Written by Alana Lea, Changents.com
Think replanting a rainforest is a good idea? So did these guys.
What they didn’t count on is that no one would buy their trees before they got too big for their grow bags.
My name is Alana Lea and I speak for the rainforest. I’m kind of like The Lorax (in case you’re not up on your Dr. Seuss, this children’s book chronicles the plight of the environment and the Lorax, who speaks for the trees against the greedy Once-ler!), except I’m a work of nonfiction.
I was born in the midst of the most diverse and endangered rainforest in Brazil and it is that same rainforest, the Mata Atlantica, that gives me purpose. It took me a lifetime to discover how being a horticulturalist, a Smithsonian botanical artist, an entrepreneur, a traveler and a public speaker could serve my purpose of rainforest renewal. In 2009, I founded Rainforest ECO, a team of eco-fashion and environmental visionaries on a mission to connect customers to sensuous sustainable fabrics that tell the story of rainforest renewal.
Today I am in Brazil to help 13 fair trade nurseries…a nursery cooperative that in following the Ministry of Agriculture’s regulations for sustainable seed harvests and distribution of native trees, have found themselves priced out of the market by rogue nurseries.
These shady nurseries (pun intended) are taking advantage of the lack of enforcement of environmental and labor laws to drive down costs. And as if that wasn’t enough to un-level the playing field, several are subsidized by US corporations who are seeking smokescreens for their environmental degradation practices in a country ill-equipped to crack down on them.
More than 200,000 trees stand before me with hardly a buyer in sight. That’s enough trees to replant 296 acres this year. Some are 5 feet tall already and getting stressed out in their little bags (as are the growers who are ready to plant new seeds for next year’s crop). We can’t afford to give them away, or to pot them up.
Funny thing (that’s not very funny at all, actually) is that so far their biggest buyer appeared from the US – yours truly – bringing funds raised from school children and private donors who want to contribute to sustainable, fair trade reforestation.
We’re in the business of global cooling. Our ultimate product are clouds, produced by rainforest trees. The people who grow these trees deserve to be paid fairly, without being muscled into the use of chemicals or green washing, to make a living wage for their entrepreneurial efforts.
The trees grown by these unsubsidized, organic nurseries could ultimately sink 250,000 tons of carbon. They have complied with all government regulations, even though there is no enforcement of penalties for those who don’t.
Brazilians are proud optimists and aggressive problem-solvers. But if the problem can’t be fixed, we say “fique tranquilo” – just relax and forget about it.
Here on the front lines of the vanished rainforest, I am nowhere near saying forget about it and you, 5,000 miles away, shouldn’t be either.