Tag Archives: plantations

The Great Green Wall and its Past Mistakes

The Great Green Wall  aims to transform the lives of some 100 million people by planting a mosaic of trees, shrubs, and grasses along a corridor stretching some 8000 kilometers across Africa by 2030. Since the African Union first launched the Great Green Wall in 2007, the initiative has struggled to make headway. Made up of local efforts across 11 countries, it has reached just 16% of its overall goal to vegetate 150 million hectares.

But in January 2021, the project—which analysts estimate will cost at least $30 billion—got a major boost: a pledge of $14 billion in funding over the next 5 years from a coalition of international development banks and governments. The money is meant to accelerate the effort to sustain livelihoods, conserve biodiversity, and combat desertification and climate change, French President Emmanuel Macron said in announcing the pledges on January 11, 2021.

Environmental restoration and community development specialists welcomed the news. But many are also apprehensive. In recent years, research by ecologists, economists, and social scientists has shown that many forestry projects around the world have failed because they didn’t adequately address fundamental social and ecological issues…Many efforts, particularly those not led by local communities, stumble. Newly planted trees can die of neglect when planners don’t engage communities from the start in discussions about which species to plant, as well as whether residents are willing and able to provide the water, fertilizer, and protection from grazing animals that saplings need. Farmers are often busy and have their own priorities; they “will not … manage trees that they do not value.” …

Elvis Paul Tangem, who coordinates the Great Green Wall Initiative for the African Union Commission, agrees. He says promises to plant huge numbers of trees at low cost, for example at $1 per seedling, can distract from the real challenge. “You can plant a tree for $1,” he says, “but you cannot grow a tree for $1.”

Excerpt from Rachel CernanskyNew funds could help grow Africa’s Great Green Wall. But can the massive forestry effort learn from past mistakes?, Science, Feb. 11, 2021

Old Continents, New Trees

In the 1920s, when Ireland became independent, it was thought to have just 220,000 acres (90,000 hectares) of woods, covering about 1% of the land. Once-extensive forests had been shrinking for centuries…In 2017, though, almost 11% of Ireland is covered with forest, and an unknown additional amount by small woods and scattered trees. The government’s target is to cover 18% of the land area with forests by 2046. Ireland is behind schedule. Still, about 6,000 hectares of new forest ought to be planted this year, while almost none will be lost. It is part of a broad trend: the foresting of the West.

Trees are spreading in almost every European country. Because many of these forests are young, the quantity of wood in them is growing faster than their extent. Europe’s planted forests put on a little more than 1.1m cubic metres of wood per day. For comparison, the iron in the Eiffel Tower is about 930 cubic metres. Russia’s forests spread more slowly in percentage terms between 2005 and 2015, but, because Russia is so big, more than in the entire European Union in absolute terms. Forests now occupy a third of America’s land, having grown by 2% in the past decade. They are even expanding in Australia, following a long decline.

Deforestation in South America and Africa rightly gets most of conservationists’ attention. That loss is huge—equivalent to about 4.8m hectares a year, which far outweighs gains elsewhere. Yet the foresting of rich countries is still one of the world’s great land-use changes. It seems just as unstoppable as the deforestation of poorer places. It has plenty of critics, too.

The growth of forests is partly a result of changes to food markets. As the best farming areas have become more productive, and as rich countries have imported more of their food, marginal land has become unusable for ordinary agriculture…Forests are also growing because governments have favored them through laws and subsidies….Since the 1990s environmental considerations have weighed more heavily. Forests are increasingly valued as sponges for heavy rain, as wildlife habitats and as carbon sinks…

Planted forests are far from universally popular, though. Between June and October 2017, forest fires in Spain and Portugal killed more than 100 people and darkened Europe’s skies. The fires were partly blamed on the spread of non-native trees, especially eucalyptus. That Australian import, which was planted with support from the World Bank, among others, grows so quickly that trees can be harvested for pulp when less than ten years old. It also burns readily, scattering embers far afield. Portugal’s government has begun to restrict planting, in an effort to prevent the country from turning into what one green group calls “Eucalyptugal”.

The eucalyptus tree is a scapegoat for a bigger problem, argues Marc Castellnou, a fire analyst in Spain. The real trouble is that forests in Portugal and Spain have expanded quickly, with little thought for the consequences. Well-managed eucalyptus plantations are not the biggest danger—much worse are ill-managed ones with lots of underbrush and fallen wood, and the impromptu forests that grow on abandoned farms. The fires that get going in such forests jump to the treetops and burn so energetically that they cannot be stopped.

In Ireland, the criticisms are different. The country’s default tree is the sitka spruce, a fast-growing, damp-tolerant conifer from America’s Pacific Northwest. Spruce plantations are said to be devoid of life—vertical deserts of dark green. They are accused of wrecking rural communities and driving farmers off the land….

The first charge is false. Mark Wilson of the British Trust for Ornithology says that conifer plantations support more bird life per hectare than farmland, largely because they harbour more insects. Inevitably, some birds benefit more than others. The march of conifers across Britain and Ireland has increased the numbers of pine-loving birds such as siskins and crossbills. Conifers are also loved by crows—which is less obviously good, because crows raid the nests of rare birds such as curlews.

The second accusation, that trees push out other kinds of agriculture, is only partly true. Forestry subsidies and regulations have indeed distorted Ireland’s land market.

Excerpts from The Foresting of the West, Economist, Dec. 2, 2017,at 51