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Ethiopia Plants 350 Million Trees in 12 Hours—a New Record

The government claims that volunteers at 1,000 sites participated in the coordinated reforestation efforts

Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed plants a tree as part of the reforestation project. (Office of the Prime Minister - Ethiopia)
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Yesterday, thousands of people in Ethiopia got their hands dirty as the nation planted an estimated 350 million trees across the countryside over the course of only 12 hours, reports the BBC.

The effort is touted as a new world record for the number of trees planted in a single day; it was part of the nation’s “green legacy” initiative. In the early part of the 20th century, the landlocked nation in the Horn of Africa was 35 percent forested. By the beginning of this century, however, that figure dropped to less than four percent.

That’s one reason the government is sponsoring an initiative to plant 4 billion mostly indigenous trees, or about 40 trees per citizen. The Associated Press reports that thus far, over 2.6 billion trees have been planted across Ethiopia as part of the program in the hopes of stopping erosion, preventing desertification and restoring lost habitat.

Staff from the United Nations, African Union and several foreign embassies took part in the planting effort—and some government offices even closed to allow employees to help plant the trees. Special software was used to help keep track of the number trees placed in the ground. The new record, which would blow away India’s 2016 record of planting 50 million trees in a single day, has yet to be confirmed by Guinness World Records.

Dan Ridley-Ellis, who studies wood at Edinburgh Napier University, tells Ann Ploszaski at The Guardian that reforestation of any scale can have immense benefits to nations like Ethiopia.

“Trees not only help mitigate climate change by absorbing the carbon dioxide in the air, but they also have huge benefits in combating desertification and land degradation, particularly in arid countries. They also provide food, shelter, fuel, fodder, medicine, materials and protection of the water supply,” he says. “This truly impressive feat is not just the simple planting of trees, but part of a huge and complicated challenge to take account of the short- and long-term needs of both the trees and the people.”

Reforestation has been in the news a lot lately, mainly because a paper published in Science earlier this month mapped out the millions of square miles on Earth that could be reforested. If all that land was filled with trees, the researchers estimated, it could drop carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere by 25 percent. Other scientists pushed back, saying the estimates were overly generous, and that the climate benefits of reforestation are little studied, highly variable and restoring so much land would be politically and technically difficult.

Restoring degraded land has many benefits, including preserving habitats for endangered species, protecting watersheds and nourishing soil. Those are all reasons for the Bonn Challenge, a global project to reforest 1.35 million square miles of degraded land by 2030. Ethiopia has committed to restoring about 58,000 square miles of forest by 2020.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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