Benefits of Planting Trees
“Why not plant trees?” This was a question that Wangari Maathai posed to the rural communities that would later comprise Kenya’s Green Belt Movement. Why not indeed: Tree planting not only counteracts deforestation, but tackles social, political, environmental and economic issues ranging from global warming to food security.
Global Environmental Benefits
Trees absorb the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. The cutting down of trees causes billions of tons of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) to be released into the air. About 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are a result of deforestation. (In contrast, only 14 percent is caused by transportation, such as cars and planes.) Planting more trees fights global warming and climate change and helps preserve the Earth’s ecosystems.
Local Environmental Benefits
Millions of acres of forests are destroyed each year through human deforestation and logging. Because trees are one of the pillars of an ecosystem, their destruction has a domino effect on the local environment.
Planting trees helps prevent soil erosion, stabilizes coastlines and increases land fertility. Trees also serve a role in water regulation: They can help stave off damage during flooding as well as conserve water during droughts. Forests are home to a wide variety of plants and animals; many are in danger of extinction because their habitats are being destroyed through deforestation. These species can be saved by tree planting.
Social and Economic Benefits
Trees provide resources for fuel, medicines, gums, fruits and latex, as well as building materials and timber. They also allow for a more hospitable environment for growing food by improving soil productivity and providing shade.
Reforestation offers the opportunity for communities to empower themselves through the development of local economies and infrastructures—constructing homes with timber, for instance, or selling and trading food and other products that come from the land.
The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification describes deforestation and desertification as forms of land degradation, “the loss of the land's biological productivity, caused by human-induced factors and climate change.” More than a billion of the world’s people and a third of the Earth’s lands are affected by the loss of trees. Planting trees in deforested and deserted areas can increase economic and agricultural production and help combat poverty. Some programs aim to plant trees not only in areas that are already green, or in park lands, but also in deserted zones. Organizations like Kenya’s Green Belt Movement specifically plant indigenous trees to preserve local biodiversity and boost the economy, purchasing the seeds for these trees from local farmers.
In countries such as Kenya, privatization of formerly public lands and forests has been a hotly contested issue. Organizations like the Green Belt Movement have addressed deforestation and privatization as an environmental and a social justice issue, connecting the dots between colonization and economic inequalities, between the lack of land rights and social oppression. Counteracting deforestation gives the power of the land back to the people, demonstrating how tree planting can make a profound statement with far-reaching effects.