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Profile: 2017 Reilly Award Winners Ben and Vannesa Henneke

Vannesa Henneke, left, and Ben Henneke, right

Vannesa Henneke, left, and Ben Henneke, right

Ben and Vannesa Henneke, founders of Clean Air Action Corporation and The International Small Group and Tree Planting Program (TIST), have been jointly selected to receive a 2017 William K. Reilly Environmental Leadership Award. The award will be given at a ceremony hosted by the Center for Environmental Policy in American University's School of Public Affairs, on March 30, 2017, in the Katzen Arts Center on campus.

TIST is an agricultural, tree-planting, sustainable development and carbon credit program that the Hennekes developed in collaboration with subsistence farmers in 1999 to help the farmers improve their livelihoods and food security by planting trees on degraded lands. It has now grown to more than 75,000 farmers and over 16 million trees in Kenya, Uganda, India, and Tanzania.

TIST provides training and offers a small stipend to local farmers to help them meet their economic needs, even during severe dry seasons. The improved farming practices and tree planting improve the farmers' and their villages' welfare by stabilizing the local food supply and by providing families with additional income from TIST tree benefits and payments.

TIST’s model is to mentor farmers and provide them with agricultural, health, and basic business skills. Ben and Vannesa have personally mentored hundreds of farmers, and provided many of them with leadership training enabling them start new TIST programs in other regions.

TIST has demonstrated that reforestation programs can produce large benefits for struggling farmers and villages already adversely affected by climate change, while providing carbon reductions at less than $10/ton. The carbon credits sold by TIST on behalf of its farmers have been purchased by companies such as Microsoft, Taylors Tea, BP Oil, and others looking to offset their carbon emissions.

Additional benefits of tree planting include fruit and nut harvests, honey from bee-hives, sustainable firewood supplies, nursery sales, shade that protects crops and families, and reduced soil erosion that also helps stabilize stream and river banks.

One of the most impressive aspects of the TIST program is its award winning monitoring system. TIST employs and trains local residents to use global information technology to track the trees’ growth. Using GPS technology and digital cameras, they visit project sites, count and photograph the trees and upload their data to the TIST website where progress is measured on maps from Google Earth. TIST has demonstrated that tree planting, by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere, is one of the simplest and most cost effective means of mitigating climate change while providing the added benefit of significant improvements to the livelihoods of subsistence farmers.