Trees That Restore Barren Land

There are trees called ‘fertilizer trees’ that make it possible to restore the degraded lands of the earth, even in areas of drought. Trees for the Future well understands the strength, versatility and vital contributions these trees have to offer damaged ecosystems. Since 1989 they have, by partnering with communities, planted over 127 million fertilizer trees as the foundation of projects that have collectively improved the soil and fertility of thousands of acres of land.

Moringa-LeavesFertilizer trees are naturalized trees, so not invasive, that are planted first in a degraded area to start the process of rehabilitating the ecosystem. The trees are planted just before the rainy season and can grow up to 15 feet in the first year. All fertilizer trees produce useful products within a short period of time such as protein and nutrient rich leaves used for livestock feed and coppicing branches for fuel wood (‘coppice’ is when a branch is cut and many branches grow back in it’s place), as well as food and medicine.

They are also drought resistant because their deep, strong taproots bring water and nutrients up from way down within the earth. Their tiny nitrogen rich leaves get right to work enriching the soil while also creating a thin canopy that allows for food and medicinal plants to be intercropped while also shading from the intensity of the sun’s heat, cooling and protecting the earth below. These trees have what it takes to transform the most extreme circumstances into a resource rich opportunity.

The Creation of the Forest Garden

It is important to understand that not only do these fertilizer trees have the potential to restore small and large scale ecosystems, they do this while improving the livelihoods of the people. Trees for the Future supplies seed, education and in-country training to assist farmers that are struggling to get by, to learn a new way of farming that integrates food, medicine, livestock and trees in what is called a Forest Garden. They teach the principles of permaculture and agroforestry – titles that describe information and process rich, rather than costly and input heavy, land management systems.
best-foreast-garden-honduras-4-FBIn much of the developing world a reliance on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and other agricultural technologies have proven to be too expensive, putting farmers in debt, while also being ineffective in the long run. Farmers have found that after a few years their soils are depleted, compacted and unable to hold moisture, making them more reliant on these expensive inputs, (and caught in a downward spiral). Many areas where monoculture, meaning planting only one crop, has been promoted have also left farmers vulnerable to disease and pest infestations. Forest Gardens integrated with fertilizer trees offer a very low input system that supports the kind of biodiversity that keeps ecosystems thriving through changing circumstances. They can also increase the income of the farmers by up to 400% within 4 years.

The Many Advantages of Fertilizer Trees

While these fertilizer trees are helpful in bringing degraded land back to sustainably productive use, they are also storing a massive amount of carbon. The trees themselves store about 50 pounds of CO2 per year while also creating living soil, which has the potential, over time, to store up to 3x the carbon of the above vegetation. The power of these regenerated ecosystems to capture and store carbon is better understood by looking at the big picture. For example, planting enough trees, along with the understory and living soil, has the potential to store our total annual global emissions – and bring our atmosphere back into balance.

Climate change combined with deforestation has been increasing the incidence of flooding and landslides. These fast growing fertilizer trees are also planted en mass on hillsides and watersheds to decrease erosion. Trees for the Future has worked in many high risk areas including Haiti and the Philippines, communities who have seen the worst of what landslides can do, to root down the earth and prevent future catastrophes. These trees roots not only hold down the hillsides but they direct the flowing rains into the underground water table rather than rushing down overflowing rivers out to sea.

While the roots and tree canopies help to slow rains and decrease erosion in the rainy season, they also help feed carbon sugars to the many tiny micro-organisms living and breeding in the soil. Combined with the leaf litter on the surface, the roots and leaves together provide a steady source of food for the soil to become more and more alive. This healthy soil is aerated by this vast network of creatures and becomes like a sponge, able to hold moisture and trickle precious rain down into the water table, over time bringing back springs and streams.

Moringa-flowers-with-Bee-4-FBFertilizer trees also help to dramatically increase wildlife habitat and the natural regeneration of native plants and species in the areas where planted. As most are also flowering trees they attract pollinators, which in turn help the overall ecology of the garden as well as surrounding ecosystem. With increased wildlife comes increased biodiversity and therefor resiliency – all this while creating the conditions for plentiful food, medicine and fresh water.

Varieties of Fertilizer Trees

Fertilizer Trees are also called Multi-Purpose Fast Growing (MPFG) trees and there are 12 known varieties that are used in the tropics. The following is a list of Fertilizer trees that have been well researched and used in land restoration and agroforestry projects for decades.

