When I joined PUR Projet in January 2019, one of my first missions was to get familiar with the Plant for the Future project, based in Romania. My goal was to draft a report on the project activities for the year 2018. I, therefore, dug into planting registries and reports. The first one I stumbled on was titled Plant for the Future: Involving the youth in the preservation of Transylvania’s rural landscapes. Intriguing isn’t it?
Following my research, discussions with our local partners as well as a field visit back in April 2019, I quickly realized the potential and awesomeness of the project. Let me tell you why.
An ambitious Transylvanian project
The Plant for the Future project, mainly funded by Accor as part of the Plant for the Planet program, started back in 2009. However, the project has been operated by PUR Projet in partnership with the local NGO the Mihai Eminescu Trust (MET) since 2013. MET is an organization that aims to protect, restore and revitalize Transylvania’s cultural and natural heritage, including areas of Romanian forests. Their office is located in Sighișoara, a small town full of character in the middle of Transylvania.
Marked by the communist dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu until the late 80s, Roumania has seen most of its forests cut down. Then, the bare lands have been reforested with monoculture plantations, threatening the diversity of the Romanian forests. In addition, the years following the communist era has seen some degree of ‘’chaos’’ and confusion, with poor forest management and legislation.
Still, in Europe, the country registers the highest number of primary forests. But, it does not mean those forests are protected from illegal logging. According to a report from the Romanian NGO Agent Green, the total of trees logged is double than what is allowed in the official forest management plans. In addition to the illegal logging, the climate crisis is felt in Romania as well, where more and more extreme weather events are destroying parts of the forest. This year alone, over 200 000 ha were affected by severe winds and extreme weather. Facing these dire threats, through the Plant for the Future project, MET and PUR Projet share the mission of protecting and restoring the local ecosystems while educating future generations.
Visiting the planting sites and the local fauna
I better understood the project and its reality during my first field visit in April 2019. Back then, I had the chance to visit the MET office and to meet with Alex and Alexandru. Both had been working for the NGO and overseeing the project. Niched in Sighisoara’s Medieval citadel, in the old Furriers Tower, their office alone was worth the detour. Roughly a two and a half hours flight from Paris adding a couple of hours driving for those of you wondering…
Each year, funds from Accor are allocated to forest owner’s associations for the reforestation of plots logged illegally, abandoned or damaged by storms or by bark beetle invasions. The technical expert of MET, Kadar Tibor Sandor, supports foresters with their planting designs and guides them towards more diversity in the species selection. Among others: spruces, beeches, ashes, oaks, and other maples species are planted, depending on the pedoclimatic conditions and on their economic and environmental relevance.
The funds also allow the environmental education of pupils of the region’s schools through workshops in schools as well as through field activities. Indeed, on most of the reforested plots, MET invites a school for the first 3 days of planting. Over those few days, the focus is put on education. It is a unique opportunity to bring pupils closer to the surrounding forests and to foster their environmental awareness. It is also the occasion for foresters to share a glimpse of their professional life. In addition to the workshops and planting actions, participating schools also receive equipment for their biology laboratories.
During my 2019 field visit, I also got the chance to visit the plantation sites, to see the work done by MET alongside the foresters to ensure sustainable plantations, and to realize that these forests are inhabited by an amazing fauna! Indeed, a couple of days before our visit, a curious local bear roamed through the reforested plots. Do not worry about it though, safety measures are taken to ensure that the pupils and the foresters are safe when in the forests. The planting season was already over by the time of our visit in April 2019. Therefore, in 2020, we planned our annual visit earlier to allow us to attend and participate in the planting with the Romanian pupils. But, you know, C-word decided otherwise. However, via the work of the foresters, most of the trees were planted. Unfortunately, for safety reasons, the spring planting activities with schools were cancelled. MET is considering organizing some in October depending on the sanitary situations, wish me luck so I can attend!
On top of the reforestation activity, one key impact of the project was the implementation of traditional orchards on school compounds. Pupils of participating schools were learning about and planting traditional native fruit species. However, this activity is not funded anymore. We hope it will be the case again soon as it has a strong social impact.
Raising environmental awareness
The combined efforts of MET, the forest owners’ associations, the pupils and PUR Projet are bearing fruits, and that is an understatement. Since the creation of the project in 2009, 2.5 million trees have been planted, close to 10 000 pupils attended dedicated workshops and spent time in the forest and 6 traditional orchards have been implemented within the project.
I surely do enjoy working on the Romanian project. Seeing the progressive reconstruction of the Romanian forest, MET’s ecological activism and the environmental education of the Romanian youth is truly inspiring.
« A couple of days before our visit, a curious local bear roamed through the reforested plots. »
After spending a year and a half in Mozambique for a French sugar cooperative, Maximilien headed back to Europe looking for a way to combine his agricultural skills with his field experiences within an organization having a positive impact on the planet. In January 2019, he joined the London office of PUR Projet, working mainly on designing and operating agroforestry and reforestation projects within Europe.