Eden Reforestation Projects (Eden) was conceptualized in 2005 when Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, invited Dr. Stephen Fitch to take over an abandoned nursery and forest restoration project along the Udo Escarpment near Hawassa, Ethiopia. Hailemariam Desalegn was then the President of the Southern People’s Region of Ethiopia. Dr. Fitch, who had personally seen massive tracts of land decimated by deforestation, accepted the Prime Minister’s offer and began developing and implementing what would eventually become Eden’s unique Employ to Plant methodology: provide sustainable employment to local people to restore and protect their natural environment. People from the local community at Gallo Argesi were hired as the workforce, and within the first year of operation, over 200,000 trees were planted. By the end of the project in 2012, over 15 million trees had been planted by over 3,500 Eden employees. By addressing the link between deforestation and extreme poverty, Eden has developed an effective model for reforestation. Its international efforts have since expanded into other continents and developing countries. Nurseries and reforestation projects with locally-hired employees have been established in Madagascar, Haiti, Nepal, Indonesia, Mozambique, Kenya, Nicaragua, and Honduras. Since its establishment, Eden has planted more than 485 million trees across its project nations, with approximately 20 million trees added each month.
History of Project Nations
With the second largest population in Africa, Ethiopia has been hit by famine many times due to drought and depletion of natural resources. The country has lost 98% of its forested regions in the last 50 years, largely due to the local population cutting down forests to cultivate crops on the land and produce charcoal for cooking and heating. Those practices had quickly turned productive land into desert, which led to an increase in poverty for the local communities.
In 2005, Dr. Stephen Fitch was asked by the President of the Southern People’s Region to take over a failed nursery and reforestation project in Ethiopia. Recognizing the link between extreme poverty and environmental destruction, Dr. Fitch agreed to the President’s request and developed a unique methodology: give jobs to local people by hiring them to plant and care for trees. The forest restoration project at the Udo Escarpment marked the beginning of Eden Reforestation Projects.
Before and After images of Eden’s work in Ethiopia. Photo by Dr. Stephen Fitch.
Local villagers were hired to plant and care for trees at the Udo Three Hills Region and soon after that at a second Sidama Highlands site. After nine years, the project’s success was evident: over 15 million trees were produced, planted, and protected by over 3,500 local community employees. Photographs taken before and after the reforestation show the project sites’ complete transformation from desertified land to healthy emerging forest.
The lessons learned in Ethiopia are what now defines the mission of Eden: provide a cost-effective process to alleviate extreme poverty through environmental stewardship. Ethiopia’s success led to Eden’s expansion to other parts of the world, and new project sites are being explored in Ethiopia for opening in 2021.
Famous for its unique biodiversity and lush forests, Madagascar has some of the rarest animal and plant species on the planet. Tragically, more than 90% of Madagascar’s original forests have been destroyed, wreaking havoc not only on plant and animal life but also on the local communities’ ability to live sustainably off the land and sea. Entire mangrove estuaries have been cut down along the coast, leaving mudflats to wash into the sea and destroying once-productive fisheries. Many fishers have ended up in indentured servitude to survive.
In 2007 Eden had the opportunity to form a local workforce that began to restore mangrove forests in Madagascar’s Mahajanga area. Under Eden’s national leadership, local people were hired to clear the estuary, collect massive numbers of propagules, sort them by species, then return to the estuary at low tide to begin planting. Less than a decade later, a thriving mangrove forest had developed. The successful restoration of the mangroves also initiated the return of a healthy aquatic ecosystem: wildlife such as shrimp, algae, and flamingoes have returned to the newly restored area.
Eden’s initial success with mangrove forests in Madagascar has resulted in expanding to over 60 sites in the northwest. In 2012, dry deciduous forest restoration systems were added to the equation. Extensive infrastructure has been created by hiring additional local employees, including guardhouses, fire towers, and seed banks. Eden has also developed a nursery and reforestation leadership training center that emphasizes practical training, where local nursery managers gain hands-on experience in seedling management and effective reforestation techniques. These managers then partner with local area villages, launch new seedling nurseries, and begin producing, planting, and protecting trees.
Madagascar is now Eden’s most prolific tree planting project nation. By the end of December 2020, more than 407 million trees have been planted in Madagascar by Eden employees, with an average of 14 million more trees being planted every month. Thousands of local people now have consistent employment and can now send their children to school, provide food and clothing for dependent family members, and launch innovative microenterprises.
In 2018 Eden’s success in Madagascar was broadened when it was given the opportunity to manage 2 hectares (13 acres) of land within the city of Mahajanga as a conservatory for endangered wildlife. Eden established the Nature Center, enabling Eden employees to rescue and rehabilitate rare tree species and vanishing animal species such as lemurs (named the world’s most endangered mammal group). Many of the animals are rehabilitated and then released into newly reforested areas to repopulate the regions. The center also serves as a community educational and research center.
