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Tree Aid
Tree Aid is a little-known international charity based in the United States and the United Kingdom. The organization was founded in 1978 by a group of concerned foresters in reaction to widespread famine in Africa. The original goal of Tree Aid was to provide a sustainable small-scale support that would be sustainable to their local areas of work.

Tree Aid has not looked back. It estimates that it plants one tree every thirty seconds and has planted more than 15 million trees. Tree Aid currently operates in five countries: Ethiopia, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana. These are a few countries which Tree Aid considers in the “Drylands” of Africa. These areas are under constant bombardment of the desert sands of the Sahara. Around the world, this issue affects 3.2 billion people. In Africa, the desert slowly whittles away at the grasslands. As this happens, the soil loses its nutrients and becomes desert. The process is called desertification.

That is why Tree Aid focuses on planting trees. As a tree’s root system grows, it holds more and more topsoil in place. Trees also help to replace nutrients that soil can lose due to desertification, poor farming methods or natural disasters.

Trees also provide food, which feeds the local populace and acts as a source of income. In a pinch, trees can also be used to make tools, shelter, fire and some medicinal products. Between 2016 and 2017, the charity planted more than one million trees, which helped to lift 400,000 people out of poverty and regenerate 55,000 hectares of land.

Tree Aid does not plan to stop. Its five-year plan (2017-2022) states that the organization wants to plant eight million trees, help to lift 2.5 million people out of poverty, restore 250,000 hectares of land and promote people’s rights to trees. The organization is not going at this alone. RPS, a multinational energy, and resource management company has been working alongside Tree Aid for more than a decade.

In 2016, Tree Aid and RPS were awarded a joint business charity award for their work together. RPS provides more than just money to Tree Aid; it also provides professional and technical expertise such as GIS modeling so that the trees planted by Tree Aid can be their most effective.

RPS has pledged more than $500,000 to a Tree Aid project in Ethiopia between 2017 and 2020. The project aims are to educate people and protect ecosystems along the Meki River. RPS also provides funding for other projects.

In 2016-2017 Tree Aid claimed raised $1.6 million through corporate donations, government organizations and private sponsors. However, its total expenditure was $3.6 million. Unfortunately, Tree Aid saw a 41 percent decrease in donations across the board and an increase in the cost of its efforts. This trend is likely to continue but Tree Aid does not seem deterred. Hopefully, despite a rising cost of business, this organization will stay rooted and continue to fight the good fight.

– Nick DeMarco
Photo: Flickr

Million Tree Project
Desertification has been a prolonged, aggravating problem in northern and northwestern China. The Roots and Shoots (R&S) Shanghai branch has achieved significant success in slowing desertification with its Million Tree Project.

Founded by renowned primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall, Roots & Shoots is an influential international non-governmental organization aiming to inspire people of all ages, especially youths, to take part in making the world a better place.

The Roots & Shoots branches around the world maintain only loose connections with each other so that each individual branch can carry out unique projects tailored to its regional needs. One of the main missions of R&S Shanghai is to have a positive impact on China’s natural environment.

Desertification in China poses a great challenge to environmental protection as well as the development of those desertified regions. In recent decades, growing deserts have devoured 3,600 square kilometers of grassland each year and forced nearly 200,000 residents from the desertified areas to relocate.

To fight the consequences of desertification, including powerful sandstorms, the loss of arable land and people being driven out of their hometowns, R&S Shanghai initiated its Million Tree Project in 2007. It is also the inaugural project of the organization.

Led by Tori Zwisler, Chairman of R&S Shanghai, and Executive Director Zhong Zhenxi, the Million Tree Project aims to reduce the combined effects of land exploitation and climate change, which eventually leads to desertification, by planting one million trees in Inner Mongolia.

The project began its work in Tongliao Municipality, Inner Mongolia. By cooperating with local and foreign forestry and agricultural experts and mobilizing tens of thousands of volunteers across the globe, the Million Tree Project achieved its first million tree milestone in 2012 and passed the second million mark in 2016.