Moringa,  Leucaena,  Calliandra,  Sesbania,  Cassia,

Grevillea,  Albizia,  Gliricidia,  Prosopis,  Neem,  Acacia,  Ziziphus

Here are three varieties used in Trees for the Future’s planting programs:


Moringa-Sky-4-FBMoringa, also known as the ‘Miracle Tree’ and ‘Multi-Vitamin Tree’ is known for it’s high nutritional value and medicinal properties. This drought tolerant fertilizer tree is used in many agroforestry and land restoration projects around the world and the planting of these trees has even become policy by some governments in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The entire tree offers food and medicine within its leaves, flowers, pods, roots and seeds. The leaves themselves offer a higher protein content than eggs while also boasting more iron than spinach, more calcium than milk, more vitamin A than a bunch of carrots, more potassium than bananas and more vitamin c than oranges. These leaves, dried in the sun and pounded into powder, can be added to traditional and specialty foods as a super food vitamin boost. A nutritious tea can also be made form the leaves, and is especially helpful for pregnant women and children. Powder from crushed seeds can even be used to purify water.

Moringa Nutrient Rich LeavesThe scope of medicinal uses of the Moringa tree is remarkable – from parasites and inflammation to diabetes and cancer. It is known for having a higher antioxidant content than other well-known ‘super foods’ such as gogi, acai and blueberries. The leaves also have properties whose antibacterial potentials are highly comparable with that of the antibiotic tetracycline.

Moringa also stands out for having an abundance of Zeatin, which increases the activity of the other antioxidants, helping to protect cells from stress, aging and pollution. Zeatin is known for helping the body to replace cells more quickly than they age and die. Not only does this Zeatin increase health and vitality from within, hair and facial products are also made from Moringa that are applied topically.

Along with nutrition and health, this fast growing fertilizer tree has many uses within the Forest Garden. The super nutritious protein rich leaves are ideal for animal forage and help to increase the health, body mass and milk production of the animals. They can also be crushed and used as a domestic cleaning agent. The trunk produces gum while the bark can be made into rope. The seeds can be pressed for their oil called Ben Oil, a sweet, non-stick oil that resists becoming rancid. This oil is used for everything from salad dressing to machine lubricant to body and hair care products.


Neem-Tree-4-FBA cousin of mahogany, Neem is a very fast growing, broad leaved evergreen tree that can tolerate a wide variety of conditions. Neem is a tough tree with a high survival rate that offers communities a natural pesticide. Azadirachtin is one of 20 active chemicals found within the tree that help disrupt the reproductive capability of numerous insects, fungi, bacteria and even viruses. Neem oil and some of its purified components are used in over 100 pesticide products including toothpaste, cosmetics, soaps, and pet shampoos.

By simply soaking crushed Neem kernels and leaves overnight communities can create a safe and organic pesticide spray to apply weekly to their vegetables and tree seedlings. Soap can also be made from the leaves that have insecticidal and microbial properties. This soap can be for home use as well as taken to market. The Neem tree’s small white flowers also attract many bees, which produce a healthy and delicious honey.


Leucaena Tree Flowers 4 FBThe Leucaena leaves are high in nitrogen and used as organic fertilizer as well as a high protein animal forage that is available well into the dry season. The trees can be inter-cropped into Forest Gardens as well as used for windbreaks and living fences. The dense wood is great for fuel wood as well as pole timber.

An important part of Trees for the Future’s training in Forest Gardens is to teach seed collection and storage. One Leucaena tree can give 17,000 seeds in one season. Communities harvest and store these seeds for the following year’s planting projects as well as share them with the neighboring villages. This is one of the ways that this great work continues to spread. Villages will often see the results obtained over a relatively short period of time by participating communities and they want to learn what is creating this new growth of resources. These often very remote and rural peoples are able to create their own seed banks so that long term they are not reliant on an external source for seeds. Their forest gardens also produce a great diversity of seed, which is very important to overcoming the challenges of a changing climate.


As you can see, fertilizer trees are what make the idea of reforesting our planet possible. Much of the estimated 5 billion acres of currently degraded land available for restoration is in the tropics where these trees grow fast and strong. By you helping to plant a Trillion Trees, and inspiring others to also help plant trees, we can restore tree cover to those parts of the world that need it most, all while reversing climate change and restoring the water table. There is no more powerful action to improve life for everyone, everywhere, than planting trees.

Click Here to sign up today to help plant a tree, every day for 10 cents per tree – just $3 a month – or click here to share the Trillion Trees Campaign!



Anyone Can Plant Trees

It is true that anyone can plant trees. No matter the age, race, religion, or circumstances, tree planting stretches across the vast variety of human experience bettering all life. It is equally true that trees can be planted almost anywhere in the world, even in the desert, with the right planting practices. The following is an account of several inspiring and surprising tree planters and the miraculous results of their efforts.

