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A reforestation site with tree IDs imposed onto multiple trees. In front is the title: 'Tracking Urban Reforestation'

Freetown The Treetown

Using technology to monitor Freetown's tree-planting initiative

In the Global South, urbanisation is driving an influx of people to hot and climate-vulnerable cities, causing a range of undesirable knock-on effects. And Freetown in Sierra Leone is a case in point. The city is forecasted to hit a population of 2 million by 2028, and, as the population rises, urban sprawl is threatening the forested, mountainous areas outside the city. As a result, around 70 percent of Freetown’s trees have been cut down, and the city is already experiencing negative effects – such as devastating floods and landslides – from the loss of these critical ecosystems.

Now, the city council and local citizens are fighting back through ‘Freetown the Treetown,’ an ambitious and innovative ‘pay to grow’ scheme that is incentivising residents to plant and maintain indigenous trees and mangroves in the city. The technology-led scheme is built around an app and web platform where growers register their planted trees, which are then verified, tracked, and monitored over several years.  Growers must revisit the trees they plant regularly to water and maintain them, documenting their survival in the process.

In exchange for their efforts, growers receive ‘tokens’, which can be exchanged for cash when the tree hits certain milestones in its lifecycle. These payments are ultimately funded by the international carbon market, as the tokens generated are transferred into ‘impact tokens’ and sold to corporations and institutions seeking to meet their climate targets. Because the whole system is transparent, traceable, and based on regular on-the-ground monitoring of individual trees, the impact tokens are highly investable, which is crucial given recent carbon market controversies.

It feels like a win-win all round. The local community and the environment are benefitting. This programme, which is both scalable and repeatable, demonstrates how well-deployed technology can facilitate credible nature-based solutions.

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