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Good news for trees and humans
Shell drops biofuels plan after Brazilian Indian protest
cane from land stolen from an indigenous tribe, thanks to a dynamic campaign by the Indians and Survival International. The company, Raizen, was established in 2010 as a joint venture of Shell and the Brazilian ethanol giant Cosan to produce biofuel from sugar cane. But some of its sugar cane is grown on land that belongs to the Guarani tribe, one of the most persecuted and impoverished in South America. Their leaders have been repeatedly killed by gunmen on behalf of the sugar cane growers and cattle ranchers who have taken over almost all their land. Now Raizen has agreed to stop buying sugar cane from land declared as indigenous by the Ministry of Justice.
Custodians of sacred sites in Africa unite
The traditional custodians of sacred sites from four African countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda) met on 28 April in Kenya to create a common guideline to help other custodians everywhere in Africa in their fight to protect their sacred places. Quote from the introduction of their statement:
'We are deeply concerned about our Earth because she is suffering from increasing destruction despite all the discussions, international meetings, facts and figures and warning signs from Earth.
'The future of our children and the children of all the species of Earth are threatened. When this last generation of elders dies, we will lose the memory of how to live respectfully on our planet, if we do not learn from them. Our generation living now has a responsibility like no other generation before us. Our capacity to stop the current addiction to money from destroying the very conditions of life and the health of our planet, will determine our children's future.
'We call on governments, corporations, law and policy makers, and civil society to recognize that Africa has Sacred Sites and custodians who are responsible for protecting them, in order to protect the wellbeing of the planet.'
At their meeting, the custodians compiled 14 'common customary laws of sacred sites' – you can download the paper here (140Kb)
source: The African Biodiversity Network
Forests 'activate' coastal seas
Already decades ago, Katsuhiko Matsunaga, a marine chemist at Hokkaido University in Japan, discovered that when tree leaves decompose, they leech acids into the ocean that help fertilize plankton. And when plankton thrives, so does the rest of the food chain. 
This was put into good practice by Japanese fisherman Mr Shigeatsu Hatakeyama who inherited an oyster farm business from his parents. But the waters in Kesennuma Bay in Miyagi, Japan, had become unsuitable for oyster cultivation after an outbreak of red tide plankton. On a trip to France in 1984, Mr Hatakeyama saw healthy oysters in the Loire river estuary and noticed a vast deciduous broadleaf forest upriver. He made the connection and he realized the positive influence forests have on ocean ecology and biodiversity.
Back home, he held the first Mori wa Umi no Koibito (Forests are Lovers of the Sea) campaign in 1989: with other fishermen he planted broadleaf trees upstream along the Okawa River to reduce pollutants flowing into the sea. These afforestation activities became an annual event and have since gained momentum – so far, more than 50,000 trees have been planted. It has led to a region-wide proactive movement to preserve the environment, including water drainage regulation and promoting farming practices with less agricultural chemicals.  
Mr Hatakeyama became known as 'Grandpa Oyster' after spending more than twenty years developing the forest that keeps the Okawa River clean and his thriving oysters healthy.
In 2009, he established another Forests are Lovers of the Sea programme which provides hands-on education for children, bringing them closer to the ocean and the forest.
He has now received a Forest Heroes Award from the UN International Year of Forests 2011 committee.
Moving UN speech by Felix Finkbeiner
2011 was proclaimed by the UN as the International Year of Forests. At the opening ceremony in New York, 13-year-old Felix Finkbeiner addresses the UN with a moving speech, demanding of the grown-ups to care for the planet und give the younger generations a future.
Felix was nine years old when he founded the children's initiative Plant for the Planet in Bavaria in 2007. Plant for the Planet grew rapidly into a world-wide movement and in the first four and a half years of its existence over 3.8 million trees were planted.
Comment by Fred Hageneder: 'To some viewers, the auditorium at Felix's UN speech might seem half empty but to me it is half full. I compare it with an event about five years previously, when the UN had agreed, for once, to give the indigenous nations of the world some speech time. Some 5,000 indigenous nations, most of them more or less threatened by ecocide or even genocide, were granted 5 minutes (!) speech time. As ambassador they chose a 12-year-old boy from Central America. His brilliant talk was greeted by low attendance, boredom and ignorance. The camera showed delegates engaged in paper scribbles, finger-tapping or impatiently checking their watches. It was torture to watch. Hence I am rather happy with the reception of Felix's message. Times have moved on!'