Saving His Island With Trees

What does one do when the river island their family has lived on for generations is eroding into the rushing waters? In the past 37 years, Jadav Payeng has successfully saved a part of his island from erosion by planting a forest that has now grown to be over 1,300 acres, larger than central park. He is known as ‘forest man’ in his native India.

Forest Man Jadav PayengThe annual flooding of the Brahmaputra River, one of the largest rivers in India, has been washing away the shores of Majuli Island, the world’s largest river island and home to 150,000 people. Half the landmass of the island has already been lost in the past century. Jadav transformed this land, that was lacking in vegetation, by first bringing in seedlings, but soon was able to collect the seeds from within the growing forest and foster his nursery under the protection of the canopy. This forest, planted single handedly, has become home to a remarkable diversity of wildlife including over a hundred elephants, rhinos and even tigers. He dreams to continue planting trees until the whole island is reforested and protected from the floods and erosion. Imagine if these kinds of projects were happening along all the major rivers of the world. Communities could grow their local economy while keeping their homes safe and the watershed ecosystems protected. Jadav says he will, “Continue to plant until my last breath.”

Watch the critically acclaimed documentary ‘Forest Man’ here.

104 Year Old Tree Planter

Thimmakka and her 3 km stretch of Banyan Trees - Image source Srinivasan G
Thimmakka and her 3 km stretch of Banyan Trees – Image source Srinivasan G

Equally inspiring is the banyan tree planting of a woman in India who is celebrating her 104th birthday this year. Tree planting is one of the few things humans can do that they can clearly behold the results of their efforts 50 years later. There is nothing quite like the awe and wonder of planting a tiny little seed and witnessing it transform into a gigantic world unto it’s own, housing thousands of creatures and shading the hot summer streets. Large trees that live long lives tend to become their own ecosystems over time, with animals creating habitat within their nooks and crannies while various flora and fauna form tightly around branches and roots. For a 2 mile stretch of road, Saalumarada Thimmakka can walk shaded by her 400 banyan trees, and absorb the sights and sounds of these amazing life forms that will continue to provide benefits for generations to come.

Overcoming Physical Challenges to Plant 10,000 Trees

blind-man-amputee-plant-trees-china-fbImagine for a moment what it would be like to be blind. And then imagine what it would be like to have no arms. Now think about what a partnership between two men in China, one whom is blind, and the other with no arms, might become when these two men come together to plant a forest. Just the two of them, with Jia Haixia holding the seedlings while Jia Wenqi leads them to each trees new home, have planted over 10,000 trees in the past 10 years. When these two friends were finding it difficult to obtain work due to their disabilities, they asked the government if they could plant trees on an 8 acre plot along the riverbank. These trees have not only helped them to create an income for themselves but have also helped protect the village from flooding by fortifying the river’s edge.

Watch GoPro’s inspiring 11 min documentary here.

Greening the Desert

Greening the Desert with Geoff LawtonAnd what about people planting trees in the dessert? Geoff Lawton and his team, one of the leading permaculture experts in the world, successfully created an oasis of thriving gardens in the heart of Jordan, one of the driest and most salty soiled places on earth. How did they do this? By very strategically giving nature what was needed to thrive. Trees pepper the 10 acre project plot creating shade, organic matter for mulch, nitrogen rich leaves to improve the soil and so much more. They turned dust into a fertile plot of food, medicine, animal feed and healthy living soil with trees standing as the cornerstone of this new ecosystem. Even after losing the project funding and returning several years after no additional care, the land continues to burst with life.

Watch Geoff Lawton’s 7min 25 sec segment about Greening the Desert here.

Overcoming Drought in Burkina Faso

Yacouba Sawadogo and His TreesAnother example of a person who turned to tree planting to hold back the dessert is the story of Yacouba Sawadogo, of Burkina Faso. While terrible droughts in the 1980’s had pushed many other neighboring farmers off their lands, Yacouba Sawadogo had decided to try something different that not only kept him on the land of his ancestors, it also allowed for that land to thrive once again. He found that planting trees amongst his crops, also known as agro-forestry (the planting practice of Trees for the Future), made all the difference. His trees shaded the soil, allowing it to stay moist, which is critical for soil to stay alive, while blocking the strong winds that are often associated with drought stricken areas. Yacouba may not be able to read and write, and may not have had the understanding of his surrounding community, but with his resourcefulness and personal conviction, he is a superb example of taking the worst of circumstances and transforming them with tree planting.

Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement

Wangari-MaathaiMeanwhile a young woman in Kenya, Wangari Maathai, started the Green Belt Movement in 1977 in response to the concerns of the women in her native village. She learned that because of the removal of too many trees, the streams were disappearing and with that their food security and ability to source fuel wood for cooking. Having studied biology and been exposed to environmental restoration, she understood the connection between the loss of trees and the loss of fresh water. She convinced them to look through the remaining forest for native seeds from which to grow seedlings, and in return for their successful growth she would give them a small stipend. The Green Belt Movement has since grown to a sweeping network of women that have collectively planted and nurtured over 50 million trees. They now have nurseries across the country, creating jobs and restoring the environment. Wangari passed away in 2011 but not before becoming the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize. With her daughter Wanjira now helping to lead the movement, her legend lives on through the millions of trees growing taller each day and many more being planted. Be sure to watch Wangari’s video at the end of this blog for guaranteed hit of inspiration.

Children Planting Trees for Their Futures

boys cameroon blue uniforms seedlingsMany children of all ages are also planting trees around the world. The Forest Garden projects of Trees for the Future often involve children. In fact, working with school children helps to fuel the motivation of communities to continue caring for their environment and planting trees over the long term. Getting our youth involved in ecosystem restoration is one of the most powerful practices we can include in the creation of our global culture.

As you can see, anyone can truly plant trees. So what about you? Click Here to sign up today to help plant a tree, every day, for just 10 cents per tree – $3 a month – or click here to share the Trillion Trees Campaign.

Wangari Maathai: The Story of the Hummingbird – 2 min


Greening the Desert with Geoff Lawton –


How Fast Can Trees Be Planted?

India Holds the World Record – 50 Million Trees in 1 Day

Planting a Trillion Trees may sound impossible until you put it into perspective. It is inspiring to learn of the communities around the world planting trees at a surprising rate. It is also clear that when tree planting takes root as a tradition and becomes part of the culture, people can come together and achieve astounding results, creating safer, more resilient and resource rich communities for generations to come.

Photograph by Rajesh Kumar Singh, Associated Press

India shines as the world leader in tree planting with the astonishing example of 800,000 volunteers coming together to plant 50 million trees in one day. On July 11th 2016, tree planters of all ages from around the state of Uttar Pradesh worked for 24 hours to plant the seedlings, which had been raised in local nurseries. Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav reported, “The world has realized that serious efforts are needed to reduce carbon emissions to mitigate the effects of global climate change.” This is the first major effort in India’s commitment to reforest 12% of it’s land by 2030.


The Philippines was the previous world record holder having brought their countries citizen’s together to plant 3.2 million trees in just one hour. Their history of deforestation has left much of this long string of islands environmentally devastated and the government has successfully integrated tree planting into the national culture in order to restore their land.

Australia Plants a Million Trees in 1 Day

Australia’s National Tree Day shows what can happen in a notoriously hot and dry country when lots of everyday citizens get together to plant trees. They currently plant over 1 million trees in a single day to celebrate what has now become a tradition.

Climate change has created one of the longest and most severe droughts in the country’s history, and the people of Australia have been pitching in to do their part in creating positive change. Since 1996, almost 4 million citizens have planted over 22 million native trees and plants. The project focuses on native species to help combat the loss of biodiversity that has been increasing each year.


These species are adapted to the wide variety of microclimates and provide the best habitat and food for local wildlife. The participants are well aware that while these trees and plants help with climate change by converting CO2 to natural resources, their plantings are also helping to clean the air, restore the water table, prevent erosion, reduce the saltiness of the soil and so much more. 200,000 Australian students have also added their efforts, while learning the short and long-term benefits of taking care of their ecosystems. As well, a group called Men of the Trees planted 100,450 trees in just one hour. The culture of restoration is alive and growing in this country, in the face of severe environmental challenges, facilitating a greener, brighter future for everyone.

Ireland Unites to Increase Tree Cover

Equally remarkable, a network of tree planters in Ireland also hopes to plant 1 million trees in one day. They have already planted 400,000 trees in the past 4 years as a test trial. On February 20th of this year they will be planting 250,000 native trees at over 500 sites across the island. Ireland has only 1% of their original forests intact after centuries of logging, leaving it one of the least forested countries in Europe.


With land use being a source of tension, the first question posed to the country’s people was ‘who has land available for trees?” Fearing the worst, the group was shocked that although large swaths of land were not offered, thousands of smaller offers, including from over 1,600 farmers, flooded their inbox with a great deal of enthusiasm fueling the effort. They are currently working towards securing funding to reach their goal of following Australia’s lead and planting a million trees in one day. Imagine if every country in the world adopted this model, nearly 200 million trees could be planted globally in one day. Every 5 years another billion trees would be leading the way towards regaining ecological balance.

