This WWF movie on the benefits of protecting our forests is so beautiful, I will allow it (even though I normally don’t promote the WWF because of their anti-nuclear stance.)
- Deforestation usually in poorer countires
- Repair the areas we’ve damaged first
- Include the locals with economic incentives
- The Great Green Wall of Africa
- Access to water is key
- The Great Green Wall of China
- Afforestation: planting new forests that have not been there for millennia
1. Deforestation usually occurs in poorer countries
As we saw on Land Ecocide, poverty is usually a factor in depleting forests. Increasing general economic conditions across the developing world will help restore forests.
2. Repair the areas we’ve damaged first
Human activity is responsible for most of the world’s desertification. It’s time to fix the damage we have already done. The first step seems to be replanting areas where there once was enough rainfall to have some kind of vegetation cover. The UN says:–
What can be done?
- Reforestation and tree regeneration
- Water management — saving, reuse of treated water, rainwater harvesting, desalination, or direct use of seawater for salt-loving plants
- Fixating the soil through the use of sand fences, shelter belts, woodlots and windbreaks
- Enrichment and hyper-fertilizing of soil through planting
- Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR), enabling native sprouting tree growth through selective pruning of shrub shoots. The residue from pruned trees can be used to provide mulching for fields thus increasing soil water retention and reducing evaporation.
3. Include the locals with economic incentives
In Borneo Dr Willie Smits wanted to save Orangutans. But he learned how to build a rainforest that gave the locals a living.
Smits quickly saw that protecting orangutans in their habitat not only benefits orangutans but also the environment, biological diversity, the poor in Borneo and all the world’s people. The activities of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation expanded from rescuing, rehabiliting and releasing orangutans to monitoring, conserving and rebuilding rainforest, along with the social engagement that made this sustainable. Smits also took on an increasing campaigning and advocacy role, to make the plight of the orangutan and its habitat more widely known, along with the message that something could – and was – being done. (Wikipedia)
Please do yourself a favour, grab your favourite brew, and watch his TED talk. The world needs more creative, systems thinking people like him that love and value the natural world and find ways for local ecologies and economies to support each other!
4. Great Green Wall of Africa
African nations are building the Great Green Wall across the continent to repair ancient damage to sub-Saharan Africa and try and stop the desert expanding southwards. It is not about greening what is naturally desert, but re-greening areas that naturally have just enough rainfall to have once supported some trees or scrub before we messed it up.
Plans to plant a nine-mile width of trees on the Southern Border of the Sahara Desert. The Great Green Wall initiative is a pan-African proposal to “green” the continent from west to east in order to battle desertification. It aims at tackling poverty and the degradation of soils in the Sahel-Saharan region, focusing on a strip of land of 15 km (9 mi) wide and 7,500 km (4,750 mi) long from Dakar to Djibouti.
The Reforestation wiki.
Time Magazine reports:
Trees use water, but they can also spread leaf matter and nutrients that restore soil health so that the soil saves water and prevents rare rainfall just washing away. In Senegal, the village wells are filling up again, all due to the Great Green Wall!
As the Wiki says: A main component of desert greening is the planting of trees. Trees store water, raise water from underlying aquifers, reduce evaporation after a rain, attract animals (and thereby fertility through feces), and they can cause more rain to fall (by temperature reduction and other effects), if the planted area is large enough.
5. The Great Green wall of China
China has some impressive forestation plans but access to water is controversial. As we saw on the water page, some desert nations like Israel have population groups right next to a desert. Israel recycles more of their waste water than any other nation, pumping it from local Kibbutz or cities out to local agricultural products in the desert with drip feeders for efficiency. Israel are greening their deserts this way, but other nations have larger cities vast distances from their growing deserts, so this option may not be practical or economic.
