This is the second story in a series of three. The first was "Why it is important to reforest the tropics?" The series explores three important aspects of the Tree Program we launched in 2014, which was our first environmental action towards planetary restoration and becoming a restorer species.
Our Tree Program funds Tree Projects, which are collaborative enterprises that plant and/or regenerate trees throughout the tropics. But what does a Tree project involve? Tree Projects are more than just planting a bunch of trees. They are complex efforts that involve a larger scope, and the outcome may vary depending on the approach and goals.
First, let's look more deeply at the two planting options to re-robe our planet with trees: reforestation and regreening. Then, we'll look at how our Tree Projects go beyond trees and forest establishment.
What it is about
Essentially, our Tree Projects primarily refer to 'reforestation' efforts, or 'forest restoration' efforts to emphasize the forest recovery process involved. Reforestation is the natural or intentional re-establishment of existing forests or woodlands to an area considered deforested or treeless. The work consists in re-growing a desired group of trees, perhaps a forest ecosystem, on a given site, for a given goal.
Different management approaches
The resulting forests will have different 'look and feel', depending on goal when setting up the project.
The reforestation goal might be to re-establish a forest that provides timber and firewood to the local communities, to prevent people from felling trees in a nearby natural forest of importance. In that case, projects work towards restoring a 'semi-natural forest'. While not a strictly natural forest, semi-natural forests keep some characteristics of nearby natural forests, such as some tree species of the original ecosystem and the capacity for natural regeneration. That is the case with the project in Nepal.
Image by Eden Reforestation Projects in Nepal.
Alternatively, the intention might be to reach the level of a typical old-growth and stable forest. In that case, a more ecologically-focused forest restoration method is used, which works with natural processes that enable the forest to regenerate naturally. For that, projects work towards enhancing soil life, increasing species diversity, and recreating functional ecosystems with interrelated species of plants and animals including associations with mycorrhizal fungi that were destroyed during the process of deforestation or forest degradation. The project in Brazil is similar to this model and works towards regrowing a biodiversity corridor from remnant forests and trees left along riversides.
Regreening the Landscape
Image Credit International Tree Foundation in Kenya
What it is about
In our 'western imagination', re-robing the planet with trees is the recovery of a forest, but there is a process called regreening that increases tree cover outside forests, on lands which were formerly forested but are today under different land cover/use. (1)
Regreening occurs outside forests, hence on land which are not dominated by trees and on land that is under other predominant land uses. It takes place in rural and urban settings. In rural setting, trees are integrated into crop land, pasture land, communal land, etc.
While not a forest, the landscape may look like a forest from a distance and with perspective, making it a scenic landscape such as the countryside in the South of Mount Kenya (Embu county).
Trees may be associated with intercrops such as on agroforestry systems. Trees can be planted around farms as hedgerow. They can also be planted along roads, in orchards and in small woodlots. Trees may occur naturally, be assisted to grow naturally or be planted. They are protected and managed. Wild trees may be 'domesticated', hence are cultivated and under management. In other words, trees can be treated or farmed like a permanent crop.
Why regreening, not just reforestation?
The logic behind this is simple: regreening avoids further deforestation and forest degradation of wild forests. Firstly, regreening on farm systems improves soil structure and fertility and thus will keep more land in forest. Secondly, with trees in villages, people won't need to extract timber and firewood from the wild forest around. Thirdly, in a context of increasing population and demands of land for farming, it is a way to expand or restrict farming to available degraded lands and avoid encroaching in forests.
"Trees grown outside forests means trees protected inside forests" (by Chandra Bhushan in DownToEarth)
In fact, rural people in the tropics need trees and forests to survive and make a living. It is easy to understand that rural women in the tropics rely on firewood to cook their food. Having fast growing trees near their home is crucial, as they no longer have to walk long distances and collect wood from the established/existing forest.
On farms, re-greening may take place under an 'agroforestry' system or design. This is the case with Project Green Hands in India. Agroforestry is the integration of trees with crops and/or livestock on the same plot of land, primarily to increase crop yields. It focuses on the interactions between those three elements on the same plot. Each element is a part of the whole. Most often, agroforestry is a permanent agricultural system, but sometimes agroforestry is just a transitional stage in the establishment of a natural forest. This is the case in one of the three sites of the International Tree Foundation project in Mount Kenya. Trees are planted by the project and farmers are allowed to cultivate annual cash intercrops in between the trees at the early stages of tree growth (4 to 5 years). In exchange, the farmers protect and maintain the trees. When the canopy closes and the trees take over, the farmers are given another plot to farm.
Image credit: Project Greenhands
In this way reforestation spreads out progressively from one plot to the other, and without resistance from local communities or land conflicts. In fact, for a number of years now, the Kenyan government has been fighting illegal logging in Mount Kenya and trying to evict settlers. However, forest adjacent people have been struggling to survive or earn an income. So in a certain way agroforestry is a "win-win" solution for the people and Nature in a context of limited land availability and increasing human population and needs.
Why would people invest in regreening land?
While trees can contribute to land protection and conservation, carbon sequestration in their biomass and in the soil. At the end of the day, local people need to find a financial interest in regreening rather than doing business as usual, such as in slash and burn traditional practices or intensive farming.