In consideration of local soil and climate conditions in order to achieve long-term reforestation success, local and Oregon State University forestry experts have carefully chosen specific species to plant in the area.

The majority of the trees planted are hybrid poplars, chosen specifically because it needs little water. In 2009 and 2011, yellowhorn and Scots pine trees were added to the planting list and proved to be beneficial to the region not only ecologically but also economically.

Working with the Baijitan tree farm, the experts have developed an integrative sand control method by planting a combination of different shrubs along with an expansive straw grid. While the straw grid can increase the roughness of the terrain as well as reduce water evaporation, which can give the shrubs better soil conditions to grow in, the matured shrubs can benefit soil development and the restoration of vegetation diversity.

Apart from the standard procedures of planting trees like many previous forestation projects, the Million Tree Project worked closely with local farmers and tree planters on post-planting maintenance. Licensed farmers can harvest trees but are required to replant new trees on the same spot, making the planted forest a sustainable environment.

More than 50 companies have purchased forests in increments of 2000 trees, and more than 20,000 volunteers have helped plant two million trees between 2007 and 2016. Additional tree planting projects have been started in Ningxia Province, adding more land to the reforestation project portfolio.

The 2016 Rio Olympics opening ceremony featured R&S Shanghai’s Million Tree Project as a significant achievement of humans fighting against the great odds of mother nature.

The Million Tree Project is a great example of a small environmental NGO having a huge impact on the natural world as well as a successful collaboration between the experts and volunteers. It demonstrates that everybody has the ability to change the world. The project, with the collective efforts of people coming from every corner of the world, will generate greater momentum to eventually eliminate desertification in China.

– Chaorong Wang

Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Agriculture in ZambiaFarmers in Chongwe, Zambia, are reverting to traditional techniques and green farming methods to promote sustainable agriculture in Zambia. Chongwe’s farming communities are experiencing low crop yields due to unpredictable precipitation patterns and decreased soil fertility.

According to a 2010 report by Zambia’s government and the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD), the following practices significantly impact agriculture in Chongwe:

  • Deforestation due to charcoal and wood fuel production
  • Logging for timber
  • Expanding small-scale and unsustainable agricultural practices

Most farmers in Zambia focus on monocropping, but delayed payments and poor yields have forced inhabitants to rely on charcoal burning and trading to make ends meet. These methods result in erosion and desertification, locking Zambia into a perpetual cycle of poverty and environmental degradation.

The Green Entrepreneurship Project trains and empowers farmers to undertake sustainable farming practices. These practices combat land degradation and increase crop productivity. The Dutch organization HIVOS coordinated the project with Kasisi Agricultural Training Center, the Dairy Association of Zambia and Micro Bankers Trust.

The Green Entrepreneurship Project aims to promote:

  • Integration of agroforestry
  • Dairy farming
  • Clean energy
  • Agroprocessing
  • Microfinance provision

The Green Entrepreneurship Project hopes to encourage farmers to practice sustainable farming, which would improve their productivity and incomes. Agroforestry improves crop yields, soil cover and water retention. Farmer-managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) allows trees that grow naturally to be retained and pruned so that farmers benefit from a shelter for their crops, better soil conditions and erosion control.

The collaboration between the Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock has resulted in nine agricultural camps utilizing conservation farming. Conservation farming decreases dependence on chemical fertilizer and pesticides while increasing access to the organic market.

Chongwe’s growing middle class and proximity to Lusaka means that farmers can supply organically grown crops and animals to a reliable market. The Green Entrepreneurship Project was started in 2013 and is currently implemented in Kanakantapa, Kasenga, Mpango, Njolwe and Chinkuli areas of the Chongwe district.

Over 180 farmers have received training for sustainable agriculture in Zambia. Farmers who receive training become eligible for loans, and the majority of loan recipients go into dairy farming.

Sustainable agriculture in Zambia and creating green entrepreneurs may be the first steps in ending the country’s cycle of poverty and environmental decline.

