Anne Hallum is founder of the Alliance for International
Reforestation and for her work was recently named a “CNN Hero.” Her
daughter, Rachel Hallum-Montes has been planting trees with her mother
since the age of 12 and she is now a sociologist.
In 1991, my nine-year-old daughter Rachel traveled with me to
Guatemala where we were struck by the heartbreaking rural poverty and
mudslides worsened by widespread deforestation. We vividly remember
holding a three-year-old child who was so listless and malnourished he
could scarcely lift his arms. The worry and fatigue on his mother’s
face and the child’s condition affected us both profoundly, despite
Rachel’s relative youth.
This experience led us to found the Alliance for International
Reforestation (AIR). Since 1993 we have worked to establish programs
to teach local communities how to make a living from the land without
destroying life-sustaining forests.
To do this, we plant trees together with crops, a practice called
“agro-forestry.” Through our years of work, we have found that around
70 percent of the indigenous volunteers on our projects have been from
a group that is often overlooked: local women farmers. Working side by
side with them to carefully plant tree seedlings in their fields, we
have learned that these women know best the value trees provide
because they are the ones who hunt for firewood each day.
One “miracle tree” we often use in our projects, the aliso tree, has
nitrogen-fixing roots that fertilize the crops and high-protein leaves
that feed cows and pigs. It grows at an incredible eight inches per
month and can also be topped off for firewood without killing the
In addition to environmental benefits, programs such as these help
promote leadership and individual success. For example, the executive
director of AIR for the past 11 years came to us from Chimaltenango,
Guatemala. Cecilia Ramirez began working with us only as a part-time
secretary, however, her love of and commitment to her country, as well
as her extraordinary organizational skills led to her appointment as
director in 1999. Another associate, Dona Maria de Jesus Colaj Chali,
won an award from the Swiss Foundation for Rural Women for her
leadership in 2000.
The farmers we partner with have revealed countless interconnections
found in conservation work. Planting trees helps improve nutrition,
affords children more time to attend school, safeguards rainforests
from encroachment, helps prevent mudslides, provides animal habitat,
sequesters carbon from the atmosphere, protects water springs, and
much more. We have also seen how women’s direct involvement in
reforestation projects and other environmental activism is connected
to the “care work” that they have performed within the household for
millennia. And these local efforts pay off globally, in a huge way.
Last year, a bipartisan group in the US Congress came together to introduce a
bill called the Global Conservation Act. This proposal would
revolutionize our country’s efforts to help preserve the world’s
remaining natural ecosystems for wildlife species and for the many
indigenous communities that depend on them. One particularly
significant component of the legislation addresses the social
dimensions of conservation by reaching out to the people who are most
adversely impacted by environmental degradation, like women. This can
produce long-lasting results.
We saw this first-hand in 2008 during an exciting return visit to one
of our first project sites, the Guatemalan community of Pachay Las
Lomas. The trees AIR and the town’s residents planted in 1994 had
become a beautiful forest. One young woman showing us around looked
familiar; we later realized that we had snapped a picture of her in
the tree nursery with her mother in 1994, when she was a little girl.
Today, she is a young mother herself, with a tree nursery of her own.
And she still uses the same skills AIR first taught to her mother, who
had, in turn, passed them on to her.
The Global Conservation Act truly is an important measure for which
the time has come. Finding ways to better recognize and incorporate
women as key allies in the struggle to protect our environment and
dwindling natural resources is a policy that will pay dividends, both
at home and abroad, for many generations to come. We hope that all
congressional legislators will support this bipartisan initiative.
(02/28/2011) Spanning the entire continent of Africa, including 11 nations, the Great Green Wall (GGW) is an ambitious plan to halt desertification at the Sahara’s southern fringe by employing the low-tech solution of tree planting. While the Great Green Wall was first proposed in the 1980s, the grand eco-scheme is closer to becoming a reality after being approved at an international summit last week in Germany as reported by the Guardian.
(02/25/2011) The Indian government has approved a bold plan to expand and improve the quality of its forests as a part of the nation’s National Action Plan on Climate Change. The reforestation plan, dubbed the National Mission for a Green India (NMGI), will expand forests by five million hectares (over 12 million acres), while improving forests quality on another five million hectares for $10.14 billion (460 billion rupees).
(12/22/2010) 1.5 billion hectares (5.8 million square miles) of land are suitable for forest restoration, according a new analysis by the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration, a partnership between the World Resources Institute, South Dakota State University, and IUCN.