The Eden Reforestation Project, a nonprofit organization founded by Steve Fitch and championed by former Santa Barbara Mayor Hal Conklin, has planted more than 50 million trees in Ethiopia and Madagascar, crossing a new threshold to combat environmental destruction and economic hardship in impoverished nations.

That’s about 1.5 million trees a month, 49,315 trees a day or 2,055 an hour!

“We’re currently planting an average of 246,153 trees a week,” said Conklin, a member of Eden’s Board of Directors. “We’re also planting and guarding more than 1 million trees every month in Madagascar alone. Plantings in Haiti will follow next.”

Founded in 2005, the Eden Reforestation Project began when “we became acutely aware that environmental destruction, through radical deforestation, is a major cause of extreme poverty and oppression in impoverished nations,” said Fitch, the organization’s president. “Deforestation is also considered one of the primary causes behind the climate change crisis.”

Eden employs thousands of impoverished nationals in Ethiopia, Madagascar and Haiti. In turn, these workers plant millions of trees each year. In 2012 alone, Eden will have added another 18 million more trees and employed more than 3,500 full- and part-time eco-workers who desperately need cash-producing jobs.

“The remarkable thing about Eden’s work,” Fitch said, “is that this simple cost-effective plan is transforming the workers’ lives even as they restore their own lands back to healthy forest systems — at only 10 cents per tree. And, yes, we guard our forest to maturity through a five-stage plan that is working very well.”

A majority of Eden’s employees are single moms who grow and care for the seedlings, plant at the reforestation sites and care for the emerging forest.

The Eden Reforestation Project was championed by former Santa Barbara Mayor Hal Conklin, left, and founded by Steve Fitch. (Eden Reforestation Project photo)

The Eden Reforestation Project was championed by former Santa Barbara Mayor Hal Conklin, left, and founded by Steve Fitch. (Eden Reforestation Project photo)

“We have discovered that the women are especially responsible with their salaries,” Conklin said. “They use it to send their children to school and break the cycle of daughters being married at 14, pregnant by 15, again by 17 and again … . Employment and education are a way out. Our single moms are also starting a significant number of micro-enterprises but not from loans, instead from savings.”

Eden operates three large-scale nurseries in Ethiopia. The Gallo Argesi nursery has a capacity to produce more than 1.5 million seedlings per year. Seedlings are grown during the dry season and planted at the beginning of the rainy season on the deforested hillsides. Ninety percent of the seedlings grown are native species, and 10 percent are agroforestry seedlings specifically grown for human use. Adding to their massive mangrove reforestation efforts, this year Eden Projects also launched dry deciduous reforestation efforts in Madagascar.

“There is much to lose worldwide from deforestation and much to gain from reforestation,” Fitch said. “We’re starting with countries where we can make the most difference over the shortest period of time.”

“After eight years of operation, the employ-to-plant strategy is a proven solution,” Conklin added. “Eden employs thousands of full and partial season workers to heal their own environment. Literally thousands of heads of household now have the financial ability to supply their families with sufficient food, send their children to school, go to the doctor when they are sick, and buy their way out of indentured servanthood. All of this is made possible through the dignity of employment — not through any aid program.”

Click here for more information about the Eden Reforestation Project.

— Jonatha King is a publicist representing the Eden Reforestation Project.