Millennials & Resilience: Cities, Innovation & Transformation of Youth Laboratory (MR CITY Lab)

Restoring indigenous tree for combating climate change, urban biodiversity loss and enhancing food security.

Photo of Aliyu Salisu Barau
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Eligibility Criteria

  • I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria and terms of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge and that I am eligible to apply.
  • I am 18 years old or older.

Initiative's representative name

Dr Aliyu Barau

Initiative's representative date of birth

12th April, 1974

Initiative's representative gender

  • Man

Headquarters location: country

  • Nigeria

Headquarters location: city


Where are you making a difference?


Website or social media url(s) :

Date Started

July 2017

Project Stage

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working toward the next level of expansion)

Yearly Budget : What is your current yearly budget for the initiative?

  • €1k - €10k

Organization Type

  • Educational institution

1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.

Every day in the very late afternoon, bats in their thousands fly all over the skies of Kano city. They emerge from the over 400 years-old Kano Emir’s Palace. One keep wondering why the palace is the unique habitat for these creatures. Why not anywhere else? The Indigenous trees in the ancient palace gardens support the bats to hang, fly and live long. There are hardly such trees with such density in the city anymore. In 2016, I wrote an article about the bats in the New York based Nature of Cities portal ( This triggers many questions and hypothesis by readers and which only a carefully designed research can address.

2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Until 1980s, Kano had many open areas, ponds and clusters of native trees. An average house keep 1-3 trees. Many old neighborhoods in Kano are named after trees. Nowadays,youth don't know trees named after their localities. Temperature has increased by up 2-4 degrees. Many birds and reptiles have disappeared. Neighborhoods have too little trees compared to those of the rich. in 2019 AirVisual/WWF rated Kano air quality (PM 2.5) the worst in Africa. Why not if trees are gone? More floods come.

3. Your solution: How are you working to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

MR CITY Lab aims at restoring indigenous trees to achieve nature-based solutions for the challenges of rising temperature, loss of biodiversity and their habitats. Our main approach is to motivate Kano young people to align with and implement global sustainability instruments and in particular the SDGs, the Paris Agreement, the New Urban Agenda, the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration as well as the Convention on Biological Diversity. MR CITY Lab also prioritizes use of innovative strategies and tools in undertaking its projects. The third approach is our emphasis on participation and inclusion. Thus, the project has 50-50 gender participation and the project is thoroughly co-designed and co-produced across its spectrum.

4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?

MR CITY Lab uses innovative scientific methods for better results and impacts. Thus, in the first instance, the Lab organised a one-day Hackathon to brainstorm ideas and codesign the project implementation strategies. The hackathon itself is extraordinary and is adorned with funs and plays with stickers, picture and video shows. The session began with a documentary film show on Kano city in the late 1950s – the clip is archived by the University of Pennsylvania. The show allows older experts and senior researchers to co-identify places that have changed now and also indigenous tree species. GIS experts map out the targeted neighborhoods for restoration. we used GPS devices to capture coordinates of each tree planted at a particular site.

5. Collaboration: How does your initiative seek to bring key players together to preserve biodiversity?

At MR CITY lab, collaboration is the key to achieving our targets of indigenous trees restoration. At its takeoff, MR CITY Lab targets demystifying urban biodiversity conservation and restoration through direct a contact with a wide range of stakeholders. These include university students, local youth, scientists and researchers, practitioners: foresters and landscapers, community leaders, ENACTUS - global university entrepreneurs media and the general public. Most of these stakeholders participate in our hackathon session as well as during on-ground activities. As a whole, we see restoration of native trees in Kano as a business of all. Nevertheless, the younger generation must champion and spearhead the process to its logical conclusion. The young people have energy and zeal to keep the tempo going on and on. Nevertheless, the young people need to tap on the experiences of experts and scientists to guide them to succeed.

6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far — in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?

We planted 20 trees each in 18 targeted communities, planting a total of 360 indigenous trees in 2-days of the project. Days after dozens of individuals reached out to us for local tree species. While we focused on neighborhoods of the city, some public buildings and institutions also received minimum of five tree species on request. For example, some schools, the city hospital and police station located within the benefiting neighborhoods also received some plants. Hence, in terms of the numbers of beneficiaries we can proudly say it reaches up to hundreds of thousands given that each of the neighborhoods identified are populated by thousands of people. Within each of the neighborhoods that we engaged no less than twenty youth people participated in the planting exercise. People are now more informed from this experimentation of native trees restoration.

7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?

Project scaling up strategies at present focuses among others on capacity building for the young members of the lab are expected to develop attitude and skills for restoration of native plants to train or influence others to do the same. We are looking at the possibility of extending our project into a model for nature-based solutions for addressing climate change at city level. We have also started making moves to work the Kano Emir’s Palace with a view to setting up indigenous trees’ hotspot. We have also opened talk with a civil society from a neighboring Zaria city which is 150 km away. We also have a plan of twining babies through an initiative tagged the First Gift – which is to be an indigenous tree.

8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for society? Or different stakeholders?

MR CITY lab has a number of value chains of immense and seamless social, cultural, ecological, economic and health impacts on the city residents and the environment. To begin with, restoration may create opportunities that supports urban food and nutritional security. Most of the indigenous trees bear fruits of great nutritional value that can be harnessed to start up green nutrition businesses. One of the students has conducted a study on the spatial distribution of depleted native trees for her final year research project. For the academics in the project, some of them have teamed up in writing a peer reviewed article. In the future, native trees food and products fair will be organized.

9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?

MR CITY Lab is a not-for-profit action research that is currently hosted at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Bayero University, Kano. The department and the university support the lab in kind and goodwill. As a result, the Lab makes use of the university’s offices, conference room, bus, studios all free of charge..As many countries are committed to supporting developing countries to address sustainability crises. We are optimistic of getting grants to support our future activities. Such diverse source of of funds makes this sustainable in the medium and long terms. We also aim at earning incomes through research support for municipalities and companies interested in restoration and landscaping with native plants.

10. Team: what is the current composition of your current team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

MR CITY Lab has a very rich and diverse team composition that is essentially interdisciplinary. At the apex is the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) responsible for agenda. The SAB is comprised of a Professor of ecology , 2 Associate Professors (geography and urban planning), a senior lecturer and practitioner from public sector. Following this is the Millennials hubs coordinated by a lady planner who coordnates project implementation supported by students five different departments.

11. How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Email

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One of the native trees African bean locust (Parkia biglobosa) planted in 2017 at a community named after it has grown as pictured n 2019


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