majestic proportions – to stop the Sahara desert from becoming bigger. The background was a bleak one, with climate change reducing the already-little rainfall down to nothing, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

Not only had crops died and soil eroded, the forecast also predicted that two-thirds of the total farmland in Africa may be swallowed by the sands by 2025. Desertification affects 40 per cent of the continent and has made matters worse by climate change in the past few decades. The World Food Program warned that nearly 120 million people risk starvation due to desertification in just Sahel in West Africa.

Planting Trees can stop deserts, as has been seen in China, India, and now Africa.

Trees will not only keep the desert’s boundaries in check, they also prevent soil erosion, thus preventing it from becoming non-cultivable. The tree barrier will also become a refuge for the region’s animals and plants, but improving its biodiversity.

Yacouba-Sawadogo planted trees to stop the spread of the desert

In 2011, an international summit in Germany approved the building of the GGW and was set to pass through 11 African countries, namely, Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan. Nine more countries have joined in to plant drought-resistant trees across the edge of the mighty Sahara Desert.

This large man made forest with millions of trees planted will stop the march of the african desert

Covering most of North Africa, the GGW will be 14 km wide and 7,600 km long. It will also give sustainable farming options as well as livestock cultivation, thus giving the population a better chance at food security. Trees native to the region will be planted and will include the acacia species and also fruit trees to combat malnutrition. International organisations such as UK’s Royal Botanic Gardens, the World Bank, the African Union and UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation have pledged their support.

With quality of soil and land improving, authorities hope there will also be a surge in job opportunities, too. A Forbes magazine contributor covering the news also mentioned how the GGW could also counter terrorism that feeds off poverty and food insecurity.

These wars for survival that often take on the hues of radicalization and fundamentalism because farmers, fishermen and livestock keepers have no other way to feed their families will simmer down.

However, this is not the first time such an initiative has been undertaken. In 2006, China and Mongolia started tree plantation to stem the growth of the Gobi Desert. Back in the 1930s, US President Franklin Roosevelt started Shelterbelt Programs, where trees were planted to combat land degradation that was being caused by the Dust Bowl on the American High Plains.

Since the government began promoting voluntary tree planting and forestation 26 years ago, the Chinese people have planted 49.2 billion trees.

Thinking of planting a tree? We can help?

How will my planting trees help? Why should I plant a tree?

The simplest way to combat climate change is to plant trees: Trees breathe in Carbon Di Oxide and through the process of photo-synthesis create food for themselves and breathe out Oxygen.  Carbon Di Oxide is one of the main causes of global warming. CO2 and other Green House Gases blanket the earth's atmosphere and trap heat.  This leads to warming of the earth's atmosphere as the trapped heat is prevented from escaping. 
Planting  and nurturing a tree helps reduce global warming as trees absorb CO2 and release oxygen. A mature tree sequesters up to a ton of Carbon in its life time. It also gives out enough oxygen required by two human beings. 
Planting a tree can be one of the most satisfying activities of our lives. Nurturing a tree we have planted and watching it grow and bear fruit is an extremely rewarding experience. Apart from this, here are a few more reasons to help you start planting: 
  • As a gift: Gifting a tree to a friend, a colleague, a dear one can be a very unique experience.
  • In memory of a loved one..
  • To mitigate our individual carbon footprint.
  • As part of our corporate social responsibility.
Sustainable Green Initiative plants fruit trees on fallow/ community lands and on lands owned by marginal and Bpl farmers.  We work with self help groups and NGOs who help us identify right beneficiaries who can continue the process of planting and nurturing trees. (See our methodology)
At Sustainable Green Initiative, we plant trees to help the fight against climate change and also hunger, poverty and rural migration.  By planting a tree through us, you help in doing your bit to mitigate your carbon footprint and carry on the fight against hunger, poverty and climate change.

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Did you know a tree sequesters about 1 ton of carbon and processes enough oxygen for two peoples requirements in its life-time?

So what are you waiting for? Plant a tree today.

Does planting trees help fight climate change? Planting fruit trees at Mulvany House, an old age home in Kolkata, West Bengal, India. A success story

Mulvany House, the old age home near Sealdah, Kolkata

Mulvany House, a 116-year old-age home at 11, Dr. Kartick Bose Road in Kolkata, is home to 23 elderly women and men at any given point in time. Run by the Church of North India under the Diocese of Calcutta, the home was renovated by Mr Ernst Schwering, Vice - Consul, Consulate of the Federal Republic of Germany. It is usually strapped for funds and relies heavily on donations from individuals and charitable institutes. There have been times when the home has looked desperately for funds for its dry rations, even.

Planting trees to feed and nourish, Sustainable Green Initiative, India

In early 2013, Sustainable Green Initiative (SGI) first came to know about the home as a possible place to plant fruit trees on community lands. Create an orchard in a barren land. The social enterprise works towards addressing climate change and reducing carbon footprint, while also looking at providing nourishment and subsidiary income to communities. 

The Bishop blessing and planting the first banana
Three generations planting together - mothers, grandmothers and grand children.

After 18 months of planting and nurturing 300 fruit trees in the home campus, results in the form of early fruits have started showing up. The home's residents are now enjoying wholesome nourishment from fruits such as bananas and papaya. And that too free of cost. 