Once covered by dense forests, Haiti is now one of the most environmentally degraded countries on the planet. A mere 2% of its original forests remain, and the United Nations estimates that 30% of those remaining trees are being destroyed every year. Today, the main cause of this deforestation is charcoal production, which is consistently increasing in Haiti because it depends on charcoal as its primary fuel source. The consequences have been devastating: massively destructive hurricanes, landslides, soil erosion, and subsequent declines in agricultural productivity are now hallmarks of the island nation. Considerable losses in biodiversity have also naturally followed Haiti’s deforestation, and the abject poverty experienced by over 50% of Haiti’s population has been directly attributed to its environmental degradation.
In 2010 Eden saw the opportunity to begin working in Haiti, which became its most challenging project nation. Constant political unrest and extreme weather are common occurrences. Despite the complications, Eden opened nursery sites in 4 distinct provinces, including Jacmel, and began producing trees immediately. With a strategic focus on agroforestry, Eden partnered with Providence University to begin training the younger generations in environmental care. By producing food trees, small-scale subsistence farmers can increase food production, and food from the trees can then be used within their families and sold at markets as a means for livelihood. Agroforestry trees are distributed to schools across project sites, where teachers are trained in the skills needed to start small nurseries and grow the seedlings. Eden’s work in Haiti has been successful: within a few years, the trees planted have become thriving, sustainable school and community forests. Eden has since expanded its Haiti program to include singling. The singling process – also known as Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration – focuses on restoring native Bayawonn trees that were cut down for fuelwood and charcoal. As a coppice species, the Bayawonn trees that were cut down did not die; instead, the tree stumps began growing into thorny, bushy shrubs. Through the process of singling (cutting away all but one or two trunks), the shrubs grow back into thriving trees, and a healthy canopy grows fairly quickly. Eden’s singling work in Haiti has resulted in diverse forests reemerging in areas that were once completely deforested and desertified.
Today more than 2 million trees have been planted in Haiti, with about 300 local farmers employed. In 2020, Eden’s work in Haiti expanded to the restoration of the nation’s disappearing mangrove systems. Restoring the mangrove habitats is crucial for re-creating the buffer zone that offers protection from hurricanes and for restoring precious wildlife habitats, including coral reefs.
Situated between India and China, Nepal is a country that was once widely covered by forests and rich in biodiversity. Today less than 30% of its forests remain. The consequences of this environmental degradation have been devastating for local populations. Millions of Nepalese who rely on the forest for subsistence and as a source of income are now caught in a cycle of impoverishment; they live with increased food and fuel scarcity, erosion and landslides, and lowland flooding.
In 2015 Eden had the opportunity to begin addressing these issues by initiating planting sites in Nepal, where two nurseries opened near the southeastern border with India. In partnership with Chitwan National Park, and through local leadership and Nepalese employees’ support, Eden planted close to 400,000 seedlings in the first year. Within five years, many of the new trees had already reached heights of 20–30 feet. Ideal climatic conditions contributed to rapid tree growth and the establishment of a healthy canopy. These conditions accelerated a natural regenerative system resulting in the return of various species absent for many years. A wide range of tree species has reappeared through natural regeneration, resulting in a rich forest. Eden’s work in Nepal demonstrates the phenomenon of a new forest being generated in a mere five years. An additional feature of Eden’s work in Nepal is the emphasis on empowering women. Because women face far more economic and educational barriers than men, Eden Projects focuses on hiring single mothers struggling to care for their children. With sustainable employment, these women can ensure their children can receive an education, thus breaking the cycle of poverty, which often begins with a lack of education. Other benefits include reducing child labor, as the children no longer need to work to make ends meet.
Since 2015, Eden has expanded its operations in Nepal to 25 different planting sites spread across geographic locations such as the mountainous region of Nawalparasi, the lowland Terai region, and grassland areas around the central part of the nation. More than 7 million trees have been planted at Eden’s sites in Nepal by 88 full-time employees and ~10,000 seasonal workers.
Comprising over 17,000 islands, Indonesia is one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet and home to about 23% of the world’s mangrove forests. It’s also consistently ranked in the top 3 countries for the highest rate of deforestation. In the last 50 years, Indonesia has lost over 40% of its mangrove forests, affecting not only the environment and species that rely on them but also the communities that depend on this ecosystem for survival. Deforestation has significantly impacted native indigenous communities, who have long been without the economic resources needed to care for themselves and their families.
In 2017 Eden began working to restore mangrove forests in Indonesia. By initiating meetings with local leaders, Eden identified potential planting sites and learned about the local community’s needs. The local leaders on Biak Island had already recognized the urgent need for forest restoration and had independently launched a small-scale mangrove reforestation effort. Acknowledging that financial and other limitations made them unable to scale up their efforts, they partnered with Eden to initiate large-scale reforestation projects. This paved the way for Eden to launch five project sites and hire a local workforce to start planting on Biak Island in West Papua.
