Photographing and geotagging every single tree planted in our projects is an important part of our work, to which we devote time, effort and investment. It may sound trivial, but with over 3.5 million trees planted to date (21 December 2022), this is easier said than done. In this article, we explain how all the work behind that data and those photos is carried out.
A foreword: agroforestry systems
To explain the work behind the photographing and geolocation of trees, let's briefly introduce how trees are planted. The trees we plant are in fact planted in almost all cases  in agroforestry systems. This means that they are planted on agricultural land according to criteria that allow for a profitable coexistence between the trees themselves and annual or seasonal crops (in certain cases, the presence of farm animals or livestock must also be considered) .
Why did we choose this methodology? Because our trees are planted directly by local farming communities, each with their own plot of land that they would normally use to grow crops for their own and their family's livelihoods. Working in many different countries, depending on the location, we may find plots where maize is grown, or beans or rice, we could give thousands of other examples. What is important to grasp is that for each situation and for each different context, we choose, in collaboration with the farming communities themselves, to plant the most suitable trees to provide environmental and socio-economic benefits.
We should therefore not imagine large monoculture plots, but many plots, of varying sizes, in which trees are planted in association with other crops. Sometimes one plot may be several kilometres away from another, to be travelled on often inaccessible roads.
Photography and geotagging
In this video you can see one of our collaborators, Theophane, who is responsible for some of our projects in Kenya. We followed and filmed him during his work photographing and geotagging the trees assigned to farmers. The video illustrates the work that takes place on the ground, making it clear how the phase of moving from one plot of land to another is a substantial part of the time spent on this activity.
Theophane has been trained not only in the use of the equipment to take the geotagging photo, but also how to take it as accurately as possible. By this we mean obtaining a photo that is able to show the young tree in its entirety, so that its health can also be assessed. It is crucial, therefore, to include the leaves, the small branches and the stem and ensure all are captured in the best possible light conditions.
It is difficult to determine the number of trees that can be photographed and geotagged in a day's work, precisely for the reasons explained above about the way in which trees are planted. However, it is a time-consuming job, not only for those working in the field, but also for our foresters. As Tommaso Tusa, one of our forestry technicians, explained to me:
"Coordinating this activity involves daily contact with the partner, as well as a lot of planning that has taken place beforehand. Having well-organised logistics is essential to have less expenses, good quality maps, and a less stressed technician. But it is also a job that allows direct contact with the farmers/beneficiaries at a very delicate moment in the tree's growth. This one has only recently been planted and is already starting to acclimatise, so being able to immediately assess its state of health is important. In addition to taking the photo and geolocation, we then take the opportunity to talk about the planting, any problems, suggestions, in short, the beneficiary really feels assisted."
And this is only the beginning, because the data of each tree (photos and GPS data) is stored on the device and then have to be downloaded to a PC and finally uploaded to a server, to make them available to Treedom's forestry experts.
Verification, archiving, publication
Once shared on the server, photos and data are checked. First of all, it is verified, maps in hand, that the geotagged data coincides with that of the project. After that, each photo is checked according to the criteria discussed above, along with a more thorough botanical analysis. Collecting and checking the photos is in fact a further verification, plant by plant, of the health of the small trees. If the photos do not show a seedling that meets the criteria (particularly of plant health and maintenance), that photo/plant is not accepted. We are aware that we cannot send our technicians to check every single tree in the field, which is why, in addition to the trust we place in our partners on site, we check every single photo.
Once we have completed the check on the maps and photos, we proceed to assign a unique code to the photographed tree, and file it in our Tree Register, which is publicly accessible.
It is now a question of publishing each photo and its GPS data on the profile of each individual tree. Over time we have developed an efficient and automated system for this, but still, given the amount of data that is processed on a daily basis - we must always check that everything is working without errors.
Undoubtedly, it's a huge amount of work, which takes up time and resources, but in return offers the opportunity to create a link and offer transparency. I also believe that illustrating the process can help demonstrate how much work there is behind it and show the real value of that simple photo and location data.
Of course, the projects and the trees that give them life are monitored over time to ensure that each tree grows healthily and that, in the case of mortality, a replacement can be made. This is to make it clear that the trees are accompanied throughout their growth firstly by the farmers who take care of them and enjoy their fruit, then by our project managers on site and finally by our foresters who spend so much of their time travelling to the project sites.
We are often asked if it would be possible to take more photos, over time, of each of the more than 3.5 million trees we have planted to date. We would like to, but it is not sustainable from any point of view at the moment. In a future, perhaps not too distant, the accuracy of satellite surveys could offer sustainable alternatives for constant monitoring over time of even a single tree.
In the meantime, we continue to work according to our methodology and hope that this article has been useful to you and ... even that it has made you want to plant, if you haven't already, your own tree with Treedom.
 There are some special exceptions, one example being some projects in Italy where we plant trees on land confiscated from organised crime in a way that is not agroforestry.
 For those who would like to learn more, there is a section on our website dedicated specifically to this topic: https://www.treedom.net/en/agroforestry