A curious individual, you type in ‘top 10 ways help the environment’ into your search bar. Of the hundreds of millions of search results that appear, it is found that almost a 100% mention tree planting at the top half of the list. Of course, there are also the common tips such as “use reusable bags”; “carpool more”; “save energy”; and then the interestingly specific ones such as “use low-VOC paints”; “never flush unused medications down the toilet”; or “install low-flow shower heads”.
What is it All About?
Entire stewardship projects, community agencies, and market schemes have been built on the basis of tree planting. There are two situational contexts in which trees are planted. Reforestation is a process of regrowing trees on land that once had a greater tree population, but has since been decreasing. Afforestation involves sowing seeds or planting trees in an area that lacked a tree population prior. Afforestation and reforestation are two of the leading nature-based solutions for mitigating climate change which is the reason why they are so prevalent in our search results, and in our communities.
Reforestation crucially combats forest degradation, where forest land has lost its structure, ecological processes and biodiversity. Afforestation can help restore arid lands and avoid desertification. In 2016, Ahmed Suwez, a Mandera farmer in Kenya, was able to convert a sun-baked, barren land into a fertile landscape. This land was along the Kenyan-Ethiopian border, and he was able to make this transformation by planting pawpaw, lemon, guava and mango trees. The trees were able to hold the rain where it fell, which revitalized the dry soils and led to a bumper sprouting of vegetation.
Importance and Functions
The Paris Climate Agreement highlighted cutting carbon emissions as the headline environmental policy–as it should be. Decarbonization is essential in keeping global warming below 2℃, and trees play a key role in carbon capture. Forests have the natural ability of sequestering CO2 and converting it to oxygen through photosynthesis. By absorbing carbon dioxide, the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere are lowered and thereby the effects of climate change are managed. Reforestation and afforestation maximize the natural abilities of forests, as they enable to create a greater percentage of forested land on the planet. Simple, right? Well not quite. There are some factors in play that determine the rate and amount of CO2 sequestered.
For example, the age of the forest impacts how fast CO2 is absorbed. Once forests reach a certain stage of maturity, they stop sequestering additional carbon. Studies have shown that younger trees grow more rapidly and therefore absorb CO2 at a faster rate than more mature trees. The mature trees already have large amounts of carbon dioxide amassed in their biomaterial. Also, depending on the type of forest, (e.g mangroves, boreal, tropical) CO2 is absorbed at different rates. Calculated based on their above-ground and below-ground biomass of metric tons of carbon stored per hectare, temperate forests store the most carbon, followed by tropical then boreal.
With all this information about planting trees, how then does it contribute to sustainable development?
Ontario Biodiversity Afforestation Project
The Ontario Biodiversity Afforestation Project which was established in 2014 and implemented over 2 years, was able to restore long-lived forest species on land that was historically agriculture-intensive. This land had become fallow following the agricultural activities that took place on it. Over 402,000 trees were planted, aiming to sequester 77,000 tonnes of carbon through its lifetime. But aside from the obvious ecosystem services that this project fulfills, it has greatly benefited communities surrounding Powassan, extending along the highway 11 corridor to the north in Kapuskasing, Ontario where the project location takes place. The project area falls within the Boreal and Great Lakes St Lawrence Forest regions, providing significant merits for the communities around them. For example, the communities whose economy relied on local ecotourism gained from the increased forest cover. Their populations of deer, fish and moose stabilized and the quality of the forest cover improved, resulting in benefits for ecotourism. The project also enabled landowners to increase the natural capital of their fallow farm lands through carbon offset purchases. A carbon offset purchase signifies a commitment by a company or organization to remove a certain amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It is a way to cancel out emissions from the atmosphere. In this project, landowners received money from organizations that paid for the service of the trees in storing carbon.
Afforestation & Reforestation-Sustainable Development
In many developing countries, large hectares of land are being put to marginal use or lying barren. Well-designed afforestation and reforestation projects that have access to adequate finance budgets and managerial capacity can generate benefits that promote sustainable development. If local communities and local public service entities have the support to implement restoration projects, the advantages to be untapped are insurmountable. Under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), public and private entities in developing countries can propose afforestation and reforestation projects that will increase the health of the land resource, while earning revenue for the carbon sequestered by their forests.
Here are the sustainable development pillars and how afforestation and reforestation projects contribute to them:
- Products and services: Increased income and economic engagement. There will be a greater availability of wood and non-wood products such as honey, wax, fiber, timber, fuel wood, fruits. It will also lead to employment in the ecotourism sector and local crafts and cottage industries.
- Resource productivity: Providing watershed services such as soil erosion control, flood control, and improvement in soil fertility. It also combats desertification and controls soil salinity.
- Resource conservation: Planting trees can lead to energy conservation by reducing the need for air conditioners. It can also protect infrastructure such as roads, canals, railways and reservoirs from sand encroachment.
- Human Habitat: In rural and urban habitats, forest restoration provides green spaces for shade and comfort, it moderates wind and dust-storms, and mitigates air and noise pollution.
- Ecosystem protection: Biodiversity will be conserved and sprung back to life, and natural habitats will be restored.
- Local governance and community cohesion: It promotes educational awareness, community action and learning, and enhances ethics and accountability. The stewardship action of planting trees promotes local knowledge and empowerment.
- Social equity and political resilience: there will be enhanced equity in resource access, where rural-urban investment flows thrive. The conservation of trees helps with intergenerational equity.
- Transfer of technical knowledge and skills in local communities. The techniques and knowledge required in natural resource management, as well as in tree-planting enhances capabilities and capacities within the community.
- Recreation and aesthetics: Creates space for nature contemplation, aesthetic appreciation, creativity and learning.
- Health and wellbeing: It enables local residents to have access to food diversity and nutrition, as well as medicine.
It is clear that afforestation and reforestation practices are not only ecologically sound, but they promote the development of local communities. Leave a comment down below if you have volunteered in any forestry projects or if you work in the field of ecosystem restoration! How was the experience? What results did you observe? And most importantly, how did the experience impact you?
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