Believe it or not! Indonesia planted 4 billion trees in last 4 years

Thousands of people gather on the opening day of the 2014 Forests Asia Summit. Photo: Showkat Rather/ICRISAT

Thousands of people gather on the opening day of the 2014 Forests Asia Summit. Photo: Showkat Rather/ICRISAT

“In the last four years, we have planted more than four billion trees. If you have any doubt, I welcome you to start counting them, just don’t lose [track of] your counting, so [you won’t] have to start from the beginning again.”

These were the words of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in his keynote address at the opening of the Forests Asia Summit, being held at the Shangri-La Hotel, Jakarta, on May 5-6, 2014.

As many as 2,000 participants, including scientists, stakeholders, government officials, students and journalists, are taking part in discussions related to the summit’s theme, Sustainable Landscapes for Green Growth in Southeast Asia.

Other countries, particularly those struggling with the increase of greenhouse gas emissions, need to learn such lessons from Indonesia. Scientists have proven that planting trees is one of the best ways to fight climate change-related problems like soil erosion, environmental degradation, increasing average temperatures, low rainfall and decreasing food production.

But the problems do not stop there. If there is no fertile land, crop productivity will be low and the nutritional value of the crop yield will also decrease, leading to a significant increase in malnutrition, especially among children.

The livelihoods of a major portion of the world’s human and animal populations depend completely on forests. If there are no forests left in the world, there will be certainly no wildlife, and no human life.

Organizations such as the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) are doing a remarkable job in promoting the negative impacts of deforestation and have made a significant impact on human wellbeing, environmental conservation and equity, by conducting research to help shape policies and practices that affect forests in developing countries and increase awareness of the perils of deforestation.

Other organizations, such as the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), which conducts agricultural research for development in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa with a wide array of partners throughout the world, also maintain the importance of trees in sustainable development. ICRISAT promotes approaches such as Agroforestry Systems through its various projects.

Agroforestry is an integrated crop and tree farming system that can improve overall agricultural production, diversify production and nutrition, preserve the soil and increase income. The deep root systems and sun-protecting canopies of trees are an important part of preserving soil and water resources in the semi-arid tropics, and can help annual crops to grow better.

More than 50 percent of land in the West African Sahel is degraded and not suitable for cultivation. In most cases, the degraded land is composed of crusted lateritic soils impermeable to water.

Children plant Jatropha trees at one of ICRISAT’s project sites. Photo: ICRISAT.

Hardy rain-fed fruit trees and high-value annual crops like vegetables combined with water conservation techniques — such as demi-lune semi-circular micro-catchments, zai holes, and other of planting pits — are helping women in the area to improve food production and nutrition in waste lands. In general, trees ­— a major component of the Bioreclamation of Degraded Lands project — ­are much more resilient to drought than annual crops.

I have personally witnessed the conditions of families in India who were shifted from forests to urban areas. They were not able to make ends meet in due to a lack of experience in dealing with their new urban lifestyle. As a result, most of them shifted back to forest areas.

India has also seen a decrease in the population of wild animals such as tigers and hangul (Kashmir stag). There have been many incidents where wild animals have entered urban areas in search of food and shelter because, due to deforestation, their food chain has been disturbed.

Are we really prepared to feed a population that is projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050? This should be a wake-up call for countries like India and China where the population has already surpassed one billion. In order to feed our future generations, aside from planting more and more trees, it is important to strengthen pro-environment policies, as well as laws relating to those who profit at the cost of the environment.

There are endless examples of the negative impacts of deforestation and it is vital for governments, non-government organizations and the private sector to make a special effort to curb the menace of deforestation. It is high time for all nations to increase tree plantations. One of the best ways to do this is to enable youth to play a significant role in the promoting these issues.

If every nation and its citizens can follow in the footsteps of Indonesia, we can definitely make a positive impact in the fight against climate change.

Showkat Nabi Rather is a media officer at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), India.