Why do we have to love trees if we care for our Planet? A proof positive Model in Costa Rica.

Why do we have to love trees if we care for our Planet? A proof positive Model in Costa Rica.
by Karim Abdulkarim

Karim Abdulkarim

In my all life, the hard work on land was never so fulfilling and inspirational like in the day I spent with the Community Carbon Tree Founder, Jennifer Smith, in a remote area of the Guabo Valley near the Pacific Ocean in Costa Rica. In High School, I worked during the summer reaping wheat to pay for my holidays, but the engagement I experienced and the lessons I learned this time are indeed incomparable.

The job of planting trees and monitoring them involves getting dirty with mud, while sweating under a forceful sun. Jenny was saying to me that planting trees in any clime is beneficial for all the gifts they give us daily… however, planting tropical trees near the Equator ‘cools’ the Planet more than in North America or Europe, for example. The reason why? Let’s start from the beginning.

My Costarica – as a brand new Sponsor-a-Tree Partner – was invited by the ACCT to visit the Family Farms and owned tree local nurseries near Platanillo, a small village between San Isidro and the coastal town of Dominical. ACCT or Community Carbon Tree – Costa Rica is a Costa Rican non profit Association building a way for people all over the world to sponsor trees planted on farms owned by local Costa Rican farmers. ACCT has created a proof positive Model recognized by the United Nations for bio-diversity and community based reforestation. As the Project Leader, Jennifer Smith is also an esteemed speaker for the same United Nation focusing on rainforest trees plantation and climate change, including water conservation.

Because of the partnership and in representation of My Costa Rica, I agreed with Jennifer to visit the farms on the early Sunday morning, because in the afternoons heavy rains are always hitting the area where the ACCT Reforestation Project is located. I thereby left San Jose on a Saturday morning and get to San Isidro in the afternoon of the same day, where I found a small cosy eco-lodge to spend the night and rest for the day to come. On Sunday morning at 7 a.m. I got another bus heading to Platanillo, where Jennifer was waiting for me.

While we were driving to the first Tree Nursery near Platanillo, Jennifer told me in brief the story of the Organization and the last 15 years in the first line to fight Climate Change.

In her words, the success of ACCT is built on “high biodiversity tree selection with community participation and diligent follow up care for every single tree.” In fact, the ACCT model creates alternatives for people to plant a diverse array of trees instead of cutting down more forest. The deforestation is ‘pushed’ for a quite simple reason: it allows farmers to feed their family and on the other hand Multinationals make more money… it is sad but true! Expanding cattle grazing or planting huge monocultures of African Oil palms (widely used in food products, detergents and cosmetics) create fragmented islands and destroy the eco-systems. By paying the participating families to produce, plant and maintain diverse and native trees, we are preventing deforestation with compounded benefits, not only for the environment but also for the people.

After this much needed introduction, we arrived at one of the Nurseries ACCT owns and where I could see and learn about all stages of every Tropical Tree sponsored:

  • Seed collection: the cycle starts by collecting all different kinds of seeds with Costa Rican families and school children, accompanied by volunteers of all ages;
  • Germination: the seeds are prepared in the local nurseries where people fill bags with fertilized soil prepared by ACCT Women’s group;
  • 1-2 years of Nursery Care: after having transplanted Saplings (more than 85 different species) to bags, these are nurtured for 1-2 years in the nursery before they are ready for planting;
  • Design Plan with Farmers: through collaborative agro-forestry design and species selection, the farm owners learn best sustainable forestry practices for positive impacts;
  • Transportation, preparation and plantation of trees: paid workers, including local women, transport the saplings, prepare the land, plant and stake the trees.

Afterwards, the same work crew returns to visit each tree 8-12 times over the first 4 years to chop away regenerating cattle grasses and secondary vegetation. The long and dedicated work done by ACCT and farmers guarantee that every single tree sponsored, with maintenance, is critical to tree growth (true carbon sequestration numbers are based on a 25 year growth cycle!).

When we ended the visit at the Nursery and we got in Jennifer’s Jeep to visit the main plantation, I was already overwhelmed by the amount of information and the hard work made by Community Carbon Tree… and the lesson wasn’t finished yet! The plantation site was the next to visit. In this case, Jennifer explained to me that they were planting agro-forestry systems filled with all kinds of tree expertly mixed together for maximum growth rates and productivity. It was there that I was given insight about the different trees planted and why mixing appropriate species is important to achieve a ‘natural forest style mix’ that allows for shading trees and growing lumber and food.

