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.)

  1. Deforestation usually in poorer countires
  2. Repair the areas we’ve damaged first
  3. Two pilots with drones can plant 40,000 trees a day!
  4. Include the locals with economic incentives
  5. The Great Green Wall of Africa
  6. The Great Green Wall of China – water is a problem

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. Replant a diversity of species native to that region, with interconnecting wildlife corridors so that even smaller patches of forest can support key predators that keep the other wildlife under control and the whole thing in balance.

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. Two pilots with drones can plant 40,000 trees a day!

All the videos below are great, but if you only have time for one, please watch this one!

Just a few pilots can cover an enormous area. Today’s drones can now map out the terrain, select the most promising soil, fire a specially fertilised seed pod at the ground, and geotag the location. Months later they can fly back over the area and monitor how the trees are going, or even apply pesticides if they are under attack. The seed pod contains carbon, nutrients, and even micro-fungi that will help the tree germinate and grow. So far they have an 80% success rate. These drones are changing the way we plant forests!

Various governments have already signed up for large projects

4. 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!

5. The 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.

6. The Great Green wall of China – water is a problem

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 near or in 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 huge distances from their deserts, so this option may not be practical or economic.

National Geographic explains:-

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.”

It’s not yet economically viable to pump this kind of water across such a large area. They have 2.68 million square kilometres of desert. (Figures from here say China is 9,596,960 square kilometers and desert covers 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 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.