Planting trees and fighting poverty: Climate Nuts founder Christoph in interview

FoodForest Sierra Leone

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With the vision of taking the fight against climate change into his own hands, Christoph Schaaf founded Climate Nuts in 2021. With food forests in Sierra Leone, he and his project not only manage to reduce CO2 in the plants. The villagers, who suffer particularly from the consequences of climate change, also get a chance out of poverty. Since the beginning of 2023, we at TripLegend have been supporting the project with every trip you book with us. In the interview, Christoph explains the project to us, how it came about, and why "Foodforests" have a particularly large positive impact.

9 questions for Climate Nuts founder Christoph Schaaf

Hi Christoph, tell us in three short sentences what Climate Nuts does.

  • We as humanity are currently experiencing a triple crisis: climate change is developing exponentially, 25% of animal and plant species are at risk of extinction, and we still have 700 million people living in extreme poverty.
  • We therefore plant food forests in Africa exactly where they were previously cleared. These forests store CO2, provide a home for wildlife and a nature-positive economic perspective for people
  • For companies in Germany we offer forest sponsorships to support their climate goals, village sponsorships to expand their social engagement.
Climate Nuts Food Forest Will Be Planted

How did you come to found Climate Nuts? What was your basic idea and motivation?

  • The founding of ClimateNuts ultimately goes back to an adventure trip. In 2018, I left my job, my apartment, and my previous life behind and rode my bike to China. On the way back by car, we passed by the Aral Sea and I realized for the first time the scales at which humans destroy nature. The lake was once as big as Bavaria, there was an underwater world, shipping, fishing and a livelihood for many people. Now it is 90 percent dried up because of irrigation for cotton fields, especially in Uzbekistan.
  • I then studied the climate crisis intensively and also the pessimistic future scenarios. At a certain point, I made a decision: I would focus on solutions. I found what I was looking for in the Drawdown Project from the USA, where 70 scientists worked through thousands of scientific studies over 5 years to find the 100 most effective solutions to the climate crisis.
  • This electrified me, and one solution in particular caught my attention: Agroforestry systems. Trees and crops are combined in a mixed, near-natural system that provides harvests on several levels, helps the climate and biodiversity, and protects the soil and water balance. While working on the topic, I came into contact with pioneers from Africa who were already setting up such systems. That was the starting point for ClimateNuts.
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Why are nut plants particularly helpful and what else is planted?

  • Cashews are an excellent pioneer crop, making few demands on the soil and coping well with drought. Cashews also fetch high prices on the market.
  • We plant in the food forests a total of 10 or more different tree species such as mangoes, coconuts, citrus fruits, moringa and papaya. In between, beans, peanuts, cassava, ginger, pineapple and chili grow in colorful crop rotation depending on the season.
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What is the role of smallholder farmers in Africa?

  • The smallholders are our most important partners. They own the land on which we plant the forests, with them we prepare the nurseries to grow the seedlings, they take care of the preparation, planting and maintenance of the trees.
  • Our 4-person local team coordinates the activities, organizes the necessary infrastructure such as storage and transport, and takes care of contacts with the authorities.

What connects you personally with Africa, how did you come to the decision to use this continent for your project?

  • It's not Africa specifically, it's the love of travel, of looking behind the horizon that brought me to ClimateNuts. One of my favorite things to do is to study maps, get lost in Google Earth and imagine what it must be like somewhere else. Did you know that the distance as the crow flies from Senegal to Somalia is farther than across Russia? Africa is cornucopia of landscapes, cultures, music, food. And I know only a tiny fraction...

Can the harvested nuts also be bought in Germany? And what about the carbon footprint due to the transport routes?

  • Yes, the nuts and other products are also available for purchase here with us in the online store and for companies in the subscription for the meeting table, in the office, as small gifts for customers and partners. Of course, we are often asked the question of transportation. In addition 2 things:
    • We reduce the sea route: 60% of the cashew harvest (4 million tons / year) comes from Africa, but only 10% of it is processed in Africa. The rest is transported as raw material, 4/5 of which consists of shells, to the Far East for processing. We process directly and thus reduce transport emissions by a factor of about 15.
    • Our forests store carbon: One hectare of food forest stores 2 tons of CO2 per year and yields 2 tons of harvest. Transporting a container from West Africa provides about one ton of emissions and 12 tons of cashews fit into one container. So we save 12 tons, emit one ton and are climate positive. Hence the name ClimateNuts.

You also offer a forest sponsorship, what's it all about and how exactly does it work? How can our readers get involved themselves?

  • Don't you sometimes feel the same way? A special occasion is coming up for special people, be it a milestone birthday, a passed exam, a newborn child. What do you give to people who seem to have everything? For this we offer forest sponsorships, which show the commitment in the form of a beautiful certificate and at the same time give 50 people in Africa a livelihood with one hectare.
  • You choose the appropriate size (from 1000 square meters it is considered a forest), send us if desired a photo or the name of the person you want to give a gift and we will send you the coordinates of "your" forest and a certificate.
  • A second option is a forest sponsorship for companies that want to improve their climate footprint with us and at the same time show social and ecological commitment.
  • You can find more information here: Climate Nuts Forest Sponsorship
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You are a real adventurer yourself and have visited some exciting destinations. What does sustainable tourism have to look like for you?

  • Thank you very much! Yes, I think adventure and the spirit of discovery were born in my cradle. I would ask the question beforehand: What makes a successful trip? My answer: beautiful nature, deep encounters with people and their culture, exciting experiences while being outdoors. Sustainability should tie in with preserving this treasure for future generations.
  • From this it follows for me that visitors should care for the protection and reconstruction of nature, e.g. through agroforestry systems and jobs for the people in the rice countries. The money that flows into the regions should support the people and small businesses such as quaint local restaurants, small farmers who supply restaurants with fresh vegetables, whether the small artisan bakery with the most delicious bread or the guide who has secret tips that are not in any book. Not only should emissions be offset, but every trip - although it creates emissions - should ensure that carbon goes back into the ground.

And finally, a special treat for our readers. What is your personal favorite dish with cashew? Do you have a particularly unusual tip that our community should try?

  • My salty favorite is cashew pesto:
    • 1 bunch basil
    • 1 pinch salt
    • 4 pcs garlic clove
    • approx. 100 ml olive oil
    • 50 g parmesan grated
    • 100 g cashews
  • You will also need a stand mixer or hand blender.
  • Wash the basil, pat dry and pluck the leaves from the stems. Peel and press the garlic. Roast cashews in the oven until golden and then chop. Grate Parmesan cheese Blend all ingredients in a blender to a smooth paste.
  • Now you can mix the delicious pesto directly with hot pasta and enjoy. Alternatively, you can put it in jars and cover the top with a little extra oil to make the pesto last longer.
Cocreation Of Solutions

Thank you very much for the interview, Christoph! We look forward to working with you in the future and are proud to count you as our partner.

Here you can learn more about TripLegend's sustainable commitment and how you can make your trip more sustainable yourself, you can read in our section Sustainable travel. Beech now your TripLegend adventure and Support Climate Nuts.

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