The surprising power of small groups

Over 95,000 farmers are adopting sustainable farming practices by working together in small groups.

The surprising power of small groups

Just the gist

If you're in a hurry, here's what you need to know this month:

  • Over 95,000 farmers now participate in community tree planting!
  • Small groups of farmers are the secret to TIST's success. They rotate leadership, hold each other accountable, and are early adopters of sustainable farming practices.
  • 74 small groups in the Hamurwa cluster near Kibale, Uganda are growing over 500,000 trees!

For more updates like this one, follow Wren on Twitter and Instagram.

Hello, world!

I'm Thomas, employee #2 at Wren. The team and member community are growing at Wren, and I'll be writing many of the project updates going forward. I'd love to hear how I can improve them! If you have any thoughts, please let me know.

But without further ado, let's begin the update.

We're all about doing big things at Wren, and all big things start small.

Our partner behind the Community Tree Planting project, TIST, is a great example: From humble beginnings, over 95,000 farmers now participate in tree planting for the project.

These trees from the Zagyenda tree planting group were monitored on November 10th by an official TIST quantifier.

But even with such great scale, the crucial units of their community are small groups. Small groups of 6-12 farmers are the foundation of this project, and together they have planted and cared for millions of trees.

These small groups of farmers band together to improve their lives and their environment by planting trees and adopting sustainable farming practices.

Each member of a small group is accountable to their community. Farmers work side-by-side every day. This makes small groups particularly effective at long-term impact. In large groups, people don't always know what other members are doing. Some farmers put in more work than others.

By organizing in small groups, each farmer is responsible to their neighbors. Farmers are not just colleagues, but friends. The hard work of tree planting becomes meaningful! Small groups look after each other.

A small group taking a break. TIST farmers wear masks to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Small groups help farmers from different cultures share their knowledge, often leading to surprising results. In small groups, everyone can see each other working. If one person has adopted new farming practices, other group members can learn from his experience. Farmers prefer learning-by-doing to classroom seminars. Good ideas spread fast.

Small groups make it easier to experiment with new farming practices, by sharing resources and labour. Trying new things is easier when you're not alone. Not all innovation works, and farmers share the costs of failure. But they also share the joy that success brings.

And they have been quite successful indeed. 74 small groups in the Hamurwa Cluster in Kibale, Uganda, are currently growing 594,554 trees!⁠  The main species are Pinus Patula, Eucalyptus and Cyprus, and all trees have been planted in a polycultural, sustainable way. You can see more here.

Small groups rotate leadership. Every farmer has a voice.

Small groups have a few secrets to their success. They decide by consensus, and never let one person dominate the discussion. They rotate leadership every few months. They practice Kujegana, giving positive feedback to lift others up. And, most importantly of all, they are always looking for new ways to improve the sustainability of their farming.

Small groups are the atomic units of TIST, but are also its soul. These groups don't just plant trees. They make each other smile, measure their progress, refine their practices, and share their success with one another. By working together, farmers become friends. And small groups of friends can do big things.

That's it for this update! If you have questions, feedback, or advice for starting a new job (!), please reply directly back to this email. I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

- Thomas Hollands