In celebration of the country's 60 years of independence, the nation of Madagascar has started an ambitious campaign to plant 60 million trees. This is part of president Andry Rajoelina's campaign promise to reforest the island nation.
"The government has the challenge of making Madagascar a green island again. I encourage the people to protect the environment and reforest for the benefit of the future generations," Rajoelina told the hundreds of people who attended the launch in Ankazobe district, 60 miles northwest of the capital, Antananarivo.
The project got off to a fantastic start. Within a few hours, over a million trees were planted over 1200 acres, which is one and half time the sizes of Central Park.
Madagascar has one of the most unique ecologies in the world, with an incredible diversity of animal and plant life. However, between 2001 to 2018, the country lost about one-fifth of its tree cover due to the demands of the agricultural industry.
A massive outpouring of effort for the project, with participation from NGOs, schools, government ministries, and the army, launched the effort.
"Right now, we are at the stage of planting trees, but the big question is: What is next? How to protect those young trees, so we don't plant them in January and then destroy them in July," said Jonah Ratsimbazafy, a prominent Malagasy primatologist who heads the Groupe d'Étude et de Recherche sur les Primates (GERP).
However, there are concerns about the long term impact of the project, as the industrial agencies that started the crisis also have a loud voice in the government. Nirina Rakotonanahary, a 30 year old who helped plant fruit trees in Ankazobe, also struck a despondent note. "I'm not sure they will all survive," he said of the newly planted trees. "The problem is that in Madagascar, we make efforts one day, and then we do not continue."