Saving the Planet / Happy Earth Day

This Friday (April 22nd) is Earth Day and people around the world are coming together to plant ‘Trees for the Earth’. Why Trees? Trees help combat climate change, help us breathe clean air, and help communities! At Mercy Ships we are working to make a positive impact on the environment and eliminate deforestation in Madagascar through our Food for Life (FFL) program.

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Deforestation in Numbers
• About 36 football fields worth of trees are lost every minute (WWF)
• Every year we loose an area roughly the size of Panama to deforestation
• Africa suffers from deforestation at twice the world rate (UNEP)
• Deforestation has wiped out roughly 90% of West Africa
• In the past three decades Africa lost the highest percentage of tropical forests of any continent ( FAO)
• Massive deforestation threatens food security in some African Countries.
• 90% of Africa’s population relies on wood as fuel for heating and cooking

Effects caused by Deforestation
• Global Climate Change
o Deforestation impacts the global carbon cycle. Greenhouse gases are molecules that absorb thermal infrared radiation. If greenhouse gases are in large enough quantities, they can force climate change. Trees can help. 300 billion tons of carbon (40 times the annual greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels) is stored in trees.
• Loss of Species
o 70% of the world’s plants and animals live in forests and are losing their habitats to deforestation.
• Water Cycle
o Trees absorb rain water and produce water vapor that is released into the atmosphere and lesson the pollution in water.
• Soil Erosion
o Tree roots anchor soil and without this soil is free to wash or blow away.
• Life quality
o Soil erosion can lead to silt entering lakes, streams and other bodies of water. This can lead to poor water quality and poor health.

More than three-quarters of Malagasy families earn a living from agriculture. Madagascar implements slash and burn methods of farming, locally known as tavy. This practice is the main cause of deforestation in Madagascar and has had a detrimental role on agricultural productivity. Because of this and frequent natural disasters Madagascar has some of the highest malnutrition rates in the world.
But, imagine there was a way to save the trees while solving malnutrition and providing career opportunities all at the same time. The FFL program makes this a reality by training up to 50 agricultural specialists each year to implement sustainable agricultural techniques and educate local communities in their environment. These farming methods help produce up to five times as much produce. With this yield, local farmers can feed their families a balanced diet and use their additional harvest as income to pay medical bills and fund education.

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Eliphaz Essah is in charge of Mercy Ships Food for Life Program and sums up the initiative quite well:
“You cannot have good nutrition if you don’t produce good food. We emphasize producing organic food to produce good food. We are teaching the trainees to transform the way they think to produce good food.”

How the FFL program is making a positive impact in Madagascar
o Farmers are producing up to 5X as much produce
o Revenue is generated by the sales of extra produce
o With a financial means Farmers have an income to pay for Medical Treatments and education
o The Environment is protected from the traditional methods of slash and burn and trees are being saved!