- planting a future

Forestation - Planting a Future

17 Jun 2019    By Poul Madsen           

Once vast forests covered much of the Earth, but for thousands of years humans have chopped down trees. Due to increased desertification, loss of animal habitat and climate change, many countries, organizations and individuals are now trying to turn the tide by planting trees - according to the medias. Who are these people, what do they do, and does it help?

The Problems

There are a number a reasons for deforestation. It can be issues such as

  • converting forest to farmland, typically converting jungle to palm plantations to make palm oil
  • timber used for building materials, furniture, paper and heating
  • mining when the dug out soil causes pollution
  • wildfires whether the fire is intensional or sparked by lightning
  • The next question is why we need forests. Again, there are a number of reasons which include

  • binding carbondioxide in the trees
  • creating habitat for insects and animals and maintaining biodiversity
  • preventing erosion - examples include the Loss Plateau in China
  • providing timber - which is done at sustainable level in Sweden and Finland
  • providing shadow against heat
  • When you start researching the state of the world forests, it can be a bit confusing. Many of us expect to find deforestation everywhere, but according to research (such as using satelite images) forests take up more space now than 35 years ago! South America is about the only continent with a net loss, though some countries on the Equator like Indonesia and Congo also experience a net loss.

    Some sources see a net loss overall and the percentage of gained coverage does not necessarily mean the same quality of forest. There is no net gain in chopping down rainforest and replacing it with palm trees for palm oil production. Or replacing broadleaved trees with conifers if the outcome is acidy soil.


    EU Biodiversity Strategy

    The European Union has written a strategy to make its stand on biodiversity.


    In Europe it seems there is a net gain (5), and more than a third of land is covered by forests. Even in countries like Denmark and Ireland, there is a net gain. Denmark reached an all time low - 2 % - just after the turn of the 19th century, because trees were used for building houses, household cooking and heating and the navy needed timber to build ships. Now, the cover has increased to around 15 %. (6), (7). Ireland, once covered in forests, had an estimated 1 % forests left by the 1950s, but now has 11+ % forests. Ref:


    Since deforestation has been recognized as a major problem, many tree planting projects have been initiated. Numerous projects aim at turning desert areas into forests. Examples include the Sahara Forest Project and China's Great Green Wall.

    Forestation is not just about planting lots of trees. It's also about planting the right trees. There's is no point for example in planting conifers on land suited for broadleaved trees if the result is acidy soil. And it is wasted resources if 80 percent of planted trees have died within 5 years.


    China has faced multiple environmental problems. Due to overgrassing and forest clearing in north, a desertification started, slowly moving south. Urbanization introduces a different problem in that lakes and rivers were reclaimed leaving excessive downpours of rains nowhere to go but to cause flooding. The situation is further worsened due to an increase in percipitation as cold air from north meet humid air from southeast creating massive floodings.

    Another example is that deforestation has caused massive erosion of the Loss Plateau - about the size of France. The situation in China deserves an entire blog on its own. When it comes to afforestation, there are several ongoing projects. One of the first projects was launched in 1978, when the Chinese had recognized the problem with deforestation caused by overgrassing

    Another project is the Kubuqi Desert, which according to has become a great success. Part of this project is the planting of drought-resistant trees and hedysarum laeve maxim, a flowering bush. Also being planted licorise to help protecting the roots and build up a crust of soil. The project has been praised by

    Grain for Green

    The project Grain for Green - Conversion of Cropland to Forest Program (CCFP) - was initiated after massive floodings in 1998 along the Yangtze River. A paper on has described the effects of the program on both socioeconomic areas and on areas relating to forest regeneration. The paper lists a lot of pros and cons.



    In Morocco one place is of speciel interest: Ouarzazate. Here, the Moroccans have build the world's largest CSP solar power plant. It's based on mirrors reflecting the sun's light to a single point. This point gets heated to several hundreds degrees enabling it to drive turbines. Also in Ouarzazate a project ran from 2012 to 2017 and involved using treated waste water for irrigation and growing trees. A downside however have been rocketing prices on land.

