Desert country Jordan aims for green with 10-million tree campaign

Advertising

Kufranjah (Jordanie) (AFP)

On a bare hill in Jordan's verdant Ajloun region, dozens of people plant saplings as part of a reforestation effort that aims to reach 10 million trees in 10 years.

"The trees in our region are beautiful," says 11-year-old Mohammed al-Ananza, helping his father Mustafa plant a carob sapling.

"It's a real shame that we have lost so many to fires... We should work together to protect them," he says as they work near the Kufranjah forest north of the capital Amman.

Forests make up only one percent of the desert kingdom's territory, according to the agriculture ministry, though Jordan also has an estimated 23 million orchard trees, half of them olives.

Forest fires strike almost every year in the Middle Eastern country due to high summer temperatures, in a trend scientists expect to intensify with climate change.

The blazes are often started by picnickers' barbeques or carelessly discarded cigarettes.

There were 499 fires in wood and forest areas last year alone, according to the agriculture ministry.

"We must make up for what has been lost in the fires," said Belal Qtishat, head of the nature protection department at the environment ministry.

"It's the only way to fight desertification and climate change and to protect biodiversity."

- Region-specific -

Mahmoud al-Ananza watched on as his grandson and son got to work on the hill in Kufranjah.

The family has volunteered but agriculture and environment ministry employees were also among the 150 people in charge of planting 30,000 trees in the area.

"I was born here and I can tell you that if you plant cypress trees, eucalypts, olives, carob or oak, they will grow on their own," the man in his 70s said, wearing a traditional red-and-while keffiyeh scarf.

The programme focuses on species that, after the initial phase of taking root, can survive without a lot of additional water.

Mohamed Daoudia, agriculture minister at the time of the project's launch last month, said fires were the biggest problem for Jordan's wooded areas.

"Illegal tree felling only represents one percent of the damage to forests," he told AFP.

In October, 50 hectares (over 120 acres) of olive and forest trees burnt in the Ajloun region, while a year earlier in Jerash province, 80 hectares went up in flames.

Qtishat, of the environment ministry, said the reforestation project aimed to rehabilitate only "the regions fit for doing so".

"We don't plan to cover the whole kingdom with trees because each part of the country has its own special features," he said.

- Benefits for bees -

The aim of the first stage is to create forests in Karak and Tafila provinces south of the capital, planting in each area 30,000 commonly found trees like eucalyptus, jujube and carob.

The campaign began in Kufranjah, which Qtishat described as "Jordan's lungs".

The kingdom also plans to work on fire prevention by setting up monitoring posts and patrols, providing its civil defence with specialised vehicles and carrying out forest surveillance using drones.

Former minister Daoudia described the reforestation programme as both "ambitious and realistic".

He said results would be seen in the next four to five years, and that the greening campaign would also benefit bees and honey production.

Jordan produces an average of 250 tonnes of honey a year.

"Our nurseries produce 2.5 million forest trees a year and 500,000 fruit trees. So in theory, we could plant 10 million trees in four years," Daoudia said.

"But we decided on 10 years in order to do the job well."