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Ethiopia beats its goal and plants over 350M trees in 12 hours (insider.com)
239 points by elorant 11 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 68 comments





The Ethiopean government shut down the internet for an extended period a couple of months ago, just before "surviving" a coup attempt that probably wasn't a real coup attempt. The Chief of the Army and a regional Attorney General were killed. Mass detentions are ongoing, and the leader of the opposition NAMA party and dozens of party members were arrested.

On that same day, news reports emerge that Ethiopia is going to plant 200 million trees in one day. Lo and behold, only a few days later, they nearly doubled that. Amazing!

Or maybe the 350 million trees planted in Ethiopia in a day is just bullshit propaganda to distract from what would appear to be a collapse in Ethiopian democracy.


I don't disagree, but saying that Ethiopia has ever been a democracy is pretty charitable. The Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, which is about as democratic as you'd expect with a name like that, has been in power ever since the admittedly worse Marxist Derg was kicked out in 1987.

Well it seems to be working well enough.

There's no mention of diversity of tree species, or efforts to match species with local conditions.

Mass tree planting efforts can be relatively unsuccessful, see China's Great Green Wall Project [1] which has resulted in large monocultures where nothing else can grow and greatly lowered groundwater levels.

Also the history of the equivalent in Africa, which this planting is a part of [2].

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-North_Shelter_Forest_P...

[2] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/great-green-wa...


Or the silent forest in Bohol Philippines. Visited and while it’s truly beautiful, there is no sound at all. No birds. https://iamtravelinglight.com/2012/10/09/the-dark-side-of-bo...

It still seems like a net positive. Environments change an order of magnitude more quickly than ecosystems, and many orders of magnitude more quickly than evolution. But if you build it they will eventually come. Life abhors a vacuum...

Forestry is hard. If you plant the wrong species, in the wrong soil, with the wrong fertilizer or in the wrong climate, you are likely to completely fail. Early attempts at forestry often ended up with every single one of the planted trees dying.

Luckily forestry is a pretty seasoned science by now and people mostly know what they are doing. I trust that the Ethiopian forestry scientists did their job though before this and they end up far more successful then these early attempts, before the science was known.


I've noticed this as well in the redwoods in northern California. Some groves are completely silent. I'm not sure why that is. These are natural forests, so I'm puzzled as to why there aren't many birds.

I live in a redwood forest and it is noticeably quieter of insect and bird sounds compared to nearby down out of the forest a bit, but not as silent as in an old growth grove.

The redwood canopy blocks out a lot of light, the thicker it is, the harder for any plants to grow down below. The redwood leaves acidify the soil over time as they fall, there is a limited range of plants that can handle it. And then the trees themselves are highly insect resistant, there are no insects living in bark for example.

So basically: bottom of the food chain for birds isn't there, especially not down on the floor in old growth with so much light blocked out.


Birds still need a sure and high area to nest so can easily move some Km to feed and return to the forest later. Some birds stop singing after nesting.

I don't think it's accurate to say it wasn't successful for China. It has reduced ground water, yes, but that doesn't seem to have been a major issue. Nor was a desire for biodiversity. Instead their goal was providing timber and slowing the growth of the Gobi Desert, both of which seem to have had at least modest levels of success. So it might not have accomplished what other people would want, but it does seem to have met China's goals.

What troubles me about this is the rate of planting. The idea of reforestation is hopefully a net positive. But the rate of planting seems improbable.

350M seedlings/trees. 12 hours or 43200 seconds. This works out to roughly 8102 per second.

So start with 1M people planting these trees, that would be 350 trees per person. Or roughly 29 trees per hour. So a tree every 2 minutes for a million people doing this.

Non-stop. For 12 hours.

I know, many assumptions built into this. If they had 10M people, it would be 35 trees over 12 hours, which I think is far more manageable.

And the people aren't uniform. Some will plant (far) more/faster than others. I'd expect some sort of long tail distribution for the rapid planters, with peak(s) around mode(s).

Just thinking aloud, that politicians may be politicianing, and reality will be somewhat different. Definitely curious about the participation rate of the population. And what the abrupt introduction of 0.35T trees will do to groundwater levels, aquifers, etc.

[edit: to correct a spelling error]


For anyone looking for the realities of planting trees en masse, BC has a long history with industrial tree-planting:

http://www.nationalpost.com/m/pains+gains+tree+planters+five...

>> This month, as B.C.’s planting season reaches full throttle, about 3,500 people are slinging seedlings into soil up and down the province. Industry bosses expect them to plant 240 million trees in the province by the time the season ends this fall.

