Afforestation and reforestation are key facets of climate change mitigation. According to the World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies (WOCAT), afforestation is the planting of trees or forest cover on land which historically did not contain forests, while reforestation is the planting of trees or forest cover on land which previously contained forest that was converted to another land use. Both afforestation and reforestation are aspects of a larger portfolio of sustainable land management policies that aim to combat desertification, restore degraded soil, and conserve biological diversity, and ultimately mitigate climate change.
Sustainable land management is vital for countries like Jordan, which faces severe threats from climate change while remaining reliant on agriculture. The degradation of Jordan’s natural ecosystems has occurred as farmers and shepherds race to use the nation’s limited resources in a tragedy of the commons. Although reforestation can pit farmers and policymakers on opposing sides by placing limits on grazing and farming, the Jordanian government has pursued a unique arrangement to begin reforesting swaths of the Jordan Valley. As early successes in reforestation demonstrate longevity and potential for expansion, governments in water-parched regions should heed this collaborative model of ecological restoration.
Recognizing the severe risks stemming from climate change, the Jordanian government featured reforestation as a key component in its 2021 National Climate Change Adaptation Plan. The government is also working with EcoPeace Middle East - Jordan to put this policy into action by sectioning off a portion of the Jordan Valley for ecological restoration and technological testing. Since its establishment in 2004, the EcoPark has transformed a bare segment of land in the hills of north-western Jordan into a tree-filled, ecological habitat. In addition to pioneering new water management technologies, the EcoPark also accomplished this feat through placing strict limits on farming and grazing.
“Through the EcoPark, we are selling a model for sustainability… Our priority is bringing forests and ecosystems back to nature. If you lose the ecosystems, the climate, and the water, then Jordan cannot support our existence. We need to bring back the natural ecosystems to maintain the stability of the country,” says Abdel Rahman Sultan, the Deputy Director of EcoPeace Middle East - Jordan.
Local communities around the EcoPark initially mounted opposition to the new restrictions on grazing and farming. According to Yehia Moubarek, a local shepherd who now works with the EcoPark, the surrounding community broke into the EcoPark in its early days, pulling out trees by the roots to demonstrate their opposition. However, the EcoPark learned to involve local community members in its mission and eventually won their support.
“The people who started the EcoPark asked us to help plant the trees, and we started working together to protect this land,” remembers Inas Hishan, a young woman from the area who now works with the EcoPark. As the EcoPark yielded lush fields and brought in waves of tourists, local communities have responded with support.
Outside of Jordan, reforestation and afforestation policies have been accomplished across the world, from Tunisia to Spain. In the United Arab Emirates, planting trees has also served as a valuable strategy to prevent sand encroachment and protect infrastructure. However, some reforestation projects have drawn criticism: for example, in Israel’s Yatir Forest, there is evidence that reforestation may have been detrimental to desert ecosystems despite the high cost of implementation. Looking forward, scientists must focus on selecting apt environments for reforestation such as the Sahel and North Australia, where reforestation could exact dramatic – and positive – benefits on the global climate. In these two areas in particular, reforestation has the potential to shift wind systems, creating rain and facilitating the growth of natural forests. As scientists and environmentalists set their sights on new locations in Jordan for reforestation, the EcoPark model of hiring local community members and promoting economic development will be a valuable reference.
Zoe H. Robbin is a researcher in Amman, Jordan, where she analyzes USAID, EU, and other development initiatives with INTEGRATED. She is a Fulbright research finalist, senior fellow with Humanity in Action, and member of Foreign Policy for America’s (FP4A) NextGen Middle East working group.