Celebrate World Earth Day 2021: take action in the Amazon

22 Apr , 2021 Blog

Celebrate World Earth Day 2021: take action in the Amazon

Right now, our team is out planting thousands of native trees across deforested areas of the Amazon rainforest in Peru – bringing it back to forest cover to tackle biodiversity loss and climate breakdown

Today is World Earth Day where people across the globe come together to take meaningful action for the planet.

For our team who are working alongside rainforest communities in the Amazon, every day is Earth Day. They’ve been working tirelessly on the front-lines of conservation and this year alone have planted 20,000 new native rainforest trees.

This is our biggest and most successful planting season in the history of Plant your Future and marks the beginning of our ambitious scale-up over the next few years; we aim to plant a million trees to restore about 1,000 hectares across the Western Arc of the Amazon rainforest.

What’s the biodiversity value of planting trees?

The Western Arc of the Amazon Rainforest is internationally celebrated as being among the most species-rich forests on our planet. We only ever plant native Amazonian timber trees and focus on restoring endangered species, like mahogany.

We specialise in cultivating and planting these rare tree species alongside high-value native crops and plants, like the indigenous charapita chilli peppers and cocoa. This means we’re restoring canopy cover with high-value species for biodiversity, while also enabling disadvantaged communities to increase their income and build a sustainable livelihood by selling deforestation-free products.

One of the regions where we work is Loreto, the northern most province of Peru, an area of High Conservation Value Forest. It’s home to many endemic species that are found nowhere else on Earth, as well as those classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, such as the White Bellied Spider Monkey (Ateles belzebuth), the Black Faced Spider Monkey (Ateles Chamek), Iquitos Gnatcatcher (Polioptila Clementsi), and the Giant Brazilian Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis).

Around the jungle city of Iquitos, the region’s capital and well-known tourist destination, there’s been a devastating loss of rainforest due to ‘slash-and-burn’ farming. Much of this deforestation is occurring in the buffer zone of the Allpahuayo-Mishana National Reserve, which is home to a special type of rainforest called ‘varillal’ that develops over a white sand geology. This creates a uniquely diverse ecosystem and the reserve contains 275 species of trees.

The reserve lays claim to having the highest diversity of plants per hectare globally – more than anywhere else on the planet. Our project falls within the buffer zone of the Allpahuayo-Mishana National Reserve and our work enables local communities to actively manage the land for the restoration and protection of the area, moving permanently away from the slash-and-burn farming.

How does tree planting tackle climate breakdown?

Trees are the best technology we already have to stop climate change. To grow quickly, they need hot weather and plenty of rain. The tropics — the belt around the equator — provides the perfect conditions for trees to grow fast, and by focussing our tree planting efforts here, it is one of the most effective ways to remove CO₂ from our atmosphere quickly.

Our chairman, Jenny Henman, specialises in nature-based solutions to climate change. She said:

“Tree planting in the tropics is unquestionably one of the most important activities we must increase immediately to heal the wounds we have already inflicted on the planet. It is a multi-win – restoring the habitat and water cycle, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, recreating microclimates and rebuilding local livelihoods. When done well and in the right place, it is one of the most impactful ways to mitigate and build resilience to climate change.”

As a country, Peru is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and is already starting to see those changes. For a number of geographic reasons it’s climate is becoming less predictable and more extreme. Planting trees not only mitigates climate change but it also builds communities’ resilience to the impacts.

Restoring tree cover reduces the run-off from degraded ranching pastures during times of heavy rain; the tree canopy intercepts the rain, slowing down the impacts of a prolonged downpour, while the trees’ roots absorb the water.

In addition, reforestation can help bring microclimatic benefits. The areas where we work (which have been heavily deforested) should naturally be rainforest. Around Pucallpa, where we work in the Ucayali region, the microclimatic impacts of such extreme deforestation have meant that not only are the floods worse in the wet season – as water runs-off fast from degraded ranching pastures – it also means that in the dry season the droughts are more severe and the temperatures become unbearably high.

The reason for this is that in the dry season normally the rainforest creates it’s own localised clouds and rainfall as a result of evapotranspiration through the trees, meaning they transpire moisture out of their leaves. Also, the trees create shade which reduces temperatures. When the trees are all removed it takes away this cooling and cloud producing effect.

Putting back the trees, especially on a larger area, can help reverse this lost microclimatic benefit. As such, it reduces the intensity of the drought as clouds form (even in the dry season) and in the wet season the trees absorb water and thereby reduce flood risk.

In this way, our project is not only mitigating climate change, it is also enabling vulnerable rainforest communities to build their resilience to its impacts. In 2015 our project achieved certification by independent auditors Rainforest Alliance under the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standard (CCBS). This project has also received gold level recognition for climate adaptation and community categories with the CCB Standards. This recognises that the project reaches the highest standards in addressing issues around climate, community and biodiversity.

How does tree planting support communities?

We have an ambitious aim to plant a million trees over the next few years, as the urgent scaling-up of reforestation across the world is crucial in our fight against climate breakdown. But it’s not all about the number of trees planted, we also need to support communities over the long-term so they can build resilience to the impacts of climate change. This year, we’ve been able to sign-up 45 new families to the programme so that they can access all the benefits of sustainable farming.

The beneficiaries of the programme receive free saplings and we cover the costs of various inputs, like fertilizer for restoring soil health and tools for managing their land. These high up-front costs is one of the major barriers that prevents low-income families from adopting to sustainable agriculture. They simply cannot afford to, so it’s critical that this financial barrier is removed. Once they receive the saplings, the beneficiaries plant the native trees on their land and have complete ownership so directly benefit from the project.

Providing native tree saplings and various inputs for free so that beneficiaries can restore their farmland is just the first stage in a long partnership with rural Amazonian communities. Our team of expert Peruvian foresters and agronomists work alongside families every day so that they gain the skills, knowledge and confidence to run an agroforestry system and turn it into a successful business. This enables families to increase their income and create a sustainable livelihood, while also gaining the skills to care for the native trees to ensure that they grow strong and healthily to capture high levels of carbon.

Every part of our project includes training for the families we work with, including workshops and farmer field schools that use the ‘learning-by-doing’ approach. This practical, hands-on support empowers communities to restore and protect the rainforest into the future.

Please take meaningful action this World Earth Day and support our work to restore the Amazon rainforest and alleviate poverty.

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