This week, some people questioned the workability of the exciting news that NNPC Ltd has taken a pioneering step by signing a significant Green Economy and Energy Development Partnership agreement with the Niger State Government. This collaboration focuses on four key projects, including a hydroelectric power project, solar parks, an ethanol plant, and the planting of 135 million trees to align with NNPC’s 2030 net-zero targets. The Governor of Niger State himself, Umar Mohammed Bago, aims to plant 1 billion trees on 1 million hectares in the next eight years, receiving support from NNPC and seeking collaboration with global entities, including oil and gas, shipping, airlines, cement companies, and the United Nations.
All this is cheering news. But what concerns us today is the tree planting component because that’s where many people invited me to comment seeing that my initiative, 200MillionTrees, is planting one tree for every Nigerian.
One of those who questioned the possibility of planting one billion trees on one million hectares is an elder I rely on for his insightful commentary on government policies and – I dare say – one of the most educated northern Nigerian princes.
“Salam Dr You are the expert,” he said, “can you plant 1 billion trees on 1 million hectares of land? That’s 1000 trees per ha. What will be the spacing for this project?”
His observation forced me to examine the numbers.
“Trees need spacing to thrive,” he continued, “NNPC wants to do 135m on 100,000ha. That’s plant density of 1,350 per ha.”
At first, I told him that only Akira Miyawaki Forest model could accommodate the number (more about that in a moment) but I then realized that even our run-of-the-mill fruit planting could accommodate the number. But before giving you the three models that will work (which we’ve tried in our projects), it appears that both NNPC and Niger State Government are in good company.
Saudi Arabia, led by Crown Prince Mohammed Salman, has launched an initiative to plant 10 billion trees, aiming to combat pollution and land degradation. The country, a major oil exporter, is committed to reducing carbon emissions, to generate half of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. Accordingly, the Petroleum Ministry has been renamed the Ministry of Energy. The Crown Prince’s Middle East Initiative aims to unite regional countries facing environmental challenges, aiming to plant 50 billion trees on 40 million hectares of land, reducing over 130 million tons of carbon emissions. The initiative employs techniques like desalination and cloud seeding to conserve water for tree cultivation and plans to expand protected desert and marine ecosystems to cover 30% of the country’s territory, addressing economic losses and improving life expectancy impacted by sandstorms and greenhouse gases.
If we look at Saudi’s numbers, theirs is 1,250 trees per hectare. Now let’s see the three ways this can be done in Niger State.
One: Akira Miyawaki Forest Model
The Akira Miyawaki Forest Model is a reforestation and afforestation technique developed by Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki. This model involves the plantation of native plant species in a specific way to accelerate the growth of a forest and restore biodiversity. One of the key advantages of the Akira Miyawaki Forest Model is that it is designed to accelerate the growth of a forest, often achieving a dense and biodiverse ecosystem in a shorter time compared to traditional reforestation methods.
The way it achieves that is by planting between 3 and 5 seedlings per square meter. That’s 30,000 to 50,000 trees per hectare.
The point of the Miyawaki model is to engender competition among the trees. If three to five trees are planted in one square meter space, the trees will not have access to sunlight from the sides, therefore they compete for vertical space to get the sunlight. It is this competition that ensures the rapid growth of the forest so that you achieve in a few decades what usually takes 100 to 200 years.
I’ve demonstrated this in my house in Minna. But here’s a simple experiment you can do yourself. Take a seedling – even a dwarf variety – and plant it near a wall. The tree will compete for vertical space with the wall until it gets taller than the wall. It will not allow the wall to outshine it – literally.
Two: Wambugu Apple Tree Planting Model:
A couple of months ago, Professor Mohammed Aliyu Paiko, the deputy vice-chancellor of academics of IBB University Lapai, brought me some apple seedlings from Kenya when he went to the climate summit. Wambugu apple has proven to thrive even where apples are not supposed to grow in Africa. But what’s interesting about it is the spacing the Wambugu family (led by the daughter Kate) recommends between the trees. The spacing is 2.5 meters between the trees and 2.5 meters or 3 meters between the rows. This way, one can comfortably plant 600 seedlings on one acre.
Seeing that one hectare equals 2.4 acres, it means that Governor Bago and NNPC can actually plant 1,440 trees on one hectare if they were planting apple trees. But they’re not planting apples because I know that Niger State Green Economy Committee (of which I’m a member) has listed 32 native varieties and 26 fruit varieties to plant. “We want to plant fruit trees,” Governor Bago said, “because our people are hungry.”
Three: Papaya Plantation Model:
Those who do commercial papaya (pawpaw) farming implement a distance of less than 2 meters between the trees. Some do 1.8 meters. Indeed, the Indian Government recommends 1.5m by 1.5m or 1.2m x 1.2m for high-density farming because it “enhances the returns to the farmer.”
Using this model, Governor Bago can plant 6,400 trees on one hectare.
In sum, whether Niger State and NNPC are going to plant native trees or fruit trees on their respective one million hectares and 100,000 hectares, they will have enough room to accommodate their one billion trees. So this shouldn’t be a problem. The focus should be on the efficient implementation of these policies; because even the logistics involved in the undertaking of the ambitious projects are enormous.