Christian Long

Willie Smits: Restores a Rainforest

In TED Talks on April 11, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Reflection by CONNOR S.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Willie Smits:  Restores a Rainforest

Inspired by an encounter with a dying orangutan, Willie Smits made something out of nothing and grew a rainforest from what was essentially a biological desert.

What amazes me the most about Smits’ achievements was that it was not a purely scientific recipe to create the rainforest; the social and cultural aspect is just as important. The local people surrounding the rainforest were one of the most important components in the reforestation of Samboja Lestari.

In order to protect his forest, Smits established a relationship between the forest and the local people. He made sure to closely involve the locals and made sure that they would benefit from it themselves. By causing the forest to become closely linked with the people and making it beneficial for their future, the forest becomes important to the locals and gives them a great purpose to protect it.

Smits also made sure that his recipe for the rainforest was very difficult to corrupt, as that could very easily lead to exploitation of the forest and undo the entire project. Seemingly small things such as the education of the locals and the community’s musical band all come together and help shape the protection of the rainforest. These things unite the locals into one big family, and generally a person is less likely to perform an act that harms their family. Smits also leaves it in the locals’ hands what will happen if somebody does not comply with his beneficial reforestation plan, and people are more willing to protect what belongs to them and what they have authority over.

Science, though, does still play a large role in the reforestation. Technology such as satellite imaging allowed Smits to monitor illegal logging, tree growth and the cloud accumulation. Smits also discovered the potential of the remarkable plant that is the sugar palm. The sugar palm is “three times more efficient than sugar cane and yields more than seven times the productivity of corn.”* Smits’ invention, the Green Village Box, is capable of extracting bio-fuels from the sugar palm without doing any harm to the plant itself. The plant is very good for the economy of the locals. Sugar palms are also quite fire and flood resistant, and when placed in a ring around the forest they helped to protect the forest from fires and floods. These trees can also exist in harmony with other plants and not cause competition.

Willie Smits’ reforestation of a desolate landscape is a great example of the things that determination can accomplish. Smits turned the poorest district in Borneo into an ecologically and economically stable area. The families at Samboja Lestari now enjoy the benefits of the forest, as do the plants and the animals themselves. Smits’ dedication to saving the world and reducing carbon emissions culminated in this amazing forest where once there was only ecological devastation

*From, of which Willie Smits is a part.


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