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I wanted to talk today about the link between conservation and restoration. Now and then, when I'm talking to people about tree planting and restoration, they say to me, "Well, isn't it more important to just be conserving what we have?"
So, I wanted to address the fact that conservation is hugely important - especially with the old growth forests that we have around the world - but really, conservation in general is hugely important, and restoration does not in any way take away from the importance of conservation. In fact, it really helps with conservation. So, I wanted to explain why, because it isn't necessarily obvious. And how at this point in human history, we really need both, because we have so much degraded land on the planet. We have about 5 billion acres of degraded land on the planet that has been damaged over time from human impact. And that's a massive opportunity for us for restoration.
One really fantastic example of when restoration really helps with conservation is the example of Mount Kenya in Kenya, Africa. Mount Kenya is a forested watershed mountain that feeds major rivers. These rivers have lakes downstream and lots of farmland downstream and are hugely important for that country's overall health, the health of their people, and the health of their environment. So, the importance of keeping that watershed intact cannot be overstated.
And because in Kenya, 48% of the population is living underneath the poverty line, you have a lot of people who are scrambling to get their needs met, and a lot of those people are farmers. So, people who are farming are encroaching more and more into that forested watershed in order to cut down trees and put in more farms. And then the farms eventually degrade that land and break the water cycle, and it creates a cascade of a downward cycle. The long-term sustainability of the people isn't there. There's a loss of the wildlife, there's a loss of the water, and the watershed itself becomes less and less viable. This problem cannot be resolved until the needs of the people can get met right where they are, which is on their own farms.
There is an organization called WeForest, and the restoration strategy they created was to do a 70/30% split where they invested 70% of the project's funding into helping the people who live around this watershed create Agroforestry on their current farms. The other 30% was used to pay them to grow native tree seedlings on their farms and plant those in areas of the watershed that needed restoration.
So rather than just having monoculture farms or farms that only have a few crops - with Agroforestry, with Forest Gardens, you integrate trees onto the farm. Beneficial trees that do all kinds of things, from providing fuel wood to providing animal fodder, to helping to increase the healthy soil, to decreasing erosion, to stabilizing the water table and the water cycle. There are all kinds of things trees can do on farms that are beneficial. By empowering these people and these farmers to include these trees on their farms, they now get their needs met from their own farms. So, they're not going to the forest to cut down wood for their fuel, to look for medicines and food, and for building materials because they have all of that growing on their own farms.
WeForest took the other 30% of the project funding and used that to pay the people to plant native seedlings up in that forested area in areas that had been damaged and that they were trying to restore. They would grow the seedlings on their farms and then take them up the mountain and plant them in areas that needed more restoration. With this 70/30 split, they found that they could really meet the needs of the people that were encroaching on this area. So, it's so important to put people at the center of this conversation and not think that we always need to separate people from land when we talk about conservation.
48% of global deforestation is caused by subsistence farmers. Small share farming families that don’t know better than to keep cutting down trees to create more farmland because their land has become damaged by unsustainable practices. There are 1.25 billion people worldwide who are in this situation. Where they are stuck in poverty, and so they do things in order to meet their needs that may degrade an environment and eventually degrade their own ability to live because they don't have a choice. By putting the power into their hands to transform the farmland that they're using away from monoculture farms, and into these really diverse farms that use trees in ways that fulfill their needs beyond just food – this is the game changer.
It really shows how the power of restoration can become something cultural. Where when people become restorers, and they start to understand how the ecosystems around them and that they've created on their own land really work, they then work to protect them. So long term, it creates a win win-win for everything - for the mountain, for the wildlife, for the water, for the soil and most especially for the people. This is the key. This is the answer.
The same is true for farmers across the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, where you have 250 million farmers facing desertification. A collapse of their land. A lot of the time we think of desertification as just coming from the Sahara down with the wind, and that is part of the story, but a big part of the story of desertification in Africa is actually that the farms themselves have been turning to dust because of non-sustainable farming practices like monocultures. What reverses this trend and takes a downward spiral and turns it into an upward spiral is, again, Agroforestry.
