Community Forests Internationalis a volunteer-driven organization, working to connect people and their communities to the forests that sustain them. As the pace of environmental degradation intensifies around the world, the need for positive environmental stewardship and a restored balance between humanity and nature has become a necessity.
The organization started in 2007, when Jeff Schnurr was living on the island of Pemba, Tanzania. He had worked in Canada as a tree-planter and after several months of living within a Pemban community his Tanzanian friend, Mbarouk Mussa Omar asked him if they too could plant trees as he’d done in Canada.
Although he knew it was possible, Jeff also knew that he wasn’t the expert. He worked with Mbarouk to build a local team of gardeners, tree growers and foresters and began traveling to rural villages to see if communities wanted to plant trees. With limited resources, the group managed to collect seed from natural forests, grow seedlings and plant trees for fruit, timber and conservation. Since then over 730,000 trees have been planted by 1800 Pembans.
And so Community Forests International was born. Jeff teamed up with fellow Canadian tree-planters Daimen Hardie, Zach Melanson and Estelle Drisdelle to create an organization capable of supporting the growing tree-planting movement. Realizing that Tanzania efforts needed to be led by Tanzanians, the group helped their partners establish Community Forests Pemba, a locally owned and operated organization that works to make their own change. The two organization’s work in partnership, as equals with a shared vision.
The Community Forests International (CFI) team learned a lot from their Tanzanian partners. Most importantly they learned that people were not separate from the natural environment. In North America conservation usually involves protecting the natural forest by putting a fence around it, but in Pemba conservation was a day job. Communities would plant trees for fruit, timber and for wildlife and diversity. The CFI team liked working with communities and wanted to support forest-dependent regions in Canada.
In 2009, the group launched a workshop series in order to share the principles and practices of sustainable land use in Canada. This series covered topics such as sustainable forestry, safe chainsaw use, native plant identification, permaculture, food forest gardening, beekeeping and timber framing. In 2012, in order to demonstrate organizational beliefs and values, the organization purchased an endangered, 580 acre farm and forest called Whaelghinbran Farm in rural New Brunswick. Whaelghinbran Farm is now a beacon for rural land-use and innovation within the Maritimes.
Community Forests International’s mission is: “To foster environmental stewardship internationally by establishing community forests, promoting sustainable forestry techniques and initiating environmental education.”