Why isn’t anyone proposing mass REforestation as a solution for global warming?

If humankind went about planting trees on every spare inch of ground, imagine how that would curtail the effects of global warming. In theory, we could all drive SUV’s if there were enough trees to suck up all their carbon dioxide. Heck, we could probably COOL the earth if we planted enough trees, right?



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    Well, the problem is that most of that land was cleared for a reason: farmland. There are nearly 7 billion people on this planet, and we need a LOT of cleared land to produce enough food to sustain us all.

    But there are reforestation initiatives (although unfortunately not as big as what you have in mind) such as the Nez Perce Reforestation Project in Idaho. There is also a VERY impressive project to curtail the current rates of deforestation: the United Nations’ REDD fund is a multi-billion dollar program working to stop extensive deforestation worldwide. 

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    In Niger, in fact, they have! A farmer-­‐managed, agro-­‐environmental transformation has occurred over the past three decades in the West African Sahel-­‐-­‐ the largest environmental transformation in the region, and perhaps even in Africa. At its cornerstone is community-­‐based forest ecosystem management-­‐-­‐ not UN-­‐REDD or other multilateral initiatives. In Niger, during 1980s, the state became aware of the failure of policies that aimed to exclude rural stakeholders from forestry. This acknowledgement of failure favored the emergence of community forestry-­‐-­‐ and subsequently the creation of forest cooperatives in 1981, and Iirewood Rural Markets in 1992. Further, a new Rural Code on tree ownership was signed in 1993 and recognized both customary and formal land use rights and laid the groundwork for transferring tree ownership to property owners. Legislation to implement the new code at the village level was passed in 1998 and came into force in 2004. The Rural Code has the following objectives: increase rural tenure security; better organize and manage rural land; promote sustainable natural resource management and conservation; and better plan and manage the country’s natural resources.  

    In its emphasis on improving native soils, harvesting branches, and sharing responsibility with communities, the Majjia Valley Project implemented by the US Peace Corps and Nigerien Forest Service laid the groundwork for the FMNR revolution. By the early 1980s, Tony Rinaudo, an aid worker with Serving in Mission, and some of his colleagues saw that the greening improvements from these efforts were limited, given the amount of time and money invested. Rinaudo began to seek out a different solution to desertiIication, and in 1983 he realized that the Iields cleared by project farmers were not barren, but contained “underground forests” of native tree and shrub stumps that could be successfully regenerated at a fraction of the cost of growing nursery tree stock. As a result, he helped Serving in Mission launch the Maradi Integrated Development Project, featuring the new approach to reforestation. Through a food-­‐for-­‐work program, FMNR was promoted in over 100 villages by Serving in Mission staff. 

    In the Aguie Department of Niger, FMNR was formalized through the Desert Community Initiative, addressing interrelated technical and social issues in resource management. In 2001, project managers switched focus to empowering communities through capacity-­‐building. Under the Initiative, village management committees for natural regeneration were elected by all community members. In a major break with tradition, these included women farmers and herders—two normally marginalized groups—as well as male landowners. The committees laid down strict rules to regulate the exploitation of trees, organized villagers to guard Iields against intruders, and imposed Iines on those who broke community-­‐approved regulations. FMNR now covers at least 5 million acres in Niger; farmers have added each year during a period of 20 years an average 68,000 acres. This has never been achieved by any tree-­‐planting project in Africa.

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