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Trees won't make the forests

"Greening Madagascar", a beautiful commitment to which we must all adhere but ... as our ancestors had understood, a single tree does not make the forest.

Letter to readers by Nanie Ratsifandrihamanana - Express de Madagascar, April 2, 2019 

On March 1, the United Nations General Assembly launched a new decade (2021-2030) for the restoration of ecosystems, which objective will be to promote the restoration of forests, mangroves, reefs and other natural systems in order to combat climate change, strengthen food security, promote "green" economic models and preserve and restore biodiversity.
For once, Madagascar will have literally taken the lead since our president shared during the council of ministers on February 27, his goal of "Greening Madagascar". Naturalist of heart and career, I can only rejoice at this statement, and thank him for this commitment.
Yes, beautiful commitment but ... as our ancestors had understood, a single tree does not make the forest - nor necessarily the 80,000,000 trees to plant, corresponding to the target of 40,000 ha per year in accordance with the calculations of the Presidency. Indeed, when it comes to reforestation, it's not just the quantity that counts, but the quality as well. We need forests because they provide us with a thousand and one services essential to our daily well-being: food, firewood and construction wood, medicinal plants, carbon sequestration, water cycle regulation, habitat for lemurs and other unique animals, and many more. It is in consideration of all these services and the complexity that binds them to each other that the United Nations speaks of "restoration" and not just of "reforestation". Reforestation is only a small part of an effort to restore the entire range of services that the forest gives us. To aim only at reforestation will only solve part of this equation.
A strong reforestation policy should be based primarily on concerted spatial planning that clearly defines the vocations of each area to ensure that the right species are planted in the right place for a specific purpose and beneficiaries, and especially without harming the few remaining natural forests. This will save us from such nonsense that "no less than four thousands pine, baobab and fruit trees have been planted in Mikea national park". I hope with all my heart that this is a mistake on the part of journalists, otherwise it is the beginning of the end for the endemic fauna and flora of the national park...
"Greening Madagascar" mentions some elements of reforestation policy such as land security, migration control or fight against bush fires, but it must be much more explicit on the ‘how’ of all this: how to motivate citizens, small, medium and large companies, decentralized territorial communities, etc. to make reforestation a sustainable activity from an ecological and economic point of view, requiring long-term investments? How to sustain these investments? How to ensure that firewood or construction wood coming from future plantations will be economically more attractive than natural forest wood - which is now mostly free? How to develop a legal and sustainable chain of wood (precious and other) to meet the future needs of the population? These are the real substantive issues that need to be addressed beforehand to make this declaration a reality. There is not necessarily need to reinvent the wheel, the National Strategy of Firewood Supply has existed since last August and the legal frameworks that will allow its implementation are being finalized. It is the result of a long and concerted work between the environment, energy, private and civil society sectors and decentralized territorial communities. Why not refer to it and focus efforts on its implementation?
In addition, bioethanol fuel is the main source of energy considered as a substitute for firewood. The production of bioethanol could be a lever for local development if it is well framed and provided by small planters. It is a less polluting fuel for the air and its users, emitting less CO2 than kerosene or wood. But here again, fundamental questions are hidden: how to integrate small producers into a market logic and protect them from the competition of major investors? How to avoid that the scale of sugar cane plantations compete with the space needed for food crops? How to ensure that sugar cane plantations do not expand to the detriment of protected areas, high conservation value areas and forest areas outside protected areas. How can it be ensured that the distillation of sugar cane to produce bioethanol does not itself cause deforestation by using firewood? Will bioethanol and associated stoves actually be competitive with charcoal? Once again, a bill on bioenergy is being finalized, including devices responding to these risks - result of intersectoral work (energy, environment, agriculture, industry, decentralization, justice ...). This law could have been passed before the ethanol project was launched on March 7, to do it right.
"Greening Madagascar", a good commitment to which we must all adhere, but which must address these fundamental issues to gain credibility...