As the world celebrated the International Day of Forests on March 21, countries were yet again reminded to push increase efforts to plant more trees and forests.
This year’s theme was “Forests and Education.”
“Our aim is to get a message out that indigenous tree and shrubs are vital for healthy biodiversity and human well-being,” said UN environment ecosystems expert Tim Christophersen.
At the One Planet Summit held in Nairobi last week, government and business leaders pledged millions of dollars, including €40 million ($45.4 million) by the French Development Agency and more than $50 million committed by the European Investment Bank.
Some $100 million was committed out of a target of $300 million.
Ban on logging
The leaders also launched the Land Degradation Neutrality Fund, a global impact investment vehicle developed by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and Mirova (Natixis) to support sustainable land use practices globally and restore degraded land.
The anchor investors are the European Investment Bank and the French Development Agency.
Africa loses approximately 150,220 square kilometres of forest being to deforestation every year, the continent lost about 34 million hectares of forest between 2000 and 2010.
Nearly one decade later the situation is worsening. If the high deforestation rates persist, it is estimated that up to 30 per cent of forests will disappear by 2030.
East Africa alone has lost about six million hectares of forest. However, Rwanda grew its forest cover from 12.9 per cent to 29.6 per cent between 1990 and 2017.
Tanzania, the region’s most forested country, lost an estimated 412,000 hectares of forest to deforestation per annum between 1990 and 2015, as the country’s forest cover fell by 11 per cent.
The region’s 107 million hectares of forest shrank by more than nine per cent, to 98 million hectares, between 1990 and 2000.
But all is not lost as several organisations are engaged in reforestation programmes through the Kenya Forestry Service and its counterparts in the region.
In Kenya, the near-total ban on logging has been extended, while Rwanda’s tree cover grew thanks to reforestation initiatives like the National Forest Planting Day.
Meanwhile, there are active programmes creating awareness about conservation. Indeed, some organisations have chosen to plant trees all-year round, instead of just one day in the year.
In Kenya, Serena Hotels introduced a tree-planting programme at the Amboseli National Park about 27 years ago, in 1991. To date, working with the local community, about 1.5 million trees have been planted.
Serena Hotels has naturalists at all of its properties, who interact with community leaders, sensitising locals on the importance of trees and getting them involved in the tree-planting.
They also visit schools and teach the children what types of trees to plant, and how to take care of them.
After considering the ecology of the area, the naturalists normally plant indigenous trees that have a high survival rate even in tough weather conditions.
Serena Hotels says its tree planting efforts are in line with SDG 13 about taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, and SDG 15 on the sustainable management of forests, combating desertification, and halt ing and reversing land degradation.
Roping in school children
To date, Serena Hotels has planted 6.64 million trees across East Africa. With a mature tree consuming 21.8kg of carbon dioxide in a year, the carbon footprint is greatly minimised.
At Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge, seeds from fruits in its kitchen are distributed to locals who grow them and sell the fruit back to the hotel.
“The current focus is on avocados, mangoes, pawpaw and watermelon trees, which the lodge nurtures, donating 100,000 fruit seedlings to the local community,” said lodge manager Kathurima Mburugu.
Benson, the resident naturalist at Serena Mountain Lodge, said, “I encourage our surrounding community and schoolchildren to plant indigenous trees.
Educating the community on the importance of tree planting has been reinforced through collaborations with the Kenya Wildlife Services, the Kenya Forest Service and the Community Forest Association.”
Having more trees means greater biodiversity. At Amboseli, reforestation has led to more sightings of cheetahs, lions, the rare cerval cat and the Verraux eagle owl.
In Rwanda, Wilderness Safaris, which operates Bisate Lodge near Volcanoes National Park, started a reforestation project last year to plant trees around the park near the lodge, on a site jointly selected with the Fossey Fund.
The project, called the Karisoke Forest, covers a 1,400-square-metre hillock.
Mountain gorillas in Rwanda live inside the protected park, a unique mountainous habitat that contains numerous trees and plants found only in this area, as well as many others that the gorillas depend on for their daily diet.
Outside the park, however, communities engage in agriculture, which has reduced much of the original forest cover.
“During 2017 and the first half of 2018 we planted nearly 20,000 indigenous trees adjacent to the park on a 42 hectare parcel of land,” said Chris Roche, the chief marketing officer of Wilderness Safaris.
Last year, 130 Fossey Fund staff at Karisoke planted young Hagenia trees, after the land was cleared of non-native eucalyptus trees and other invasive species.
“Rather than just plant trees and watch the restoration of the site ourselves, we engaged the larger community and partnered with the Fossey Fund to establish the Karisoke Forest, on part of our reforestation plot,” said Mr Roche.