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Eden partners Terraformation to launch reforestation projects in East Africa

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Non-profit organisation Eden Reforestation Projects has joined forces with seed bank provider Terraformation to launch responsible reforestation projects in East Africa. 

  • The partners will rely on Eden’s participatory approach and Terraformation’s seed bank technology to develop large-scale reforestation projects with a focus on biodiversity. 
  • Reforestation offers a broad variety of environmental, social and economic benefits, but projects have often failed to deliver. 
  • Combining new technologies with multi-stakeholder inclusion will provide valuable lessons that could enable responsible reforestation projects to be established at scale. 

Describing itself as a ‘global forest accelerator’, Terraformation supports early-stage forestry practitioners in launching, developing and scaling reforestation projects with a focus on biodiversity.  

Terraformation has also developed modular seed laboratories, built within shipping containers, which provide all of the equipment required for cleaning, sorting and drying seeds.  

The seed storage units incorporate advanced technologies such as temperature and humidity sensors and internet connectivity kits. These additions allow the self-contained units to be monitored, managed and inventoried remotely. 

Each storage facility can hold up to 10 million seeds, enough to restore around 6,000 hectares of land over the course of ten years. 

Eden, meanwhile, has developed a participatory approach to managing its reforestation initiatives. The organisation is committed to working alongside project stakeholders, including remote communities and local governments, to help boost their economies while restoring the surrounding landscape and contributing to the mitigation of climate change. 

The partners plan to deploy Terraformation’s technology across several projects in East Africa, creating storage capacity for a targeted 50 million seeds. Almost 160 different species of seed will be planted, with the aim of restoring forests to a high level of biodiversity. 

Andrew Kinzer, Eden’s International Director, Africa Area, said: “Having a reliable, high-quality seed source is critical to large-scale landscape restoration. Working with Terraformation will be a game-changer for our ability to scale effectively and efficiently.”    

Terraformation’s vice president of growth, Yee Lee adds that, “tackling the climate and nature crises is one of the greatest challenges of our time and is always going to be a collaborative effort. Only by working together can we achieve our goals”. 

The opportunities of reforestation 

Deforestation is widely acknowledged as being a major challenge of our age, with estimates suggesting it contributes around a third of global carbon emissions. 

When trees are cut down, we lose their capacity as vital carbon sinks while altering local water cycles, placing souls at risk of erosion and increasing the risk of dangerous and carbon-emitting wildfires. 

These are just a few of the problems associated with deforestation, with the full picture showing far more knock-on impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity. 

The consequences of deforestation also extend into the socio-economic realm, as the destruction of crucial areas from which globally traded goods and raw materials are sources is estimated to pose up to $80 billion in supply chain risk to the paper, cattle and timber industries alone. 

Reforestation offers an opportunity to address this crisis 

Intended to provide a solution to global climate change, while regulating water cycles, preventing soil erosion, restoring wildlife habitats and alleviating poverty, reforestation projects have become increasingly popular among businesses, governments, non-profits and individuals alike. 

As voluntary carbon markets continue to expand, tree planting projects come with an additional economic incentive. Reforestation provides a cost-effective opportunity for generating carbon offsetting credits, with research from Nature4Climate suggesting that more than 200 million hectares of deforested land could be used without impacting food production. 

This could equate to up to 3 gigatonnes of carbon sequestration per year.  

Associated offsets, however, could be a source of concern, lacking credibility due to the potential for credits to be issued by reforestation projects that would have taken place even without financial incentives.  

Furthermore, reforestation projects cannot guarantee permanent sequestration, as they remain vulnerable to human activity or unpredictable events such as wildfires, disease or pest infestation.  

This poses a particular problem as nature-based solutions are increasingly being incorporated into the strategies of the most emissions-intensive industries as an alternative to direct decarbonisation efforts.  

The problems with reforestation projects 

Despite their wide range of potential benefits, reforestation projects face several challenges beyond their inability to guarantee credible carbon offset credits. 

Many tree planting initiatives have been established with a lack of consideration for biodiversity. Focusing solely on the number of new trees planted, these projects have resulted in large-scale monoculture plantations bearing little resemblance to the original forest they aim to replace. 

In addition to the carbon sequestration and other ecosystem benefits sacrificed by monoculture plantations, such projects can outcompete local species that have been growing naturally. 

An example of this can be seen in the Chinese government’s Grain for Green programme, which, after 16 years of intensive tree plantation was able to increase gross tree cover by almost a third. 

The caveat, however, was that several of its plantations had included only one species, while native forests had declined by 6.6% over the same period. The monoculture plantations were unsuitable for supporting native wildlife, thus leading to overall consequences for local biodiversity. 

Even when biodiversity is taken into consideration, there are serious bottlenecks to be addressed within seed supply chains. 

The right kinds of seed must be available in the right place and at the right time, leading most forestry projects to rely on imported seeds that fail to offer the variety they require. 

Without suitable storage conditions that regulate temperature and humidity, even seeds of the best variety may lose viability within one year of collection. 

Aside from the struggle to develop reforestation projects that deliver the maximised benefits of biodiverse plantations, there have been several cases of initiatives leading to drastic social consequences. 

With more than a third of the world’s most biodiverse areas found within the territories of indigenous communities, it is vital that their cultures, livelihoods and way of life are taken into account. 

Research suggests, however, that nature-based solutions can often negatively affect these communities by displacing them from their homes, restricting their livelihood or abusing their human rights. 

Indigenous people are also more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as food insecurity, severe weather events and threats to critical infrastructure. This places them in a state of ‘twin vulnerability’, whereby both the impacts and potential solutions to climate change come with significant risks. 

Technology and participation – A potential solution? 

The partnership between Terraformation and Eden Reforestation Projects offers a combination of participatory approaches to project development and new technology designed to address limitations in the supply of biodiverse seeds. 

This combination could be crucial in delivering the multiple benefits offered by reforestation. As lessons are learned, we should expect to see further technological advances and examples of responsible practice which can be scaled to provide a strong case for nature-based solutions to climate change.

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