– Carolyn Gibson

Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Agriculture in UgandaMany people do not often give in-depth thought about the countries in Africa. Even when thought is given, it is most often toward more well-known countries, such as Nigeria. One country that does not get recognition is the country of Uganda. More specifically, the agriculture in Uganda, and the need for sustainability, is in dire need of attention.

The need for sustainable agriculture in Uganda has been met with help from organizations such as the Uganda Sustainable Agriculture Support Organization (USASO) which helps train people in sustainable methods of farming. Ugandans are taught to both plant and take care of the foods they grow. The women of Uganda learn the most, as they make up a significant part of the workforce. They, along with children, learn to fertilize soil and create a sustainable food source for the country through farming.

In 2004, Uganda adopted the Uganda Organic Standard, which helped make big changes in terms of Uganda’s economy. This standard helped improve income and food security, as well as increased the number of certified organic farmers by 359 percent between the years of 2002 to 2007. Acreage under organic agricultural production also increased by 60 percent. It also helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions and agricultural chemical runoff into local water bodies.

Despite the seemingly positive effects that farming has had on the economy of Uganda in the early 2000s, research done by environmental scientist Festus Bagoora shows that farming in places with dry land, such as Uganda, might not be the best thing for long term sustainability. Considering 22 percent of land area in Uganda is dry, and thus contains fragile ecosystems, farming in these lands could have an adverse effect on the grazing area of the cattle that usually reside there, and therefore have a negative outcome on sustainable agriculture in Uganda.

These outcomes include both drought and desertification, which have become more of a problem because of the over-cultivation of land through farming and the grazing of cattle. These are problems that have not yet touched Uganda but have the potential to become an issue. Although the economy of Uganda is surviving on the exports of coffee, plantains, sweet potatoes and more, the soil in these lands needs to be surveyed in order to determine if it can be farmed or not. This is crucial to the land’s ecosystem, as without the proper care for the soil, the ecosystem could fall apart and leave Uganda in a very poor position in terms of agriculture.

The agriculture in Uganda is in constant fluctuation. The sustainability of it has yet to be determined, as the country still has a ways to go in order for its economy to become stable. Its ecosystem is fragile and will require constant care in order for the country to be able to successfully have blossoming agriculture that everyone can benefit from. This can be reached through the proper care for soil, as well as care for the cattle and where the livestock are grazing. Addressing these can lead to a proper and more sustainable agriculture in Uganda.

– Simone Williams

Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Agriculture in AndalusiaIn Andalusia, one of the 17 autonomous regions in Spain, agriculture and food production drive the economy. According to 2016 report, 24.3 percent of the region’s population lives in rural areas. Desertification, the process by which once-fertile land becomes lifeless, is eating away at vital landscapes. The dehesa, a traditional Spanish amalgamation of agriculture, natural grasslands and shrubbery, is falling out of favor.

Cultivation of singular crops has been going on for decades. This monoculture leads to vast segments of exposed land actively depleting, risking fire and limiting natural resources. As viable lands shrink, urban drift intensifies. Smallhold farmers without knowledge or resources to promote sustainable agriculture in Andalusia move away in hopes of finding work in the city. For the many who met with failure, it is time for them to come home.

How to Make Smallholder Farming Profitable

Expanding sustainable agriculture in Andalusia will allow smallholder farmers struggling to grow their products in profitable ways an incentive to return to their holdings. Affordable, accessible ways to repair dead soil and improve access to water are increasingly available. Healthy soil acts as a sponge; to rebuild the soil is key to water stewardship.

Between the coasts and the olive groves, Andalusians traverse stretches of terrain on horseback. The land is harsh and unforgiving at times. Andalusian culture speaks to its past life as a Moorish outpost, as well as its Spanish ties. Olive trees and the famed jamón ibérico paint the landscape and provide important sources of revenue.

Today, sustainable agriculture in Andalusia is positioned not only to reclaim land lost to desertification, but also to create a vibrant agricultural economy that fights climate change and improves quality of life. Though the Spanish economy overall ranks at fourteenth in the world, this statistic masks the macroeconomic disparity of wealth among the autonomous regions.