Protecting sacred natural sites worldwide
'Sacred natural sites provide for the protection of biodiversity but also for the continuation of cultural practices,' says Bas Verschuuren, Co-chair of the Specialist Group on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas, a sub-division of the IUCN (= International Union for Conservation of Nature, the world's largest and oldest conservation organisation), and Coordinator for the Sacred Natural Sites Initiative.
'As most of the threats that sacred natural sites face today, such as tourism, industrialization and urbanization, affect both cultural and biological values, they weaken the special relationship between people and nature that is so typical to these areas and so precious not only to many cultures around the world but also to humanity as a whole."
Verschuuren is also lead editor of a new book, Sacred Natural Sites: Conserving nature and culture, which is being launched by IUCN at the Convention on Biological Diversity conference in Nagoya, Japan. The launch is part of an event organised by ETC-COMPAS and IUCN and is dedicated to promoting sacred natural sites and their crucial role in conserving nature and culture.
Furthermore, the IUCN Specialist Group together with UNESCO is publishing Sacred Natural Sites: Guidelines for Protected Area Managers, an action plan brochure in various language editions. So far, it can be downloaded in English, Spanish, Russian, French, Estonian, Japanese or Korean (translators wanted for other languages).
Buddhist monks ordain trees as monks
In response to widespread logging, the monks of the Samraong Pagoda acquired legal protection for 18,261 hectares (45,000 acres) of evergreen forest in northwest Cambodia. They established patrol teams, demarcated the forest's boundaries, and raised environmental awareness among local communities. The monks have developed unique approaches to law enforcement based on Buddhist principles, demonstrating the power of linking conservation with traditional customs and beliefs. 
In Buddhist thought and teaching (based particularly on the Lotus Sutra) the Buddha can take any form to bring about the release of any aspect of nature from suffering – including taking the shape of a tree. Based upon this and in response to the illegal destruction of trees in Cambodia and Thailand, Buddhist monks working in partnership with the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), have ordained trees as monks. Wrapped in robes these trees are totally protected and the forest within which they stand becomes a sacred and protected area. 
The monks of the Samraong Pagoda received the 2010 Equator Prize for outstanding community efforts to conserve biodiversity. The award is sponsored by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
Monk's Community Forest is now Cambodia's largest community forest. While logging and hunting are prohibited, villagers may use traditional fishing methods, collect fallen timber for construction, and harvest non-timber forest products like bamboo, wild ginger, fruit and mushrooms. Illegal logging of the forest has been reduced significantly.
Watch video and download full report here.
Indian Tribe in victory over mining giant
The Dongria Kondh tribe has won an historic battle to save their lands and forests from big-scale bauxite mining on Niyamgiri Mountain in eastern India. Their resistance became a test of whether a small marginalised tribe could stand up against a multinational with its army of lawyers, lobbyists and PR firms. The intruder, who has already built a huge aluminium refinery below the sacred mountain, is the British company Vedanta Resources, worth $8bn.
The Dongria Kondh have been supported by tribal rights campaign group Survival International (founded 1969 in London) who in turn had support from celebrities like Michael Palin, Joanna Lumley, Colin Firth and James Cameron – hence the press began to speak of the 'real Avatar tribe'. (Sadly, there are many of them!)
But the victory of the Dongria Kondh is in danger as India's Supreme Court is reviewing the case.
To keep up to date check the Survival International page.
The Great Green Wall of Africa
The Great Green Wall (French: Grande Muraille verte) Spanish Gran Muralla Verde is a project to halt the spread of the South Sahara. The transcontinental belt is planned to be 15km (nine miles) wide and 7,775km (4,831 miles) long and will be made completely of trees. This equals the reforestation of 15 million hectares of land.
The project is held by the African Union and funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF)*. An inter states organization was established to effectively implement the project in each of the eleven member states.
* The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is an independent financial organization uniting 182 member governments, in partnership with international institutions, nongovernmental organizations and the private sector, to address global environmental issues. According to their website, they are the largest funder of projects to improve the global environment, having allocated US$8.8 billion, supplemented by US$38.7 billion in co-financing, to more than 2,400 projects in more than 165 countries.
On 17 June 2010, the GEF announced that Africa's green barrier will be funded by a US$119 million grant. The project had long been searching for funding: it had begun to take shape in 2005, the idea first appeared in 2002 and can be traced back to projects fighting desertification in Burkina Faso under president Thomas Sankara. Inspirations are the (more decentrally organized) Green Belt Movement initiated by Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai, and the Green Wall of China (see tree news Jan. 2010).
