The Taiwanese 'Johnny Appleseed' working to replant coastal forests

01/29/2020 04:10 PM
Photo courtesy of Cheng Li-yi
Photo courtesy of Cheng Li-yi

Taipei, Jan. 29 (CNA) As director of Tse-Xin Organic Agriculture Foundation's (TOAF) coastal tree planting initiative, Cheng Li-yi's (程禮怡) work involves setting high goals and putting in the hard work necessary to achieve them.

In addition to determination, she says, sometimes a bit of serendipity also helps.

During a 2018 speech at the Trillion Trees Campaign -- a joint project of the NGO Plant for the Planet and the United Nations Environmental Programme -- Cheng inadvertently mistranslated her organization's goal of planting 100 million trees, boosting that figure to one billion.

In an interview with CNA, Cheng called the moment a "beautiful error," explaining that "since I said it, I had no choice but to take responsibility for it".

The 52-year-old Cheng, who studied biology at university and worked for years as an environmental educator at the Taipei Botanical Garden, only became involved in tree planting in the last decade, and only started doing it full-time when she joined TOAF in 2015.

Her work planting coastal forests, which serve as a vital defense against erosion, began in Yunlin County's Taixi Township, where the foundation "adopted" 50 hectares in what was her very first project.

According to Cheng, these early experiences came with many challenges, from a planting site in New Taipei's Wanli District, where saplings were uprooted by the wind, to a location in Yunlin County's Xiluo District, where a lack of rain and summer heat burnt up everything she and her volunteers had planted.

Now, however, after several years of practice, Cheng said she usually only requires two to three months between selecting a site and getting to work planting trees.

Although the TOAF website states that the organization has planted more than 500,000 trees to date, the more impressive figure may be the 90,000 people who have joined in its work.

Many times groups visiting the foundation have asked how they can get involved in its reforestation efforts, Cheng said.

"When you think about it that way, one billion isn't an impossible goal," she added.

In addition to continuing her work in Taiwan, Cheng is interested in spreading her passion abroad, and has planned a trip to Mongolia later this year to teach workshops on reforestation.

In spite of the challenges of the work, Cheng says she is motivated by the knowledge that it's the right thing to do, and that even if she falls short of her lofty goal, Taiwan's coastal wilds will still greatly benefit.

(By Chang Hsiung-feng and Matthew Mazzetta)

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