21 Nov 2019 Story Climate change

Wanted: cacao trees

Photo by The Cacao Project

Since Louise won the Young Champions of the Earth prize, much has happened. A quick glance at her greenhouse shows the massive interest in growing cacao in the last few months alone. The previously stocked space is now empty.

“Finding new ways of ensuring food security is one of the most defining challenges of our time. We need the creativity and innovation from youth to help all of us to restore soils, stabilize the climate and save biodiversity,” said Tim Christophersen, Head of Fresh Water, Land and Climate at UN Environment Programme.

“Louise Mabulo’s way of restoring degraded agricultural land through agroforestry is one way forward, and we are glad to see her approach is finding more support through our Young Champions programme,” he added.

Louise Mabulo, who won the 2019 Young Champion of the Earth for Asia and the Pacific with her Cacao Project in September, is combatting deforestation by reviving barren lands through tree planting.

Her efforts are already paying off, creating economic benefits for the local community through planting forests and nurseries, promoting fair trade and reforestation, while empowering farmers with higher incomes.

We asked her about her experiences and life as a Young Champion of the Earth, as applications for the 2020 cycle of the competition open in January.

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Mabulo's greenhouse before her win. Photo by The Cacao project

What was the most memorable experience of being a Young Champion?

“Can I pick only one!? That is difficult. I would pick the week in New York. The award ceremony was amazing, and I was approached by so many important people. I have participated in talks and forums, including the Global Landscapes Forum, where I interacted with important government units for my work.

I am amazed by the amount of ongoing exposure I get through winning the award. So many people have learned about the Cacao Project. Young people message me via social media and tell me that they are inspired by me and started to plant trees and are doing backyard gardening.

People in the Philippines, who live in cities but still have pieces of land in the country, tell me they are interested in using their land in the provinces for tree planting. Through my work they have seen how practical tree planting can be, and consider it as a valuable option that they can actively participate in.

Did you find any collaborations since becoming a Young Champion?

One interesting collaboration is with a large chocolates company. After I spoke at the Global Landscapes Forum, the company reached out to me. They asked how my work on agriculture and the environment came together. We have been in touch since.

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Photo by The Cacao project

Have you faced any challenges since winning the award?

In September, I had 21,000 cacao seedlings ready for distribution, but I was struggling to find takers for them. When the news broke about the Young Champion prize, farmers from many places came over themselves to pick up the seedlings.

This was great news, as it resulted in 21,000 trees planted in a very short timespan. However, it has also been a challenge, as I was in Manilla when the press release came out and in New York for the Climate Week when the farmers started coming in to collect them.

Right now, we must figure out exactly which farmers got which trees and if they are growing well. We need to check whether the farmers have applied the training sessions into practice and whether they are keeping up to the quality standard. This is quite some work for 21,000 trees! Also, lots of farmers from other towns and provinces are now trying to reach out to buy seedlings.

What are your plans for next year?

It will be busy. In July, we have our first ever cacao harvest. We are also finishing our training and processing centre—the construction is going on now and we hope to finish early next year. I’m also currently working with The Agriculture Training Institute, a branch of the government’s department of Agriculture. We’re collaborating to develop training programmes for young people to get into farming, with possible farm tours around the model farm and training centre in the future.

I also really want to improve the training process for farmers and plant more seedlings. My plan is to have planted a million cacao trees by 2030. Right now, we have between 90 and 100,00 trees—so another 100,000 next year would be great. But first, we need more cacao seedlings!

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Photo by The Cacao project

Stay tuned to the Young Champions of the Earth website to follow Louise and for more updates coming soon.

Do you have what it takes to be a Young Champion of the Earth? Applications open in January. Pressing submit makes you part of our changemaker community – get involved and be part of the conversation on environmental change.

 

The Young Champions of the Earth Prize, powered by Covestro, is UN Environment Programme’s leading initiative to engage youth in tackling the world's most pressing environmental challenges.