Building a native tree nursery and creating jobs in South Africa

In South Africa’s poor, densely populated townships, there are few trees. Contrast that with the country’s richer communities, where leafy, shaded streets greet the passers-by.  

In Cape Town, tree inequality reflects the legacy of the Apartheid era. White citizens tend to live in areas with many more trees, greener vegetation, and easier access to public parks than townships with predominantly black African, Indian, and coloured residents.  

Entrepreneur Siyabulela Sokomani, who grew up in Cape Town’s Khayelitsha township, and his company Nguni Nursery are fighting to bring back green spaces – and relief from air pollution, erosion, and flooding – with the power of native plants. Since June 2020, he and his team have worked with NGOs and private entities to grow 95,000 trees (with more on the way). Sokomani has inked long-term contracts for which he will supply seedlings for up to 3 years, and he is also supplying local restoration projects.

Nguni Nursery also offers consultation services on nursery design for environmental rehabilitation and land restoration projects and has worked with Rooiberg Breede River Conservancy. Nguni is also supplying the University of Stellenbosch with high-quality, locally sourced native plants and tree saplings for their Philippi Horticultural Area Rehabilitation Project.

Why native trees? Sokomani points out that because indigenous plants and trees are adapted to local environmental conditions, they save time, money, and one of the most important natural resources in Cape Town: water. In addition to providing a vital habitat for birds, many other species of wildlife stand to benefit as well.   

With a green grant, his team and local tree planters aiming to grow 250,000 native trees of 15 drought-resistant species in Khayelitsha, Nyanga, Gugulethu, Mfuleni and Delft townships. Sokomani could also hire 20 temporary workers during the growing season and 5 permanent staff, all from township communities that struggle with high unemployment. In total, these trees could benefit 130,000 people. 

Nguni Nursery takes pride in sourcing its raw materials, like the bags it uses to protect saplings and its compost, from other local entrepreneurs. Notably, they use an organic pesticide from the neem tree, a non-invasive tree species from India, that a local company produces. 

Raising awareness is also key to Sokomani’s work. Nguni Nursery works with schools, sports teams, and places of worship to help spread information about the benefits of growing trees. Sokomani himself is a source of inspiration. With his friends, he runs marathons with a tree strapped to his back, raising money to support his regreening work. He is also an AFR100 Ambassador, speaking to leaders around the continent about his experience.

The team at Nguni Nursery is just as interested in measuring the impact of their work. To start, they screen out planting locations where trees are unlikely to survive. And they consistently check progress over a two-year period. They are also looking to harness nascent AI and satellite technology to report in aggregate on how many trees and plants they have started growing across the landscape.

Sokomani calls on people from around the world to join Nguni Nursery on their tree-growing journey.

Follow Nguni Nursery on Twitter and Instagram

Type of Restoration: 
Project Size: 
250,000 trees
Seeking grant
Focal Point: 

Siyabulela Sokomani, Founder and AFR100 Ambassador,