World Planting Day
To commemorate this year’s World Planting Day, we would like to look beyond the early stages of cultivation and underline the important role that consistent care and long-term maintenance play in sustainable forestry.
Research has shown that planting billions of trees across the world is one of the biggest and cheapest ways of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere to tackle the climate crisis. This is mainly because as trees grow, they absorb and store the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving the global warming process. It is estimated that plants and soils together currently absorb an estimated 30 percent of the CO2 emitted by human activities each year. In addition, climate change is already affecting millions of humans per year, contributing to heat- and pollution-related injuries and even deaths. There is no question about how essential the planting process is to reversing climate change and maintaining biodiversity on the planet.
However, for planting to have a significant impact on climate change, trees have to be grown correctly. There is already sufficient evidence of how traditional practices of crop agriculture negatively impact the planet in various ways such as deforestation, greenhouse emissions from some crops, and the arbitrary use of fertilizers. Trees also have shown the potential of having negative effects on air quality if managed poorly or cultivated without scientific planning. Research has shown that not all species of trees reduce carbon emissions; if planted in the wrong place, some species of trees can lead to increased emissions from soils. All these factors are some of the reasons why planting practices have to evolve to become smarter.
According to this paper, forests account for 75% of the gross primary production of the Earth's biosphere, contains 80% of the Earth's plant biomass with net primary production estimated at 21.9 gigatonnes of biomass per year for tropical forests, 8.1 for temperate forests, and 2.6 for boreal forests. For a long time forests were solely cut down and utilized for industrial feedstock and fuel purposes. This type of forestry, known as traditional forestry, has long been noted for its adverse effects on the terrestrial ecosystem. The net loss of forest area has decreased substantially since 1990, but the world is not on track to meet the target of the United Nations Strategic Plan for Forests to increase forest area by 3 percent by 2030. However, forests can be managed in ways that enhance their biodiversity and they can provide ecosystem services such as maintaining nutrient capital, protecting watersheds and soil structure, and storing carbon. Forest management goes beyond just planting trees, it also involves overall administrative, legal, economic, and social aspects like silviculture, fire prevention, timber extraction, and forest regulation.
In tropical and temperate regions across the globe, a relatively new land use management system in which trees and crops are cultivated together is being adopted. This new system, known as agroforestry, intentionally combines the basic principles of agriculture with forestry to achieve multiple benefits, such as greatly enhanced yields from staple food crops, enhanced farmer livelihoods from income generation, increased biodiversity, improved soil structure and health, reduced erosion, and carbon sequestration. Agroforestry typically involves a wide range of trees that are protected, regenerated, planted or managed in agricultural landscapes as they interact with annual crops, livestock, wildlife and humans. As world population increases, the need for more productive and sustainable use of the land becomes more urgent and agroforestry is part of the solution to addressing this issue because agroforestry systems are dynamic, ecologically-based, natural resource management systems that diversify and sustain production in order to increase social, economic and environmental benefits for land users at all scales. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), implementing agroforestry consists of four main pillars:
1. integration of tree-crop species in the farm management system
2. avoiding the use of fire to clean up the land
3. use of mulching and minimum tillage
4. use of good quality seeds sown at adequate planting distance
Forests are commonly referred to as the metaphorical lungs through which the earth breathes and this is because they absorb nearly 40 percent of the fossil fuel emissions we produce. Due to the crucial nature of forests, the international community has agreed on Sustainable Development Goal 15, which promotes implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, stopping deforestation, restoring degraded forests and increasing afforestation and reforestation. The re-establishment of forests is more than just simple tree planting, it involves all activities dedicated to maintaining a biodiverse ecosystem in the wild. Unfortunately, sometimes, tree-planting programs can do more harm than good. For instance a common mistake is the pitfall of planting too many trees, a recent example is the enormous wildfire that nearly wiped out the Canadian oil town of Fort McMurray in April 2016, an event that was later found to have been fuelled by a wrongly implemented forest growth campaign. For reforestation campaigns to have maximum positive impact, these key guidelines may have to be considered:
- Types of trees planted: The type of tree planted may have great influence on the environmental outcomes. To promote the growth of native ecosystems, many environmentalists advocate only indigenous trees be planted, or those that are native to the region. Planting non-invasive trees that assist in the natural return of indigenous species, as opposed to invasive species that are likely to cause environmental or ecological harm, is called "assisted natural regeneration." Ecologists have found that planting of certain non-native trees can contribute to significant reduction of natural water resources in surrounding areas. (Note: not all non-native tree species are necessarily invasive, and not all indigenous species are necessarily harmless to their ecosystems. This article from an Indiana, USA university briefly explains the difference between these types of species.)
- Farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR): This sustainable land restoration technique focuses more on the re-growth of trees and shrubs from tree stumps and roots, rather than planting them from seeds. FMNR depends on the existence of living tree stumps or roots in crop fields, grazing pastures, woodlands or forests. Oftentimes a majority of the living top has been removed, but enough of the tree still exists to be regenerated. It can be used to restore degraded forests, thereby reversing biodiversity loss and reducing vulnerability to climate change.
- Local community involvement: Include local communities in tree-growing projects - from co-planning to planting. Multiple studies have shown that mobilizing local communities of farmers and growers speeds up large-scale forest restoration interventions. A 2016 report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization found that communities and smallholders have demonstrated in a wide range of settings that they are able and willing to manage forests sustainably.
- Tracking and monitoring tree growth: Field monitoring of trees is essential to learn how forest ecosystems change over time. The ability to monitor and evaluate the growth and maturity of these trees helps to measure the impact of reforestation efforts and how much carbon is likely being absorbed. Not all tree-planting campaigns succeed – a stark example is this Turkish project. Tracking tree growth helps governments, companies, and NGOs understand progress on their pledges, encourages people to replicate successful projects and make adjustments to struggling ones, and additionally inspires funders to continue investing where they can see progress.
Greenstand incorporates some of the guidelines listed above to support the proliferation and expansion of biodiverse forests around the world. By liaising with tree planting individuals and organizations on one hand & reforestation project financing on the other hand, Greenstand is combating both poverty and climate change with one solution. Greenstand’s premiere Treetracker application allows for the progress of tree planting initiatives across the globe to be evaluated. Individual trees can be tracked to ensure that they grow past the vulnerable sapling stage and continue to provide valuable ecological services to their local environment. The app allows for tree farmers to take periodic geotagged photos of their trees, which are verified by the Greenstand team and digitalized as Impact Tokens. Greenstand then helps reforestation projects facilitate payments to tree farmers based on their efforts.
On World Planting Day, we at Greenstand are reminded of a key part of our vision: to shift the global reforestation movement from planting seeds to growing trees. We recognize that without long-term care, many trees do not survive the vulnerable seedling stage. By partnering with reforestation projects, we provide pay-to-grow opportunities to smallholder tree farmers that care for and track trees with our Treetracker app. The result is a win for everyone; trees are given the support they need to grow into adulthood, when they provide their full range of ecosystem services, and growers are given the opportunity to receive sustainable repeat income for their acts of stewardship. Our open-source technology allows our model to be replicable and globally scalable. If you have a reforestation project and you’re interested in partnering with Greenstand, please fill out this survey and a team member will get back to you within a week. You can also support our efforts at Greenstand by volunteering or making a tax-deductible donation anytime.