October 2022 - Reforestation Project Update
Updated: Oct 26, 2022
Since our last report in early August, our effort to reforest 70 acres of degraded land around the village of Myinmethi (Shan State) has now completed its first season. We are looking forward to the coming 9 seasons of this 10 year program!
We’ll present here what’s been achieved, the financials, some (good) news from our key partners, and our next priorities.
The past three months were fully dedicated to out-planting. This is the period where all things come together: new soil is brought to the planting sites, the compost is mixed, and the seedlings are transported and then carefully planted into the pits.
Optimising the mix
Since May, the programme has been collecting vegetal waste from the villagers, which is then grinded into large pits. Over months, organic processes have transformed the waste into a brown paste: compost. This compost is mixed with reclaimed soil (1 truckload of compost for 4 truckloads of soil). The mix is used to fill in the pits that were dug out (see previous reports).
The logistics of out-planting
Out-planting a tree is very simple: bring the seedling to the pit, fill the pit with mix, water, done!. Out-planting 50,000 trees, over 3 distinct plots of land up to 2 miles from another within a tight timeframe dictated by seasonality: this is another story! Over the last 3 months, our small truck has been working from dawn to dusk, ceaselessly, and every night, it was serviced by our dedicated mechanic. In order to complete this effort before the dry season, mastering the precision of the logistics is absolutely necessary:
each pit is 2 ft deep and 1 ft diameter, that’s 0.17m3 of mix per pit
50,000 trees to plant,
meaning 8,500 m3 of mix is required… Just imagine the thousands and thousands trips from one compost pit to a site of soil extraction, and then to the vicinity of a group of workers planting the seedlings (dispersed over several kilometres).
A race against weather
In the tropics, there’s only 2 seasons: the rainy season and the dry season. Seedlings must be planted during the rainy season, and the earlier the better: the roots can develop in the large pit (see the volume above), in the ground rendered soft by the rain.
Once the dry season settles, the ground will become very hard, and the young baby-tree will struggle to grow. To help manage this, we’ve carefully selected 3 very hardy species for the Myinmethi program: acacia mangium, parkia speciosa and acrocarpus fraxinifolius as they can grow directly under the sun, pass the first dry season, and grow quickly after the next rain falls (June 2023). They have also been chosen because they are nitrogen-fixing species, and they will fertilise the soil around them.
At the moment of writing this report (22 October) we can declare victory: all the seedlings were planted 2 weeks ago, and it is still raining from time to time, but the dry season is clearly around the corner!
Young seedlings, planted early in the season, are more susceptible to pests because they have not had a chance to build up their natural resistance as found in mature plants. They are smaller and their leaves are softer, making them easy targets for pests like aphids, spider mites, whiteflies, thrips, and caterpillars. With a large area to cover and limited means, ACRE’s team sprays some pesticides on precise areas where pests are concentrated. We also strive to control root maggots (tiny white larvae) that eat up the roots in certain areas.
The reforestation project helps the village to discover some “secret land disputes”... While the village council committed to 150 acres (60 ha) in 7 precisely delimited plots, the more our agroforestry works progress, the more cases of “owners” disputes come to us in the form of land claims.
We refer these to the village Chief, who always expresses surprise (he’s the one who should know better)! Systematically, these disputes have been resolved with the claim being refuted, or where the village exchanges an unencumbered plot.
Lately we faced a more difficult version of this story: there’s a guy known as “Ko Aung” (not his real name) who lives in an isolated house outside the village. He’s been in jail, and everyone is afraid of him. He vehemently shows his support for the military junta. One day, he showed up and claimed a large area that had been designated for us by the village council, and on which we had already dug over 700 pits! The Chief didn’t want to intervene, so it took all the courage, empathy and the diplomatic talent of our Operation Manager, Saw Ehphoe, to meet Ko Aung and sort out the problem. Eventually we lost only 200 pits: it represents 0.4% of all the pits dug so far, a small price to pay to be at peace with Ko Aung…
Our star species
Please have a look at what our seedlings, now out planted, now look like:
How much has been spent on operations (click to enlarge)
How much has been spent on equipment
Notes to the accounting statements
No income is expected before Year 6 (2027)
We isolated all expenses directly related to forming compost: compensation to encourage farmers dropping their waste, digging the large compost pits, running the grinders
What was budgeted were only set up expenses. Finally we ended up accounting as "others" lots of small expenses in relation with staff (snacks, drinking water, extra bonuses...
