Tree-preneurs empowers over 100 people from some of the Cape’s poorest communities with the opportunity to change their lives. Ranging in age from 5 to 93, Tree-preneurs are taught how to care for indigenous trees and plants. They are given seedlings to nurture; once these have reached 30cm, they can be exchanged for vouchers for food, clothing, agricultural goods, tools, bicycles and educational support.
Originally established in KwaZulu-Natal by Wildlands Conservation Trust, Tree-preneurs now operates in more than 24 communities countrywide. In 2009 – as part of its commitment to making a positive environmental and social impact through business – Spier teamed up with Wildlands to launch Tree-preneurs in the Western Cape, providing it with a base on the farm from which to operate, as well as free water and electricity.
The driving force behind Tree-preneurs is Lesley Joemat, a Spier employee who has built a personal relationship with growers in eight impoverished communities across the province, including Blikkiesdorp, Kalkfontein, Lynedoch, Meerlust, Heather Park, Tafelsig, Nagenoeg and Klapmuts. Lesley visits them on a weekly basis to distribute seedlings, containers, soil and compost, and to offer advice on growing trees.
Ripples of change
The items exchanged with growers in return for trees – whether bikes for those without transport, or educational support for those struggling to pay school fees – unlock opportunities, provide support and spark inspiration. The project nourishes environmental consciousness in the communities where growers live; it also empowers others to make a positive difference. A powerful example of this is Tannie Babs Visagie, a Tree-preneur from Heather Park who runs a food kitchen, using the vouchers earned from her trees to buy food for orphans in her community. Since she joined the project in 2011, she has bartered 5600 trees, including 500 spekboom plants currently showcased on the verandahs at Spier Hotel.
Working together for ecological regeneration
Tree-preneurs isn’t just uplifting the communities in which it operates: through key collaborations, its efforts are having a far-reaching impact on the health of Stellenbosch’s environment.
The project supports the Stellenbosch River Collaborative (a multi-stakeholder partnership which aims to restore health to the Eerste River catchment) through the establishment of a team that is currently rehabilitating the Plankenbrug, clearing alien vegetation and planting indigenous riverine species.
Western Cape Tree-preneurs have grown 25,000 indigenous trees since the project began in the province. 10,000 of these have been donated to the Stellenbosch municipality's Million Trees initiative. These have been planted in disadvantaged areas of Stellenbosch in need of greening such as Cloetesville, while riverine species have been planted as part of the Plankenbrug’s regeneration.