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The Musicians Saving Trees

The work of Ivorian musicians Yodé and Siro, has inspired their young fanbase to join them in a remote reforestation project.

Ange Kumassi, bird story agency

As the sun rises over Tiassalé, located in the southern part of Côte d'Ivoire, a convoy of buses carrying hundreds of volunteers, artists and influencers converges on a 25-hectare forest reserve near the town.

The atmosphere is lively as as the buses pull up near an empty field close to a densely forested area and the young volunteers alight. A chant breaks out: "The forest is our heritage. We must protect it". The chant is led by two of the country's top artists, Yodé and Siro.

This "musical caravan" has come to revive the forest by planting trees. With thousands of holes dug in preparation for the event, volutneers are soon carrying tree seedlings to different planting sites. Everyone is eager to contribute.

"Planting fewer than 50 seedlings per person when visiting the forest is considered a crime. I believe you are capable of planting the required amount. Let's do our part in preserving our environment," one of the organisers urges.

Yodé and Siro, who, through their YeS Foundation, have embarked on what they call 'The national reforestation caravan'.

The artists specialise in Zouglou, a popular and urban music genre originating in Côte d'Ivoire. Their music touches on the social realities that Ivorian youths face and their lyrics convey humorous, political, and awareness-raising messages.

The group, founded in 1996, has more than 20 musical titles to their name and has always been committed to defending the environment, mainly through their foundation.

"What's important for us is to leave a legacy and remind people that our forest is more important than anything else because this land is the most precious thing we have, and it's what we will pass on to our children. Our cars may spoil, our houses may fall into ruin, but the land will remain, and that's what our children will inherit," said Yodé.

In 2022, the Ivorian government released data indicating that Côte d'Ivoire had over 16.5 million hectares of forest when it gained independence in 1960. However, by 1970, this had decreased to 12 million hectares; today, the country only has 4 million hectares of tree cover. The country has lost nearly 90% of its forest cover in the last 60 years.

The reforestation caravan, which began its tour in May 2022, has already travelled to 13 towns in various regions of Côte d'Ivoire, successfully reforesting a total of 345 hectares.

"We have temporarily paused our artistic activities to contribute to an environmental cause in our country. We believe serving our country is more fulfilling than individual pursuits", explained the artists.

The pair had initially become involved in reforestation in 2021, when, with the help of Sodefor, a state-owned company in charge of protecting the Ivorian forest, they reforested 182 hectares of forest.

That experience encouraged them to go nation-wide with their caravan.

"Given the exorbitant cost of seedlings, our first partner was Sodefor, a forestry company, which has provided us with tree plans since the reforestation project began", explained Siro.

Sodefor closely collaborates with the villagers to supervise activities in the reforested areas and monitor the trees' progress for three to four years.

"Two years ago, these artists came to see us to tell us about their project, and now over 300 hectares have been reforested. At this rate, there's no reason why Côte d'Ivoire shouldn't be able to reverse the trend of degradation that we're seeing today, and this is our great satisfaction during these two years of collaboration with them," explained Colonel Major Sangaré Mamadou, Managing Director of Sodefor.

"Côte d'Ivoire has lost 90% of its forest cover. That's why, every year, we launch a massive appeal to all citizens and initiate the popular reforestation caravan to instil reforestation values in the younger generations", said the musical duo.

In addition to reforestation, they also promote awareness about the dangers of bushfires during the dry season and the impacts of global warming.

"What we do is not about Yodé and Siro, Sodefor, or the Ministry of Water and Forests. This is not our story, it's everyone's story, it's a responsibility that concerns us all", Siro said during the event.

For Yodé and Siro, the challenge during the early days of the reforestation caravan was financial, as the exercise was expensive.

"At the outset, we did it with our own funds, and when you do a caravan with over 30 people in a coach, and you have to travel to different towns every day, you have to pay for the hotels and the people who prepare the terrain. We often end up with 2,000 or even 5,000 people, and we have to feed and transport them, so we do our best," said the artists.

Thanks to their efforts to protect and preserve the forest, various organisations have stepped up to provide financial support and equipment.

"We've signed partnerships with banking companies and agricultural product manufacturers, and this shows their commitment to supporting us in this fight we're waging, and we're delighted to have them on our side," said Yode.

"We supported this action without hesitation because we believe it will help strengthen our roots for the future. In African tradition, the tree holds great significance, which is why we chose to support Yodé and Siro.", said a Mansa Bank representative.

The country's Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of National Education have also enabled the participation of schoolchildren and university students in the reforestation program.

"Our country needs to recover its forest, and as a student, I had to be here to make my contribution and show that our future depends on it", said Roxanne Kouamé, a Bachelor's student at one of the country's universities.

The artist duo doesn't plan on limiting themselves to only 13 towns. They've contacted the association of town councils to inquire about the amount of reserve forest land in each town that could host their caravan.

"We intend to keep up the momentum next year and reforest the other towns. But we also intend to carry out these actions not only in Côte d'Ivoire but also in other African countries", declared Yodé and Siro.

bird story agency

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