March 1, 2012

GMO Truffula Trees? ~ Alana Lea

My name is Alana Lea, and I speak for the rainforest.

As I shared with the Care2 community a year ago, 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.

Since then, so much has transpired–including the planting of 4,194 new trees back in the rainforest where they belong. Unfortunately, even more trees died in their little plastic bags before finding their homes, so I became the representative of a rural association of 13 organic nurseries to ensure this wouldn’t happen again.

As a result of the donations from Care2 members and an amazing benefit concert put on by the Kids For Environmental and Social Action in Los Angeles, 2,000 trees were purchased from one of the nurseries by April, 2011. By June, thanks to an online crowd-funding effort and a soulful Rainforest Sunday at the Agape International Spiritual Center, another 800 were sent to their homes in the field.

Right before leaving Brazil in January, 2011, I met with representatives of The Nature Conservancy hoping they would want to buy thousands of organically grown trees from the small nurseries at a fair trade price to help keep the growers in business as I had done. They said they liked how grassroots my reforestation project was and they wanted to go visit the people of Cunha where I’d just given the first truckload of 1,000 trees. But my Brazilian project adviser resisted this meeting, and I only learned why when I got back to the US.

It turns out that The Nature Conservancy had partnered with Dow Chemical and the state of Sao Paulo’s Water Supply Managers (SABESP) to do massive chemically-supported tree planting along the water ways there. It appears this was among the reasons they didn’t want to buy organically grown trees from the small growers.

Once I pieced together what was going on, I went back to crowd-funding while searching for a fiscal sponsor that could help to support this network of small organic growers, who were bootstrapping their operations in the expensive state of Sao Paulo.

The next organization I spent time getting to know was WeForest. I like what these independent growers are doing, but can’t support the prices they need for their trees. They’re also not keen on covering the costs of trucking trees to a local NGO–50 miles from the growers–that distributes trees to farm families and oversees that they are cared for once planted. I like WeForest (so much so, I served as their US Ambassador for several months), but they’re not an ideal fit for the people in this region who have already invested themselves in a system that really can work.

To prepare for this update, I researched which partners are doing the tree planting associated with The Lorax book and new movie. It’s Conservation International, which works in partnership with Monsanto. They’re even working in our Atlantic rainforest. Go figure…

Meanwhile, my nurserymen thought I didn’t understand what they faced as organic tree growers in cattle country. They are surrounded by subsistence farmers and ranchers who want trees but can’t afford them, and are now being challenged by international NGOs who won’t support their efforts to create self-sustaining systems for reforestation.

So I came up with an entirely different approach: green affiliate marketing.

In December, 2011, one year after the first article was posted on Care2, I set up a new website and invited organizations like the US Permaculture Guild to become green business partners with us. They make a commission on each tree sponsored through their iGiveTrees affiliate link (using any of the iGive links in this article will benefit them) and are helping us to plant hundreds of thousands of organically grown, native species rainforest trees.

This system helps a global supply chain of people to stay in their family businesses of harvesting seeds sustainably, growing trees without the use of chemicals, and paying local labor to transport them to a small Brazilian non-profit who distributes them to farmers.

Our Brazilian partner organization, Instituto OIKOS de Agroecologia, teaches subsistence farm families who have deforested land they want to replant, but can’t afford the trees. This organization is the best agroforestry methods to restore the land to sustainability. Our goal for 2012 is 250 acres replanted with 100 species of native trees. In the end, those farmers become stewards of the forest for the benefit of all of us.

If you think this is an idea worth supporting, please sponsor some trees and share this call to action to your friends:

“Be a real life Lorax with me. Speak up for the trees and the people who grow them organically so we can re-green the rainforest together, without chemicals. Help people plant trees in a place where they can bring back more wildlife than any other place on earth!

www.iGiveTrees.com gives you the chance to support small people doing big things.

And, if you want to love the earth all year round with us, please become a monthly tree sponsor for any amount. Even $10 a month would provide a giant step toward sustainability for a lot of little people.”

That will definitely make you a Lorax too!


*Originally published at Rainforest ECO Blog.


Edited by: Jill Barth & Brianna Bemel


Alana Lea is a voice for the rainforest. Born in Rio de Janeiro, Alana moved to the United States as soon as she could walk, and only learned that she emerged from the most diverse and endangered rainforest on earth, half a century later.

She instinctively cultivated a passion for the plant kingdom as a horticulturalist for more than thirty years, while later telling its stories as a botanical artist. In addition to the creation of Tropiflora, a successful tropical nursery business, these years yielded exhibits of her botanical watercolors and digital collages at the Bruce Museum of Arts and Sciences, the Smithsonian Institution and Museum of Natural History.

She is the Founder of Rainforest ECO and Rainforest ECObank projects.



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