Recent data reports that over 40 percent of the population in Andalusia lives in poverty. Abandoned holdings plus the failure of urban drift to create lasting jobs contribute to the spike in unemployment. However, the root and the solution to this problem can be found in the same place: the land.

Global Efforts

Desertification is a natural disaster occurring on a global scale. When the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification launched in 1994, the combined effort of member states to protect the welfare of populations living in drylands established this threat as a priority.

The resonating message from the last meeting is one of urgency. As desertification mushrooms across land, left in the wake of destruction are not only the environment, but also the livelihoods of the people who are sustained by it.

Rebuilding the Andalusian Farming Culture

Danyadara, a grassroots organization nestled in the foothills of the Sierra de Grazalema, is drawing from the region’s long history of human interaction with and reliance upon the land in order to provide a working example of sustainable agriculture. Cost-effective ways to improve soil and manage water are showcased on their property, where a formerly barren field grows into a thriving food forest.

For the many Andalusians that only know poverty, the current situation only reaffirms their way of life. But this passive acceptance may fade as sustainable agricultural investment blossoms.

Danyadara recognizes that Andalusia is positioned to be a leader in small-scale sustainable agriculture. Efforts of the small staff and volunteers are directed at not only regenerating their own land, but also sharing knowledge and resources with the community. Their methods are three pronged: bring back the soil, improve water stewardship and increase carbon sequestration. Detailed information on their projects can be found in both Spanish and English on their website.

Climate Farming

Sustainable agriculture in Andalusia, or climate farming as it is sometimes called, is a vehicle for job creation and investment. The historic dehesa-style of farming is a natural stepping-stone toward climate farming and sustainable agriculture. It encourages biodiversity, the replanting of grasslands and enables a no-till farming structure that is important in the fight against climate change.

“For us, the biggest game changer will be when we can share no-till seeding technology with our neighbors,” said Jacob Evans, Farm Manager at Danyadara. “Our host site, Suryalila Retreat Centre, enables a hyper-focus on soil health since the land is a gift. Once we show people that it is possible to seed without tilling, keeping the soil intact, the lessons and gifts from the older generation will come full-circle.”

– Andrea Blumenstein

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Desertification
According to the U.N., desertification is one of the greatest environmental challenges people face today. Often a poorly-understood phenomenon, desertification can mean hunger, economic crisis or death for those living in poverty. Below are the answers to common questions about desertification.

Desertification FAQ’s

  1. What is desertification? Desertification refers to the process of fertile land becoming unproductive. This means that the land struggles to grow any type of vegetation due to lack of minerals and nutrients in the soil.
  2. What causes it? Desertification can be caused by many factors, including deforestation, overpopulation, poor agricultural practices or climate change.
  3. What are some misconceptions about desertification? Although the word “desert” is normally associated with sand, desertification does not necessarily mean the land is becoming sand-covered. Instead, desertification occurs when a dryland ecosystem, or ecosystem that lacks water, becomes unproductive due to the tolls of the environment or human beings.
  4. Where does it happen? Desertification can happen anywhere as long as there is land with soil. Typically, the phenomenon is seen in drylands that suffer from droughts or heavy amounts of migration.
  5. How are desertification and poverty connected? According to the U.N., there are roughly two billion people who live and depend on dryland ecosystems, and up to 90 percent of those live in developing countries. These dryland ecosystems are prime environments for desertification to occur.
  6. How does desertification affect poverty? A population in poverty that suffers from desertification can become further impoverished due to the lack of sustainable land. Desertification can lead to starvation in developing countries.
  7. What does it mean for everyone else? When desertification threatens those in poverty, it also threatens global security. It can influence war, political unrest and mass migration.
  8. What can be done to prevent it? To prevent desertification caused by humans, it is beneficial to work with farmers to apply sustainable farming practices before desertification occurs. Preventing overpopulation is also important.
  9. What can we do to aid those in poverty who suffer from desertification? According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the most efficient way to aid those in poverty is to work with them to restore their own land. This restoration includes three approaches: resting, reseeding and planting.
  10. Can desertification be reversed? Reversing desertification is challenging, but it is possible with dedication. In 1994, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) was established in order to manage and develop land that has succumbed to desertification. Strategies such as reforestation, soil hyper-fertilization and water management have been implemented in order to begin salvaging lands affected by desertification.

