Planting trees to help restore the Citarum River watershed
The Citarum River in West Java, Indonesia, has played a vital role in the countryside for generations, among other uses providing irrigation for rice paddies and energy from three hydroelectric dams along the river. Unfortunately, the river has also been subject to misuse as waste disposal for decades, leading to it being one of the most polluted in the world. Since 2011, the Indonesian government has been running a revitalization project over 180 kilometers of the river’s length with the goal to restore the water to clean drinking quality.
Restoring the river extends beyond its banks to the whole area drained by the river—its watershed. One important aspect of restoration involves planting trees to renew the forests that have been cut down. Forests improve water retention, reduce surface runoff—including pollutants and trash—from reaching the river, and prevent erosion, among other benefits. Indonesia-based nonprofit foundation Trees4Trees is working with partners including the government of Indonesia and Microsoft, with facilitation from One Tree Planted, to plant a minimum of 10 million trees in the watershed by 2025.
Trees4Trees typically spends a minimum of five years in any given area to establish the planted trees and educate the community on the benefits of rehabilitation. “It’s a big reeducation project,” said Trees4Trees founder Mark Schmidt. “Indonesia is a really challenged place in regards to forestry; they are cutting down trees at a break-neck pace and we are trying to do our part to return those trees.” In 2022, Trees4Trees planted 3 million trees.
One Tree Planted connects community-based organizations like Trees4Trees with sponsors like Microsoft. “We are very much a partnership driven organization,” said Nils Saha, an urban forestry project manager for One Tree Planted. “We source these projects and bring on local partners based on the priorities and needs of the community lead.”
Conversations with local government and site surveys with the GIIC and KIIC estate management that hosts Microsoft datacenters led to an agreement for Trees4Trees to plant 22,800 trees in collaboration with Microsoft and One Tree Planted. Many of the trees in the GIIC project are fruit trees that the community and farmers will be able to harvest for free. Among the 23 different kinds of native fruit trees that Trees4Trees plants are avocado, durian, plum mango, and jackfruit.
Volunteers from the Microsoft subsidiary office in Jakarta helped One Tree Planted and Trees4Trees to plant 1,452 trees, helping to reforest a riparian zone, prevent erosion, and improve water quality for the 1,000 local community residents surrounding the campus. With participation from the local communities, farmers, and government, the trees will support the cleanup and flood mitigation efforts in the Citarum River watershed. Additional efforts including land rehabilitation and the promotion of agroforestry are also supported by the planting of new trees.
In most cases, Trees4Trees sends field coordinators into communities to make contact with farmers. For the GIIC project, an existing active outreach group helped make that connection easy. Events for Microsoft employees and volunteers were enthusiastic and well-attended. With the support from Microsoft, Trees4Trees will continue their forestry efforts in urban areas around Jakarta to improve communities and establish environmental education.