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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 November, 2003, 17:02 GMT
Cubans plant trees to save soil
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

Sapling, TVE
The answer is in long-term care
Cuban farmers are working to make good years of deforestation and soil loss by planting trees on sensitive hillsides.

The government pays land workers in the south-east of the island to establish trees in designated areas - giving them a large bonus only if they survive.

This innovative approach ensures farmers continue to care for saplings.

In many parts of Cuba, trees were cleared to grow tobacco and sugar cane. It resulted in unprotected soils - and even roads - being washed away by rain.

And in Bayamo, for instance, where the trial reforestation is taking place, rivers became choked with the mud that poured off the bare hillsides.

The farmers involved in the reforestation programme describe its beginnings in You Woodn't Know, a film in the Hands On series made by Television Trust for the Environment (TVE) and shown on BBC World.

Wood crop

About 10 years ago, the government tried to halt the damage caused by deforestation, but local people say the results were very disappointing, because there was no attempt to follow up the scheme.

Few of the millions of trees planted then survived, so the government is now trying a new tack - forest farms, managed by state-run enterprises.

Road, TVE
Roads have fallen away
Families on the farms, which are known as forestals, are responsible for reforesting an average area of 30 to 50 hectares (75-125 acres).

The farmers are chosen according to need, and are paid a wage: if 85% of their trees survive, they receive a 30% bonus.

The first trees to be planted are fast-growing species for firewood. Next come local hardwoods and fruit trees, planted in the available shade.

The fast-growing trees are cut after a few years, while the others are left to mature. I time there will be selective logging of the high-quality timber, except, crucially, near the rivers.

Tough tea

A local man tells the crew: "We're not allowed to cut the trees until we're about 50 metres away. That's what protects the soil so that it doesn't erode and seep into the river."

The scheme is proving popular. One woman tells the TVE programme: "Life here was hard because our homes were deteriorating.

"This is the new house. I have three bedrooms, the kitchen, the eating area, and the sitting room. This is really a big house."

Hill, TVE
Hillsides have been cleared for tobacco and sugar plantations
The film features several other schemes in different parts of the world where local communities are working to protect trees by using them sustainably.

One, on the coast of Brazil, is protecting mangrove swamps because they are home to the oysters that have traditionally been harvested there.

The shellfish were declining as the mangroves retreated. But a recently formed co-operative has managed to improve the quality of the oysters, and is now earning four times more from the catch than previously.

Other initiatives shown in the film include a scheme in Denmark which is making a new sort of herbal organic tea from the bark of an oak tree.

It has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as a sustainable product, and is said to be too bitter to appeal to any but "hardcore" tea drinkers.

Country profile: Cuba
10 Oct 03  |  Country profiles
Mexico's 'devastating' forest loss
04 Mar 02  |  Americas

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