TreeSisters Planting Projects

Radical Impact in Khasi Hills, India ~Interview with Marie-Noelle Keijzer 

In this heart-opening 15 minute interview with Marie-Noelle Keijzer, CEO of WeForest, we dive into the radical impact our network of donors is making in Khasi Hills in northern India, which is one of our eight planting projects across the globe. This interview was part of our 2018 Earth Day Celebrations event called 'Radical Impact'. Marie-Noelle is an absolute force of Nature, and the benefits of this project to local people and the environment are truly profound.

You can listen to the interview, or read the transcription below - and if you're feeling catalyzed to make giving back to nature part of the air you breathe, please go here to explore our monthly membership.

Kenya: Hello everyone, I am Kenya Ference (former) Manager of Marketing here at TreeSisters. In a few moments I'll be introducing you to Marie-Noelle who is the CEO and founder of WeForest. We have two incredible projects with WeForest. One in the Atlantic Rainforest of Brazil and the other in Khasi Hills in Northern India. Today we're going to focus our conversation with Marie-Noelle on the latter because this is a new project for funding and there are some really beautiful aspects that we'd like to introduce you to.

It's one of the most bio-diverse regions in Asia and influences regional climate because it's technically called the cloud forest. The project is also helping a variety of endangered species similar to Brazil and the project is largely run by a group of extraordinary women that we're going to hear more about soon.

So with that Marie-Noelle, I'd officially like to welcome you to the call. Thank you so much for being here with us today. And first of all, I would love for you to tell us a little bit about why you're so passionate to contributing to the reforestation of our planet.

Marie-Noelle: Thank you Kenya. And congratulations for doing such a great job about the Brazil project. You did a great description of it. It's very close to my heart. Actually, you said something about the statistics that made me shiver, even though I know these numbers. When you hear about how many trees are being cut. Basically what is being cut every year is the equivalent of (the size of) South Carolina and what's being restored through the work we do and the others around this call and other organizations is half (the size of) of South Carolina. So we're losing this race and this is why I'm not going to let go; I'm not going to let happen.officially like to welcome you to the call. Thank you so much for being here with us today. And first of all, I would love for you to tell us a little bit about why you're so passionate to contributing to the reforestation of our planet.

You asked me to introduce myself I'm actually a mother who decided to do something about climate change. And actually trees are the best technology to stop global warming. So there's no question in my mind and my objective is to do that in my lifetime. I'm dedicating all my energy and my whole team have been doing that for the last 9 years. That's what I do. That's my job. To convince companies and organizations to do something about climate now and to do that with trees.

Kenya: Thank you so much. It's really amazing to feel your heart and your commitment to this work. We have a term that we use at TreeSisters called Feminine Nature Based Leadership and I can feel that resonating so strongly in you. Thank you so much for that brief and powerful introduction. I'd really love for us to bring our focus to the Khasi Hills project in India. I'd love for you to tell us a little bit about the science of the project to begin with and then after we can drop into the beauty of the social impacts. Can you start by telling us about the science behind this project?

Marie-Noelle: Well actually WeForest is a group of scientists. Everything we do is based on science. So obviously when we started with a local team that was already working in India, we brought our knowledge about landscape restoration...forest landscape restoration. That's what we do when we plan what to restore, what species to plant, and how to make sure the trees bring more benefit to the people. Also we developed social economic activities, so that's all the science that we use to do the best we can and to also measure the impact. It's not just about planting trees, it's about measuring, and if something's wrong then you have to correct it. And that's what science helps us do.

The other thing we started last year was actually to focus on the water research. It's quite amazing because that area is the megalia state, is known as the most rainy area on earth. So you think why would you worry about water? Well actually they have a shortage of water. Which is amazing. And so we have started some work with the FAO in order to measure the impact of the trees that we are planting on the water cycle. So that is something that is on-going now and we're very proud of it, that the FAO would have selected our project to work with us there. So science is in everything that we do. Again in planting, in measuring, in reporting and then also in learning and training the people to do better with what they have. (FAO is the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.)

Kenya: Thank you so much. That was really informative. I actually didn't know that, that you were starting to measure the water in that area. I know that that's something we're doing at a lot of our projects, it's a bit of a common theme. So it's great to hear about that. I know that one of the really special things about this project is that it's almost entirely run by indigenous women and they are one of the few matriarchal cultures in the world, which I personally just think is really interesting. I would love for you to tell us a bit about these women and some of the stories about how they are impacted by this project.

Marie-Noele: Yes and actually there is a little correction here. There is a little nuance between matriarchal and matrilineal. Actually it's fair to say that this is a matrilineal tradition or a community. Where actually the youngest daughters inherit the resources and children take their mother's surname which is very different from how we do it obviously in the Western countries. So that is very interesting. The downside on that is that the women don't have political power for example. The indigenous governments in the Khasi Hills are exclusively run by men.

