Tree Planting (and Maintenance), Climate Action and Me

Tree planting is a long standing activity that has been promoted by the non-profit and public sectors. Did you also know that March 21 was established as the International Day of Forests by a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and is celebrated annually?

Seedlings collected at the Forestry Department for National Tree Planting Day activities in Treasure Beach. Photo: Do Good Jamaica

In the public sector, this has been done primarily by the Forestry Department of Jamaica via National Tree Planting Day – which was first observed in 2003 – and its Private Planting Programme and other activities. Did you know that, each year, the first Friday in October is observed in Jamaica as National Tree Planting Day?

Other public sector entities promoting tree planting include the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture & Fisheries MICAF) and its agency, the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), primarily for fruit-bearing trees.

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. 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.

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:

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.

Hammock between coconut trees at Treasure Cot, Jakes Treasure Beach

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.

Care and maintenance are critical. Photo: The Nature Conservancy

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.

Mango tree in St. Elizabeth, the bread basket where farmers are experienced with dealing with drought conditions. Photo: Gary Dean Clarke

When to plant: 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.

Be careful with bamboo. It is an invasive species and spreads fast.

Plant to strengthen not weaken existing ecosystems. We should also 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 defense 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).

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.

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.  So 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 (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.

Written by Allison Rangolan, Jamaica Institute of Environmental Professionals (JIEP).  This post is to “promote effective science-based environmental management” and is part of a series to commemorate JIEP’s 20th Anniversary in 2020. Connect with them on social media: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and look out for more information and events.

Note:

For more about International Day of Forests and annual themes, see here.

The Prime Minister made the tree planting initiative 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 Jamaica assumed in 2018 at the request of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres: “France and Jamaica will co-chair an initiative to support a political process to “ensure that governments fulfill their pledge to mobilize US$100 billion a year by 2020 for climate action.””

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 the Minister of Agriculture in late 2018. The objective of this initiative is to plant 5 million fruit trees across the island.