Every good adventure needs a little adrenaline. For us, this adrenaline fix came on the second day of planting on Malake in the form of a raging brush fire on an intensely windy day. On a severely deforested hillside with dry grasses blowing in the wind, this hot fire was truly a threat: to the hillside, to our newly planted seedlings, and to the team on the mountain. With many members of our Viridian team scattered along the hillside in harm’s way, the first task was to run and to get everyone above the fire and to safety. From our safe perch on the top on the hillside we watched in awe as the locals continued to run toward and in the fire, fighting it with the only tools they had: spades, machetes and shovels. Working in sync and intuitively they quickly cut a fire break around the burning edges and contained the fire, withstanding singed arms and legs in the process.
It was a moment for the memory books to be sure. But it was also a living demonstration of both the need for forest cover in these deforested areas as well as the true complexity of replanting in areas like this. It begins with education. The cultural norm in Malake and many places like it, has been to burn the ground where new crops will grow each year, much like farmers worldwide do. But here it is done with little to no regard for how far the fire spreads and it can lead all the way up and across the mountainside which is not being used, making reseeding and restoring the damaged area impossible. Intentional burning has been stopped and awareness is spreading. However, we saw firsthand how a small mistake like the convention of burning a hornet’s nest can lead to a dangerous fire. Particularly on a windy day. It’s an ongoing education of how to protect the hillside for the years it will take to grow meaningful first cover that will naturally protect against fire and soil erosion, while absorbing carbon emissions from the air.
The speed at which the locals put out the fire was impressive for two reasons. Of course it showed their strength, perseverance and bravery. But their speed and intensity also showed that the message of preservation is spreading. The island is beginning to understand the value of the land and the need to stop burning. Many months in the making, this education, through our partner Conservation International, is taking root in the minds and hearts of the people and the work of maintaining the seedlings and restoring the hillside can truly begin.
Our short video captures the excitement of the moment. It is quite amazing that we got to see firsthand the danger of no forest cover on these brush-covered hillsides and can begin to connect the dots between our own four pillars. Education is key to global vision and local change. It is only through a holistic approach to land use and sustainability opportunities that we will begin to see long-term repair and change.