Trees – the Great Green Hope for Humanity

Trees – the Great Green Hope for Humanity
I recently read a heart warming report from the World Resources Institute:
“In Paris on December 6th, a coalition of more than a dozen African countries, nine financing organizations and 10 technical partners announced a new initiative called the African Restoration Initiative (AFR100), with the goal of restoring 100 million hectares of degraded and deforested land in Africa by 2030.
…Most importantly, many African communities are already reaping the benefits of restoration. For example, farmers in the Ethiopian region of Tigray have already restored more than one million hectares of degraded land through agro-forestry and silvo-pasture. By doing so, they’ve expanded farming long into the dry season, increasing food security and economic opportunities. Farmers in Niger and Mali have dramatically increased on-farm tree densities by protecting trees and shrubs growing naturally alongside their crops. These on-farm trees increase soil nutrients, lock-in water and provide shade, which has helped boost crop yields.
The Benefits Go Beyond Africa
Restoration and AFR100 provide an opportunity for Africa to lead on climate action and alleviate great development challenges, but the benefits will go well beyond the continent. FLR in Africa can contribute significantly to the global effort to address climate change and accelerate progress in achieving sustainable development goals.
AFR100 also contributes to the Bonn Challenge, a global goal to restore 150 million hectares of land by 2020, and the New York Declaration on Forests, a plan to initiate restoration on 350 million hectares by 2030. Research shows that restoring these 350 million hectares could generate $170 billion/year globally in net benefits from watershed protection, improved crop yields and forest products.”
Trees in East Yorkshire
So Africa is showing us the way to a healthier and more secure future but what are we doing here? So far very little. According to the Woodland Trust, the UK has only 2% of its ancient woodland left and the total land area covered by trees is 13% (it actually fell as low as 4.7 % at the beginning of the last century), one of the lowest figures in Europe. The East Riding ranks 8th from bottom in the league table of tree density cover with just 4.9%. A quick trip around our surrounding countryside bears testimony to this with huge swathes of highly cultivated land creating a fairly monotonous landscape.
Proponents of modern agriculture will argue that this is necessary in order to feed a rapidly growing population, but are machine, energy and chemical intensive monocultures really the best way to achieve this aim? There is now ample evidence that this form of agriculture is having widespread negative consequences including large scale soil degradation, contamination of aquifers, increases of pests and diseases, extermination of wildlife and heavy use of fossil fuels with all the negative environmental consequences that that entails.
Forest Farming
Robert A de J Hart spent much of his life developing an alternative to modern agriculture which, he claims, ‘offers root solutions to some of humanity’s most urgent problems: those concerned with environmental pollution and decline, hunger, disease homelessness and destitution.’ On the western slopes of Wenlock Edge in Shropshire he created a garden which has attracted visitors and interest from all over the world. He called it a Forest Garden, which he describes as ‘a system which imitates the multi-storey structure and diversity of the natural forest, in which every single plant has some useful function to perform. It offers a degree of productivity far in excess of any achieved by the most ‘advanced’ systems of orthodox horticulture or agribusiness.’
One sixth of the world’s population still rely on forests for their food and it is there where the most ancient and the most productive forms of agriculture on the planet are to be found. Hart’s great achievement was to demonstrate that the principles used in these systems can be adapted to our temperate climate to great effect. Since his death the ideas and practice have been developed further by Martin Crawford at the Agroforestry Research Trust (www.agroforestry.co.uk) and others around the world.
Many deeply ingrained cultural habits as well as vested interests would need to be overcome for Forest Farming to become widespread in these parts. If, for example, we want this type of agriculture to feed us we may have to adapt our diets somewhat so that nuts, seeds, legumes, fungi, greens and fruits become our staples, but it is no coincidence that these happen to be the healthiest foods on the planet.
Martin comments on the Agroforestry website that many visitors to his Forest Garden are impressed by its beauty as well as its productivity. Pioneers such as Hart and Crawford have shown us that an abundant and healthy future for us all is possible but not only that. Can you imagine how beautiful our countryside would be if covered with forest gardens?
Although it may take some time for our farmers to take this huge leap forward we can all make a start by increasing the tree count in our area and planting trees whenever and wherever possible. And why not make them edible ones while we’re at it?

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