Three years into a restoration project, Yangambi, a lush forest landscape in northern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has just celebrated the planting of its millionth new tree.
Home to a famous research station since the 1930s, Yangambi has long served as an open-air laboratory for the study of tropical agriculture and the Congo Basin forests. When the research station was established, thousands of hectares of primary forests were converted into experimental plots and plantations of commodity crops, such as oil palm and rubber.
However, following decades of instability and conflict in the country, the plantations were abandoned and became fields for small-scale farmers to grow subsistence crops – mostly cassava, the local food staple. Poor practices and decades of over-exploitation now see farmers, which comprise most of Yangambi’s population, faced with loss of soil fertility. The only option to obtain sufficient harvests is to continue to expand their farmlands through itinerant agriculture, causing further forest encroachment.