Karim Abdulkarim
Karim Abdulkarim

I could see Guanaba trees with corn all around, Papaya and Bananas trees, and hardwood trees such as the Caoba, which is used to shade areas for Cocoa trees along with the wild Cashew or Espebel. These are all Tropical trees that are key to solve many of the environmental challenges we face today – so, if you are still wondering why Tropical Trees are so important, these are only the main reasons of the potential long impact of these kinds of trees:

  • Tropical trees pull in and store almost 95% of all tree-based CO2 sequestration on the Planet. They also deposit a huge amount of biomass into the soil in the form of leaves, seeds and other organic material;
  • Trees planted near the Equator like in Costa Rica recycle water vapour and rain to create reflective clouds. These clouds cool the ground and lower atmospheric temperatures;
  • Cooler temperatures enable tropical tree roots to better absorb rainwater to replenish underground aquifers… ultimately, it means that tropical trees fill up your glass of drinking water by making it rain!
  • Slower water evaporation by tropical tree roots balance the rain cycle preventing droughts and floods worldwide… events we see so common in today’s shifting global climate;
  • Trees planted near the Equator absorb more carbon dioxide than anywhere else because they grow 365 days a year, with no dormant winter!

My journey was just about to come to an end. A delicious homemade lunch was prepared for me by ACCT Women’s Group with locally produced ingredients. Then Jennifer brought me back to Platanillo for my bus heading to San Jose. I have to say that I was wiped out by the Tour, but I was also very happy to take a great lesson away with me from the experience just lived…

We DO have the capacity to understand Climate Change and the sure thing is that we HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO something about it with a real impact!    Plant trees with ACCT where these farmers will take long term care of them. Producing and Planting trees gives them a reason to stop cutting down the rainforest. Learning how to manage the growing food forests brings the model full circle with proof positive impact for people, environment and profits.

Did I change the World? I hope so…

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The little things really do count. And so does every single tree you sponsor. You never know how your contribution, even if you feel it is small, can indeed change the world…and by doing so change yourself.

Let me share the story of Takashi Suzuki with you. At the end of 2014, I awoke to a message from Paypal informing me about a new tree Sponsor. This is always an exciting moment since it is the way we fund our community reforestation work. But this time, the message was different. The Sponsor’s name was in a foreign language and a foreign alphabet!

“Hello …

I received your tree sponsorship this am. I must say it was most exciting to see the totally different written alphabet that represents the language of your name… may I ask where are you from? You will be the first person from your country I do believe to sponsor a tree! This gives me hope that what we are doing is getting out into the world. It has been very hard to create a carbon consciousness movement but all of a sudden, I see more and more people waking up and actually doing something to reduce and offset their carbon footprints. One way to do that is by sponsoring a tree. Thank you ever so much. Your tree is already planted in Finca Asdrual Planting Season 2014. We are updating our website this weekend and I am glad to say that new photos will be posted in the planting gallery. This way you can see all of the growth of your tree and the Costa Rican workers who are tending it. We depend on our Sponsors to help us keep paying our workers to plant and care for the trees… it is a global communal effort and YOU are now a part of it. THANK YOU.  Sincerely, JENNY P.S. PLEASE Share us with your friends!!! We have Facebook too!”

Just hours later, I received the following reply…

“I’m from Japan. I’m surprised that I’m the first japanese person who sponsor a tree. Global environmental problems have been getting worth. If nothing is done, this world is doomed to distraction…..maybe it’s too late. I’d like to see the world where humanity and nature coexist harmoniously. That’s why I decided to sponsor a tree. I want to plant more trees, so I will donate my money to your organization soon.”

Oh wow, I exclaimed,  “now we have a person in Japan who has sponsored a tree. And says he will sponsor more…” My heart swelled as I wrote back.

“Thank you for your thoughtful response. Yes, many people are shocked to learn that we are not receiving a lot of tree sponsorships each day. IN fact, quite the opposite, we are still struggling to get the word out about our work and how much it helps the planet, animals and people on so many multiple levels. It is about way more than just absorbing extra CO2. In emerging economies, especially those near the Equator, like Costa Rica, we have to find reasons to convince people living near vulnerable rainforest not to cut it down. Experience has taught us that creating dignified tree planting jobs can transform lifetime cattle farmers into conservationists with sustainable rainforest business opportunities. It is good. We do see progress as we plant more trees with more participating families.

And we also see progress because YOU, Takashi Suzuki, found us. And YOU Takashi took that extra step and reviewed our work, believed in us and gave us $25 of your hard earned money. Yes! First person from Japan. It only takes a spark to get a fire going…Thank you again…Jenny”

I thought that was the end of my correspondence with Takashi. But the next morning, I awoke and found the next email from Takashi.