Bhutan’s Cultural Roots in Tree Planting

Bhutan, an even smaller country located high in the Himalayas between China and India, has committed to plant trees as a way to do their part to combat climate change. Although already well forested with high quality land management practices, they set a world record last year by planting a stunning 50,000 trees in just one hour. And following this feat, the people again came together to plant 108,000 trees to welcome the birth of a new prince. Tenzin Lekphell, the coordinator of the event explained that, “In Buddhism, a tree is the provider and nourisher of all life forms, symbolizing longevity, health, beauty and even compassion”.


The country, infamous for it’s preferring a Gross Domestic Happiness factor to the traditional GDP as a signifier of the country’s prosperity, is noted for storing 3x the amount of CO2 produced by it’s citizens. In another bold move, they recently announced they are committed to returning to 100% organic agricultural practices by the year 2020. Along with their trees, this transition will continue to increase the amount of carbon being stored in their soil as organic farming practices help build healthy soil. Soil that is teaming with microorganisms removes CO2 from the atmosphere and can hold it for hundreds of years as soil carbon. With living soils able to store up to 3x the above ground vegetation, Bhutan may break another world record for being the biggest carbon sink per capita in the world.

Pakistan’s ‘Billion Tree Tsunami’

Source: -Image by Asim Ali
Source: -Image by Asim Ali

Pakistan has also wholeheartedly embraced the tree planting revolution with their ‘Billion Tree Tsunami’ committing to plant 1 billion trees by the end of next year. With 250 million saplings currently being planted and 450 million more being cultivated within forest enclosures, they are well on their way to reaching this goal. Local communities are doing the planting and the protecting and while the government was opposed to this effort at first, they have not only now embraced the project, but have also started their own ‘Green Pakistan Program’ with the goal of planting an additional 100 million trees. Land degradation is a major problem in Pakistan, a once fertile region, with increased flooding adding to the erosion. Once the authorities took note of the many positive outcomes of tree planting, they overcame judgments that initially dismissed the project as unachievable. With women increasing their incomes by caring for the saplings and the enrollment of school children to join the effort, this Billion Tree Tsunamis is re-greening this dusty landscape at an incredible rate.

Rwanda Wins Award for Innovative Forestry Initiative

Currently, many other countries have impressive reforestation pledges including Rwanda, whose innovative and effective forestry and land management practices were well noted at the Paris COP21 conferences on Climate Change. Their ‘Forests for People’ initiative boasts an ambitious goal to reforest 30% of the country by 2020 and to restore all of their degraded land over time. They hold a world record in reforestation for how quickly they were able to restore 20% of the country to date. They have found that empowering women and granting land tenure to the citizens participating in the restoration efforts has been key to their rapid success.


The government also declared a National Tree Week where every adult is asked to plant trees and free seedlings are made available. Rwanda learned a valuable lesson on the impacts of environmental destruction when the river that supplies the majority of the countries electricity through hydropower was too low to function properly. They found that planting trees to restore the highlands at the source of the river was the solution to restoring balance. Wangari Maathai, leader of the Green Belt Movement in neighboring Kenya noted, ““Rwanda has sought not only to make its forests a national priority, but has also used them as a platform to revolutionize its stances on women’s rights and creating a healthy environment.” Planting trees in Rwanda is not only increasing their natural resources, lifting people out of poverty and helping with climate change, it is improving gender relationships within their society.

3 Billion Trees Planted in the USA

yosemite nationalpark waterfall

From 1933 to 1942, 3 million American young men participated in a natural resource conservation program that resulted in the planting of nearly 3 billion trees. The US government, under the leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt, enlisted the support of its civilian population to plant trees during one of the most challenging periods in the country’s history. In the midst of the Great Depression there was a severe lack of jobs and hope in the future, with moral at an all time low. The Civilian Conservation Corps was created as a work relief program that had an abundance of other benefits. Along with helping to reforest America, they also created over 800 parks across the nation, while building a network of public roadways and service buildings in remote areas. These men were given shelter, training, clothing, food and a small wage in exchange for their labor, labor that is continuing to bear it’s fruits in the great National Parks of today.

Trees for the Future

Trees for the Future - Forest Garden
Trees for the Future – Forest Garden

The Trillion Trees Campaign’s first planting partner, Trees for the Future, also shares the incredible story of how fast trees can be planted by having planted over 127 million trees since 1989. The more Forest Gardens they plant, the more neighboring communities see the results and ask for assistance. With desire and knowledge already in place, all they need is our support. Sign Up today to help plant a tree, every day, for 10 cents a tree – just $3 a month.