What is afforestation?

Afforestation is the growing of trees on land that either was not forested, or has not been for a long time. Reforestation is similar to afforestation, but refers to the supplementing of depleted forests through the growing of new trees.

Why is afforestation important?

In forested areas, the leaves of the trees drop to the ground and rot to form a natural humus, which binds topsoil and increases fertility. After deforestation, land is exposed to the elements, and soil erosion may occur as rain falls directly onto the topsoil, washing it away and causing desertification. In tropical areas, a duricrust or duripan may seal off the soil, preventing any water penetration or growth of tree roots.

Forests can also act as natural carbon dioxide sinks, and therefore reforestation and afforestation are methods by which we can try to reduce global carbon dioxide levels.

Lastly, forests are a vital natural habitat for many flora and fauna, and their loss results in a fall in biodiversity.

Where is deforestation a problem?

Although NW Europe and the USA have a greater proportion of forest cover than they did in the early 1900s, deforestation is still occurring in S Asia and S and Central America. In Brazil, the Amazon has been ravaged by deforestation, and attempts at afforestation have been largely ineffective when compared to the scale of forest loss.

Projects for afforestation across the globe

China has destroyed forests at an unsustainable rate, and its forests are reaching exhaustion. However, there are several projects which have been established in order to reforest the country, besides the 1981 law that all Chinese citizens older than 11 must plant one tree a year. One such project is the Green Wall of China, a 2800 mile long strip of human planted trees across China. It is expected to be completed in 2074. The government of China hopes that this plan will slow the expansion of the Gobi desert. Despite having the fastest rate of afforestation in the world, China’s forested area per capita is still much below the global average.

In Europe, the EU has provided farmers with financial incentives for afforestation on unused areas of land since 1990. Poland instigated a concerted afforestation effort after their total forest area fell to 20% following WWII. By 2006, 29% of Poland was covered in forest.

Sustainable forest management

In 1992 in Rio de Janeiro at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, the ‘Forest Prinicples’ were proposed; this was the first international guidance on sustainable forestry to be produced. Since then, in 2007, the United Nations General Assembly established the Non-Legally Binding Instrument on All Types of Forests, which showed an international desire to implement sustainable forest management techniques.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation defines sustainable forest management as:

“…the stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity vitality and their potential to fulfil, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social functions, at local, national, and global levels, and the does not cause damage to other ecosystems.”

Sustainable forest management is a vital tool in preventing deforestation and aiding both afforestation and reforestation. Afforestation itself is a central concept in the international fight to preserve our environment and oppose climate change, and in recent years there has been a global effort to reforest our woodland areas.

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