By Isaiah Esipisu
PARIS, France (PAMACC News) – With a simple concept by Benin President, that every citizen should plant at least one tree every year, the West African Nation has managed to improve its forest cover by more than 30 million trees in just three years.
“This was President Thomas Yayi Boni's dream of getting each soul in the country plant at least a tree each year, and now it has come to pass,” said Théophile Kakpo, the Director General for Forests and Natural Resources during an event on the sidelines of the Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP 21) in Paris.
In 2013, during COP 19 in Warsaw, the country’s Minister for Environment and Forestry approached UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) with a proposal seeking support of the idea dubbed ‘Ten Million Trees, Ten Million Souls’.
Just three years on, the country has managed to improve its forest cover significantly.
“If all African countries could emulate Benin and have each individual plant a tree every year, then we will be able to solve most of the climate change related problems,” said Dr Fatima Denton, the Director of the Special Initiatives Division at (UNECA).
Denton noted that deforestation contributes 20 percent of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and that the vise was rampant on the African continent.
“I guarantee you that UNECA will continue to support initiatives geared towards increasing the tree cover,” she said.
The country has hundreds of tree nurseries, from which seedlings are distributed free of charge to those who need them. “We give them to anybody, whether they want to plant just one tree or even up to 2000 trees,” said Kakpo.
The farmers are given selected species depending on their ecological zones. “Not all trees can perform well everywhere. That is why we select particular species for particular areas where they can thrive well,” he said.
The main objectives for Benin were to increase tree cover in all municipalities, to build capacity of every type of stakeholder including citizens, the private sector, nongovernmental organization and students to understand the importance of trees, and to have necessary skills required for growing trees.
However, Kakpo notes that the project goes beyond just planting trees. “Planting trees is one thing, and protecting them is another,” he told the delegation in Paris.
To succeed, the country has involved different organisations on contractual basis to ensure that all the trees planted in public institutions such are schools, health centres and even churches are protected and maintained.
“This calls for political goodwill, which we had, given that the project was the president’s brainchild,” said Kakpo. “It also calls for enabling policy environment that accommodates all players including the private sector, scientists and nongovernmental organisations,” he added.
Trees are the world’s largest source of breathable oxygen, and as well absorb carbon dioxide, which is the main contributor to global warming. They also form water towers, which produce most of the drinkable water among rural communities especially in Africa.
“Benin’s example is great, and we need more and more African countries to come up with similar innovations,” said Denton.