I welcome whole-heartedly the ‘Greening Malaysia’ initiative by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to plant 100 million trees to address climate change and improve the quality of life of the rakyat.
I have no doubt that 100 million trees or saplings will be planted, but the key question is how many of these saplings will grow to be mature trees to meet the objective of the programme, especially those grown on rough terrain.
The easiest part of any tree-planting project is the actual planting of the saplings.
After the VVIPs attain their fair share of glamour, publicity and fame during the tree-planting ceremonies, the follow-up measures will be conveniently forgotten or not given appropriate attention. It will then be left to nature in a big way to take care of the saplings.
And the results are predictable!
You don’t need a rocket scientist to point out the importance of taking care of young trees during the first few years for them to get strong roots and grow to be green and healthy.
In layman’s terms, if the plants in a garden are to thrive and bloom, then the services of a full-time person or gardener coupled with adequate supplies, including fertilisers, will be necessary.
Likewise, this programme will need the services of personnel who will take charge of the saplings during the early years plus adequate resources in the form of yearly allocations.
Saplings and young trees can be easily damaged or even wiped out during inclement weather, especially if they are grown on steep slopes.
The human factor (including top leadership) will be vital in terms of providing tender loving care as the saplings grow.
Without this, I can predict with confidence that any tree-planting exercise will fail.
Based on personal experience, if serious attention is not given to the upkeep of the trees during the early days of this programme, we should consider ourselves lucky if a small portion of the targeted 100 million saplings grows up to be matured trees.
In 2009, a similar project was launched in Bukit Kiara involving the planting of 100,000 saplings.
At RM60 per tree, individuals and the private sector (including government-linked companies) were invited to plant trees and donors’ names would be inscribed.
The response was overwhelming. VVIPs from the corporate sector gave their full support.
Even our then Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin and Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi were invited to plant a few trees.
More than 12 years have passed and I dare say that none of the 100,000 trees survived.
Without any maintenance and given our harsh weather, the saplings were easily swept away down the slopes of Bukit Kiara after major thunderstorms.
There were also no maintenance personnel and subsequently the trees disappeared.
The insight gained was that no tree-planting programme will be successful without proper maintenance backed by full-time personnel on the ground.
Tree caregivers can undertake many preventive measures such as protecting the roots of saplings from weather damage by spreading mulch and during the dry season, watering the young trees regularly, just to name a few.
It is the end result that counts. Remember, while the tree-planting exercise is important to the VVIPs, it is the results (mature trees) Malaysians and the country are after.
I urge nature-loving Malaysians to be the eyes and ears in monitoring the progress of this project by reporting to the authorities should there be neglect in the upkeep of the saplings, especially in remote areas.
This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.