>> Eating Dirt author Charlotte Gill’s pay ranged between six cents and about a dollar for each seedling planted during her 17 years as a tree planter.


Another really interesting figure from that article:

> 3,500 people are slinging seedlings into soil [...] > punching about 80 baby trees a second

That works out to about 1.3 minutes of work per tree planted.

They do note that it's skilled labour - it takes a few seasons experience to hit those rates. But BC conditions may not be the friendliest, either.

Hitting similar totals in a day instead of six months, but with perhaps 2-3 orders of magnitude more people is an extremely impressive effort!


It's not improbable if there was sufficient preparation. The country relies on agriculture more than anything,basically a nation of farmers with >100M people of which most are very young and able bodied. 10M people planting 30 trees an hour for 10 hours (12 hours minus breaks) is 300M trees a day.

I could be mistaken but a lot if their concern is not so much about climate change but about preventing drought and famine which is causee by unsustainable farming and over-grazing. It's been a while since I read the wiki page but something like 70-85% of the population directly relies on farming in sub-sahara.


Correct. These are tiny seedlings, not trees. The majority of them, if planted poorly, won't survive the 1st year.

It's also telling that the article doesn't have any pictures. You would think that if you're breaking a Guinness record and doing a good thing for the planet, you would take some pictures and document it quite well.


For context, Ethiopia has a population of 105M, and the government's goal was 40 seedlings per 12 hours per participant. Not far fetched at all.

Some already pointed out, I am also curious about sustainability and how many trees will survive in future BUT I am incredibly amazed of the number of trees planted in just 12 hours. I might be naive in this thinking but it gives me hope about what we can achieve once we have to.

See church forests in Ethiopia. These are just lands that were fenced off from grazing, and they look like random oases in the desert. So clearly trees can survive in the general area.

https://www.inverse.com/article/53851-church-forest-ethiopia...


> Deforestation became rampant when the land was nationalized in 1974 and much of the forests became converted to farmland. only the 5% survives.

It seems that Brazil is in the way to become the new Etiophia... and that for some reason chopping the forest lead to water saying bye-bye and welcoming hard, regular and extensive famines.


Thanks. They look amazing.

Not a direct answerto your question, but we can be sure that 100% of trees not planted won't be there in the future.

I agree. Though even if a fraction of the trees survive in a place of harsh conditions, further generations of the same seed can carry the same strength and spread.

That’s something I witnessed myself from my village years.


If we want to, we can automate this. https://www.fastcompany.com/40450262/these-tree-planting-dro... talks about a company (https://www.biocarbonengineering.com/) that uses drones to map out a planting area and then precision plant 100,000 treelings in a day.

I have planted trees in my younger days. A thousand seedlings are extremely cheap to buy, but brutal to plant. The work in the hot Sun, at least in Florida, is a rough day.

Have you any good reason to not doing it at night? Headlamps are affordable, caffe is easy to find and is also better for watering and reducing the humidity shock in the tender roots.

Trees will plant themselves.

The idea that humans have to intervene in nature is part of the problem that brought us to this place!


Where do you get 350 million trees or even 350 million seedlings?

In the United States, the Forestry Service provides them. Only commercially useful varieties, but they sell seedlings in units of 1,000 quantity. A thousand isn't that big. I can easily pick up the bundle. Large companies buy tens and hundreds of thousands each year.

In the U.S., some states also sell seedlings and in quantities less than 1000. A few examples (with prices):

New York: https://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/75799.html

Virginia: http://dof.virginia.gov/infopubs/Seedling-Price-Guide_2018-2...

Washington: https://www.dnr.wa.gov/programs-and-services/forest-resource...


My county gives away trees to anyone willing to plant them in their yard. They are not seedlings either, but probably a year or older.

Which country?


Correction: DeSoto County is in MS.

Sorry, but you misread. County, not countRy. I'm in the US, but I'd rather not reveal my location to that level of detail.

That's fair, I did misread and that does make a big difference in anonymity.

Any idea how much that costs?

EDIT - The sibling comment has links to listed prices.


That's amazing and I hope it's true. I have friends who as students worked summers in BC, Canada planting seedlings after the loggers were finished with a cut. I'm sure they and these logging companies would be interested on how 350 Million trees are planted in 12 hours.

Here is how Ethiopia came to that number.

From the article:

> Various international organizations and businesses have joined the tree planting spree along with members of the public. It is not yet clear if Guinness World Records is monitoring Ethiopia's mass planting scheme.

However, the prime minister's office said specially developed software is helping with the count.


If it's a real forest loggers need not do anything, small trees and seedlings are probably plenty in that area.

