Imagine an area the size of 30,000 soccer fields — or make it 53,030 football fields if you’re an NFL fan.

Now, picture this vast space covered in the unimaginably dense foliage native to the Amazon rainforest, where 40-100 varieties of trees can be found in a single acre.

That’s a whole lot of plants — 73 million, to be exact.

And that is precisely the number of trees that a nonprofit group called Conservation International hopes to plant across areas of the Amazon rainforest that have been devastated by deforestation in the past.

The project could be the largest reforestation project of a tropical rainforest in the world, the organization’s CEO, M. Sanjayan, said in a press release announcing the initiative.

In partnership with the Brazilian government, the World Bank and several other environmental groups, CI plans to cover 70,000 acres of previously deforested areas in the Amazon rainforest basin with native trees by 2023.

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"This is a breathtakingly audacious project," Sanjayan said. “The fate of the Amazon depends on getting this right — as do the region's 25 million residents, its countless species and the climate of our planet."

The effort will  utilize a new planting technique called muvuca, meaning “a lot of people in a very small place,” which will involve spreading the seeds of hundreds of varieties of local plants over every inch of land. The idea behind the technique is is that the strongest seeds will outgrow their neighbors, leading to a healthy and diverse forest.

A humanitarian bonus is that these seeds were purchased from a company that hires local indigenous women and girls to collect them from the existing rainforest.

In fact, this small facet of CI’s project illustrates well a greater theme that their work speaks to: that millions of people rely on the health of the Amazon forest for their livelihoods.

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According to National Geographic, up to 20% of the Amazon rainforest has been deforested in the last 40 years alone, as logging and cattle ranching operations have encroached further and further into the wild to satiate growing market demands. The cost of this destruction is reflected across a variety of metrics, far beyond the loss inherent in clearing millions of acres of some of the most ecologically diverse land on the planet.

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Soil, rivers, and the flora and fauna upon which local communities rely are jeopardized by the degradation caused by deforestation. In 2005 and 2010, the region experienced severe droughts that threatened fisherman and farmers alike; many believe these droughts will become more common as climate change effects are exacerbated in areas where deforestation prevents the land from returning moisture into the atmosphere.

On a more global scale, tropical rainforests are one of the most important barriers against increased carbon dioxide levels around the world. Fast Company reported that if deforestation trends ended overnight, and forests were left at their current size, 37% of C02 levels would be absorbed.

The hope is that by replanting areas that have already been deforested, in combination with introducing more stringent protection of existing forest lands, the Amazon can become an even more significant player in the battle against climate change.

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Global Citizen campaigns on the United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Restoring our rainforests works towards a number of these goals, including protecting life on land, taking climate action, and achieving sustainable cities and communities. You can take further action on these issues here.

Despite the massive scale of the initiative, CI’s project in many ways can be seen as a “trial run” for scalable replanting methods that could one day be used to replenish cleared land all over the world.

“This is not a stunt,” Sanjayan said. “It is a carefully controlled experiment to literally figure out how to do tropical restoration at scale, so that people can replicate it and we can drive the costs down dramatically.”

Work on the project is expected and last until 2023, at which point, the world will have gained precisely 73 million new members of the fight against climate change.


Defend the Planet

Nonprofit Group Is Planting 73 Million Trees to Save the Amazon

By Andrew McMaster