Is every tree planted by TreeSisters permanent?
You might wonder: How does TreeSisters ensure that the trees funded permanently re-robe our planet in green? Perhaps you imagine that every tree is taken care of and protected by barbed-wire fences and guards from the communities involved in the projects we fund.
In this article, I will explain how our reforestation partners ensure the trees and forests you fund grow well and how they are monitored. Then I will explain the importance of respecting the communities needs. And finally, we will look at what happens to a tree regrown inside a forest versus an agroforestry tree.
Care and Maintenance
Our reforestation partners ensure the good maintenance of the funded trees from two to 10 years after planting, depending on the project. In their experience, this is the period necessary to ensure the trees will continue to grow well on their own.
This maintenance is mostly about controlling weeds and creating firebreaks. A technique called "singling" is used by Eden Reforestation Projects in Madagascar and Nepal. It consists of converting a dense group of bushes or trees into taller trees by only letting one stem to grow into a trunk - swiftly creating a canopy and shade for other species to thrive under.
Maintenance also requires the provision of advice and assistance to the communities and individuals involved. Our reforestation partner in India, Project GreenHands, visits the tree seedlings or saplings delivered to the farmers for two years to troubleshoot and provide technical advice. This is necessary to ensure that the trees become self-sustainable and that farmers are fully proficient at cultivating trees on their farms.
All trees assisted in naturally regenerating in Brazil's Atlantic forest restoration project receive maintenance and monitoring for five years after the site opens for regeneration. This includes isolating and protecting the area with fences and firebreaks, planting the fewest trees necessary to shade out weeds, and controlling invasive African grass around the trees for the first two years.
Our reforestation partners don't monitor each tree forever. Instead, they monitor the overall regreening (2) and forest growth during a given period within permanent monitoring plots selected in reforestation sites.
Our reforestation partners also monitor the annual survival rate of the tree seedlings for two to three years at randomly chosen sample plots. They undertake tree replacement, if needed, to retain the full amount of funded trees. The cost of tree replacement is always accounted for in the price per tree.
Operating in new locations in Mozambique and in West Papua, Eden Reforestation Projects also monitors the annual survival rates of the tree seedlings at permanent monitoring plots within the planting sites for ten years. These permanent plots are for long-term monitoring of detailed changes in forest dynamics. Depending on monitoring results, Eden may also decide to enhance and adapt their reforestation practice.
Supporting local communities and sustainable ecosystems
A key element to always keep in mind is that our reforestation projects occur in rural areas of developing countries. Communities in these areas depend heavily on surrounding trees and forests for their livelihood.
In the tropics, people depend on trees to survive. Primary uses for timber products include fuelwood for cooking, building houses, making charcoal, fencing and poles. Local use of the forests by these communities has a significant impact: 30-40% of deforestation is due to local/subsistence agriculture.
In order to protect and respect local communities that rely on timber and wood where we plant, it is impossible to impose strict and permanent protection of all the trees we fund. Imposing such protections would displace timber harvesting activities onto nearby forests that could be carbon-rich, old-growth and biodiverse. Local communities would continue encroaching on other nearby habitats by practising slash-and-burn or swidden agriculture.
In order to protect high-value forests from these potential impacts, it is important to respect people's rights to access the forest.
Taking this into account, 20-30% of the trees that we fund are for livelihood purposes, for the communities' consumption, and also for revenue generation from the sale of forest products, such as charcoal, honey, wild fruits and firewood, timber and many other non-timber forest products. By providing livelihood trees, we are also protecting nearby remnant and old-growth forests.
Trees Growing Inside Forests
Many funded trees are eventually phased out over time, as they are fast-growing, native, pioneer (6) species planted to cover the ground. Some of the trees are planted to attract seed-dispersing animals. They will be naturally or intentionally succeeded by more mature tree communities after 10-50 years. (7)
The regrowing forest will change and follow the natural dynamics of forest succession with time. The funded trees will be replaced by new species of trees, and the planted forest will begin to resemble a maturing forest. Big trees will start dominating the canopy, and tree density may drop.
A portion of the funded trees regrown inside forests is often reserved for livelihood purposes (see section above). About 10-20% of the trees we fund in the project in Nepal are reserved for livelihood purposes, and some of them will be harvested to provide timber at maturity, as well as fuelwood and charcoal. However, there will be no full and permanent clearing of forests, and trees will be replaced according to a simple forest management plan. Certain species of trees can be assisted to regrow, or regrow naturally, after removing limbs, by resprouting from cut stumps or from seeds in the soil waiting for favourable conditions.
Agroforestry trees, defined as trees planted for regreening farmlands, ecosystem restoration and livelihood development, are well-managed to live a long time. Some of them are not intended to be cut down.
Why? They provide crucial ecological or cultural services to farmers, such as increasing soil fertility, shade, and soil moisture content or providing cultural functions. Trees grown for fodder or fuelwood are not necessarily cut down, as in the case of Grevillea Robusta in Kenya (read more here). Trees planted for fruit or nuts are never cut down as they provide food. They may provide an income, as for the Ashaninka people in the project we fund in Brazil. In addition to benefiting individuals, revenues from tree products can be reinvested for the good of the community (the local welfare system).
What about trees that need to be cut down? The farmers engaged in Project GreenHands, who have chosen to plant a combination of different native trees with the intention of harvesting them for timber at maturity, will do so in a cycle. For example, they will cut down Teak trees in 15 to 20 years and Mahogany trees in 10 to 12 years. Under this system, there will always be trees, and there will never be complete deforestation on the farm lot. Additionally, once farmers see the economic benefit derived from the trees and understand it is in their best interest to plant trees, they have a strong incentive to re-plant.
As you can see, re-robing the Earth with trees isn't as black and white as ensuring the survival of every single tree. The healthiest future for our forests also requires sustainable livelihoods for human communities. Community-based approaches that support humans living in harmony with Nature enable us to aid in the restoration of whole forests in the long term.
In the second part of this series, we'll look at how TreeSisters ensures the permanence of funded trees through clear land tenure and clearly defined land use rights - a critical pathway for sustainable reforestation and halting deforestation and forest degradation in the tropics.
Image credits: Photo courtesy Eden Reforestation Projects in Mozambique; Photo courtesy Eden Reforestation Projects in Indonesia; Photo courtesy Project GreenHands in Tamil Nadu, India; Photo courtesy Project GreenHands in Tamil Nadu, India