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Tree Planting (and Maintenance), Climate Action and Me

The recent announcement of the Government of Jamaica’s ‘Three Million Trees in Three Years’ National Tree Planting Programme has sparked significant interest in tree planting activities. Prime Minister Andrew Holness made the announcement on September 27, 2019 as he delivered Jamaica’s Policy statement at the General Debate of the 74th session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly (UNGA) in New York and officially launched the Programme on October 4, 2019. This Programme complements the role that Prime Minister Holness assumed in 2018 when he was asked by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to co-chair a global political initiative to mobilise climate change financing for developing nations.

This resurgence of interest in tree planting is great news for many reasons. It represents an activity that can:

  • help to mitigate climate change (as long as it is done properly; discussed in the final paragraph below);
  • contribute to food security and livelihoods;
  • improve air and water quality;
  • reduce land slippage and soil erosion. We all want to protect our property and infrastructure as best we can;
  • provide ecosystem benefits. An ecosystem is a community of both the living (plants, animals, etc) and non-living (soil, etc) components which are connected and interact through the food web, nutrient cycles and energy flows;
  • provide recreational and aesthetic value (forest therapy etc); and
  • preserve our heritage. How many of us have heard about the Kindah Tree in

Accompong which is of tremendous importance to the Maroons? And how many of us have a navel string tree or even know what it is? (And to think that those are just a few selected potential benefits). The National Tree Planting Programme is complemented and bolstered by the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries (MICAF) fruit tree planting initiative which runs concurrently and was announced by Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw in late 2019. The objective of this initiative is to plant 3 million fruit trees across the island. Tree planting is a long standing activity that has been promoted by the Forestry Department of Jamaica (via National Tree Planting Day - which was first observed in 2003, the Private Planting Programme, and other activities), the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA).Did you know that, each year, the first Friday in October is observed in Jamaica as National Tree Planting Day? Did you also know that March 21 was established as the International Day of Forests by a resolution of the UNGA and is celebrated annually?

Naturally, the question then becomes, what does this mean for me, personally? What do I need to consider in deciding whether or not I want to plant and maintain 1 tree or 1,000 trees? Here are a few things I've learned, that I tend to think about, and that may be useful to you as well:

  1. Purpose: What sort of functionality do I want from this tree? What type (a.k.a species) of tree is of interest to me? Would I like fruit, lumber/timber, shade, aesthetics, carbon sequestration (this refers to carbon that is stored by trees), or a combination of those and other benefits? Different trees have different characteristics.
  2. Maintenance: What type of tree do I want to care for? Yes... they do require care especially until they are well established, and they may require care beyond establishment. What is establishment? Establishment is the point at which a seedling requires less care than it did initially (think of caring for a newborn baby versus a more independent toddler). Why might they require care beyond that point? If you have done the work to establish a healthy tree, you want to ensure that you can enjoy maximum benefits for as long as possible.
  3. Location and environment: Where do I want to plant this tree (hillside or flat land for example)? What sort of environment do I have available? Is it usually wet because there is a lot of rain, or is it drier because there is very little rain? What kind of soil is there and what will grow well in it? Is it a sunny or a shaded location? Also remember that some seedlings will grow into trees that require a lot of space so proper spacing is also important. Different trees have different needs.
  4. Planting season in Jamaica usually corresponds with the two (2) traditional rainy seasons... because this makes it easier for the seedlings to become established. Consequently,in Jamaica, planting is traditionally encouraged between April-May and September-November. It is important to note that in recent years there have been some changes to the amount, frequency and seasonality of rainfall in many parts of the island and with the continued impact of climate change we will have to continue to adjust accordingly.
  5. Other considerations: Other users and/or consumers of seedlings and trees and the places where they grow may also include our four-legged friends such as goats; some consideration should therefore be given to securing your investment accordingly. Also consider the potential impact of improper planting techniques and choices. The first and most obvious is the reduced likelihood of survival and yield. We want to ensure that the technique we use is the most appropriate technique for the scale, location and type of tree being planted. In many places, seedlings are still planted manually - this is certainly the norm in Jamaica and it has been successful.

We should remember that removing and damaging “bush” might actually mean damaging an important functioning ecosystem. The last thing we want to do is cause environmental damage by improperly conducting an activity that is actually aimed at benefiting the environment. For example, removing mangroves (remember that mangroves are trees!) also removes a natural coastal defence system and this might result in coastal erosion (including loss of our beaches in some places), damage to our coral reefs and other marine ecosystems (there’s that word again), and loss of fish and shellfish nurseries and habitat (i.e. natural homes or environment). There are many ways to be responsible stewards of our environment, and to play a part in mitigating against and adapting to climate change individually, within our communities, as a nation, and globally. This is one avenue that may be explored. Remember… technical expertise is available… if you are not sure about planting and maintaining trees, we encourage you to ask. Some organisations with these technical resources that readily come to mind include the Jamaica Institute of Environmental Professionals (JIEP) the Forestry Department, the Rural Agricultural Development Agency (RADA), and/or the University of the West Indies (UWI; for mangroves especially). There are also resources for organic and permaculture techniques. And… if you do not feel comfortable to plant and maintain a tree yourself, consider supporting ongoing tree planting and maintenance initiatives.

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