Celebrating 28 Years


By John Leary, Executive Director & Jennifer Deng, Communications and Development Director

August 2017

Nearly three decades ago, our founders and original board members consisted primarily of former Peace Corps Volunteers who saw environmental and human catastrophes occurring across the developing world. Subsistence farmers across every agricultural landscape on earth have suffered dearly as trees were lost, watersheds dried up and soils began to die. Unable to feed themselves, millions of farmers left their deforested and degraded farmlands to find a whole host of horrors waiting for them in the slums of capital cities across the developing world.

Until recent years, smallholder farmers were the main cause of global deforestation, slashing and burning most landscapes across the developing tropics to stay alive. Unfortunately, the human suffering wasn’t bad enough to make us stop and act, the continued degradation from agriculture has brought about the 6th great extinction of species on our planet and the continued loss of arable land at a rate of twice the size of Texas every year.

When it comes to tree planting we have tried it all. We’ve seen the good and bad, and today our program benefits from 28 years of research and development. In our 28-year existence the tree planting and farming strategy that has the greatest sustainable and permanent impact at ending the roots causes of deforestation is the Forest Garden. In every developing country, families that have Forest Gardens have more money, better health and stronger resilience to the many shocks that can ruin a farmer’s year. While way too many organizations are trying to help cash crop farmers become better cash crop farmers, we wish for them a different and better future for their families and the land they depend on.

As I write in page 50 of my book One Shot:
As we have seen in Africa time and time again over the past
fifty years, imported agriculture inputs do not “lift farmers up.”
They just shackle them to a dependency on expensive seeds,
fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides that ultimately destroy
their soils and environment, leaving them in worse condition
than when they started. These imported products produce a new
kind of indentureship, making rural farmers once again serfs to
chemical and agribusiness companies of the same industrialized
nations that they fought to free themselves from only decades ago.
Although deforestation and desertification are slowly depleting
the fertility of our soils, the solution cannot be engineered in
a lab, nor can it be solved through a revolving door between
industry, government and nonprofit governance.
There’s got to be a better way, right?
There is.

For those of us who have spent years living in developing communities, we know there is no reason for all the human suffering. Since our founding in 1989, we have found ways to improve the lives of people by planting trees in nearly 60 countries. I personally joined Trees for the Future when we crossed the 30 million tree milestone, and since then we have planted an additional 110 million trees bringing our lifetime total to over 142 million, enough to cover Manhattan nearly ten times over.

Our founder Dave Deppner often repeated the saying: “Too often he who wants to feed the world also wants to sell the seed.” That’s not the type of business we are in. We seek to empower subsistence farmers to raise their income and living standards. This requires breaking their dependence on the fertilizer and inputs providers who benefit as soils worsen. This requires using the remaining agricultural biodiversity we still have to adapt to changing climates.

My proudest moment this year came a few weeks ago as I stood in front of large groups of international development practitioners in two different conferences in Washington DC. They were thrilled to learn how we designed our Forest Garden Training Program to make significant and permanent improvements in poor people’s food security and income while assisting them to plant thousands of trees per family and restore their degraded lands. They cheered as I ended my presentation with a description of our vision for the future:

No chemicals. No deforestation. No need for the world’s
poorest people to send 60 percent of their profits to chemical
and seed suppliers and pest control providers. No burning.
No clearing. No wiping out of forests and biodiversity to feed
ourselves. No advancing desertification. Less risk. Better food
and a lot more of it. (One Shot, pg. 165)

And here we are.  Trees for the Future at 28 years old.  Over 142,000,000 trees.  We just graduated over 600 farmers from the Forest Garden programs in Africa and rounding the corner to graduating another 3,000 more.  Overall, our sustainable Forest Garden approach will lift over 30,000 lives out of poverty, alleviate hunger, increase nutrition and dietary diversity, heal the earth, soil and our environment and solve the root causes of deforestation.  Yes, it will solve every last one of them and in relatively short order.

However, the urgency in healing our people, our planet and and proliferation of profitable work that does no harm is immediate.  We do not have 28 more years to find a way to shout the Forest Garden solution from the rooftops.  By 2025, we need to lift at least 1,000,000 out of poverty through sustainable agriculture; Trees for the Future’s Forest Garden Approach.

This goal is not arbitrary.  It is critical mass needed to see reversals of desertification, deforestation, poverty and climate change.  And, we aspire to exceed it far sooner than 2025.  And with your help, we will.

Together, we reach this goal is through collaboration and partnership.

Collaboration and partnerships with:

  • businesses that believe a healthy economy means a healthy population and a healthy planet
  • individuals of wealth who believe in leaving a legacy that has no downside, is scalable and will touch the lives of many beyond our own
  • individuals of heart who give their time, share the good word and connect us to opportunities and communities who want to help scale the solution
  • agroforestry and international development practitioners who are implementing pathways out of poverty and into sustainable livelihoods, viable and vibrant economies without destroying the Earth like we did as we became “developed”
  • like-minded organizations working with smallholder farmers or communities of indigenous populations who would like to bring forest gardens to their initiatives
  • philanthropy and government agencies whose strategies and investments can foster, and grow our innovation and disseminate the Forest Garden solution across the world

This year, for our birthday, we want to partner and work with YOU!

  • To make this goal a reality
  • To share this great work in communities all over the world
  • To raise the resources necessary to heal the earth, to solve deforestation, to save lives

Celebrate with us!

Donate To Trees For The Future

Your donation has a direct impact on the earth and lives of the people who need it most. By helping us plant trees, you give families the ability to transition from unsustainable farming techniques to a Forest Garden system. Your donation not only sustains and empowers them, but also changes their lives forever.