    Countries just south of the vast Sahara desert suffer from the expansion of the Sahara. One source, however, claims that the Sahara moves north and south following climate cycles and that the desert has actually retreated 200 km north in the last 20-30 years.

    In order to turn the tide, a number of countries (the number various over time) initiated the Great Green Wall project in the belt just south of Sahara called the Sahel. The project apparently got of to a great start in 2007, however, it started to suffer from several downside factors. Ten years on, the project had changed its strategy, so rather than planting a 10 miles wide band of trees, the vision is to surround the Sahara and to green those areas that used to be farmland.

    Central Africa

    A huge rainforest belt covers much of central Africa. Deforestation however have reduced the size of the rainforest in DR Congo, Republic of Congo and Gabon. The "usual issues" apply: Urbanization, household and farming. The problem is amplified by social difficulties. The countries are populated by very poor residents, many of whom have no other resources than what they get from the jungle. Big companies are logging timber. There are attempts to turn the tide with funding, however, some sources incl., indicate that much of the funding ends in the wrong pockets. Other sources, the BBC, in 2013 reported that the forest area is in a better state than anticipated and that the deforestation has slowed down.


    Further south is Namibia, a country with large areas of deserts, and which one might expect to be suffering great loss of forest areas. Researching the subject, you get mixed messages though. It seems like the forces of logging almost balances the forces of forestation and conservation. A small net loss seems to be the outcome.

    There are concerns, however, because the ministry of agriculture and forestry according to the have given permission to a number of people to clear out forests "the size of Windhoek and Okahandja combined". The minister is under suspicion that the logging could benefit himself.



    Pakistan's Billion Tree Tsunami Afforestation Project focuses on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) in the north. The project appears to have caused certain issues on local level including accusations of corruptions and worsening social inequalities. Issues are reported by


    Much have been said about deforestation in Indonesia. According to sources, less than half of the original rainforests are left, succumbing to multinational companies exploiting forests. Palm oil is one example, and the deforestation will continue as long as 1) governments, 2) companies and 3) consumers make no changes. Examples on deforestation in Indonesia are much easier to find than forestation.

    The Indonesian government has begun several reforestation initiatives incl. fundings, however, they fall short of targets.

    Examples of forestation include the project "One million trees for Borneo" in Central Kalimantan. A partner of this project is Stihl, a manufacturer of chainsaws. One would expcet that Stihl has a genuine interest in forestaton, because if there are no trees left, the company would be out of business. A problem is, that if you search the project name, only 2 links show up in Google! (as of June 2019)

    Another example is the Indonesia Australia Forest Carbon Partnership (IAFCP) Facility, Indonesia" who have launched the REDD+ project.


    The Brazilian rainforests have had the world's attention for almost 50 years now. A large number of steps have been taken to turn the tide. Unfortunately, very few steps have made a difference in the direction of restoring the rainforest. Money and power is as usual the driving factor and to make matters worse, the Brazilian's have elected president Bolsonaro, who backs clearing the rainforest to make way for logging, farming and mining. An example is the Canadian company Equinox who was about to begin production of gold by January 2019.

    As long as most Brazilians are poor, hardly anything is going to prevent further deforestation and the native tribes do not possess adequate responses.

    Amazon Protective Organizations

    Tree Planting Entrepeneurs

    A couple of tree planting entrepeneurs are worth mentioning. These entrenepeurs work on arid desert areas.

    Jurriaan Ruys

    The Dutch engineer Jurriaan Ruys has developed a cheap and simple method of planting trees with a high rate og survival. He developed a doughnut shaped container, called the cocoon, containing enough water for the seedling to develop its roots the first, critical year. The cocoon is biodegradable. According to the there are projects ongoing in many countries.

    Check out Ruys' Land Life Company website.

    Geoff Lawton

    Born in England, Geoff Lawton from Australia have helped set up a project to green the Jordanian desert. Key elements of Lawton's methods include using waste water for irrigation and creating humid soil. An other key element is how the soil surrounding the trees are laid out.

    Check out Geoff Lawton Online.