Sustainable development

The first 1000 trees planted in the DRC



At the start of the academic year, the University of Liège, on the proposal of its Green Office, undertook to offer a tree to each new student enrolled in BAC1. A project that is now taking shape with the planting of the first one thousand seedlings by ERAIFT students in the Luki reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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little before Christmas, students from the Regional Post-Graduate School of Integrated Management of Forests and Tropical Territories (ERFAIT) in Kinshasa planted 1,508 trees in the Luki Reserve, located in the south of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The beginning of the project, carried out by ULiège and its Green Office in collaboration with ERAIFT, consists in offering a tree to each new student enrolled in BAC1. Eventually, four thousand trees will be planted and will allow the restoration of an area deforested by agricultural activities. It takes time to produce nursery plants that are suitable for planting," explains Jean-Louis Doucet, professor of tropical forestry at Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech and project coordinator on site. "The ERAIFT staff were so motivated to be able to start the project that we decided to proceed with the planting in several stages, starting with a small batch of sufficiently vigorous seedlings. »

The Luki reserve was not chosen at random, it was the students of the Green Office, in collaboration with the Forest is Life experts of the TERRA unit (Jean-Louis Doucet, Baudouin Michel and Cédric Vermeulen), who selected this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the last remnant of the Congolese Mayombe forest, admirable for its rich biodiversity. A veritable open-air laboratory, the Luki reserve - whose surface area is estimated at around 33,000 hectares - is a reference site for the study of alternative solutions to deforestation. A reserve that is well known to ERAIFT researchers and students who participate in and support numerous teaching and research projects.  The students were impatient to be able to start the project and plant the first trees," says Jean-Louis Doucet. In spite of the complicated climatic conditions, their motivation never waned. »

This is an important project that has just been launched by ULiège and ERAIFT, both symbolically and ecologically. The reforestation of degraded areas, provided that it is done in a participatory way in order to guarantee its sustainability, contributes to the reduction of greenhouse gases and therefore acts as a brake on global warming. Reforestation will be carried out little by little using local species with high heritage value. This type of project is really important," says Jean-Louis Doucet, "especially in this type of area, where forests are being massively converted into agricultural zones due to the high demand for food and firewood in a context of demographic growth. However, the populations must be allowed to feed themselves from the forest, to grow food crops and to produce wood to heat their food. The approach developed with ERAIFT is in line with this approach since the plantations are carried out in the transition zone of the Biosphere Reserve, which must guarantee sustainable agriculture with low environmental impact, particularly through agroforestry practices. The plantation zone has therefore been defined by a management committee involving the local population and the species chosen are multi-use. They will be used to produce fruit and wood, and will be home to edible caterpillars". With this project, the protagonists will enable the restoration of four hectares of forest. The next three years will be mainly dedicated to the maintenance of the areas under restoration, ensuring that the plants can grow properly and not be invaded by competing vegetation. The first caterpillars and fruits are expected within five to six years. In the case of wood, more patience will be required. As a symbolic mirror effect, at the ULiège, a plantation of about forty fruit trees will be organised by the Green Office on the Sart Tilman Campus in order to regenerate its old orchards, probably in October.

The reaction of the students from the Green Office in Liège was not long in coming ... "An initiative with multiple roots, the same shared feeling: that of acting for the future! says Perrine. This twinning, which has its roots in both Europe and Africa, brought together young and old, professionals and students... all of them aware of environmental changes and wishing to respect our planet more by acting for its well-being. More than a feeling of individual pride and joy, it is certainly that of participating in the preservation of our environment that dominates. Everyone has made a modest contribution: both the ERAIFT students by working in the Luki reserve and the Uliège under the impetus of the Green Office. "The tree lives by its roots and the man of society" (Georgian proverb). By mobilising us in this way, it gives a glimpse of a promising future for this ecosystem of ours. "Héléna concludes: "It is exciting to have a common project with a university so far away! Thanks to the photos they sent us, I had the feeling to know them a little... I am looking forward to meeting them in video conference! »

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