What’s one way to prevent climate change from worsening? Plant oxygen-producing flora that can reduce levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Conservation International intends to do exactly this, in the Amazon rainforest. If all goes according to plan, the non-profit will plant 73 million trees in just over 6 years — the largest tropical reforestation initiative in history.
The trees will be planted in an area referred to as the “arc of deforestation.” It extends through the Brazilian states of Amazonas, Acre, Pará, Rondônia, and throughout the Xingu watershed. The short-term goal is to restore 70,000 acres (the equivalent to 30,000 soccer fields) which were previously cleared for pastureland.
M. Sanjayan, CEO of Conservation International, told Fast Company, “If the world is to hit the 1.2°C or 2°C [degrees of warming] target that we all agreed to in Paris, then protecting tropical forests in particular has to be a big part of that. It’s not just the trees that matter, but what kind of trees. If you’re really thinking about getting carbon dioxide out of atmosphere, then tropical forests are the ones that end up mattering the most.”
Sanjayan is right — halting deforestation won’t do enough to prevent climate change from worsening. This is because existing forests only absorb approximately 37 percent of our annual carbon emissions. More trees are needed, and that’s why Conservation International is spearheading the ambitious initiative.
Sais Sanjayan, “This is not a stunt. It is a carefully controlled experiment to literally figure out how to do tropical restoration at scale, so that people can replicate it and we can drive the costs down dramatically.”
The Amazon rainforest is an ideal location for the 73 million trees to be planted because, over the past 40 years, approximately 20 percent of the biodiverse forest has been cleared. Scientists now worry that another 20 percent of the rainforest will be cleared in the next couple of decades.
A new-and-improved planting technique
Rather than plant saplings which are labor and resource-intensive, the organization will rely on a newly-developed technique called muvuca. Explained Rodrigo Medeiros, Conservation International’s vice president of the Brazil program: “In Portuguese, it means a lot of people in a very small place.”
For the strategy, seeds from more than 200 native forest species will be spread over every square meter of burnt and/or mismanaged land. Xingu Seed Network, which acts as a seed supply for more than 30 organization and several indigenous groups, will be supplying the seeds.
Not all of the seeds are expected to survive — and that’s kind of the point. Several seeds will germinate. They will then compete among themselves for nutrients and sunlight. Only the strongest will survive and grow into big, tall trees.
A 2014 study by the Food and Agriculture Organization and Biodiversity International supports this method. Reportedly, researchers found that 90 percent of native tree species planted with this strategy germinate — and often end up more resilient than conventionally planted trees. They are also able to survive drought conditions for up to six months without irrigation.
“With plant-by-plant reforestation techniques, you get a typical density of about 160 plants per hectare,” said Medeiros. “With muvuca, the initial outcome is 2,500 species per hectare. And after 10 years, you can reach 5,000 trees per hectare. It’s much more diverse, much more dense, and less expensive than traditional techniques.”
Already, a few million trees have been planted. According to Medeiros, it’s a “win-win” situation for all parties involved. Fast Company reports, “The coalition gets labor at a fair price. Indigenous communities can maintain their livelihoods and get recognition as the rightful owners of rainforest land.” Additionally, farmers are able to sign partnership agreements that expedite the recovery of their own land.
“Springs, rivers, and streams that were suffering from the lack of water are already beginning to show signs of recovery in the region,” explained Medeiros. Reportedly, this has also led to more productive soil and better yields for farmers.
Source: Fast Company