Image credit Lauriane Cayet-Boisrobert
Firstly, farmers will invest in planting trees on their farms because of the benefits they can provide. Primarily the presence of trees boosts crop yields. With trees, more water infiltrates the soil and boosts groundwater. Trees enhance soil structure and fertility. Tree also help farmers raising livestock often found near homes in the tropics. Thin branches and leaves of trees can serve as fodder to feed a household's animals, such as chicken, goats or a few cows and calves that procure them milk.
Secondly, the cultivation of more diverse, productive and profitable crops, trees and other plants brings self-reliance to farmers. It includes economic self-reliance through income generation, as well as nutritional self-reliance through food security and enhanced nutrition from a greater variety of higher quality medicinal plants, fruits, vegetables, etc.
Moreover, regreening degraded land with trees can help local people cope with adverse effects of environmental degradation, exacerbated by global warming. In the drylands, people are suffering from land degradation and land desertification. But thanks to Project Green Hands in India, desperate farmers in Tamil Nadu are no longer considering to sell lands that become unproductive. In coastal areas, such as Eden Reforestation Projects in Kalamboro, trees can help reduce sea surge caused by storms or tsunamis, as well as provide nursery grounds for fish, and people catching more fish.
Seeing Beyonds Trees
Tree Projects are not only a planting event, but a part of a much larger effort. It takes much more than that and also time, which is why we engage in long-term Tree partnerships and comprehensive Tree projects. Ultimately, it is about how it is done to ensure forest reestablishment is a success.
An array of actions and measures are required before local communities see the value and the advantages of the trees, and become literally the 'guardians of the trees'. It doesn't make sense to ask people to plant trees and expect them to take care of them - water them, remove weeds around them, keep their cattle away, when they don't have the time and the extra money to spend on these activities and are struggling to survive and make a living.
Eden Reforestation Projects knows well that recovering a healthy mangrove system goes beyond trees. In Kalamboro, families needed to find their way out of debt and prostitution. Essentially they needed a job and a regular income for planting, which is what Eden Reforestation Projects offer through their 'Employ to plant' methodology. Men and women are saving money from income earned. More children are going to school. Fishermen invest in fishing equipment and women have time and space to think of starting cottage businesses. Slowly and surely, by experimenting and attending awareness-raising meetings, they start seeing the value of trees for themselves.
Image credit : Eden Reforestation Projects
They see the value of mangrove restoration - because everything is connected, through increasing fish and shellfish yields, and the value of planting trees in their home gardens through enhanced nutrition and crop yields. The involved communities eventually feel part of the process and take full ownership in mangrove management. (2)
In fact, local communities often need more than financial aid and a sense of ownership to motivate them. They must become economically and sustainably self-sufficient. They may need training and capacity building to set up sustainable income generating activities. For instance, International Tree Foundation in Kenya trains self-help groups and community associations on how to set up and operate tree nurseries. An agroforestry project will train and support the local communities on how to manage agroforestry trees and how to market agroforestry products.
Most of the time, legitimate needs, such as food and firewood provision, also need to be addressed. In fact, there is an important link between forests and the livelihood of the poor. Firstly, they depend on forests' timber and non-timber products for making a living, and even to survive. Secondly in the tropics, local or subsistence agriculture often drives deforestation, and especially in Africa, where it is the number one cause, mainly for fuelwood consumption. (3)
At TreeSisters we look for approaches in Tree projects that propose "win-win" land use practices and solutions that are optimal at the ecological, social and economic level for forests and trees.
An example is regreening farmlands with trees following an agroforestry system. It provides sustainable agriculture productivity and livelihood of farmers. An agroforestry system harbors a variety of tree and plant species, that can be attractive to wild bees and other pollinators, as well as wild animals. And these trees and plants help improve water availability and the water quality of streams.
Agroforestry trees are literally "grown" and taken care of like the intercrops on the farmers' lands, because of the benefits they bring - wood, fodder and shade, and increasing crop yield. So they are well cared for and would often be permanent trees. They may be pruned rather than cut down for timber.
In the Eden Reforestation Projects in Nepal all the trees funded by TreeSisters are planted in community forests. 90% of the trees planted by the project are for forest restoration purposes while 10-20% of the trees are production and agroforestry trees. These latter trees are the ones that the local communities may use or cut down for fuelwood and timber provisions, as well as food and medicinal uses."
My next blog will focus on why and how we put people at the centre of our projects, especially women. Our Tree projects actively bring local communities together to tackle the environmental and social issues they are facing, and there is always a direct/indirect link with forests and trees.
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Written by Lauriane Cayet-Boisrobert
Published August 24, 2019
Lauriane Cayet-Boisrobert: To serve TreeSisters, Lauriane has chosen to develop and manage its reforestation projects portfolio, as well as bring the best knowledge in forest ecology and reforestation. She started by co-developing TreeSisters' forest strategy and project selection process.
Lauriane is passionate about the many cultures on Earth. She tries to live in harmony with the Earth; so the Earth must stay wild and generous too us all. She feels deeply sad when the Earth is been abused at all prices, and mostly at the expenses of the people who rely on it.