What is Afforestation?

Meaghan Weeden | October 18, 2022 | 2 min read

Afforestation Explained

From industrial agriculture to land conversion and resource extraction, human activities have long had an intense impact on our planet. One of those impacts is deforestation — or, the human-driven and natural loss of trees. For centuries, the rise of human populations and more industrialized ways of life, has come at the cost of the majestic primary forests that once blanketed our global land area. 

The rate of deforestation is declining, but we still lost forests at a whopping 10 million hectares per year between 2015-2020. And while reforestation is our bread and butter, there are other methods that can help, including afforestation. Every planting area has its own unique set of pressures, including historic land use, community needs, terrain, and more. And in some areas, a combination of reforestation and afforestation may provide the nuanced solution that will increase the likelihood of long-term success.

Some nations, like China, and international projects, like the Great Green Wall, are using afforestation to improve the lives of people and reduce the desertification of their land. In Iceland, trees were cut down many centuries ago by the Vikings. Now, Iceland is exploring ways to incorporate afforestation projects into their land management to improve the health of their ecosystems — including our Dragons Nest project, which employs afforestation to restore degraded former grazing land that, long ago, was a majestic forest.

Afforestation Vs. Reforestation

Unlike reforestation, afforestation is the planting of trees where forests never existed before — or have not existed for centuries. Whereas reforestation helps restore damaged forests, afforestation is the process of planting completely new forests where there was no forest cover at all. These forests can create new habitats for wildlife, provide jobs and economic benefits to local communities, and increase the planet's capacity to absorb carbon dioxide.

There Are 3 Types of Afforestation

There are three types of afforestation: natural regeneration, commercial plantations, and agroforestry. Deciding what, how and where to plant is an important part of the process, as the needs of the local environment and populace need to be considered carefully.

spreading tree seeds

1. Natural Regeneration

Natural forests are the most effective at absorbing carbon and creating new habitats. Planted with a wider variety of species, they have the potential to one day become multi-dimensional forests that provide a home for a diverse range of wildlife species and provide rich ecosystem services over time. 

palm oil plantation aerial

2. Commercial Plantations

Commercial plantations are planted with the goal of producing a specific product, such as timber or paper pulp. They are still capable of storing carbon, but will eventually be harvested. Depending on what is grown, that carbon may be released again. In some cases, native forests are cleared to make way for these plantations.

cacao pods agroforestry

3. Agroforestry

Finally, agroforestry is the planting of trees for crop production, such as cacao, mangoes, avocados, nuts and more. While the carbon storage capacity can vary depending on the crop, this type of planting often provides a much needed source of food and income for local residents, and can be leveraged to increase the carbon capacity of already established agricultural sites.

When done correctly, afforestation can be great for the environment. When done incorrectly, these often large-scale plantings can result in significant land-use change, which can increase competition for land and raise food prices. Planting on low-quality pasture and grassland can alleviate this, but often requires the use of nitrogen fertilizers that release harmful greenhouse gases. And selecting the right type of afforestation is necessary to make sure local communities are not deprived of the economic benefits of their land — which can fuel further deforestation. It is also important to carefully consider the species planted to make sure the trees survive and do not negatively affect the local environment. 

Despite these concerns, afforestation remains a practical tool to address some of our biggest environmental issues. While trees take a long time to mature, they are the best natural resource we have to capture carbon, protect fertile land from desertification and flooding, and maintain healthy biodiversity on our planet. 

If you're interested in supporting an afforestation project that is carefully implemented with intention and respect for the land and local communities, consider planting a tree in our Iceland project!

Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most

Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most

As the need for reforestation is global and ever-changing, we feature where trees are most needed now. This project is currently supporting AFR100, the African Forest Landscape Initiative. Learn more

With your help, we will:

  • Provide jobs to minimize poverty in local communities
  • Improve climate change resilience & mitigation
  • Restore forest cover to improve food security
  • Africa is home to the world's second-largest tropical rainforest. The Congo Basin is home to 60% of the continent's biodiversity. However, unfortunately, Africa is alarmingly at risk due to the current deforestation rate - which is 4 times the global deforestation rate. Not only does this threaten the livelihoods of its local communities, but it also affects the planet as a whole.
    Thanks to AFR100, Africa is on a mission to reverse these trends and restore 100 million hectares of land by 2030. This country-led effort will bring 100 million hectares of land in Africa into restoration by 2030. This initiative aims to accelerate restoration to enhance food security, increase climate change resilience and mitigation and combat rural poverty. This includes 32 participating countries in Africa, along with local communities, national governments, public and private sector partners, and international development programs.
  • Planting trees in Africa reaps multiple benefits! Notably, reforestation here will help to add nutrients to the soil and control erosion, minimize poverty within local communities through the creation of jobs, and improve food security by feeding impoverished families through the planting of fruit trees. Ultimately, added forest cover in this region will diminish pressure on remaining forests, allowing for biodiversity to flourish and ultimately helping with the global climate crisis.
  • A personalized tree certificate (see gallery) to say thanks for your donation. We'll also send you updates about this project, so you can track the impact your trees are having on the community and environment.
  • We will plant an array of indigenous tree species throughout Africa, such as Senegalia polyacantha, Faidherbia albida, Albizia adianthifolia, Persea americana, Calliandra calothyrsus, Macadamia spp., shea, and mahogany. Fruit trees will also be planted, which include mango, orange, tangerine, avocado, apple, guava, and Brazil nut.

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