Great Green Wall of China is growing
The Great Green Wall of China is the biggest afforestation project in the history of humankind. The 'Wall' is going to be a woodland belt about 2,800 miles (4,500 km) long which is hoped to halt the desertification of whole regions of China. 28 per cent of the land surface of China is threatened by desertification, which jeopardizes the livelihood of 100 million people. Gigantic dust storms sweep over vast areas bordering the Gobi Desert (located in the north of the country. Extending desert heat has already risen average temperatures in Peking by a few degrees Celsius. Japan, North Korea and South Korea too suffer from sand storms coming over from China.
The reasons for desertification are, like in the other continents, anthropogenic, i.e. human-made:
• increased land use overburdens the soil, depleting it of nutrients and breaking down its structure;
• overgrazing and deforestation decrease plant cover, the ground loses its firmness and becomes subject to erosion by wind and rain;
• since the foundation of the People's Republic in 1949, industrialization has shown an ever-increasing hunger for fuel which has been satisfied by tree felling (until 1978, forest cover in China had fallen from eight to five per cent!);
• growing water consumption of the industry, agriculture and increasing population contributes further to the desertification of vast areas.
Forests are generally perceived as the best countermeasure against desertification of entire regions.
The work on the Green Wall of China began in 1978. So far, protective forests have been planted in thirteen provinces of China, covering 22 million hectares (220,000 sq. km – the size of the main island of Britain; the size of Kansas or Idaho) altogether. This already prevents 200 million tons of desert sand from spreading onto non-desert land annually. But an actual inversion of the annual desert area increase could not be measured until the years from 2000 to 2004.
In 2009, China's afforestation program had increased forest cover to 18 per cent of the republic's land area.
In 2050, the Green Wall of China is scheduled to be completed, with a total area of 35 million hectares (350.000 sq. km).
Because monocultures can easily succumb to pests and diseases, the focus is on mixed woodlands. But pastures too are considered a part fo the Green Wall. The Chinese people are legally obligated to direct participation: every citizen between 11 and 60 years of age has to plant three to five trees annually (or pay a fine).
In 2003, China began to restructure its forest sector. Now, single farmers are allowed to lease woodlands and get their rights certified on paper. The leaseholders are now registered as the owners of the trees they planted. They are entitled to manage these youg woodlands, with certain restrictions. In this way the reform has created an incentive for farmers to invest in tree planting. 
The genus Tamarix deserves special mention in the fight against the desert. The tamarisk has been called the guard soldier of the desert because it is resistent against sand storms and even grows on salt or chalk soils. Already in the 1960s the botanist Prof Liu Mingting researched and cultivated tamarisks – and planted
them on 100,000 hectares of saline desert and semi-desert in Kashgar Prefecture (Xinjiang). Since then, the ground has become fertile soil again, corn and cotton are grown widely, and the income per head has risen fourfold.  (compare tree news June 2009: Amazon deforestation fails to improve local life)
Massive tree-planting scheme in India
An Indian civil servant, SM Raju, has created an innovative project to provide 'sustainable employment' to millions of poor people, by planting trees.
Mr Raju's campaign is located in the east Indian state of Bihar, the poorest state of India, and engages people in afforestation which, according to the BBC, 'addresses two burning issues of the world: global warming and shrinking job opportunities. Evidence of Mr Raju's success could clearly be seen on 30 August, when he organised 300,000 villagers from over 7,500 villages in northern Bihar to engage in a mass tree planting ceremony.' On this day alone, almost a billion trees were planted.
Mr Raju is an agriculture graduate from Bangalore but the secret of the success of his 'social forestry' programme is that he linked it to the central government's National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). This act was initiated in February 2006 as an employment generation scheme for poor people: the authorities are bound by law to provide a minimum of 100 days of employment a year to members of families living below the poverty line. But before Mr Raju's project, Bihar had not been able to spend the allocated NREGA funds.
'Every village council has now been given a target of planting 50,000 saplings – a group of four families has to plant 200 seedlings and they must protect them for three years till the plants grow more sturdy.' Payment is staggered into three groups, 90%, 75–80% and less than 75% survival rate of the seedlings.
The scheme also includes planting fruit-trees inside the villages.
source: Amarnath Tewary, Meeting India's tree planting guru, BBC News, 19 Sept 2009