What is the best way to plant trees? Well, Mother Nature is certainly among the best restoration practitioners. Natural regeneration of trees to fallow land is likely to be an important first port-of-call for many countries to meet the Bonn Challenge pledges. Natural regeneration represents the least costly method of restoring degraded land. But, this does not automatically mean that regenerating forests or the trees on fallow lands will deliver the most pressing sustainable development needs such as poverty alleviation (SGD1) food security (SDG2), improved human health (SDG3), gender equality (SDG5), climate mitigation (SDG13) and biodiversity conservation (SDG15). In degraded tropical landscapes, many of the most useful tree species may not be present in sufficient numbers, or may be growing far from the site designated for restoration for seed dispersal to deliver seeds naturally. Let’s remember many tropical tree species seeds are dispersed by animals (birds, bats or monkeys), often hunted out of these landscapes. This short video interview (on the right) highlights the problems and approaches of the Trees4Seeds initiative.
In reality, nature is going to need a little help in many situations. This might be through planting trees as part of enrichment restoration, or through seeding degraded lands from drones, or planes. Whichever the delivery method, at the very basis is the need for seeds, seeds from a diverse range of species, and seeds of good quality. If we fail to address this as the foundation of resilient restoration then I am afraid that our restoration efforts will be wasted. These landscapes will not be resilient to climate change, will not be resilient to novel pests and disease, and will not deliver SDGs.
There is a huge opportunity out there. Nowhere on earth is the diversity of native trees greater than in tropical and sub-tropical countries (home to the vast majority of more than 60,000 species of tree), where the returns on investment in restoration will be greatest. We have the chance to develop diversified restoration portfolios, using diverse species, which deliver multiple benefits, and can be resilient. This diversity offers novel business opportunities, where global food systems are currently lacking. Trees can be some of the most nutritionally important parts of our diet. As shown by a recent paper by colleagues working on nutrition at Bioversity International, the more species you eat the greater your health. Also, some tropical trees are much better at locking up carbon than others, species that produce heavy dense wood might be slower growing but pack more carbon per hectare of land. Such species also offer opportunities to lock up carbon for longer, rather than just being used to generate fibre for waste paper.
Let’s not miss this opportunity. We have an urgent need to conserve the diversity of tropical trees so that we can use their genetic resources (seeds) for restoration. But we also need to invest in countries' capacity to sustainably use this huge and valuable biological diversity to its full potential.
Join us at the next Global Landscapes Forum in Bonn, on 1-2 December to take the next steps in the Trees for Seeds initiative.