EEP 2021: Propagating Spekboom for Carbon Sequester in South Africa (Progress Report)

Pruning big spekboom

Hello! We are the Spekboom Team from Imagine Scholar South Africa! Imagine Scholar is an after-school program that allows high school students to acquire extraordinary skills like planning, problem-solving, and more. Part of being an Imagine Scholar is being inspired to take up leadership roles and pursue experiential learning opportunities.

We came to learn about ISNAD-Africa’s Environmental Education Program through Imagine Scholar. We are all very passionate about the environment, and before this opportunity, we were a part of the ‘Green Team’, an environmental club at Imagine Scholar. Through this club, we did many environmentally friendly activities such as trash pickups, gardening, eco brick/plastic recycling, discussions, and more to help fight against climate change. When we saw the EEP opportunity online last year, we were very excited and eager to join since it was a fantastic way to contribute to the long-term solution against climate change in our local community.

In South Africa, there is an indigenous plant called spekboom. It’s drought-resistant, so it can grow well in climates like ours, where we can go a while without rain. A BBC article titled “How Shrubs Can Help Solve Climate Change” describes more of the benefits of spekboom:

Because of spekboom’s remarkable growth rate, its rate of carbon capture can rival that of tropical forests,” Sarah-Jane Paviour writes in her 2014 thesis on these properties of spekboom, also called the dwarf jade plant or porkbush. It doesn’t need to be cultivated in a nursery before planting, which takes times and money. The result is that one tonne of CO2 can be captured for less than a tenth of the cost of sinking the equivalent carbon by planting trees in temperate or tropical forests. To plant spekboom, all you need to do is to take a cutting from an older plant

Our team was surprised to learn this about a plant that we all pass by daily! So when the opportunity came to pitch ideas for the EEP, we already had something in mind.

At the beginning of February, we were invited to pitch our project idea (to propagate spekboom plants and distribute them for free to community members) and had the opportunity to learn about other students’ projects across Africa through an online webinar. A few weeks later, we received the fantastic news that we were awarded USD 405 to start our project. Upon that news, we started right away. With the funding, we were able to purchase compost, pruning shears, and garden gloves. Additionally, we had initially budgeted to buy grow pots for our new plants, but one of our team members had the brilliant idea to collect 2-liter plastic bottles from litter piles and re-purpose them as grow pots.

Since we started, we have met once a week to plant anywhere from 50-80 plants per session every Tuesday. By the end of March, we had planted 260 plants and reused 130 plastic bottles! Additionally, we had our first virtual call with our project advisor, Kristin Kaye, an award-winning author of the book “Tree Dreams.” She taught us how to effectively advertise our plants in our community by announcing our projects in community gatherings or on the local streets. She also made us realize the importance of spreading the word about our project before showing up in people’s houses with the plant.

This first week of April, we have planted another 50 plants and plan to do another 50 next week. This will conclude the end of planting and allow us to transition to distribution. The plan is to start advertising and distributing the plants in the last two weeks of April and close out the project by May 15th. To make the distribution of all the plants possible, we are excited to offer volunteer opportunities to our peers at Imagine Scholar and our government schools to get involved. Training our volunteers will also help us spread the word and valuable information on the benefits of the spekboom plants!

We’ll look forward to keeping you apprised of the rest of the project!