August 2022 - Reforestation Project Update
Updated: Oct 24, 2022
Over June and July, our team has dug out 37,000 large pits in the tough rocky soil of this year’s 70 acres (28 ha) target site around the village of Myinmethi. Sign boards and landmarks have been erected to raise awareness about the project. Over 700 m3 of compost have been produced out of vegetal waste collected from farmers. It is now being mixed with soil and transported nearby the pits, scattered over the site. The seedlings, purchased from privateers, were transported to the site and are carefully stored, waiting for their out-planting. At the time of sending this report, already 14,000 have been planted into their pit. One of our worker suffered a scary accident, but has recovered since. The budget of the project is under control: equipment expenses are 7% lower than expected, and operation expenses are 30% under budget.
A real reforestation adventure!
Installing signs and landmarks around the site
Myanmar is not a country governed by the Rule of Law. So it’s important for ACRE to “raise the flag”, or at least to show clearly what are its intentions, and to materialise the area that was allocated to the project by the community of Myinmethi village. To that extent we’ve posted a few signs around the areas under reforestation: the green ones relate the goals of ACRE and summarise the conditions of the agreement with the community. The red ones are “DOs and DON’Ts”. The feedback we get from the community are extremely positive so far. The initial surprise evolves into respect and even sometimes inspiration!
Pits are dug to a depth of 3 ft (90 cm) and 1 ft (30 cm) width.
Already 45,000 have been dug since May, in most hard rocky soil (look at the gravels extracted!). This considerable effort, that has necessitated lots of muscular, and also mechanised, force, is a precondition for the project’s success. Young seedlings will stand a chance to develop strong roots and survive the upcoming dry season (November to May).
Marking the pits
Pits are separated from one another by an average 6 ft (roughly 2 m). They are scattered over many hectares. Accidents resulting in broken legs would be frequent if they were not marked with a bamboo stick. Markers also help making sure we don’t forget any when filling or out-planting. Once an area is completed, markers are removed and used in another part of the project.
Each pit forms a volume of 0.064 m3. This year’s target of 55,000 pits gives roughly 3,500 m3 to be filled. Compost is mixed to soil in a proportion of 20%, hence we need to produce 700 m3 of compost!
As explained in last report, we associated the village’s population and we’ve collected a formidable amount of agricultural waste. Many villagers pay the effort to bring it to our site. Some of them say they’re inspired by seeing rich compost, they begin to understand that it may replace some of the costly fertilisers they purchase to grow their crops…
Mixing soil with compost
It is sometimes overlooked or forgotten, but after digging pits in rocky soil, we don’t have any soil to refill the pit when we plant the seedling… So a significant portion of ACRE’s resources go to digging soil, loading it into a truck, and drive the truck to “mixing sites” scattered throughout the project area. Then compost is also loaded into the truck and brought to be mixed, forming the growing media in which the young tree is going to start its life.
Transporting mix to pre-fill the pits
It would take too much time, and bring a lot of confusion, if we were out-planting the seedling and re-filling the pit at the same time. As a consequence, we refill the pits with the growing media (mix of soil and compost) in advance.
With a little luck, rain will compact the pit a little, avoiding the seedling to sink at the time of out-planting. Currently our little truck runs from dawn to dusk, mainly transporting soil.
Storing the seedlings
Back in May, ACRE has procured the necessary seedlings for the 55,000 pioneer trees to be planted this year.
Contracts were signed with 3 private nurseries, operated by experienced staff who have worked all their life in Forest Department’s (government) nurseries. We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the first seedling we received. We had to organise the transportation (some come from as far as 70 km away) and then the storage. Seedlings are like human babies: they need constant care. When rain doesn’t come we water them, and we progressively removed all shades so as they accustom to full daylight prior to being planted in their pit.
Transporting seedlings to planting site
An average 500 - 800 m is the distance between out seedling storage site and the pit where it is planted. Some of our staff who own a motorcycle have specialised in transporting the precious baby-trees, 20 at a time.
Out-planting the seedlings
While we described in last report that few Myinmethi villagers took on the jobs offered by ACRE (we had to hire from the much poorer lower Burma “Dry Zone”), they have been far more attracted since we’ve been offering jobs for out-planting.
As a matter of fact, they show lots of care and even love in the delicate action that consists taking the fragile roots out of their plastic container, and carefully planting it in the compost mix. Most of the out-planting staff are villagers.
Happy ending to an accident
Myinmethi village sits at an altitude of 1,400 m (4,600 ft), so the climate is very temperate and we would easily forget we’re deep into the tropics… We were reminded when one of ACRE’s staff was bitten by a venomous snake on 6th July. He was immediately transported to the village’s physician who took good care of him. A few days later he was on his feet and back to work.
Maintenance and repairs
Among ACRE staff of the Myinmethi village program, we employ a full time mechanic. He’s fully busy, changing oil, spark plugs, replacing bearings, changing spares. What keeps him most busy? The truck, undoubtedly, but also the bush cutters and the jackhammers. His salary is naturally higher than that of unspecialised workers, but it offers a particularly high return to the project: without his expertise and care, all the machinery would already be damaged in the rough climate and environment of tropical highlands. To date, the full US$12,100 invested by ACRE in equipment for the project are fully operational.
For the first 3-months period (1st May to 31st July), a total of US$31,074 has been engaged to the program. Capital expenditure (Capex), i.e. equipment, represent US$11,274 [36%] and Operational expenses (Opex) US$19,800 [64%]. Main categories of expenses are listed below:
We spent less than budgeted in equipment: we initially envisaged more mechanisation, but found out that the landscape favoured manual work. Fixed installations were built for the staff coming from the Dry Zone at a lower cost than budgeted, while the truck cost us slightly more than envisaged. Altogether, we’re 34% under budget in Capital Expenditure.
ACRE managed to spend 34% less than budgeted on the workforce. This probably reflect the exceptional productivity of our staff coming from the Dry Zone! We’re also under budget on the “seedlings” cost: the suppliers provided really nice seeds;ings (see pictures below) at a very competitive price. Setup expenses were spent before we started the project. We also managed to save e on gasoline cost, but the trend is reversing fast with the price of fuel having skyrocketed in July. Altogether we’re 16% under budget for Opex.
In August and September, our objectives are:
Complete out-planting all the seedlings before the dry season
Maintain high spirit and productivity among our staff
Continue involving more Myinmethi villagers in our activity
Build up support from the community