How much does it cost to plant a tree?

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We are pleased to present our second in a series of posts that will share inspiring and vital information about our 2016 Reforestation Strategy. Nicole Schwab is leading our reforestation efforts and is a member of our Board of Trustees.
Have you ever wondered how many trees we could plant with your donation? We would love to give you a simple answer, but it is actually quite complex. It depends on the cost of planting a tree. And this cost per tree varies widely between different reforestation projects. It can go from as little as 10 cents per tree to over $20 per tree. In other words, with $20, you could plant 200 trees, or you could plant 1 tree, depending on the project. There are many factors that make up the cost per tree. In this blog post, we would like to explain the main ones:

What tree species are being planted?

Different species require different levels of care and time for germination. Some seeds are more costly than others, and projects often have to set up tree nurseries to grow saplings, before these can be planted at the final location. In other cases, like Mangroves, the baby trees (called “propagules”) grow directly on the mangrove tree and can be harvested from existing forests and replanted elsewhere. This is cheaper as no intermediary nursery stage is required.

Who plants the trees?

In some projects, local community members are employed to set up tree nurseries, plant the saplings and take care of them until maturity. Different countries have very different local wages, which will impact the cost. In other projects, a large part of the process is taken care of by volunteers.

What is the state of the land on which the trees are planted?

A land that has been completely deforested will require a lot of effort in addition to planting – like removing shrubs, grasses and weeds – before it can be turned back into a forest. This is more costly. By contrast a land considered a “degraded forest” is one where not all trees have been cut, and where biodiversity is still present. This means that spontaneous regeneration can kick in, assisting the tree planting efforts and making the whole restoration process faster and cheaper.

Is the survival of the saplings threatened?

In some areas, the survival of the saplings is at greater risk because of tropical storms, flooding, drought, fungi or insects – such as locust invasions. In these cases, a large percentage of the saplings may die and need to be replaced, all of which raises the “cost per mature tree”.

Are additional installations needed to ensure tree survival?

In areas of severe drought, drip irrigation infrastructure is required to ensure the trees survive. In the long-term, the trees will bring back the watersheds, but at the moment of planting, they need additional help. Similarly, certain terrains will need intense mechanical actions to retain the soil and water, all of which require additional investments.

How sophisticated is the monitoring and evaluation?

Projects differ in the systems they put in place to monitor the survival of their trees and the ultimate success of the reforestation efforts. More complex systems are more costly, but they also make it possible to improve survival rates and detect and address any challenges in a timely manner.

Are other actions included in the reforestation project?

Projects often include a number of actions that are not directly connected with tree planting but that are key for the sustainability of the reforestation efforts. For example, training community members to take care of the forest, or training farmers for agro-forestry projects, or offering health and education programs to local communities. Other measures have to do with land ownership and governance, such as securing the rights of the land on which the trees are planted. These actions aresometimes part of a reforestation project’s costs, and are therefore included when we break it down to the “cost-per-tree”.

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What does this mean for Treesisters?

Treesisters currently has two beneficiary projects: Project GreenHands at a cost of $1.4/tree and Eden Projects at $0.1/tree. If we take a concrete example, for a monthly donation of $15 to TreeSisters, $12 will go directly towards the beneficiary projects (the remaining $3 contributes to TreeSisters women’s work and overhead – as per our 80%/20% split). If the funds go to Project GreenHands in Southern India, 8 trees will be funded per month. If they go to Eden in Madagascar, 170 trees will be funded per month. It may feel more satisfying to be planting 170 trees in a given month, rather than 8 trees. Furthermore, we know that we need to plant as many trees as possible, and that we need to plant them fast to curb climate change, desertification, and maintain healthy soils and watershed. This could lead us to think that TreeSisters should spend donations on the projects that have the lowest price per tree, so that we can plant as many trees as possible… But, it’s not that simple… Here is why. We are committed to supporting projects in many different geographic areas that urgently need to scale up their reforestation efforts to combat severe ecological degradation. This automatically means that we will support projects with different costs per tree, as per the range of factors outlined above: different species, different settings, different needs, and different countries with their inherent costs of living and wage differences. In conclusion,
  • We choose our projects based upon our strategy and due diligence process not based on the cost of planting a tree.
  • We strive to plant as many trees as possible, but also recognize the need to support a wide variety of projects, with their ensuing variety of costs in order to have as great an impact as possible in as many ecosystems as we can.
20140910_5d3_07665-coul2 (1)Nicole Schwab ~ Reforestation Advisor ~ Nicole is heading up the development of the TreeSisters Meta Reforestation strategy: a road map of how one might go about reforesting the tropics if large swathes of the population were donating money towards trees every month. We aim to lay out a plan of how many trees could be planted where, by how many people, donating how much per month, in such a way that captures the imagination and creates a feeling of possibility that something huge can be achieved, through shared responsibility and multiple small actions. This work is a collaborative effort with multiple partners who are already mapping the territory and clarifying the best existing initiatives on the ground, and it also entails defining the selection and due diligence process for our beneficiary projects.

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