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