“Deforestation, overgrazing, and overuse of water by people are some of the leading factors responsible for desertification. In China, the problem has been occurring along four types: “aeolian desertification,” which is caused by wind erosion after vegetation is destroyed; “water and soil loss,” due to water erosion that is mainly distributed in the Loess plateau; “salinization” due to poor water management; and “rock desertification,” distributed in the Karst region of southwestern China. Currently, 27.4 percent of China is desertified land, affecting about 400 million people.“
Or as the wiki terrifyingly reports:
“China has seen 3,600 km2 (1,400 sq mi) of grassland overtaken every year by the Gobi Desert. Each year dust storms blow off as much as 2,000 km2 of topsoil, and the storms are increasing in severity each year. These storms also have serious agricultural effects for other nearby countries, such as Japan, North Korea, and South Korea.”
So what’s the good news?
The Green Wall project was begun in 1978, with the proposed end result of raising northern China’s forest cover from 5 to 15 percent and thereby reducing desertification. As of 2009, China’s planted forest covered more than 500,000 square kilometers (increasing tree cover from 12% to 18%) – the largest artificial forest in the world. Of the 53,000 hectares planted that year, a quarter died. In 2008, winter storms destroyed 10% of the new forest stock, causing the World Bank to advise China to focus more on quality rather than quantity in its stock species.
But it’s a comparatively local success funded by a very large solar power station. As Time reports:
“Kubuqi, for one, boasts China’s largest single-stage solar farm, boasting 650,000 fixed and sun-tracking panels, which together channel 1,000 megawatts of electricity into the national grid — about half the power-generating capacity of the Hoover Dam. A team of 47 households are employed to maintain the panels. “Everyday each household can clean more than 3,000 panels using high pressure water jets,” says chief engineer Tian Junting. “And the run-off water feeds the crops that grow underneath.”
You’re not going to spread that particular success story across the 2.68 million square kilometres of China’s desert area, or even a percent of that! (Figures from here say China is 9,596,960 square kilometers and deserts cover 28%). The methods Israel uses of recycling sewer waste water out into local desert agriculture don’t work in a nation where the deserts are in the North West, while most of the population are a thousand kilometres away on the East Coast.
China’s deserts are in the North West of the country
While their population is in the South East
As Time Magazine said, there are 740,000 people trying to rejuvenate 18,600 sq km of Kubuqi desert! Israel does not have scattered peasant grazer / farmers, but concentrated Kibbutz villages with hyper-efficient effluent recycling watering their local agricultural needs. Over 50% of Israel’s own water comes from reliable desal, not unreliable desert rainfall. It’s a very different picture to the scattered Chinese peasant farmers who (mostly, apart from the solar plant above) do not have the money to desalinate water from distant oceans and pump it all the way inland! The same Time article even sums it up this way: “The Kubuqi model cannot be applied to turn any patch of desert into lush oases; it restores only recently degraded land.”
However the wiki also reports that there are concerns about planting such vast quantities of trees without the water infrastructure to support them, eating into underground water aquifers which may be disastrous for some of the remaining desert farmers. Again, for the truly vast areas they are covering, artificial desalination without a high local population just isn’t practical or economic. They need to plan to trap the naturally occurring rainfall as best they can, maybe using a Tal-Ya water box every few trees or bushes to help collect morning dew where appropriate. At least such a plastic box is passive, and not energy intensive.
Also, mass mono-culture forests are not as good for ecosystem biodiversity and birds and other species are not as attracted to them as they would be to more natural forest plantings, which of course are more expensive and difficult to arrange.
7. Afforestation: planting new forests that have not been there for millennia
With Afforestation we plant a whole new forest where there was no forest. The Afforestation wiki says this can soak up carbon and sustain biodiversity. There are small scale projects around the world that are growing new forests where there were none before. See the wiki for details by country.
A company called Afforestt claims that instead of growing a mature forest in natural timescales of 600 to 1000 years, they can do it in 10. How? Add locally sourced biological compost to the soil and then plant a whole bunch of saplings close together to encourage competition for sunlight. This thick forest becomes self-sustaining within a few years, and then matures in 10 years. This seems to be in areas of more normal rainfall, and is probably more accurately classified as reforestation.