As the birthplace of Vodun ( more commonly known as `Voodoo` ) Benin has retained a strong tradition of cultural relationship with its natural environment. As a result, while there has been extensive development and infrastructure growth in the country, there remain a significant number of sacred forests associated with each village which are believed to be the home of deities and are therefore protected.
The `Trees of Life` project is an integrated programme which aims to support communities in Avrankou Commune to protect and expand existing sacred forests, as well as plant indigenous trees as vital resources for ecosystem stability, sustainable livelihoods and climate change mitigation. Two indigenous tree nurseries will be established to distribute seedlings to 52 villages where planting will take place around schools, churches and traditional voodoo sites.
The 52 villages in Avrankou Commune will be informed, educated and sensitized to the importance and value of forests and trees and each village will train and equip forest protection `clubs`. Locally called `Ecoguarde` clubs these are groups of five to ten carefully chosen women and youth who are committed to act as community environmental guardians.
Nature Club youth training in biodiversity and forest management, Avrankou Commune, Benin. Photo © Gaia Foundation