We had another reforestation minga but instead of maintaining trees, we actually got to plant new saplings along the slope. It was another steep and muddy hike to the site but this time we also had to carry boxes of baby trees. We planted two different types of trees, one was native and fixed nitrogen while the other was non-native but able to out-compete the tall grass that covers the hillsides and usually chokes out native plants. The tall grass that covered all the hillsides was actually introduced from Africa and planted to reduce soil erosion on the slopes while keeping pasture land suitable for cattle. Something about combatting a non-native plant with another non-native plant is a red flag to the ecologist within me. But the long term plan is to eventually weed out the non-native trees and replace them with endemic species once the forest is established and the grass is eradicated so it won’t out-compete the saplings.
A lot more people showed up at this minga and there were not only men but rather a few women and children this time too. A bunch of people dug holes in rows, as everyone else followed and planted trees. There were a lot of people helping so the work was done in a few hours. Overall we has planted 500 trees, adding to the 60,000+ trees that had already been planted over the past 10 years, or so. It was pretty cool because we were able to see the trees that had been planted the past two years since the class started. They have grown fairly quickly from tiny saplings to trees that are taller than a person. The community hopes to eventually reforest the whole slope.
It was neat because one man from the community guided us up to the top of the hill to show us the trees from past years and, as we hiked, he also pointed out interesting plants and also told us a little bit about the past of the area. His great-grandparents (the great-grandparents of the community) has arrived to the area and immediately began clearing the land for farming and pasture without thinking about the fact that it is much easier to cut down a forest than to regrow one. After the trees were cut, many of the water sources dried up so the whole village and most of the surrounding villages pipe their water from a single water source which is essentially a tiny trickle of a stream that runs through a small patch of forest that is left over on the hillside. We actually saw one of the pipes that travelled across the ridge line and down in to the neighboring valley for communities on the other side. One of the dreams of the reforestation project is that it will eventually re-establish the eater sources that have since dried up from the deforestation.