Afforestation is the establishment of a forest or a group of trees where there was not originally a forest. In other words, afforestation is basically building a forest on land that had no trees prior. In many areas, forests need help to reestablish themselves due to various environmental factors. There are a number of factors that can lead to ground being too dry or otherwise not suitable for tree growth. Overgrazing by livestock and over-harvesting of forest resources are the two most common reasons that trees do not grow. These factors can lead to the loss of topsoil which is vital for healthy trees. This is a problem in virtually every country in the world today.
Afforestation Progress by Country
China has removed most of its forests and reached a point where timber yields were lower than ever in the country’s history. China has begun a plan for reforestation but goals were set to produce results in 80 years. The country has projects such as the Green Wall of China which plans to replant many of the forests and laws were passed in 1981 that required all citizens over 11 years of age to plant at least one new tree every year. China currently has the highest rate of afforestation in the world.
In North Africa, the Sahara Forest Project along with the Seawater Greenhouse has been proposed as a means of afforestation. African leaders have discussed combining with other countries to increase the effectiveness of their plans. Europe also has deforested many historical forests and the European Union has been paying farmers in the country for reforestation since the 1990s. In Poland, the government introduced the National Program of Afforestation after World War II when the total area of forests in the country was diminished to just 20 percent of Poland’s land mass.
Spain has the third fastest rate of afforestation in Europe and afforested a total of more than 44,000 square kilometers between 1990 and 2005. Spain currently has the fifth largest forest area in all of the European Union. Iran is also considered to have low forest cover with forests on only seven percent of the country’s land area.
Afforestation VS Deforestation
When understanding afforestation, one also needs to understand deforestation. Deforestation is the act of reducing forests by logging, converting forests to farm land and other means. Deforestation removes trees without replacing them, leaving no forest at all in most cases. The process uses up completely the resources of the forests while afforestation renews forest resources. Afforestation is the act of planting new trees with the explicit purpose of growing a new forest. When forests are diminished or eliminated due to logging and other means, afforestation replaces those trees and offers a number of benefits to the environment.
Benefits of Afforestation
There are many methods of afforestation that have proven to be effective. There are also a number of benefits to replanting forests. On a commercial level, trees can be planted specifically for commercial reasons and used to provide firewood and timber. Afforestation prevents forests from being completely eliminated which helps to protect delicate and established ecosystems. Replacing forests has become a global issue, mostly due to the fact that eliminating forests can cause carbon dioxide to affect global warming. Trees breathe in carbon dioxide and if there are no trees, there is nothing to keep carbon dioxide emissions from affecting the atmosphere. Afforestation reduces the levels of carbon dioxide that are released into the air and will limit the loss of natural habitat in areas where new trees are planted.
Afforestation can also help with river management. Trees are used to stabilize soil and river banks when they are planted on land without forests. The trees will prevent surface runoff and keep it from reaching the river. They will provide new habitation for various wildlife as well. Afforestation has been used as a method of river management for some years now and is a relatively inexpensive way to improve the environmental quality within drainage basins.
Of course there are going to be disadvantages to any topic. Many feel that afforestation offers a major disadvantage. The act of planting trees typically takes place after ancient forests have already been depleted. Many of the new plants are conifers where the forests before them offered a more diverse species of tree. This means that biodiversity is not as evident as it could be and new trees will not be able to replace the diverse trees that offered more habitation for wildlife. Conifers are more acidic as well which can affect plant growth in many cases.
Organizational Support for Afforestation
There are many organizations that support afforestation and some that have been set up strictly for the purpose of new tree growth. Since the industrial revolution, many countries have begun to take afforestation seriously. There are government and non-governmental organizations that are directly involved in afforestation in most countries today as well as many semi-private and private organizations. Those looking to be part of afforestation can check with local agricultural offices about tree planting. Besides the commercial reasons for the planting of new trees, many governments are also taking part in afforestation as a means of creating recreational woodlands for citizens.