Adopt a tree in Africa

The Tree-Nation organisation is inviting people from around the world to sponsor the planting of a tree in Niger, one of the poorest nations on earth.

Based in Barcelona, Tree-Nation works in partnership with the UN Environmental Programme to fight climate change by planting indigenous or naturalised trees in areas where the land has been stripped of them.

The organisation currently has two major initiatives in progress. The first is a 25 000-tree reforestation scheme in Los Alcantaras, Nicaragua – a country which has lost 50% of its forest cover in the past 60 years, says Tree-Nation.

The second is a massive project in Dosso, Niger, initiated in 2007 and scheduled to end in 2015.

This project aims to counteract the desertification of the region by planting as many as 8-million trees. To date 130 832 trees have taken root, and another 140 000 will be planted during 2010.

This will restore the land’s productivity and help enrich the soil, hopefully leading to an increase in biodiversity and the re-establishment of a haven for endangered species.

The Niger plantation is taking the shape of a giant heart, which symbolises humankind’s love and respect for nature. Once grown, the formation should be visible from space. The site has been chosen because it receives enough rainfall to naturally sustain the saplings once they are well established.

“Planting a tree might be the most positive thing you could do for further generations,” said Tree-Nation founder Maxime Renaudin. “It’s the most simple and most beautiful work, one that binds man back to the earth.”

The organisation plans to establish more plantations around the world in later years.

Knock-on effect

Not only does tree planting have obvious benefits for the environment, there are also positive implications for poverty alleviation through harvesting of natural products, which can be sold locally, or exported.

Six tree species may be bought, either singly or in packs of five and 50. Available species include the nutritious Moringa oleifera, which is a traditional food plant in Africa with leaves that can be harvested every fortnight.

Hyphaene thebaïca is a palm that originated in the Nile valley and has many uses, from the leaves which are used to make baskets, to the fruit which is edible. Other species available are the maginificent Adansonia digitata, or baobab, and Ziziphus mauritiana, which is extremely hardy and has nutritional and medicinal properties.

Acacia sieberiana and A.senegal, both of which can be used to make gum, rope and medicinal products, round off the offerings.

Prices range from R69 (US$9.50) for a single A. senegal to R1 983 ($271) for a pack of 50 of the same species.

All types are well adapted to survive in the hot and dry conditions that prevail over much of sub-Saharan Africa, where a hectare of useful trees will bring in more income than a hectare of agricultural crops.

This is the reason for the selection of these particular trees, because of their potential to benefit local communities, either because they produce marketable goods, or because people can use their fruit, leaves and bark.

Fighting climate change

Anyone, anywhere in the world, can help the initiative by ordering a tree online. Sponsors can even “watch” their specimens grow, without ever leaving the comfort of their homes.

Once the tree has been selected and bought, the buyer is able to plant a virtual sapling in a spot chosen via the internet, with the real one being placed exactly where it was positioned online.

GPS coordinates, with the help of Google Maps, enable sponsors to follow the trees’ progress in real time.

Should they wish to, supporters can join the Tree-Nation team for a hands-on experience during planting season. Saplings are reared in a nursery for about three months to give them a strong start and to help them adapt to dry conditions, before being transferred to the plantation.

Planting takes place at the start of the three-month rainy season around July. The process is earth-friendly as it uses no chemicals or irrigation, which minimises costs and emissions, and provides a realistic model for local farmers.

Should a tree not survive the move out of the nursery, it is replaced immediately. Plantations are closely monitored and maintained by local experts, who later oversee the harvest. In the process the community living near the plantation receives education and training in basic agricultural techniques.

Tree-Nation also has its own online community, which helps spread the word about the project itself and makes people more aware of environmental matters and how their behaviour affects the earth.

Members are able to interact with other buyers as well as representatives of the communities whose lives have been enriched by the project.

The organisation acts on behalf of a number of corporate clients, including The Economist (24 007 trees), Google (301 trees), Garnier (10 005 trees) and Belgacom (15 013 trees) – all of which have chosen tree-planting as part of their social responsibility portfolio.

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