Fight Poverty With Mast-Producing Trees
Afghanistan was once famous for its fruit and nut orchards. In the 1960’s, the country was food self-sufficient and earned more than half of its export income from crops such as almonds, apricots, and grapes. In fact, Afghanistan once produced more than 50% of the world’s annual supply of raisins.
The orchards also supported Afghanistan’s legendary carpet industry. Agricultural by-products such as walnut husks and pomegranate rinds were used to create the brightly colored dyes prized by Afghan carpet makers.
Sadly, decades of war have taken their toll on both the country’s famous orchards and the store of knowledge required to tend them. 70% of Afghanistan’s orchards and vineyards have been destroyed since the outbreak of war in the 1970’s. Today, Afghan farms are best known for illegal opium production, and less than 2% of the country is forested, increasing not only poverty and food insecurity, but also environmental degradation. Flooding exacerbated by loss of tree cover due to war and drought devastated 11 central and eastern provinces of Afghanistan in 2010.
Several organizations are working to fight poverty, terrorism, and environmental degradation by rebuilding Afghanistan’s orchards, hoping to restore food security and a legal source of income to Afghan farmers and households. Two of the most prominent of these organizations include Roots of Peace, which works to clear agricultural land of land mines and replace them with crops such as almonds, grapes, pomegranates, walnuts, apples, and apricots, and the Global Partnership for Afghanistan, which provides training and plants to farming families, with a special emphasis on empowering widows and other female heads of household.
Afghanistan isn’t the only country benefiting from efforts to alleviate poverty by planting trees. Several innovative programs have sprung up to help the poor and hungry in the United States as well. The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation hopes to plant 18 billion fruit trees worldwide, about three for every man, woman, and child alive today. This goal would not only make a major dent in world poverty and hunger, it would also help fight global climate change, desertification, and deforestation. The FTPF strategically donates orchards in areas where they can do the most good, such as low income neighborhoods, international hunger relief sites, community gardens, Native American reservations, and public schools.
Another interesting US program that uses tree fruits to fight poverty and hunger is Seattle-based City Fruit, an effort to harvest unwanted and surplus fruit to feed the homeless. Depending on the size and variety, a single apple tree can produce up to ten bushels of fruit (more than 400 pounds), yet the average American eats just 50 pounds of fresh and processed apples per year. Other tree fruits have similarly generous yields: pear trees can produce as much as 15 bushels, peach trees as much as six. Most families with fruit trees leave tens or hundreds of pounds of good fruit to rot every year because they simply can’t eat it all.
Founded in 2008, City Fruit harvested and delivered more than 10,000 pounds of this fresh, nutritious surplus fruit for the city’s hungry in 2009. City Fruit also works to educate homeowners about fruit tree care in order to improve the health of Seattle’s urban forest and is currently engaged in an urban orchard mapping project.
Innovative programs such as Roots for Peace, the Global Partnership for Afghanistan, the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation, and City Fruit are just a few of the ways mast-producing trees can be used to fight poverty and hunger. Here are some ways you can help:
- Donate to Roots for Peace, the Global Partnership for Afghanistan, the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation, City Fruit, or a similar organization.
- Call your local food bank to see if they will accept donations of good quality extra fruits and nuts from your trees.
- Encourage your local parks department to plant fruit and nut bearing trees in parks, and encourage local residents to harvest them.
- Start a fruit or nut tree farm or business, or support fruit and nut based businesses in your local community.
- Educate your friends and neighbors about the importance of landscaping with mast-producing trees, and how to plant and care properly for them.