Skip to main content

It’s easy to take trees for granted. But what would our world be like if they weren’t there? We would struggle in breathing. The temperatures would be unbearably hot. There would be almost no other biodiversity (since trees are essentially the cornerstone of our ecosystems). Embracing organic practices can contribute to the preservation and regeneration of trees, ensuring their critical role in mitigating air pollution, regulating temperatures, and fostering biodiversity remains intact for future generations.

Each seed sown is a promise of a greener, more vibrant tomorrow © Yaroslav Astakhov

There would be no soil and no crops, so we would be really hungry, thirsty and quite miserable. Although, on the positive side, we’d also be largely oblivious to this, because most of us would almost certainly be dead! The simple truth is that protecting trees is not a luxury for the few but an essential survival strategy for all of us. Our world depends on trees for its functioning. Our species has co-evolved with trees. We can’t do without them, although, ironically, they can do just fine without us! Every one of us needs to do whatever we can, whenever we can, to protect trees. If we don’t, we’re actually just killing ourselves.

The good news is there are still a lot of trees in the world. Nearly a third of the Earth’s landmass is covered in trees (over 4 billion hectares in total), 93% of which is naturally regenerating forest (with the other 7% having been planted by us). But every year we slowly chip away at the area of naturally regenerating forest. Although the rate of deforestation isn’t as bad today as it was 30 years ago, it is still a huge concern. And, unfortunately, the biggest rate of net forest loss around the world is in Africa, where we lose nearly 4 million hectares of forest every year. That’s equivalent to the landmass of Switzerland. Every year. Just gone.

However, not all hope is lost. For instance, by adopting organic farming methods, we can nurture healthy soils and sustainable crop yields, while bolstering our interconnected relationship with trees, vital for the survival of both humanity and the planet.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that agriculture is by far the biggest driver of deforestation in Africa. Converting forest and woodland into arable production is the biggest component of this, but relentless overgrazing hinders natural regeneration of forests and ultimately degrades them. As farmers, therefore, we have a bigger responsibility than most to make sure that we play our part in tree conservation. Fortunately, a lot of what needs to be done isn’t that hard.

Trees are the pillars upon which our ecosystems stand © STORYTELLER

Simple, practical steps for farmers to help protect trees:

Don’t cut down any indigenous tree unless you absolutely have to. If you do, make sure to plant at least two new trees somewhere else on the farm to compensate.
Integrate trees into your farming system as much as you can, such as in agroforestry. Using trees alongside crops in a simple agroforestry system, and planting trees within pastures, will help with soil conservation, water retention, biodiversity and crop yields.
Plant trees whenever and wherever you can on your land. These will help restore degraded areas, prevent soil erosion, provide shade, improve microclimates and create wildlife habitats. As well as providing a range of useful (and often highly nutritious) products.
Protect whatever indigenous forest you have on your land and do what you can to support natural regeneration. Livestock are the biggest impediment to regrowth, as they will eat new seedlings that have emerged naturally before they are established. But identifying and protecting naturally growing seedlings is one of the quickest and easiest ways to support regeneration.
Using agroecological farming practices will, of course, reduce agrochemical use, foster healthier soils and therefore support tree growth and biodiversity.
Try to think about ways of using trees as crops themselves. There are many trees that produce high value products that can become useful sources of supplementary income.

By cultivating forests, we not only safeguard our present but invest in the legacy of future generations, ensuring a world where life thrives abundantly © Riccardo Niels Mayer

We all instinctively know that we have to reverse the tide of deforestation in Africa. If we don’t, we won’t survive. Fortunately, it is fully within our power to change this. Investing in tree planting and tree conservation is incredibly rewarding, not just for the thrill of seeing a tree grow from a tiny seed, but also because it makes any farm a healthier place on multiple levels. A healthier place for the plants and animals that live on it, and a healthier place for us, the humans that survive from it.

By adhering to organic practices such as agroforestry, we can integrate tree planting seamlessly into agricultural practices, enhancing biodiversity, soil health, and resilience to climate change while fostering a harmonious coexistence between humans and nature.

It’s hard to think of a single negative associated with trees and tree planting. Meanwhile the positives are so many that it is almost impossible to list them all. So let us all do our part as organic farmers to collectively protect and increase the number of trees on our land, so we can help shift the balance back in favour of the trees.

Integrating trees into farming boosts soil conservation, water retention, biodiversity, and better crop yields © Riccardo Niels Mayer

Get your latest copy of ISAN here

This article was written by Gus Le Brenton and taken from the ninth issue of the IFOAM Southern Africa Network (ISAN). Its primary objectives are to raise consumer awareness, address policy issues, expand participatory approaches to agriculture, and improve information access and efficiency.