Trees for the Future and Reforestation in Africa

At Simple Switch we are so lucky to work with Autumn Summer Company, who plants a tree with every product sold. But, if you're curious about HOW and WHY they plant a tree, the story gets even better. Check out this short documentary from Trees for the Future about how they're using trees to bring economic prosperity in vulnerable parts of Africa, or read more below about why reforestation has both ecological and economic urgency.




Ever heard of the WWF?  Since the 1960’s, The World Wide Fund for Nature has worked to protect our oceans, wildlife, forests, and climate.  Specifically one of the issues that they seek to resolve in many of the world’s countries is deforestation. Obviously this has been a problem for a long time, and as countries develop and grow in size, their resource consumption follows suit.  For countries near the Amazon, Congo, and Borneo Mekong basins, the demand for timber and land causes their inhabitants to take from the rainforest.

Deforestation

The main cause of deforestation is to clear land for agriculture.  Furthermore, I have found that a big reason so much forested area is being cleared for farming is due to irresponsible agricultural practices, namely slash-and-burn agriculture.

After a field has been harvested, a slash-and-burn farmer will cut his crops and burn them to provide nutrients for the next season.  When done sustainably, farmers will cultivate on a plot of land until its fertility declines, then move to a new plot of land. The farmer then lets the land recover from this cultivation and is used again many years down the road.  Sustainable slash-and-burn, as you can imagine, requires many more acres and is less productive, as areas need time to recover from the farming. As a result, after a field has lost its ability to produce crops, many farmers will clear-cut and area of rainforest in order to have new fertile ground to work with.

Especially when considering that 200-500 million people use slash-and-burn agriculture, it is no wonder why deforestation is occurring at such a rapid pace- an estimated 13 million hectares of forest per year worldwide. Of course there are many other causes to deforestation (illegal logging is a good example), but again, the number one cause is converting forests to cropland.


Land Degradation

One of the main drawbacks of deforestation is the not only an increase of greenhouse gasses, but land degradation.  This is where the quality of the land deteriorates and becomes less fertile. Because there are no trees to provide nutrients to the soil, the fertility of the land declines.  After a piece of land has been cleared of trees, the soil is susceptible to water and wind erosion, making the area less and less fertile. So, trees are essential to the integrity and health of the soil around it.

Currently organizations like the WWF and governmental agencies are seeking to increase the areas of rainforest that are protected, stopping deforestation, and restoring the lands that have been deforested.  Many organizations, like Autumn Summer Co., have taken the charge of reforestation.  This company plants one tree for each product sold, and has partnered with Trees for the Future (TREES) to make that happen.


Trees for the Future

I did some research on Trees for the Future, and they go about reforestation in a really cool way, because they help farmers in Africa support themselves.  TREES works in six countries, but only one of them, Cameroon, is in a rainforest basin. The areas they work in restore the fertility of the land and prevent desertification, which is a form of land degradation that happens in arid areas.  Trees for the Future does this by creating what they call Forest Gardens.

Forest Gardens

Conventional African farmers produce one type of crop, meaning they get one yield and one payday each year, and must slash-and-burn their field at the end of the season.  As mentioned before, is not sustainable especially considering there isn’t enough land to rotate fields. TREES seeks to change this practice by putting them through a four year program designed around sustainability and land revitalization.  In the first year of the program, farmers are equipped with the tools and seeds they need. They then plant a border of thorny trees to keep animals out of the land they will grow food on, and getting nitrogen into the soil via dead leaves.  This helps the soil become fertile and prepares it for crops. The farmers then learn to grow a variety of produce so they can not only live off their yield, but have something to sell for each month of the year.  This is a drastic change from having one payday from a single yield, helping establish food security for these farmers. TREES put out a really great documentary that talks about the process more. You can find it here.

Not only do these Forest Gardens revive the lands around them and change the lives of a farming family, they work to mitigate climate change.  It is estimated that one of these gardens will absorb close to 63 metric tons over a 20 year period. Although Trees for the Future doesn’t directly mitigate the damage being done to the forest basins of the world, they do help land become fertile again, maximize production for these farmers, and absorb greenhouse gasses.


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