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Why we depend on trees for survival

Saturday November 17 2012

Sunny Bindra’s recent articles in the Sunday Nation have been spot on. Issues he touched on include the numerous tangible and intangible benefits trees bring to people in cities.

Research by the World Agroforestry Centre has established that certain species of trees fertilise the soil by capturing atmospheric nitrogen, leading to higher crop yields.

Millions of smallholder maize growers in Africa can reduce their reliance on expensive inorganic fertilisers simply by planting nitrogen-fixing trees among their crops.

Besides enriching it with nitrogen, trees are able to stabilise and heal the soil. Trees do this by supporting a host of below-ground organisms such as earthworms, termites, ants, and microscopic bacteria and fungi. These living organisms are the real heroes of farm productivity.

Above the ground, trees provide a home for pollinators – birds and insects – without which the world’s food production would cease.

We know that 70-80 per cent of the developing world’s population depends on traditional herbal remedies for routine ailments.

Traditionally, trees have provided people with fruits, nuts, vegetables and fodder for their animals. Most indigenous fruits have much higher nutritional values than commonly grown foods.

Trees are important living assets for rural households – they can bring in cash when sold for timber or firewood. Today, it is possible for small-scale farmers growing trees to come together and participate in the global carbon market.

We need to aggressively plant and care for trees since our collective survival depends on them.

Dr Tony Simons, Nairobi.