The superintend of Mulvany House cannot hide her joy
Take your pick - Ber, Banana, Sapota, Guava
Early pomegranates, guavas, lemon, indian jujubes - ber and sapotas have started fruiting and have announced their plans to provide wholesome nourishment to the residents for the next 50-60 years. The administering body is even considering an auction or frequent markets for their patrons who can buy these organic fruits. 

Ripe Guavas can be eaten raw or made into jams and jellies

On the intangible side, the joy displayed by the elderly residents is indescribable as they keep count of banana looms that are ripening, discuss how they wished they had teeth for the guavas fruiting, get agitated about a missing half-ripe pomegranate fruit from a tree, and take pride in what they call their “orchard”. 

Raddish, Carrots, Beetroots, Gourds, flat and string beans, Spinach, Amaranthas- straight from the garden and into the kitchen
 SGI's work with intercropping the early-growth fruit trees with vegetables in the home’s campus now has vegetables such as spinach, radish, beetroots, flat beans, okra, brinjals, green pepper and coriander. The 23 residents of the home have been enjoying fresh, free, and organic vegetables that are grown in their own vegetable patch since August 2014.

Cooking your home-grown vegetables not only means saving a significant sum of money every month for the fund-strapped home, the fact that the vegetables are organically grown and taken fresh out of the vegetable patch are advantages that can’t be surpassed. 


SGI’s zeroed in on the old age home as a place that needed help. Located in one of the most congested and polluted areas of the city, the trees planted here could help combat some of the pollution and benefit the residents with their fruits, 

After the enthusiastic go-ahead from the home authorities, SGI surveyed the land and found it to be uneven with places that could have water logging during mosoons. The land was made as symmetrical as possible and wild plants and bushes composted. The soil was treated with organic farmyard manure and with fermented de-oiled neem and mustard slurry cake. Note: Chemical fertilizers and pesticides are not used in SGI's planting activities since the objective is not to produce merely in large quantities for commercial purposes.
The saplings were sourced from an extremely reliable nursery in West Bengal, which is also the largest in the state. To ensure high survival rates and the quality of saplings, SGI members routinely oversee and handpick the saplings for the projects and travel extensively to the nurseries.

One of our dedicated staff, Naskar Kanhai who takes care of the trees and plants at Mulvany House.
After preparing the land for the planting and hand-picking the saplings came the next challenge. Funds for planting and then nurturing the saplings for the two years they will take for starting to fruit. As a strategy, SGI plants banana, papaya and other fruit trees. Thus, while trees would bear fruit mostly from the third year onwards, the community starts to benefit much earlier with banana and papaya, which start to bear fruit within nine to 12 months, and between 14-18 months, respectively.

The following individuals and women's social clubs showed interest and helped us with the money required for the same.
1. Mrs Rama Bhatia, District Governor, Lions Clubs International (21 trees)
2. Mrs and Mr DD Joshi (111 trees)
3. Mrs and Mr Shyam Lal Agarwal (20 trees)
3. Inner Wheel Club Metro (50 trees)
4. Inner Wheel Club Kolkata Metropolitan (50 trees)
Total: 252

Numbers: A total of 300 fruit trees were planted in three months’ time. As a standard practice SGI plants 20% extra number of saplings.


Banana                                    75
Papaya                                     50
Sapota                                     30
Guava                                      20
Lemon (3 varieties)                  35
Mango                                     15
Pomegranate                            05
Litchi                                       05
Wood apple (Bael)                   10
Amra                                       20
Star fruit                                  10
Custard Apple                         10
Indian Jujube - Ber                  10
Gooseberry                              05
TOTAL                                   300


It was after the excitement of the planting that SGI’s hard work began in the earnest. 

Mulching, fertilising, pruning, de-weeding was carried out regularly by experienced hands. There were no unpleasant surprises in the maintenance process due to taking care of all aspects of planting and nurturing of the saplings. 

SGI’s intervention goes beyond planting and maintaining tree saplings and vegetables. As the word of SGI’s planting activities spread through social media, newspapers and word-of-mouth, the home has seen a number of individuals and organisations coming forward to help. 


We added a valuable lesson to our understanding of soil and planting conditions from the failure of seeing 40 of the 50 papaya trees not surviving. Inspite of our best efforts, the ground near the papaya plants experienced water-logging, which rotted the roots. The bigger culprit, however, was the acidic nature of the soil, which was pointed out by noted horticulturalists who SGI approached when the papaya were not growing. The soil is acidic and also has calcium and boron deficiency. 

Boron and Zinc deficiency in acidic soil can be treated easily to grow papayas

The corrective steps that would have helped were simple -- dust a generous handful of lime around the papaya saplings. A 5% borax  solution topped with 5 gm of zinc sulphate solution ensures completion. 


Philipp Schoeller with wife Sara Schoeller, Walter Raizner & Delphine Raizner, with Murli Khemka admiring the fruit trees at Mulvany House, Kolkata

Planting and nurturing fruit trees can be a wonderful way to not only combat global warming and climate change, at the same time, it can be a sustainable way to help fight hunger and poverty .