Could Planting Trees Help Stop Civil Wars Before They Start?

A Dutch startup wants to prevent violence by putting down roots.

Could Planting Trees Help Stop Civil Wars Before They Start?

What if some of the world's biggest problems could be addressed, bit by bit, with each tree you planted?

For Land Life Company,  a startup based in the Netherlands, that idea isn't as absurd as it might sound. In fact, the social enterprise has set its sights on a far-reaching goal it believes can tackle help tackle poverty and civil war: reforesting the planet.

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"We want people to know that this is possible," Charlotte Jongejan, the head of marketing and communications for Land Life Company, told A Plus. "We can reforest the planet. We just want as many people as possible to fund projects and get involved themselves with their local NGOs and charities and plant trees in their own backyards. The power of a tree is a immeasurable."

Land Life Company

Just how powerful is a forest, though? According to Jongejan, some of the world's biggest issues can be traced back to land degradation, or the value of land decreasing because of human use and climate change. Jongejan says there's a correlation between poverty, war and migration issues that link directly to land degradation.

"The whole European refugee crisis can be traced back through routes of land degradation in the Middle East region and Syria," she said. "It causes people to leave because there is no way they can survive off the land anymore. It raises tensions between groups. Ultimately, it can lead to civil war, and it does, very frequently."

Land Life Company is tackling the issue in a number of innovative ways. The founders, Jurriaan Ruys and Eduard Zanen, are two Dutch men who were both engineers before starting Land Life Company. Like many innovative startups before it, Land Life Company began its mission in a garage testing prototypes to improve the efficiency of planting trees and combatting land degradation. 

Today, Ruys and Zanen's company has planted over 250,000 trees, has 30 employees in four countries, and expects both of those numbers to grow exponentially in the coming years. Land Life Company always employs local workers, Jongejan said, and the team "secures the land" by receiving guarantees from landowners that the trees they plant won't be disturbed or removed for 40 years. That way, planters know the trees will go a long way towards restoring the ecosystem and improving the land.

Land Life Company

The company's signature innovation is a biodegradable cocoon that helps seedlings mature into plants or trees. Its design includes 25 liters of water that surrounds the plant so it can grow even in the harshest conditions.

"We know that if we can find a solution for these degraded millions of hectares of land and bring them back to life, we're doing a number of different things at the same time," Jongejan explained. "You're making the land fertile for animal life, you're bringing down the temperature, you're providing food, livelihood, jobs and economic influx into communities."

Recently, through a partnership with the U.N.'s refugee agency UNHCR, Land Life Company employed Nigerian refugees to replant trees in Cameroon. As Fast Company recent reported, when the refugees from Nigeria arrived in Cameroon, thousands of trees surrounding the camp were cut down to be used for firewood and cooking. But more than 60,000 refugees are now using Land Life Company's technology to replant as many as 40,000 trees. The cocoon will typically provide enough water for the trees to survive until the rainy season.

Land Life Company has other developments in the pipeline, too. Jongejan described remote monitoring systems with satellites and drones that store information in large databases. Using that database, the company is currently developing artificial intelligence analysis capabilities that will help it predict how best to plant trees in new areas.

Perhaps the most intriguing development is what Jongejan called a "tree-planting robot" that can drill holes, place the seedling cocoon into the ground and fill the cocoon with water. Of course, a robot could also work through the night, improving Land Life Company's efficiency on larger scale projects where human labor wouldn't be enough.

"When you're in the places where we're planting, you frequently get a chance to go out in the field and you're reminded of why we're doing this," she said. "Unfortunately, there is a whole lot of land out there that is completely useless and worthless and more and more people who depend on that land to survive."

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