Rifai, The Incredible Tree Farmer!
Faced with failing crops and a significant disability, a lot of us would admit defeat. But if there's one person who can teach us all a thing or two about not giving up, it's one of T4T's brightest stars: Rifai, an Albizia tree farmer. Albazia is a fast growing tropical tree that can reach a diameter of 30cm (11 inches) in just 5 years.
Rifai uses only his left leg to walk; his right leg doesn't work, and it hasn't since he suffered illness and high fever as a baby. Close up, you would, of course, notice his disability and see how it affects his day-to-day-life, but when we see Rifai out working in the fields, taking care of his land and his trees, we see only a hero.
A day in the life of a one-man-band...
Every day, he walks around half a kilometer to reach his place of work (we'll call it work, even though, for him, it's a passion!), and the first thing he does when he gets there is look at every single tree planted in the field, to see if it's growing well. He could employ someone else to do it, but for Rifai, seeing his Albizia trees mature is like watching his own children grow.
In fact, unlike many other farmers in the country, Rifai is very much a one-man-band, taking care of every step of the growing process. Ever since he started farming Albizias around 20 years ago, he's nurtured them from seedling to sapling, and protected them from bugs and other environmental factors as they've grown into canopied beauties bursting with pink flowers and seed pods.
The tough old days...
But it wasn't always like that... In the beginning, Rifai tried growing other forest trees -but the soil in his fields lacked nutrients, making the job near impossible. So he looked for a variety of tree that might grow happily on his land, and that's when he encountered the Albezia tree.
Rifai's problems didn't end there, however. When he first started growing Albezias, many seedlings were found dead, with yellow leaves and dry stems. And those that did survive until harvest season were given a low value, due to their slim trunks, which didn't match up to market standards.
But Rifai persisted, continuing to grow this particular species of tree whilst observing the effect of any changes he made on the way they developed. And eventually, his dedication paid off; he discovered the secret ingredient to growing strong and healthy Albezias! A secret that had eluded him and other farmers for a long time. In fact, all that was required was a bit of thinning out - a process which involves cutting short branches to maximize the diameter of the stem.
All for one, and one for all!
Rifai continued to work alone until 2013, when he joined the Trees4Trees planting program and began receiving Albizia trees donated by our sponsors and supporters. We know these contributions mean a lot to him - on both an emotional and a financial level (even if you know how to grow trees, it doesn't mean you have the resources required for doing it). He tells us he really appreciates the ongoing support and guidance he gets from Trees4Trees, too.
Naturally, we're very happy that Rifai benefits so much from Trees4Trees, but we have a lot to thank him for too. Never have we met someone whose passion for their work has helped them overcome so many obstacles. Rifai is a true source of inspiration and we're incredibly proud to work with him.