The Problem of Commercialised, Monocultured Tree-Planting Schemes.


monoculture forset

 Examples of monoculture in South America


We all know how necessary tree-planting is for the planet. But surprisingly, it can have detrimental effects when it’s done wrong. For the last few years, an increasing number of countries are committing to tree-planting schemes. But what isn’t being discussed as much, is the number of countries that undergo poor tree planting practices which do more harm than good.


We delve into how tree planting is not always what it seems on the surface, what greenwashing tactics you should be on the lookout for when it comes to tree planting and how tree planting should be carried out so it has maximum benefit for both the planet and the local environment.


Reforestation for Deforestation

It is often the case that companies will be perceived as being ‘green’ and having ecological intentions through the plantation of trees. Few people look into whether these projects are done ecologically. This applies to companies which plant mass amounts of trees, only to cut them down for paper or furniture.


If the trees are being removed this does not have a long-lasting impact on removing carbon emissions. Often, the public is misled into believing that this tree-planting scheme is sustainable, but really, they have the opposite result of the intention of reforestation. For logging, they plant fast-growing trees like eucalyptus and acacia, which are the trees then cut down for paper. These types of trees are often indications that they are acting from a financial perspective, rather than an environmental perspective. Thus, they should be looked at with caution if any claims are to made from an environmental standpoint.


What is monoculture?

This is the practice of repopulating an area with the same tree species in unnatural regimented lines. This does not have the same ecological impact as recreating natural habitats, which often leads to negative environmental effects.


We have to emulate natural forest for reforestation to effectively offset Co2 emissions, provide habitats for endangered wildlife, and prevent soil erosion and runoff. Unfortunately, only 34% of tree planting schemes are creating natural forests. Research shows that for an area of natural forest that would remove 42 billion tonnes of Co2, a monoculture of trees covering the same area would only remove 1 billion tonnes. This is a drastic difference that solidifies the need for natural forests to be grown. Sadly, the statistics of monocultures are shocking: 83% of Brazil’s reforestation plans are monocultures instead of natural forest and China’s is a devastating 99%.



Another ramification of planting monocultures is that they are more vulnerable to diseases. As well as this, some species of birds - like owls - do not recognise straight-lined trees as forests and therefore will not live there. This is all the more reason to emulate what natural forests and woodlands would naturally be like.



What is the solution?


Agroforestry is a sustainable solution to tree-planting. It restores the diversity of ecosystems to conserve, protect and diversify the natural environments. Compared to monoculture plantations, agroforests hold 6x more carbon. With agroforestry, rural communities are involved. They are encouraged to plant the types of trees that are not used for timber, and therefore not worth cutting down and selling.


Look out for the locals

Many tree-planting projects are out there for their own profit. This means infiltrating rural communities to plant trees in mass which ultimately ends in indigenous communities being moved on and made jobless in some cases. This process is not sustainable – it is, therefore, vital that tree planting schemes work with the locals, creating jobs for them and giving them financial freedom.


Our tree-planting partners work with communities in Haiti, Mexico, Tanzania, the Dominican Republic and many more locations: they allow locals to plant their own trees, make an income from such by selling lemons or cocoa beans, and are therefore responsible for their own careers and income. They learn skills that will last a lifetime. Having their own plot of land brings a sense of community to the area, as well as giving them jobs to support their families.


When those who are planting the trees are the indigenous communities instead of large foreign companies, it improves the efficiency of the process as they know more about their local environment. If the locals are working in their own area, it means that they are more likely to work long-term, with their community’s best intention and their environment in mind.


Be specific about the trees that are planted

Biodiversity is important and not just because of Co2 intake. The wider the range of plants in a forest, the more wildlife it can inhabit in that area. Each species of plant and animal within an ecosystem has an important part to play. The more diverse an area is the more productivity. So, it is important that areas are diverse. This comes with planting a natural variety of trees, rather than mass, commercial planting schemes.


Think about the location

You can’t just plant trees in any location. Make sure that you are not ruining another biodiversity by infiltrating another species of tree in that area. Planting foreign trees can be damaging to the environment already there. Invasive trees may take over the environment - having the opposite effect of what you wanted in the first place. Planting in areas where the trees are natural encourages what is already there rather than changing whole environments. Not only is this beneficial to the land, but it is easier and cheaper too.


If you plant trees that are not naturally found there, they might not even grow. They might be unsuitable for that particular climate, soil, or amongst the species that were living in that area before.



Focus on the forests that are already there

What’s even better than planting a whole load of new trees, is making sure that existing forests are well-protected. When planting trees to offset Co2 emissions, a mature, already developed forest which is full of a myriad of plants is much more efficient at soaking up Co2. Natural forests stores 7x more Co2 than a new forest, even if they are cleverly planted to emulate natural ones. When a forest is developed, it is also much more resilient to fire. We should work on protecting forests from deforestation as well as planting more trees. New saplings – although vital because more trees are needed – are more susceptible to flood damage.  Although deforestation is happening at a horrific rate, there are still many forests out there that need to be protected.  This should be prioritised in the fight against the climate crisis.


To Conclude


Ultimately, it all comes down to complying with mother nature.
We should build around what’s already there and try to emulate the indigenous environment. Issues arise when alien species are introduced, companies are profit-driven and unnatural practices take place. Although it is a much more complicated situation than it seems on the surface, when broken down into the fundamentals, it should become clear on what practices will do more harm than good for our planet.