The Power of Reforestation
When Professor Wangari Maathai and a small group of women in Kenya launched the Green Belt Movement in 1977, it was part of a larger effort “to respond to the needs of rural Kenyan women who reported that their streams were drying up, their food supply was less secure, and they had to walk further and further to get firewood for fuel and fencing.” Women were encouraged to “grow seedlings and plant trees to bind the soil, store rainwater, provide food and firewood, and receive a small monetary token for their work.”
Professor Maathai, a biologist raised in the highlands of Kenya, was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2004. It was “awarded for her triumph of promoting ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development” by founding the Green Belt Movement, responsible for planting 30 million trees and empowering women to partake in social change. She passed away in 2011 and the world mourned her loss. Subsequently, the number of trees planted by the Green Belt Movement has increased exponentially and influenced others to initiate similar programs.
I believe in giving back to this miraculous planet by conserving nature. Fortunately, there are more miracle workers like Dr. Maathai all over the world nowadays, working both in teams (often through organizations) and as individuals. Another example of pioneering reforestation work is Eden Projects, whose mission is “to reduce extreme poverty and restore healthy forests by employing local people to plant millions of trees every year.” They do this in Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Nepal, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nicaragua, and, fittingly, in Kenya, where the organization began working with local communities in 2019.
Anthropologists cite Kenya’s Great Rift Valley as the place where modern humans likely arose. So, I think it’s wonderful and just that this is one of the places Eden Projects has chosen to pursue reforestation work. I am particularly inspired by their work in the Kijabe Forest, where they are pioneering a range of projects in partnership with the Kijabe Forest Trust, to provide “habitat for wildlife, sustainable economic opportunities for local families, a reliable water supply, and landslide protection.” In Lamu County on the north coast of Kenya, the organization has joined the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust to restore mangrove and coastal forest habitats, which helps employ people living in extreme poverty.
All these initiatives have inspired me to participate in the story of reforestation through RoundGlass Foundation, where our Plant for Punjab initiative is on a mission to plant a billion trees of diverse species to create optimum green cover and biodiversity across my motherland. So far, we have planted 184,479 trees (with a 90% survival rate) in over 204 villages. By drawing attention to sustainability, we help people commit to the recovery of nature and act to address Punjab’s ecological challenges, reduce pollution, and restore our planet to its green and bountiful glory.
Never has the need for reforestation been more urgent: with increasing climate change, resources are dwindling in the global South; more and more farmers are being put out of work; and devastated communities are fighting over dwindling resources, notably water, sometimes leading to violent conflicts. And this could get much worse “as climate change alters weather patterns around the world, leading to extreme droughts, flooding, and storms”: “in the years ahead, researchers predict that conflicts could increase by 10% to 20% for every half degree Fahrenheit increase in global temperatures,” claims Global Citizen.
To halt deforestation is not enough: we need to actively mitigate the damage done since we allowed greed to supersede our care for the planet. It’s not about self-righteousness, but about basic survival: we cannot breathe without the oxygen which trees and plants produce for us through photosynthesis. Reforestation is, undeniably, the top item on our agenda for Planetary Wellbeing. The start of the new year is about embracing new opportunities, and I can think of no better initiative to become involved in than one that supports reforestation projects. That is my call to action, and my call to Planetary Wellbeing.