REFORESTATION : THE ART OF RESTORING FORESTS AND MAKING THEM USEFUL TO MANKIND
The causes of deforestation
Deforestation caused by humans is mainly related to coal production (through the burning of wood) and the expansion of agricultural lands (primarily in the tropics). Currently, 13 million hectares of forest disappear every year, an area the size of Portugal.
While in Europe more trees are planted than are cut down, Africa has the highest rate of deforestation in the world with 0.5% of its forests disappearing each year.
The differences in behavior relating to forests can be explained by how forests are utilized. In Europe, the forest is mainly harvested in a way to maintain durable development because forests are viewed as a source of economic development. Preservation ensures sustainable harvest of available resources.
In Africa for example, the forest is used by the villagers to make carbon (an essential resource for their daily life), and viewed as potential and lucrative agricultural land. It is therefore destroyed to satisfy their daily energy needs and to create space for crops.
The effects of deforestation are now well known: erosion and depletion of soil, landslides, lowering water tables, increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, destruction of habitats.
The result is a negative impact on climate, biodiversity (fewer plant species and living areas for animal species) and local development (overall loss of farmland).
When the problem is caught in time, the degradation caused by deforestation can be reversed through reforestation, and in parallel, the protection of existing forests.
To endure, trees must be useful to humans
In countries where the primary concern is fighting hunger, deforestation is often a way to improve living conditions in the immediate short term.
For a newly planted tree to have a chance to endure, it must offer more benefits alive than dead to local populations.
In the African countryside for example, many tree species can be planted to improve living conditions in the short and the long term. Fruit trees (mango) that over time will offer a varied diet and additional income, have fast growing branches that need to be cut back. These branches are perfect for firewood and are useful as construction materials to build homes and protective fences for fields and animals.
The main obstacle to get into the virtuous cycle and allow new trees to prevail, is to find a way to meet the short term needs of the villagers while planting trees that will improve their living conditions two or three years later. Agroforestry is one solution.
A farmer who has a single field of cotton or grain has a source of immediate income, but it is limited.
Planting fruit trees in the middle of his field with a hedge all around it, allows him to continue to earn his traditional annual income while waiting for the trees to bear fruit, which will be more profitable in the market than his original products. In addition, the hedges will protect his fields from foraging animals and improve the soil quality as well as increase his overall crop yield.
Agroforestry provides a solution for both challenges: ensuring the durability of newly planted trees and improving the living conditions for villagers.
In order for this to succeed, we must provide all the resources needed to start up the project and the farmers must be trained to plant the trees and use them in a sustainable way.
Planting a tree is universally recognized as a a strong, symbolic gesture and there are many reasons to believe that things will move in the right direction. After all, for the Earth to return to the same amount of forest cover as in the year 1950, we have to plant or protect 15 billion trees, only 2 trees per person !