“I’ve just realized that I made a mistake in my previous message. Global environmental problems have been getting worse. Not “getting worth.” I’m sorry for a stupid mistake.  I made another donation. I hope it can help you and your community. By the way, Jenny is an energetic woman. Why do I know? Because I watched her YouTube channel. I wish I could be like that. I’m a weak person. Maybe I can’t change the world, but I wish that I can make difference. Thank you. Takashi”

I was humbled by Takashi’s second donation and inspired to work ever harder to always deserve the trust of special people like Takashi… so I wrote back again…

“Hello Takashi,

This is Jenny again! Thank You. Believe me, YOU are making a difference Takashi. Your two trees will grow and capture over 2 tons of CO2 just for starters. Your two trees add up with the trees of so many other Sponsors from around the globe to grow new biodiverse forests on dead deforested land owned by Costa Rican cattle farmers struggling to survive. I think you are strong and compassionate for being able to donate money because not everyone can or will do that. I believe we all have our very special role to play… our own mission in life. It does not have to be a huge one. We are lucky if we can find something important to us that serves others. I feel lucky that I get to do what I do. Not everyone can or even wants to do the “jumping around” and getting dirty and sweaty Jenny part! So, feel good about what YOU do and let’s both keep doing our unique parts. We need each other. All of us are in this together. You are wonderful TAKASHI. YOU MADE MY DAY! THANK YOU FOR BEING YOU!Have an awesome day! JENNYWE LOVE TREES!”

All this letter writing happened on Friday. After a long weekend of continued website update and revisions, I awoke Monday morning to another encouraging Takashi tree sponsorship and message!

“Hello! I donated my money again. I think this time was the third time for me to a sponsor tree. I noticed that my name was disappeared from Sponsors Gallery. What happened? Is there a problem in my transaction? I checked my paypal account. It said that my transaction was completed. I hope there’s no problem. Or…maybe you don’t like me. That’s fine. Thank you. Takashi”

Now it was my turn again.

“Hey Takashi!!

Thank you so much tree friend! I woke up about 30 minutes ago and saw your third donation! Thank you!! Yes, Takashi we love you! In fact, we love your Sponsor Gallery postings! Yes, you are changing the world one tree at a time. Not sure if you noticed but we are updating our website to Mobile friendly! We also noticed that between Friday and today, the online Sponsor Gallery dropped whoever donated at the end of week. We contacted our web wizard and he is repairing this today! It should all be back up by tonight. IN the meantime, YOU, Takashi are my favorite sponsor on the planet right now! I cannot believe you sponsored another tree!! First time this has ever happened!

I would love to write my very first new blog article about our experience back and forth? Is that ok?? Would you mind a picture of yourself? If not I put some other picture! You are so special! Blessings from Costa Rica on a sunny morning! Jenny”

So Takashi writes back one more time…

“I know that you changed your webpage design, so I assumed that your website had some problems when my name was disappeared from Sponsors Gallery. I hope your website will be fixed soon.  To tell you the truth, I’m happy to be able to make donation to your organization. I do not care if my name was disappeared or not. What I was worried is that you could receive my donation. That’s why I sent a message to you. It seems that our transaction are fine. Please take care of trees. Thank you! Takashi”

My turn: “Yes Takashi, Our transactions are fine! We received all three sponsorships… And I loved your testimonial in the Sponsor Gallery. We will make sure all the comments are posted. Yesterday, I went to see your trees on Finca Asdrual with the workers who recently cleaned them. These trees were planted in July and have been tended twice this year. So far we only found 5 dead trees out of 750 planted and we already replaced them.  I’ll be posting all these pictures in the planting gallery this week. So go check it out!! Yipppeee we love trees! Pura vida, Jenny”

And Takashi replies…

“I’m really looking forward to see pictures!! What kind of tree are you going to plant in July? I don’t know about tree…so even if you tell me tree’s name, I can’t understand. Maybe I should study about botany.

I respect your job because planting tree looks very difficult. Have a nice day!”

This kind of interchange with our tree Sponsors is a wonderful occurrence. It means so much to us that someone in Japan found us and took the time to write us! When we see how much people actually care that their trees are being maintained and loved long-term,  it also lightens the load. It feels good  when people thank us and congratulate us and recognize how hard our work is. Three donations almost in five days from someone clear across the planet who we do not even know is such a strong stroke of encouragement for our entire hard-working team.  Thank you Takashi, You are changing the world with your example of how much the little things count!

Until next time… Reap what you sow. We love trees!

Why don’t I just plant trees in my own community?

You can plant trees where you live for all the beauty and services they give us. But, if you are looking to make a bigger difference per tree in cleaning the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, planting trees near the Equator gives you greater results. Without a cold dormant period, the trees planted in tropical rainy climes near the Equator far exceed growth rates of trees grown in North America and Europe The abundant undergrowth commonly found in tropical forests adds even more carbon sequestration capacity, not to mention all the other host of environmental services trees provide every minute of every day.

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