The true cost of tree planting

Hands With Plant For Planting To Save The Earth T20 Noljzr

Find out why reforestation is not the place to slash prices and cut corners.

How much does it cost to plant a tree? As more and more organisations start offering regenerative actions like reforestation, the variety of options (and prices) has multiplied. Singapore’s National Parks Board will plant a tree for $250. Across the United Nations community, costs range from $10 per tree to $1. Some programmes even claim to be able to plant a tree for as little as 10 cents. 

Obviously there’s a big difference between planting a tree on the cheap and planting a tree effectively. The reality is that tree planting is hard work. Consider what needs to happen to raise a viable tree. Healthy seeds need to be nurtured into strong saplings. Saplings need to be planted well in soil that is primed to give them the best chance. The young trees then need to be monitored to support long-term survival. Not to mention that funding is needed to support the communities living around the reforested areas – to give them the tools and education to protect the trees and prevent deforestation. 

If the price is too good to be true, there’s normally a problem. It’s a bit like fast fashion. Sure, you can buy a cheap T-shirt, but how can you be sure that it’s been manufactured in an ethical way? Do you think it got to you via the most sustainable route? How do you know it will last and not fall apart after a couple of washes? 

The same goes for trees. We should be raising our eyebrows at costs as low as 10 cents a tree in the same way we’d question a cheap T-shirt. It takes a whole community to nurture, plant and maintain forests, and cutting costs is not always the route to the best value for the donor or the planet. The quality projects are the ones that deliver viable, impactful trees. 

It’s also contingent on what type of tree you’re planting and the cost to benefit ratio. Carbon sequestration differs depending on the species. And while some trees grow super quickly, others take longer to take root and establish themselves in the environment. Mangrove trees are able to sequester up to 10 times the carbon capture of an upland tree. Yet they have to be planted with care in tropical wetlands – where the ground is periodically submerged by tides and balanced hydrology is essential. So care is crucial. 


The hidden (but important) costs 


Today, the mangrove trees we help plant cost around USD $1.15. At Handprint, we’ve been working on the best ways to maximise this money to ensure the long-term sustainability of ecosystems as well as the indigenous communities who live nearby. The result? Healthy mangrove forests that effectively trap carbon dioxide and regenerate the planet year after year after year. 

Our projects ensure funding is filtered through the various stages of planting. First of all, around a quarter of contributions go towards the mangrove nursery where seeds are nurtured into healthy saplings.  Around 20% goes towards preparing the site and planting the young trees. Another 20% goes towards conservation patrols to ensure the young trees aren’t damaged as they grow. 8% is spent on monitoring and evaluation to verify impact, while 5% goes towards transaction costs – a very small amount in comparison to most charitable organisations. 

Importantly, almost a quarter of the entire budget is spent on local NGO staffing and community support. At Handprint we believe that supporting local-led, smaller-sized projects is critical for success, especially in intertidal coastal zones. 

We want local communities to embrace reforestation projects and engage in conservation. To do this, we work with local groups to introduce silvo-fishery (fishing sustainably within mangroves), encourage employment for women and education for children. Communities are far more likely to turn to deforestation when they cannot afford essential services like healthcare education and nutrition, so ensuring their needs are met helps the long-term sustainability of our projects. It also means that donations have a far wider impact than just one tree – it transforms the lives of the people who live around the forest. 

It takes a village to raise a child, and the same goes for trees. At Handprint, we believe that a holistic approach is vital for the regeneration of our planet. Whether it’s clearing plastic from the ocean, providing clean drinking water or regenerating ecosystems, the strategy needs to encompass all of the various stakeholders and make sure everyone is on board. This may mean trees don’t cost 10 cents each, but it does mean that each tree planted has a strong chance of success. 

If you would like to support Handprint’s mangrove projects, check out our partner organisations here and the great work they’re doing in their local communities.