On April 8th, Adam Welz, a South African writer, photographer and filmmaker, published an interesting article in Yale Environment 360 (the online magazine of the Yale School of the Environment) entitled Are Huge Tree Planting Projects More Hype than Solution?.
The article goes through a series of sharp, but entirely reasonable, criticisms of those big projects that flaunt numbers and live on announcements about tree planting. When I first read that article, I shared it immediately with my colleagues at Treedom, begging them over and over to read it carefully, and now I am here on our blog to say again that this is a must-read article. Have I gone mad? No (or at least not yet!). It is because I believe more and more that what seemed crazy 11 years ago when Treedom was born (the idea of planting trees around the world) is now an activity that many people are dedicated to. It is therefore appropriate, right and in some ways inevitable, that the threshold of attention be raised in assessing the actual capacity of these projects to respond to the commitments they make and, perhaps even more so, to verify statements that often raise legitimate doubts.
"In 2019, Ethiopia claimed to have planted 350 million small trees in less than 12 hours, breaking the world record for trees planted in one day. In 2014, a province in Pakistan launched a 'Billion Tree Tsunami' planting project, which was expanded into a national '10-Billion Tree Tsunami' project in 2018." These are some of the cases cited by Welz in his article. Impressive numbers, but not followed up by a check on the actual success of these campaigns. By success we mean the real capacity of these small trees to take root, survive and grow enough to be able to absorb and store CO2 in their woody parts.
Welz writes: "Scientists have begun their public battle against large-scale tree-planting projects based on the announcement of numbers.”
350 million trees in 12 hours, one billion trees, ten billion trees... These are indeed staggering figures. It took Treedom 10 years to plant its first million trees, due not only to the fact that we took time to develop our working model, but also to the model itself that we chose. We started from the assumption that planting a tree does not mean sowing a seed, it is a much more complex job. Not only from a technical point of view - skills and resources are needed to create suitable places for small trees to germinate and grow - but also, and above all, from a strategic point of view. Moving from being a "planter" of trees to a "grower" of trees means thinking in the medium and long term, and for this it is necessary to identify the right tree for the right place and the right purpose.
We plant trees - with a few exceptions, as in the case of the Mangrove plantation - in agroforestry systems that integrate trees within land dedicated to agriculture. To do this, we work with local communities of farmers, whom we involve in our projects through collaboration with NGOs on the ground. They are the ones - with our support - who take care of the trees over time, directly benefiting from the fruits they will produce (owned by the farmers themselves). Finally, we try to offer transparency to those who choose to pay to plant a tree with Treedom, by actually surveying every single tree, photographing it and geotagging it at the time it is planted. Finally, we believe that through what we do, we can create a bridge between people who live in different and often distant places, sharing details of our projects with those who decide to plant a tree with us.
At the time of writing we are about to reach 2 million trees planted. Although the first million took 10 years to reach, this second million has arrived in just over one year. This confirms the strong global passion for initiatives that aim to make our planet greener. As interest grows, however, so does the level of attention to verifying the validity of the work being done. There are risks, of course, but we are convinced that we have developed a method that not only offers guarantees, but also puts people and the environment first, before the numbers.