When the president of Mozambique, Armando Emilio Guebuza, went to visit Pedro Muagura at his humble home in Mozambique, he asked him one simple question:
“Why do you plant trees?”
Pedro considered this for a moment, and then replied: “Trees feed us with their fruit every day; a pregnant mother needs to rest in the shade of a tree; she will deliver her child from a wooden bed; and when we die, our coffin is made from the timber of a tree.”
Pedro Muagura’s story reads like something out of a movie.
He grew up in a small village in Mozambique called Machipanda-Manica, where his love of the natural world was acquired from an early age. “My father had no money. While other children were given bread for their lunches, I was given the most delicious fruit from the forest.”
Despite financial difficulties, Muagura managed to push through and get an education. “At the end of my undergraduate thesis, I went to mount Kilimanjaro to see if I could help with the adaptation of plants to mountain slopes,” he explains. After much research, the solution he came up with proved so remarkable that the president of Tanzania offered him the opportunity to stay and live in the country.
Pedro declined and with the help of his church and university, decided to see the world instead. During his travels, he had only one rule: “In the first hour after arriving in a country, I had to plant a tree.”
Pedro encountered mixed reactions to this idea. In Helsinki airport he was allowed to plant a tree right in the middle of the airport terminal, but when he tried to do the same thing in London, received only refusals.
“There were strange people there. We landed and I said good day to three different people. Two did not answer and the third asked me what I wanted. ‘Nothing, just to wish you a good day,’ I said. Then I talked to someone in airport management and asked where I could plant a tree. He said ‘nowhere’. So I decided to sit down, did not talk to anyone and leave with the first flight out”.
Pedro was amazed by the growth of trees in the ice of Finland and surprised by the price of a Banana in Sweden. “With the same money, I could buy 100 bananas in Mozambique,” he said.
He suffered xenophobia attacks in Russia. “At one restaurant, the plates from which I ate were broken because I was black,” recounts the Mozambiquan.
Pedro was so committed to fighting for the rights of plants during his travels; he refused to eat anything from a hotel near the airport until they had watered the dishevelled-looking plants outside the hotel.
When Pedro returned from his travels he was more committed than ever to planting and restoring the natural areas of his country – and also saddened by the disrespect for the natural world shown by some of his countrymen. “Once I got into a helicopter, and nobody told me what I was going to see. From the air, I saw flat lands from illegal deforestation and fire. I started to cry,” says Pedro.
Currently working at Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, Pedro now works to counter the problems of deforestation in the area and educate his countrymen to respect the environment. Many of his enemies have become his allies, helping in the nurseries to grow plants for areas that need them.
“Soon I will reach 100 million trees planted in this life,” declares Pedro matter-of-factly.
He clarifies that this number refers to those trees he has planted personally and those planted in his reforestation programs along with his collaborators. On Earth Day this year, under the guidance of Pedro Muagura, 3.8 million trees were planted in Gorongosa National Park.
When asked what he learned on his travels around the world, Pedro says: “The temperature and other factors are not responsible for the health of the environment – it is the attitude of the people. We humans tend to destroy nature and not respect it. People learn with time, and the process is to change the attitude of people.”
“The president wanted to know the reason why I plant? My answer: Plants guide us in everything we do and are responsible for the food that we eat and the air that we breathe!”
Pedro hopes his life path will inspire more people to share his ideas and affect change around the world.
Explore more of Africa’s lost Eden – Gorongosa National Park – here.