Nearly one-third of our planet’s land surface is covered in forests. At the same time, eighty per cent of all land-based animals, plants and microbes live in woodlands. However, not only flora and fauna need forests. Roughly 54 million people live in or next to woodlands or rely on them to make a living. Unfortunately, we’ve all heard of football field sizes of forest being cut down daily.
Large-scale slash and burn practices to gain access to land for cattle grazing or soybean fields, unsustainable agriculture or daily community forest destruction are not only located in the Amazonian Rainforest as some media reports might make it seem. The shrinking of forests is a nearly worldwide phenomenon that also didn’t start yesterday. According to a 2015 study in the journal Nature, about 46 per cent of trees have been felled since the start of human civilisation.
Deforestation and Poverty
Deforested areas are more affected by environmental damages like flooding or erosion than other regions. On the other hand, the people living in those areas are often poor. Eden Reforestation Projects has made a connection between deforestation and poverty. The non-profit organisation works on forest restoration and hires local people to grow, plant and guard native trees on a large scale. They started their work in 2004 and since then over 384 million trees have been planted around the world. Eden Reforestation Projects gave Julia an insight into the latest work of the organisation and explained how they want to reach their goal of planting a minimum of 500 million trees each year by 2025.
Julia Brunner (JB): What exactly are you working on at the moment?
Eden Reforestation Projects (ERP): Eden Reforestation Projects currently serves eight project nations: Nepal, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Kenya, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Honduras. Within these eight project nations, we have a total of 174 project sites where we produce, plant, and protect millions of trees every month. We have planted over 400 million trees across the eight project nations, with approximately 15 million trees added each month. We are currently preparing for rapid expansion into an additional four to six project nations next year as well as expansion within our existing project nations. This type of expansion requires significant infrastructure, leadership multiplication and planning.
JB: How important is connecting sustainability with the empowerment of people?
ERP: Connecting sustainability with the empowerment of people is extremely important. Regions that are most impacted by deforestation are highly poverty-stricken and underdeveloped areas. With few options to support their families, often, members of impoverished communities are forced to destroy their local environment to survive. For reforestation to be successful, it must present a benefit to the local population. At Eden Reforestation Projects, restoring deforested areas starts with the communities where we work. We utilize our “Employ to Plant” methodology that begins with hiring people living in extreme poverty to be agents of global forest restoration. The community becomes involved in the process of producing, planting, and protecting their local forests. Eden Reforestation Projects’ work transforms how local people relate to their forests, looking to protection and stewardship, where they once sought only wood for an economic opportunity such as charcoal production. When the community is earning an income through reforestation, they become invested in their work.
JB: On your website you say: By the year 2025 our objective is to plant a minimum of 500 million trees each year and to offer hope through the employment of tens of thousands of people in countries where extreme poverty is rampant. How close are you to your goal and what active measures are you taking to reach it?
ERP: Eden Reforestation Projects is getting closer and closer to reaching the goal of 500 million trees planted. As we continue to rapidly increase productivity and expand, planting 500 million trees will be achieved sooner than expected. We are now planting over 15 million trees per month, and we are confident that by the end of 2020, we will be planting more than 20 million trees per month. The active measures we are taking to achieve our planting goals include: utilizing a variety of planting methods, expanding teams, scaling project sites, and launching new project nations. Also, we actively monitor, guard, and evaluate the trees we plant to ensure our work is maintained. When we reach the milestone of 500 million trees, we will not stop there. We will continue to scale and grow. With the growth of the organizations comes the ability to provide the dignity of employment to even more people living in extreme poverty. Restoring, reforesting, and alleviating extreme poverty on a large scale has been made possible from the generous support of our donors and partners! Without their support, these goals would not be obtainable.
JB: What can people do to help Eden Reforestation Projects but also in general with reforestation in mind?
ERP: There are a variety of ways to support Eden Reforestation Projects that range from donating to interacting with us on social media. Each donation goes towards planting trees and alleviating extreme poverty. We provide individuals with the opportunity to host an online fundraiser to celebrate special occasions, support athletic goals, and honour loved ones. We have social media accounts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. Simply following us and engaging in our content helps us reach others and spread awareness. We are on AmazonSmile. This is an easy way to purchase the products you need while supporting our work. We also have hundreds of partners that support our work through donating to plant trees for each point of sale, service provided or any other business model for achieving corporate social responsibility. In general, just talking about the importance of reforestation and poverty alleviation goes a long way.
This interview had been edited and condensed for clarity.