Volunteers, government officials, and aid workers planted more than 353 million trees in Ethiopia on Monday, according to the BBC
The massive undertaking, if confirmed by outside auditors, shatters the standing world record for the amount of trees planted in a country over the course of 24 hours. The previous world record took place in India, when people throughout the country planted 50 million trees in a single day in 2016.
Ethiopia’s tree-planting campaign is part of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Green Legacy Initiative, which seeks to revitalize the country’s environment and take steps to both mitigate and adapt to climate change. The initiative aims to get 4 billion trees planted in the years ahead by encouraging each citizen to plant 40 seedlings, the Guardian reports.
Ethiopia’s environment has been heavily degraded over the past few decades. In the early 20th century, trees occupied 35% of the country’s landmass. Since 2000, tree coverage has dropped to around 4%, according to the BBC.
In addition to rampant deforestation, soil throughout the country has eroded to an alarming extent, according to the non profit International Development Partnerships.
As a result, desertification — when once fertile land turns to desert — is overtaking large parts of the country.
To make matters worse, climate change is hitting Ethiopia especially hard. Extreme droughts over the past few years have devastated farming communities, causing widespread food shortages.
Read More: Arctic Fires Haven’t Been This Bad in 10,000 Years
Trees can help soil recover, mitigate droughts, purify and store water, clean the air, protect against storms, provide sources of food, and more, according to the United Nations.
A recent report argues that planting trees is also the best way to combat climate change, but it would require a shift away from the prevailing trends of deforestation.
Globally, the world lost 29 million acres of trees in 2018, the fourth highest amount lost in a year since the Global Forest Watch began monitoring worldwide tree coverage in 2001.
With 2.6 billion plants planted, the target of 4 billion trees is already achieved by 65%. Launched by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed 2 months ago, this reforestation plan aims at the plantation of 40 trees per inhabitants. #Ethiopia#Environmenthttps://t.co/WwViKPZJ6jpic.twitter.com/CFGxxJpAX3— Ambassade d'Ethiopie en France/ ETH Embassy France (@AmbEthioFR) July 24, 2019
Read More: Brazil's President Is Making It Impossible to Fight Deforestation, Activists Say
Planting trees through volunteering campaigns is one way to reforest the planet. Another way would be to stop letting industries such as agriculture, livestock, mining, and fossil fuel development cut down forests.
Fighting these entrenched financial interests will be more challenging.
In Brazil, the main home of the Amazon rainforest, deforestation has increased by 80% over the past year, and Indigenous leaders who have historically protected the forests are being killed.
In Ethiopia, the prime minister’s focus on revitalizing the environment is a step in the right direction.