The combination of beneficial trees on farms that create a whole cascade of benefits for the people and then create a diverse ecosystem that is rich with foods and medicines and building materials and a living fence. The canopy of the trees also protects the crops. We often think of crops as needing sun full time, but sometimes it can be too much, and it actually overwhelms the crops and makes them more water hungry. One of the best things to do in areas that have too much heat and not enough water is to create a nice light canopy.
Another benefit is simply animal fodder, which is really important in terms of conservation. These people are sending their animals out on land that barely has anything growing left on it because these broader landscapes are really in a state of collapse. Having the animals go out onto that land is just putting more pressure on that land, taking away whatever trees, shrubs or grasses that are starting to grow and just accelerating this process of desertification. It's radiating out from all of these small farms. The Forest Garden approach reverses that trend.
One of our planting partners with the Trillion Trees Campaign - Trees for the Future - provides the education and seed to enable farmers to join a four-year Master Forest Gardener training program that transforms their land from dust to these diverse, healthy ecosystems. Farms that are rich with a variety of nutritious food and so many other things that these farmers need. The first thing that they do is they plant a living fence. 2,000 to 2,500 trees that go around the edge of around 2 to 2 and a half acres of land. That cuts down the wind. It keeps the animals out that they don't want to have on their farm. It keeps their animals in, and it provides fodder for their animals. It's the ‘cut-and-carry’ way of taking care of their livestock rather than having their livestock roam all around looking for food and just continuing to compact the land and to eat everything in sight. This allows the land to start to come back on its own.
These people go from being very deep in poverty to starting to grow their way out of poverty. They can send their kids back to school, the wildlife returns - and eventually the water cycle stabilizes and returns. They become restorers. And as restorers, they are much more inclined to protect their surrounding environment because they aren't at the very edge of their needs. Their needs are actually being met. So they're able to think long term and no longer be trying to meet their needs out of desperation in an environment that needs to rest. By supporting them, we're helping to restore areas that are right now desert, or turning into desert, into fertile farms again. It's putting people at the center of the conversation around the need to take care of our world in a way that works for people and the land. It's where restoration really becomes conservation.
What we propose with the Trillion Trees Campaign is for everyone who can to pay a minimum of $8 a month to plant 30 trees a month with these farmers in Africa through Trees for the Future, our incredible planting partner. You are really planting 'A Tree a Day' – 365 trees a year. With the Trillion Trees Campaign's growth strategy, the Power of You Plus Two - you inspire two of your people to do the same and plant A Tree a Day within 30 days, and then they go and they inspire two of their people to sign up to plant trees within 30 days and on and on. That creates exponential growth.
Within 3 years, we could have 300 million trees supporters on board, all helping to plant A Tree a Day. And that means that within 10 years, we can be planting a trillion trees. And a trillion trees would be a total game changer for this planet. For humanity, for wildlife, for the freshwater supply and cycle, for soil, for the availability of nutritious food, for the climate - and so much more.
Along with the awesomeness of planting a trillion trees because of restoration, I hope you're understanding that with all that restoration with people who, right now are actually harming existing ecosystems in order to get their needs met, it really helps with conservation long term as well. Because we are going to be taking pressure off a lot of the existing environments that really need to have that pressure taken off them, and we're taking pressure off of people. Poverty is not good for the environment. Helping people grow themselves out of poverty is beneficial for the environment.
At this point in human history, we are simply beyond just needing conservation. We've got 5 billion acres of degraded land worldwide and more and more every year. We really need to be thinking about conservation and restoration. And that's the magic. That's the real magic of supporting people to restore their own environments is that that enables more conservation.
Please visit the home page and sign up now to plant trees with Trees for the Future.
Plant them for your family members as well if you want. And then share with your friends and start to get your community involved as well, because that's how this can all grow.
I hope that you enjoyed this blog today and that it made you think a little differently about conservation and restoration and got you excited about participating in restoration. I'm so very grateful for your time and attention and for your interest in tree planting.
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