Al Kags

Reframe the conversation: tree cover is the issue

The solution to the challenges posed by climate change lies not only in reforestation efforts but also in increasing tree cover everywhere

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Trees are vital to combating climate change because they play a significant role in bringing rain. Science teaches us that through their evaporation process, trees help to create clouds that bring rain – a process known as transpiration. But as we continue to burn fossil fuels, cut trees (usually for economic survival in these harsh times) and continue to industrialise to create the jobs that are desperately needed, the effects of trees’ transpiration on rainfall are becoming increasingly vital.

“The world must recognise that environmental conservation is not a luxury, but a necessity that cannot be postponed,”

Nobel Peace Prize winner and Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai.

However, the effects of deforestation and decreasing tree cover are far-reaching for our environment. Without enough water, plants and animals suffer – leading to declines in biodiversity and ecosystems. The lack of water can also lead to food and water insecurity, particularly in parts of the world that are already vulnerable to water shortages.

From southern Ethiopia to northern Kenya and Somalia, More than 22 million people are victims of a historic drought that began in late 2020 and is expected to last for the next few months. Gory pictures of dead animals and emaciated children have become commonplace on our screens as the crisis continues unabated. What’s worse is that the drought is compounded by the Russia-Ukraine conflict that has precipitated a food crisis in Africa. Only recently did many Africans learn the true extent of our imports of grain from Russia and Ukraine – a reliance that is now being exploited in geopolitical machinations.

Let’s be honest: this drought has been a long time coming, and we are squarely to blame. I took time to examine these satellite pictures from Google Earth of the region over the decades. Do you notice the change from green to brown? Click through the slideshow and see.

To combat the devastating impacts of climate change in Kenya, President William Ruto said his government will plant five billion trees in the next five years and an additional 10 billion by 2032.

He recently announced that the Kenyan government has launched a programme to distribute 1,000 tonnes of seeds to 18 seed centres established by the Kenya Forestry Research Institute throughout the country. “These centres will produce 15 billion seedlings between now and 2032 and will help to grow tree cover on 10.6 million hectares of degraded forests and rangelands. The goal is to increase Kenya’s total national tree cover beyond 30 per cent.”

President Ruto gazes at this seedling, seemingly persuading it to grow and help fight climate change in Kenya

Catherine Muthuri, Kenya Director and Regional Convener for East Africa at the Center for International Forestry Research–World Agroforestry Centre (CIFOR-ICRAF), adds that there is hope for increasing tree cover and combating the effects of climate change through agroforestry. “By integrating suitably adapted trees into livestock and cropland use systems in the drylands, tree growing and sustainable land management practices can alleviate poverty, boost household nutrition and health, increase communities’ resilience to climate change, restore degraded lands, and diversify livelihoods.”

However, we must remember that reforestation is not the true issue – tree cover is. To maximize the impact of tree planting efforts, a policy that encourages people to plant trees on their own land is needed. This can be achieved by providing incentives for individuals and communities to plant at least 20 trees per acre of land. This approach will not only help to increase tree cover but also create a sense of ownership and responsibility among people to protect and care for their trees.

By incentivising people to plant at least 20 trees on every acre of land, including in villages and urban areas, we can make a real difference in increasing tree cover and combating the effects of climate change. The policy should be flexible enough to take into account local conditions and should provide support to individuals and communities in planting and maintaining trees. Incentives could include financial incentives, technical support, and education and awareness campaigns to highlight the benefits of planting trees.

Imagine if all the apartment blocks coming up made provisions for trees on them.

Research suggests that planting at least 500 trees in an area can start to make a noticeable difference in the local climate. However, planting the right species of trees better suited to the region’s climate can maximize the impact of tree-planting efforts.

Imagine for example that the affordable fertiliser is tied to the trees – say that you could get access to up to 50% off the cost of seeds and fertiliser if you grow 40 trees per acre of land. The trees can even be fruit trees – Mango, Avocado and Cashew nut that over time will also yield fruit for sale.

Yes, the solution to the challenges posed by climate change lies not only in reforestation efforts but also in increasing tree cover everywhere, including in urban and rural areas. By promoting policies that incentivise individuals and communities to plant trees on their land, we can help to mitigate the effects of climate change and create a healthier and more sustainable environment for future generations.

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