After one year, Eden’s planting efforts exceeded initial expectations, with over 1.7 million trees planted by the local workforce. This made Indonesia the most productive first-year launch of any new project initiated by Eden. Since then, Eden has expanded to other islands and the mainland of West Papua and has also begun to plant agroforestry trees that will provide food stability to the local people. By the end of 2020, more than 30 million trees had been planted across ten project sites in Indonesia, and expansion has continued with launching new project sites and 1 million more trees being planted each month.
A former Portuguese colony located on the southeast coast of Africa, Mozambique is home to extensive biodiversity and unique landscapes, with forests critical to its social, environmental, and economic well-being. However, more than 8 million hectares – an area the size of Portugal – have been lost to deforestation. Human activities such as intense demand for firewood and charcoal, transforming forests into farmland, and commercial logging are the leading causes of this massive environmental degradation. The nation has also been severely impacted by the loss of its mangrove forests, which house diverse ecosystems, sequester large amounts of carbon, and create a natural buffer zone for severe storm systems. Deforestation in Mozambique has had devastating impacts on local communities, and today Mozambique is ranked as one of the world’s poorest economies.
In 2018 Eden began exploring potential project sites near Mozambique’s capital in Maputo for reforestation. They met with local people, who were hired to help restore their environment. A large area along the coast that had been stripped of its mangrove ecosystem was identified as the starting point, and with a seed source and a local workforce in place, the project launched. Within the first three months, over 280,000 mangrove trees were planted by the local workforce.
Eden has since expanded efforts to additional sites that include terrestrial tree species in addition to mangrove species. As of July 2020, eight mangrove sites around the Maputo region are under active restoration management, with more than 20 million mangrove trees planted by Eden within Mozambique between October 2018 and December 2020.
Located on the eastern coast of Africa, Kenya is a country famous for its diverse wildlife and wide range of forest types that have long supported its communities. Mismanagement of these forests in recent decades has led to massive environmental degradation; human activities such as logging, charcoal burning, and illegal settling to create farmland are some of the significant factors of deforestation. Today only 7% of Kenya is covered by trees. As a result, the country has seen an increase in severe drought and extreme poverty.
In partnership with the Kijabe Forest Trust and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Eden began working in two distinct regions of Kenya. The Kijabe Forest is located in the Great Rift Valley, where Eden began implementing a vision of restoring a thriving Afromontane ecosystem. These systems are subtropical regions that are critical for providing a reliable water supply, landslide protection, along with other essential systems for communities and wildlife. The Lamu County region is located on Kenya’s coast, where Eden’s work has focused on restoring mangrove and coastal forest habitats.
With the initial goal of producing 3 million trees within the first year of full operations, Eden hired local leaders and employees to produce a mix of native species trees. Planting began in March 2020, and in the first month, employees planted over 50,000 trees. Since then, tree production efforts have scaled up, and Eden has initiated plans to expand its work in Kenya by multiplying nursery and planting sites.
Central America is a biodiversity hotspot with a wide range of ecosystems that include tropical, dry, montane, and mangrove forests. These forests are home to indigenous people and ecosystems with high numbers of endemic species. Despite having over 900 terrestrial and marine protected areas in the region, both the environment and people are under severe threat due to continued deforestation. And while still considered a resource-rich area, Central America has the largest number of people living in extreme poverty in the Americas.
In 2020 Eden had the opportunity to begin working with indigenous communities in Central America in launching reforestation programs in Honduras and Nicaragua. In Honduras, Eden has developed a partnership with La Tigra National Park, a protected area with various ecosystems and forests and critically endangered species. Working with people from Montana Grande, one of the most impoverished communities in the area, Eden employees have begun gathering bare roots to reforest native tree species. Several additional areas have been identified as potential planting sites and 61 communities (with about 31,000 inhabitants) in the area that could work with Eden as the program expands. Eden plans to expand its reforestation work to include large-scale mangrove and agroforestry programs within Honduras.
In Nicaragua, Eden has launched a project site in the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, a transnational area that forms one of Central America’s last remaining large blocks of undisturbed ecosystems. This mostly unexplored region has extremely high biodiversity levels and is home to at least four different indigenous groups who want to preserve their unique cultures and natural resources. It also has one of the highest rates of extreme poverty and deforestation in Latin America. Despite their efforts to protect their land, these communities are constantly threatened by the influx of illegal loggers. By partnering with community leaders, Eden creates sustainable economic opportunities for indigenous people to restore large forest areas and protect the remaining primary forest. Eden’s work in Nicaragua has begun with two project sites, where local people have been employed to produce, plant, protect, and conserve native tree species.
With the launch of both Honduras and Nicaragua in 2020, Eden is looking to expand into additional nations throughout Central America.