July 31, 2013
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Mary Schott, headline2
Mary Schott, shown here (in blue shirt at back left) with a Trees for Tanzania work crew and some of their children, has big plans for a project she started while she was a Purdue graduate student.  Her organization is helping to reforest a portion of the African country. 
(Photo provided)

By Tom Campbell

Mary Schott was profiled in Connections in 2011. You can see her story here. 

Kigoma is an African port city of about 135,000 people situated on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika, half a world away in Tanzania. Its citizens rely on tourism and agriculture for survival. But there is a problem. 

Natives have stripped the hillsides leading down to the lake of trees. Large forests have been replaced by bare hills, covered only by the dust of the red clay soil. 

In the poorest of Tanzania’s 20 regions, the people of Kigoma have used the timber to build their homes and fuel their stoves to cook their meals and purify drinking water. 

With no trees to hold the soil in place, the annual rains wash alarming amounts of soil down the hills. Murky rivers help refresh the lake, but the large amount of soil ruins the fishing that plays such a large part in the city’s economy. 

Mary Schott, BS ’84, MS ’12, thinks Trees for Tanzania is part of the solution. Five years ago, she started the nonprofit organization to help establish renewable sources of firewood, timber and other tree-based and horticultural products in the area. 

Getting the organization off the ground was the foundation of her master’s thesis in horticulture, which she completed last year. Since starting TfT, Schott figures it has grown and distributed about 100,000 trees to people in and around Kigoma. Her dream has been to reforest the barren hillsides of the city. 

planting one million trees in Tanzania
Growing tubes are filled with a composted mixture of cow manure and soil, which gives them their red color. Once seeded, the tubes are kept under the shade of palm leaves until they germinate. (Photo provided)

Now Schott has decided to take her dream to a new level, which is not unusual for Schott, a woman whose computer in her home in Attica, Ind., has a sign that reads “Your dream is not big enough if it does not scare you.”

And as dreams go, this one is plenty scary. 

“We want to reach a total of distributing one million trees by the end of 2015. We have just over two years to make it happen. Is that a scary thought? Sure,” Schott said. “We’re going to have to do a lot of expansion, hire the manpower to make it all happen, and trust that we can buy enough materials to get it done and that we will have the donor support to make it all possible.” 

Since graduating, Schott has done some consulting work, but her main focus has been fundraising for Trees for Tanzania. 

“I’ll talk to anybody who will listen,” said Schott. “Churches, schools, special interest organizations, individuals and corporations – anybody and everybody to get the word out in any way I can.” 

But she isn’t doing it alone. Colleen Hartel has been charged with helping Schott spread the word on the Purdue campus. Formerly the TfT student intern, Hartel will spend a portion of her senior year starting a student club to help keep the organization visible within the Purdue community. 

Hartel, trees for Tanzania
Trees for Tanzania combines educational programs with its tree distribution. Many of these students will plant their trees in their schoolyard, while others will plant them near their homes. (Photo provided)

“I want to get a good, active membership base of at least 10 students who would really get involved in the organization,” said Hartel, already a veteran of two trips to eastern Africa. 

Schott figures she needs to raise about $200,000 to reach her million-tree goal. 

“We can’t do it without the help of a lot of people,” she said. 

So just how many is a million trees? 

“If we plant a spacing of 8 feet by 8 feet, the resulting stand would have about 681 trees per acre,” said John Gordon, Pinchot Professor Emeritus of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a Trees for Tanzania adviser. “A million trees would occupy about 1,468 acres.” 

“At the mission compound in Kigoma we have a nursery about the size of a football field that we are going to put entirely to seedlings,” said Schott. “We’ll hire more nursery workers and collect more seed. We’ll get there.” 

Coming Next Week:

Recently, on a picture-perfect summer day, a trio of Purdue's agricultural communication specialists toured a pair of the College of Agriculture's research facilities. Our next ConnectionsNOW! posting will include their impressions of the trip as well as a photo gallery of the day.
But while Schott would prefer to distribute the trees quickly — within the next 29 months — the long-term benefits are exactly that: long-term. 

“We assume a fast-growing species that are shade intolerant will produce trees 14 inches in diameter at breast height and 50 feet tall in 20 years if properly thinned and cultivated,” Gordon said. 

Not only would those trees be a continuous source of firewood to cook meals, but Gordon notes that, at the end of that 20-year period, a million trees could produce enough wood to build enough housing for 1,500 families. 

“For a small investment now, the lives of more than a thousand people can be continuously improved through each million-tree growing period,” Gordon said.


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