They have been hiring tree planters for decades in Canada so clearly there’s a reason they do it, not as easy as letting it grow.

a "proper" clear cut leaves nothing. They take everything and kill all they can. When they are done they turn the land over leaving a thoroughly savage landscape behind. It is soul crushing to see such brutality. I truly hope we will make such crime against life a punishable offence comparable to mass murder.

Google the images or go look at some sites of such carnage.


Tree farms are no different than other farms in that respect, except for much longer harvest cycles. A corn field is a mono-culture with very little animal life, but most people don't have a problem with them.

Clear-cutting old-growth forests—yes, that's terrible and should never happen. But clear-cutting forests that were planted specifically to be harvested? That's fine, good even.


I'm appalled by this attitude. Monoculture plantations are the very reason we are losing biodiversity at a rate that is going to collapse the food chain we depend upon. Animals and plants do not know boundaries, they try their damned hardest to live and repair the network of organisms we are tearing apart.

In the time it takes a forest to grow it will be home to many species which we utterly fuck up when harvesting the forest, once again putting one more nail in the coffin of our own food supply.

The forest tending of Scandinavia is a good example. The "plantations" are not entirely monoculture and can never be in fact. Healthy forests are anything but only trees, there are so many other species required for a healthy forest.

Please read this for more information about the devastation we cause for some lumber: https://earthroots.org/index.php/clearcutting-item


> However, the prime minister's office said specially developed software is helping with the count.

So probably a bit of BS involved, still cool.


Or the water. I remember researching reforestation and the first 10 years are tough and water is one huge challenge.

one single tree can produce about 10K seedlings in 1 year

The BBC radio show/podcast More or Less recently investigated whether this was a) possible and b) true.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3csz3rb


How does restorative tree planting work in the long run? Does it eventually lead to a stable ecosystem, or is it something that ends up less stable or otherwise worse off when compared to a natural recovery?

it’s complicated, but in many ecosystems no-trees and lots-of-trees are both relatively stable states, and human activity can cause a toggle that might _never_ happen naturally

There have been some successful projects in Israel! See http://www.kkl-jnf.org/forestry-and-ecology/afforestation-in...

Given the current trend of Sahara expansion [0], it could be that the result of natural recovery in Ethiopia is desertification.

[0]: https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=244804


Far as I can tell this region would not necessarily be naturally tree-covered if they just left it.

According to the article, Ethiopia was 30% forested at the end of the 19th century, and is now at only 4%. What's unnatural is the current state, and reforesting will help correct that.

Something to note is that the point isn't for every tree planted to survive. It's for some of them to survive. Those trees will then grow and drop leaves in fall, improve soil health, provide a canopy layer for vines, shrubs, herbs and animal life, and self-seed new trees to join and replace them. Over time the system as a whole will grow until it reaches stability. Right now they're at step 1, planting, which comes after step 0, deciding to plant.

We should follow their lead and plant native trees wherever we are.


I said that it wouldn't if they left it, since parent seemed to imply that this region would reforest itself.

Previous discussion (247 comments): https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20561227


Interesting European startup, LandLifeCompany, whose mission is to: “restore the world’s 2 billion hectares of degraded land.”: https://landlifecompany.com/

I wonder if any of their technology was used in these planting days in Ethiopia?


Better to do nothing than incur the banal nitpicking of software engineer armchair arborists.

Better to keep your mouth shut than spin outrageous and easily disproven claims.

Let's hope we'll get to see the difference on satellite maps over the years to come.

Where do all of these saplings come from and how do they get to the planters? In these articles it sounds like they came out of thin air.

a few trees can make their own forest in a few years, it doesnt need humans

Planting trees, lots of them, should be a major part of any effort to reduce climate change and improve the environment. Furthermore, it's cheap, it works, and trees are beautiful.

And yet there's little talk about it, and even less action.

Congrats to Ethiopia for actually doing something real.


it feels good at a surface level but as with most things, look below the surface and its less black and white

This means that every citizen - including the 40% of the population who are aged 14 or younger - planted 3.5 trees each. To me it seems like a stretch to get even one in five citizens aboard a national project.

I'd guess nurturing and looking after such large amounts, would be no small task either.

My guess is that no nurturing is possible on 350mm trees. Just plant and hope for the best. The first year is crucial water wise...

"However, the prime minister's office said specially developed software is helping with the count."

I have no doubt people are planting trees but this quote makes me feel like perhaps someone should do so numbers on this, 300 million just doesn't sound right unless somewhere like 500,000 people are participating, if that is what is happening I feel like getting 500,000 people to participate is a story in and of itself.




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