Madagascar has embarked on its most ambitious tree-planting drive yet, aiming to plant 60 million trees in the coming months. The island nation celebrates 60 years of independence this year, and the start of the planting campaign on Jan. 19 marked one year since the inauguration of President Andry Rajoelina, who has promised to restore Madagascar's lost forests.
Seedlings at the tree-planting site in Ankazobe district, Madagascar, on Jan. 19. Valisoa Rasolofomboahangy / Mongabay<p>For the planting season that runs until April, the Rajoelina administration wants 60 million seedlings to be planted across 40,000 ha (99,000 acres). <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/11/madagascars-bold-reforestation-goal-lacks-a-coherent-plan-experts-say/" target="_blank">Experts interviewed by Mongabay</a> last November said it would be a formidable undertaking, especially for a country where almost 80 percent of the population does not have access to grid electricity, and felling trees to make charcoal for cooking is a widespread practice. Reconciling the immediate needs of the country's poor and the long-term goal of stemming and then turning the tide of deforestation will be tough, observers say. It remains to be seen whether Rajoelina has the will to see it through, given his <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/01/madagascars-next-president-to-take-office-bears-suspect-eco-record/" target="_blank">checkered record</a> on the environment.</p><p>Madagascar has hosted tree-planting drives in the past, but the push from the president's office this time around is expected to make a difference. Nirina Rakotonanahary, 30, a participant at the launch, said it was his first time taking part in a tree-planting drive, which he said was popularized by the president. Close to 200,000 seedlings were gathered in nurseries for the launch event and transported to the Ankazobe site on trucks. For the national campaign, an estimated 100 million seeds have been rounded up by regional centers of the environmental ministry and its partners. The seedlings are being distributed free of cost to institutions and associations from government-run nurseries.</p><p>The launch made it clear the government is trying to strike a balance between planting endemic species and agroforestry species, some of which are exotic and invasive. The 50 species that are available at the nurseries include exotic acacia, eucalyptus, fruit trees and various spice trees. Rakotonanahary said he planted fruit trees because if the yield was good, they might be able to export the produce.</p>
Seedlings at the tree-planting site in Ankazobe district, Madagascar, on Jan. 19. Valisoa Rasolofomboahangy / Mongabay<p>To secure the trees, especially those viewed as useful by people, will be an uphill task. "We want to encourage people to plant and not consume the fruits of the trees inside the parks or cut them to make charcoal," said Mamy Rakotoarijaona, director of Madagascar National Parks. Despite being protected areas, national parks in Madagascar have also witnessed significant deforestation; they have now emerged as important sites for the reforestation campaign.</p><p>To extend the drive to remote areas, the government plans to use drones and airplanes. During the launch event, about 5 tons of seeds in the form of seed balls were dropped from an aircraft over 500 ha of land. Each ball of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/soil">soil</a> is packed with 25 seeds. The success rate measured in terms of how many seeds survive and germinate is about 60 percent, according to a government release that cited a pilot project carried out in 2018. The ministry of environment also said the practice would save on the cost of plastic bags that hold seedlings before they are transplanted.</p><p>The immediate concern is to sustain the momentum for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/tree-planting" rel="noopener noreferrer">tree planting</a>, and in the longer term to ensure that gains are not frittered away. The president, in his speech, said that meeting concrete targets and following up with action would be central to the campaign. "This time, the action will be continuous, and there will be a follow-up. The state will recruit guards to monitor and protect the young plants," Alexandre Georget, Madagascar's environment minister, said at the launch.</p>
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