The difference is mainly due to higher productivity during pit-digging phase: we expected 60 pits per work day, workers ended up achieving up to 80 or 90 pits per day.
Covers shifting machines among locations, transport of managers to Yangon and back, moving staff to Inle Lake for team-building activity.
We're finally 7% under budget after the first planting season, which is a source of satisfaction.
We purchased only 1 grinding machine (instead of 2) and shifted it from one compost pit to another. And we recycled markers sticks (instead of buying new ones).
Originally we envisaged purchasing a tuk tuk (powered 3-wheels vehicle), we decided against it.
Budget for the dry season:
Until next rainy season expected in June 2023, the budget of the Myinmethi project stands at roughly US$1,200 per month, which represents the management (operations, community and accounting) and the guards (day and nights shifts). Note that the day guards also perform weed cleaning maintenance tasks.
Situation of Participations:
TNC and RECOFTC field visit
Partnership really taking shape:
Since the beginning, we’ve told our faithful investors about the close relationship ACRE has formed with two major players in the space of conservation and reforestation in South East Asia: RECOFTC and The Nature Conservancy [TNC]. The relationship is solidifying with Dr Tint Lwin Thaung - TNC’s Regional Director - paying a visit to our site on 13th October 2022. He was accompanied by Dr Maung Maung Than, the Country Director of RecofTc for Myanmar. Both came with members of their staff to assess the quality of ACRE operations at Myimethi programme. A meeting was also organised with the members of Myinmethi Community.
While it would not be appropriate to put words in their mouths, it seems they were satisfied! Dr Maung Maung pointed out that the communication between ACRE and the villagers could be improved, a remark that our community manager U Myint Zaw will certainly act upon.
Dr Tint said that TNC may be able to provide some financial assistance to both ACRE and RECOFTC, which could allow for another 80 acres extension of Myinmethi programme in 2023, and maybe more in other areas of Myanmar in the future.
Conference for leaders of Burmese entreprise
The Young Presidents Organisation [YPO] is a worldwide club of business owners. The YPO has a section in Yangon that gathers influential and rich business owners. They invited Philippe Lenain, co-founder of ACRE, to deliver a presentation about deforestation and reforestation. You may download the presentation with this link.
A short video of the initial 20 minutes of the speech is also available on Youtube.
Our next priorities
We have set up 4 booths so that our guards can keep in sight all 4 corners of all the areas reforested under the project.
We maintain all year long, 7 days a week, and h24, a pair of guards on duty.They are equipped with a smartphone and an app that records their whereabouts.
They have a precise job description: walking the borders of our plots, days and nights.
We are going to monitor the destruction by pests.
Our aim is to let nature regenerate itself, so we refrain from using pesticides. We are ready to replant some seedlings at the beginning of next rainy season.
This said, in areas that are particularly infected, we shall envisage some local actions, trying to limit using chemical pesticides whenever possible.
Gearing to fire-prevention mode:
The monsoon season is decided by the direction of dominant winds: when winds blow from the South, they push humid air (from the Indian Ocean) over lands, and it’s raining a lot. The coast of Myanmar along the Gulf of Bengal receives one of the highest annual rainfall on Earth.
This changes from the end of October to mid-November, when the dominant wind blows from the North. When they reach Myanmar, they’ve covered thousands of kilometres over dry land, from Siberia southward. This air is dry, it chases all clouds and dries the landscape very quickly.
By January, we expect the Myinmethi program to be extremely dry. This is the danger zone, when a cigarette butt can turn all our efforts to smoking ashes…
We’ve already suffered destruction by fire in the past, so we’re aware of the danger, and we keep our guards on high alert.
The main peril comes from villagers who set their own fields ablaze, in the “slash and burn” tradition… A tradition that makes no sense, because they all use chemical fertilisers anyway! Often, they can’t control the fire and it ravages hectares before it dies out.
Another peril comes from groups of villagers who hunt: in order to force small animals (rabbits) to flee, they separate: one group sets bushes in fire at the bottom of the gill, others wait with home-made guns and shoot the animals. Of course, they don’t care if the fire gets out of control.
THANK YOU FOR READING, NEXT REPORT IN JANUARY 2023, DON'T HESITATE TO CONTACT US!