“Trồng rừng vững đất” (Afforestation for a better land) is a project of the Sống Foundation’s Green Happiness Program, now underway in Vinh Chau commune, Soc Trang province. To date, the project has planted 81,400 white mangrove* trees. Each tree rising from the deserted mudflats is a reminder of “green happiness” that grows day by day.
A labor of love
In days of endless rain and wind, Mr. Kim Nang, 55, one of Green Happiness’s two foresters, arrives at the mudflats early each morning to replant saplings uprooted by the wind. “Many trees are uprooted by the strong seasonal winds,” he explained. “The younger ones are uprooted, replanted, and tied to stakes to keep them upright. Toppled trees die within a day or two, so I must go to the mudflats and get extra help if I’m to save them in time.”
Mr. Nang’s house lies about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from the mudflats, which may only be reached on foot. He sometimes arrives at 8 A.M. and works until 2 P.M., sometimes with the 24-year-old program facilitator, Mr. Ngo Van Bac. On busy days they often skip lunch, only stopping work when the tide rises, submerging the mudflats in deep water. They return home at 4 P.M. in the pouring rain and buy some food for lunch, which has now become dinner.
Growing mangroves on the mudflats is three to five times harder than on solid land. Planting a sprout in the swamp, raising it, and allowing it time to send down deep roots takes a lot of effort.
“It takes three years to plant a tree, give it firm roots, and enable it to survive on its own,” Mr. Nang explained: “During that time, the tree must be regularly supported with wooden stakes so it won’t be swept away by the waves.”
Before planting the saplings, the project spent close to two months building a roughly kilometer-long “soft wall” made of wooden stakes around the planting area. This “soft wall”, which acts as a breakwater, is an accomplishment in and of itself. It took nearly 20 people almost two months to insert 46,000 stakes to build the “soft wall” around Plot Number 2 and plant around 44,000 mangroves. They had to wait for the water to rise to transport the stakes by raft to the mudflats about 2 kilometers away.
“Each person can plant a maximum of 110-120 stakes per day. This is also the most difficult part of planting mangroves,” Mr. Bac explained. They then had to wait another five or six months for the mud to fill the area inside these walls before starting to plant trees. Even though the “soft wall” offers some protection against the sea’s waves, to keep the newly-planted trees in place, workers must insert rows of vertical stakes. Young plants are loaded onto floating rafts and dragged to the planting site. Each tree is staked to keep it from being washed away by the waves.
After finishing the annual planting, Green Happiness’ tree growers may face further challenges like salinization, liquid mud, or unexpected weather, such as heavy rains.
Saltwater intrusion occurs in March and April when barnacles attach to young trees and bend them. If brackish water does not arrive in time to wash the barnacles away, the grower must remove them from trees with excessive numbers. Strong winds uproot many trees from October to December, and the waves wash away many anchoring stakes. As a result, the planting crew must hire more people to re-stake the trees. The scariest time is when waves of liquid mud and sand overflow the area. Too much liquid mud will suffocate the roots, killing the plants if left unattended for too long.
“With stormy winds or clinging barnacles, human efforts can still save the trees. However, the only way to get rid of liquid mud is to wait for the tide to come in and wash it away. There was a wave of liquid mud last year but fortunately, most of the planting area was unharmed,” said Mr. Bac.
Grow trees and contribute to “green happiness”
Madam Nguyen Thi Thu Lanh, director of the Sống Foundation’s Green Happiness program, stated that the “Afforestation for better land” campaign under the Forest Symphony Soc Trang project aims to plant 50 hectares of mangroves in five years, from 2020 to 2025. Another program implemented by the Sống Foundation in Soc Trang is a resilient housing project that helps to build safe houses for people. At the time, the southwestern region was experiencing severe drought and salinity. The Sống Foundation considered how to ensure the long-term livability of the entire village as climate change worsens and life becomes more difficult. Thus, the “Afforestation for a better land” project began to take shape.
“It is a matter of survival on Earth for humans to create more forests, more trees, and diversify ecosystems,” Madam Lanh explained. “If not now, when? It takes a village to raise a child and the entire community to work together to plant a forest.”
Thanks to the efforts of many volunteers, forest growers, and caretakers, as well as thousands of people who donated money to grow trees, 81,400 mangrove trees have been planted on the mudflats in Vinh Chau, Soc Trang. In 2021, the Green Happiness program held a crowd-funding campaign to grow trees in Plot Number 1 of the afforestation project in Soc Trang, and 3,000 people donated money to grow nearly 37,400 white mangrove trees on this plot. So far, the saplings in Plot Number 1 are growing well, with the majority standing 1.5-1.8m tall. Meanwhile, the community continued to contribute, funding more than 35,000 trees, which Green Happiness began planting in Plot Number 2 in June 2022. The program is raising funds for Phase 2 to reach its goal of planting 44,000 trees and greening all 10 hectares of mudflats in Vinh Chau, Soc Trang by 2022.
“Crowdfunding calls for the community to contribute money to grow each tree and helps us share information about climate change and the importance of afforestation to more people,” explained Madam Lanh. “With this, we hope to make a bigger difference in the future.”
The “Afforestation for better land” campaign aims to plant 50 hectares of mangroves in five years, from 2020 to 2025.
“It is a matter of survival on Earth for humans to create more forests, more trees, and diversify ecosystems.”