However, women have a major role in everything that has to do with social economic activities and we measure that pretty much at 70%. So women control all the social economic activities up to like 70 percent which is significant. And the way we work there is with women self help groups. So they created clubs and groups of women who actually manage activities. They don't receive money from us, but they receive in kind sponsorship. Like for example pigs, chickens, cooking solutions in order to improve their livelihood activities, reduce the use of wood obviously to protect the trees. So they take full and sole ownership of running the seventy self help groups that exist there and also five farmer clubs. So they are quite dynamic. And also nurseries are run by these women's groups. In the long term our objective is to assist them in taking also a stand in the political decisions, but I guess that's going to take some time. We can't do everything first. First things first.

Kenya: Wow that's beautiful. And I'm just wondering too, just to dive just a little bit deeper into that. How do their lives change on a personal level? What does that look like for them?

Marie-Noelle: Well very for example in India we've seen a lot of pictures on that, that women and girls go out and collect firewood for example. Well that is a real problem because they go out there alone early in the morning, it's dangerous, it's fatiguing and while they do that the girls don't go to school, so it's quite a burden on the women. What we have done there is we have provided efficient stoves so that they don't need so much fuel wood. That has two benefits, it improves the lives of these girls and these women and also protects the forest. So that is very specifically something that we do.

We also grow special products, herbs that produce oils that can be sold so that provides additional income. As I mentioned before all the animals they grow that also is a way for them to gain financial independence. So in many different ways women they grow and they develop themselves as a stronger person in that society and as I said maybe one day they could also get political power. Why not? There's no reason why they wouldn't.

Kenya: Wow that's really incredible and something's coming to my mind that I saw once in a campaign from another reforestation organization and the term was deforestation is sexist. It was this whole story about how women are affected by deforestation and so it's really amazing to see the other side of it. How reforestation is really uplifting women in this way. That's one of the things that I love about all of our projects actually, they do have a very unique and special emphasis on empowering women which I'm not sure that everyone in the network knows about. So I hope that's really interesting to all of you listening.

Marie-Noelle: Yes, we don't believe for example in traditional development aid where you just pour money somewhere and don't create any dignity for people and that's the other thing with trees you can really do something and give them jobs, help them send their children to school and get out of poverty... get out of the poverty vicious circle.

Kenya: Yes absolutely. And I know we're going to hear a lot more about that theme from Debbie from Eden a little bit later. And I could talk about this project all day with you, Marie-Noelle, but we are short on time. So I just want to say thank you so much for giving us that insight into this project. Before we finish I'd love to ask you one last question, kind of bringing it from the local level to the global level...from your knowledge and expertise what kind of global impact can trees from these projects and tropical trees in general, have on the world?

Marie-Noelle: Well that's an excellent question and obviously as I said before, my main purpose is climate change and stopping global warming. So we have explored and we have studied the science around that. You might know that the New York Declaration is saying, that was the New York Declaration on Forests which was made in September 2014, is saying that if we half deforestation rates and add 350 million hectares of forest, which is actually the surface area of India, by 2030 and if we stop deforestation totally by 2050 then we can stay under the 2 degrees Celsius temperature increase, which is really the threshold we should not exceed. And trees have a very important role to play in lowering the temperature, the global temperatures, in 2 ways.

First trees...half of the tree biomass is carbon that is actually stored in the trees and the soil. Even if you cut the trees and made furniture out of it, then it will still be stored. The carbon cycle is so essential to cool our planet because it's not enough to stop emissions we have to remove the excess carbon from the atmosphere and trees are the best technology for that. They have all the other benefits that we've already mentioned with you Kenya and Clare. It's so clear that it is a solution and it is possible. There is so much degraded land just waiting for us to go and restore. It's possible. And a surface like India, a country like India is large but it's still do-able, because it only means 25 trees per person on Earth so it's not crazy, right?

So that's the carbon cycle and there is another cycle that nobody knows about, or that very few people care about to know, is the water cycle. And actually that is something that we are studying with our scientist because it is not well known yet. Trees make clouds. Clouds cool the planet. And that is why we plant trees in tropic countries because they make more clouds there than they would in the North. And the Albedo effect on the trees is more positive in tropical countries than in the North. If we were able to increase cloud cover thanks to the trees we could then stop global warming as well. That would be a way to cool the planet.

So both factors combined the carbon absorption or reduction and the cloud nucleaton both have a very strong impact on climates and can help us get out of this big challenge that we face.

Kenya: Thank you so much for sharing that and I just really want to appreciate the level of depth that you bring to the scientific aspect of these projects and I'm sure it's been an absolute delight for our network to hear you speak about that. So I really want to thank you from the bottom of my heart on behalf of the whole network and all of your team as well, I'd love for you to share our appreciation with them on behalf of our network. I'm so inspired and I'm sure people listening on the call are just as inspired too. Thank you Marie-Noelle.

If you'd like to listen to the recording of our entire Radical Impact Event, which was part of our 2018 Earth Day Celebrations, please go here or listen below!

Transcript by Terra Canova
Published 7 May 2018
All photographs courtesy of
Meme by Kenya Ference

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