We encounter more and more advertising messages that promise: "Buy our product and we'll plant a tree". A catchy formula that reassures us that we are doing something good for the climate with our purchase. But it is not quite that simple.
Trees are essential for our climate. They clean the air, absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it into oxygen, which is essential for the survival of humans and animals. They ensure biodiversity and provide habitats for numerous organisms. Yet 46% of the world's forests have already been destroyed! Above all, the protection of existing forests,but also the reforestation of degraded areas are effective measures to protect our climate. A renowned study by the ETH Zurich showed that 0.9 billion hectares are available worldwide, which could absorb more than half of theCO2 emissions caused by humans thanks to reforestation. However, for the theory to work in practice, two basic prerequisites are needed:
- Use of site-appropriate, native mixed crops.
In order to effectively absorbCO2 in the long term and stabilize the natural ecosystem, care must be taken to use a native mixed crop when reforesting. Not every crop fits into every ecosystem. This requires know-how. Only the right use of seedlings allows trees to grow up, which then bind high amounts ofCO2 in the long term, protect the soil from erosion and store high amounts of water.
If, on the other hand, monocultures are planted, this harms our climate more than it helps it. After only a few years, soils become infertile and their carbon storage capacity is destroyed. As a result, the soils emit large amounts ofCO2 that they should actually absorb with the trees. Monocultures also do not offer sufficient protection against heavy rainfall and strong sunlight. The result is soil erosion and drought.
- Involvement of local communities and monitoring
Only the survival of the right seedlings can protect our climate. There is no point in planting seedlings and leaving them to fend for themselves, as their survival would be threatened. It is therefore important to ensure that the seedlings planted are cared for and protected. An effective strategy is a permanent monitoring of the seedlings. For this, local farming communities can be involved, who are not only fairly remunerated for monitoring, but can also harvest the fruits. Climate protection and sustainable economic promotion of the farmers are combined with this strategy.
The monitoring requirements alone for effective reforestation projects show - they come at a price. At The Rainforest Company, we calculate 6€ per newly planted tree. This value includes the price of the seedlings from different crops, the cost of the tools and the labour input of the helpers. However, in order to be able to start such a project at all, a considerable sum must first be invested. First of all, the structures are needed that enable the purchase and storage of the tools, the preparation of the areas, the training of the helpers and their deployment on site.
So we have to look very carefully when we are once again promised the planting of a tree for the purchase of a product. In which areas are the seedlings planted? Are they protected by local communities and is the project also monitored? Is it even possible to channel the necessary amount of money from the yield of a very affordable product into effective reforestation?
Green revolution through agroforestry
Since the age of trees determines theirCO2 storage capacity, our top priority should be not only to plant new trees, but also to preserve existing trees. Long-standing trees can absorb much moreCO2 than newly planted trees. Scientists believe this strategy of preserving existing forests is not only more ecological, but also much more economical than reforestation. How can we do this effectively and sustainably? With agroforestry!
In agroforestry, trees and shrubs grow alongside arable land. In the best case, they even benefit from each other. Because unlike monocultures, agroforestry with mixed crops ensures an intact ecosystem and biodiversity. Soils are naturally richer in nutrients. Since mixed crops are less susceptible to pests than monocultures, chemical pesticides are not needed. Even newly established agroforestry systems are capable of converting degraded land into fertile farmland. The preservation of fertile soils and forests prevents large amounts ofCO2 from being released. Agroforestry can thus be a sustainable way for the food industry to counterbalance climate change. This system not only protects our climate, but also provides local farming communities with a regular and sustainable income. And it does so in complete harmony with nature.
What can we do concretely?
It is we ourselves who, with our purchasing decisions, influence what the food industry of tomorrow will look like and what impact it will have on our environment. (1) We can reduce the consumption of products from monocultures, as is often the case with palm oil products. This is because palm oil often comes from monocultures for which large areas of rainforest are cleared. The extraction of the oil is accompanied by considerableCO2 emissions and is thus a driver of climate change. (2) Pay attention to whether products come from agroforestry. Because such products, like The Rainforest Company's acai, not only provide a more sustainable form of agriculture, but also counterbalance climate change and provide a sustainable income for local farming communities. (3) And last but not least - we should look twice when companies promise simple solutions to complex problems. After all, global problems such as climate change and the preservation of rainforests require a whole range of well thought-out and, above all, long-term solutions.
In this sense: Choose well & feel good.
Founder, The Rainforest Company