In 2003, then-U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan declared desertification to be “both a cause and a consequence of poverty.” Using sustainable farming methods, we can fight the consequences of desertification and work to end poverty around the globe.

Morgan Leahy

Photo: Flickr

what is desertification
What is desertification? Though an unfamiliar term, it is rather intuitive. Desertification is the degradation of land in arid, semiarid, or dry subhumid regions due to climate variations and human activities such as over-cropping, overgrazing, improper irrigation practices and deforestation. Desertification occurs all across the world, but Sub-Saharan and Central Asian drylands are particularly vulnerable. Presently, somewhere between 25 and 30 percent of the world’s land surface area is affected, jeopardizing the livelihoods of around 1.2 billion people.

Desertification’s devastating effects on the availability of food, water, fuel and building materials renders landscapes inhospitable to human life. In these sort of resourceless, fragile states, local conflicts over water or land can escalate into civil wars, sexual violence or genocide, as for instance, in the cases of Darfur, Mali, Chad and Afghanistan. Depleted and destabilized communities quickly become humanitarian crises, as those affected flee to become refugees and forced migrants, or stay and fall into radical resource-driven wars. Environmental disasters inevitably become human calamities. Therefore, in order to address issues of poverty, it is necessary to address environmental issues, and vice versa.

While desertification is perhaps not a global priority, it ought to be; many are working to combat its effects on land and people. The European Union (EU) is funding a four-year project called Wadis-Mar to counter desertification in North Africa where water scarcity and overexploitation of groundwater have diminished the region. While Wadis-Mar will utilize new technologies to combat this water crisis, a focus on education in responsible water sustainability and agricultural techniques is crucial to the continued success of the project. Likewise, the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) applies curative measures to communities across the world ravaged by desertification, from reforestation projects in South Africa’s Baviaanskloof Hartland to Chinese public education events that teach sustainability, land restoration and conservation.

Landscapes don’t have to decay and displace people. Understanding the reciprocity of humans’ relationship to the earth and modifying practices can help defeat the poverty cycle and restore people to their homes.

Robin Lee

Photo: Flickr

5 Ways on How to Stop Desertification
Drought, deforestation and climate change. All of these contribute to the extreme global issue known as desertification. According to the environmental campaign Clean Up the World, desertification is the degradation of land in drylands, which affects all continents except Antarctica. Approximately half of the people worldwide who live below the poverty line live in affected areas.

The result of desertification is barren land that cannot be used for crop and food production or other agricultural purposes. Prevention methods have been introduced and tend to be more successful than attempts to restore already damaged regions, which can be costly and yield limited results.

  1. Land and water management: Sustainable land use can fix issues such as overgrazing, overexploitation of plants, trampling of soils and irrigation practices that cause and worsen desertification.
  2. Protection of vegetative cover: Protecting soil from wind and water erosion helps to prevent the loss of ecosystem services during droughts.
  3. Alternative Farming and Industrial Techniques: Alternative livelihoods that are less demanding on local land and natural resource use, such as dryland aquaculture for production of fish, crustaceans and industrial compounds, limit desertification.
  4. Establish economic opportunities outside drylands: Unpacking new possibilities for people to earn a living, such as urban growth and infrastructure, could relieve and shift pressures underlying the desertification processes.
  5. Great Green Wall: Eleven countries in Sahel-Sahara Africa — Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Senegal — have focused efforts to fight against land degradation and revive native plant life to the landscape. The initiative, managed in part by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), plants a line of trees as a sustainable way of regenerating the parkland and serves as an example for other problematic locations.

Such large-scale environmental complications may seem troubling to deal with, but the outlined methods and many more make all the difference, giving individuals an idea of how to stop desertification.

Mikaela Frigillana

Photo: Flickr