Kujengana: The Swahili secret to making great leaders

Kujengana and sustainable farming brings our small groups closer together– letting them plant millions of trees.

Kujengana: The Swahili secret to making great leaders

Just the gist

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

👭🏿 International Women's Day arrived in March. Our project is proud to support tens of thousands of female farmers, who grow trees, build leadership skills, and help heal the planet.

🙌 Our project's small groups practice Kunjegana, which literally translates to "building each other up." This tradition gives every group member a voice, and allows budding leaders to blossom.

🌾 Our project teaches over 100,000 farmers sustainable agriculture– and pays them while they learn. In this update we'll look at a couple of techniques that preserve the local ecosystem, while helping to suck CO2 from the sky.

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March means Spring, and Spring is a busy time for the many thousands of farmers working on our Community Tree Planting project. Many small groups have had their local Cluster meetings, where they share their hard-earned farming techniques with one another.

A small group gathers to discuss conservation farming. Our project supports over 50,000 female farmers across East Africa.

In this update, we'll take a look at a few of these techniques– skills that have enabled our project partner, TIST, to plant over 20 million trees across East Africa.

Kujengana– Raising each other up

A meeting of the Mamba cluster in Kenya was interrupted by this fine feathered fellow.

On our project, community is everything. It's called the Community Tree Planting project for a reason– without group members encouraging one another and holding each other to account, the project wouldn't be possible. And the main way our group members get closer together is through the process of Kujengana.

The Swahili translation of Kujengana literally means, "to build each other up". At small group meetings, that's exactly what our farmers do.

Kujengana is the practice of giving direct, specific compliments to each group member. Before the end of each meeting, every participant says one specific, positive thing they noticed the meeting leader did. And the leader must accept these compliments, responding with a simple "thank you", without any further discussion.

Most cultures are taught to criticize, so implementing Kujengana takes practice. Focusing on the positives lets more timid people to speak out and grow as leaders.

When you focus on positives, people do not rebel or push back, but will listen to your voice with an open mind. Kujengana is best understood as a double blessing that helps both the recipient and the group as a whole.

By regularly talking about leadership out loud, the group can come to a shared understanding of what makes a good leader. Since leadership rotates every meeting, every group member gets to put these ideas into practice. And every member gets a turn to accept positive feedback from their peers.

How to plant forests that last

The Aguthi cluster met in Kenya, to discuss raised seedbeds (pictured) and conservation farming.

Conservation sets our Community Tree Planting project apart from other, outwardly similar projects. Our project partner pays farmers not just for how many trees they plant, but also for how many trees they keep in the ground. This creates an incentive to protect and restore forest for the long-term, instead of planting trees to make a quick buck, without any intention of preserving the flora that's been created.

Farmers follow a few "Best Practices" to maximise their conservation efforts. These include:

🔄 Diversifying crop rotations to improve soil health and stop crop-specific pests and diseases

🌱 Keeping a permanent layer of organic soil cover, and reducing mechanical soil tillage to replenish soil nutrients

🍃 Planting a variety of species that are indigenous to the local area

🔼 Planting raised seedbeds prevents seedling roots from coiling up, and allows for easily transplanting trees from one grove to another

Conservation farming is fair to the people working the land, and doesn't damage the environment. It allows farmers to increase crop yield, improve soil health, and let local biodiversity blossom.

TIST farmers are paid to learn these sustainable farming skills, which they then use to grow their own food to feed their families. By supporting this project, you are helping put food on the table of subsistence farmers across Africa.

That's it for this update. If you have any questions or things you'd like to see in the next update, please reply to this email– I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

– Thomas