Lamdon School Reforestation Project
Lamdon School Reforestation Project
The Lamdon School Reforestation Project has been in place for five years now and as co-ordinator of the project’s funding, I decided to visit India’s Ladakhi capital, Leh this year to carry out a project appraisal and establish its future needs. As the project is mainly financed by 'offsetting’ the flights of our Grade 9 and 10 expeditions and members of our community through carbon taxes, I had always avoided the irony of flying up to Ladakh and instead relied on yearly reports from the school and their long-standing supporter, Bill Kite. However the chance to be involved in the selection procedure for the UWCSEA Staff Supported Scholarship allowed me to justify the flight – I finally had another excuse to go to Ladakh.
There has been much debate about carbon offset projects in recent years so I was keen to carry out a detailed review with a critical eye. I surveyed all the planting sites, spoke to the gardeners, staff and students and reviewed the accounts from the last few years with Principal Eshey Thundup. I am glad to say my conclusions were unequivocal: the school have run the project superbly and at great value for money.
There are now about 9,000 native poplars and willows planted in the school grounds, turning an area of dusty desert into a hillside oasis. Though suited to the arid climate, the young trees are irrigated by groundwater (pumped mainly using solar energy) until their roots have established. Current plans include the replacement of some the remaining electrical pumps with solar-powered ones and the installation of more efficient drip irrigation in all the groves, future-proofing the project against the challenges of Global Warming and declining water supplies. The majority of the funds donated through the carbon taxes is allocated to these infrastructure works, all of which can be contracted to local companies who have an existing skills base in these areas.
During my visit planting was taking place on the beautifully engineered terraces (financed by the Dalai Lama Trust) above the school. This included Poplar stems harvested from the existing trees as well as local and longer-lasting varieties of fruit trees supplied by the superb research team at the Defence Institute of High Altitude Research. Work too was being carried out on a greenhouse next to the boys’ hostel where a supply of highly fertile sheep manure from a nomadic farmers co-operative was waiting to be spread.
These new developments will not just mean a more shady, and pleasant campus for the children and staff at the school but the Poplar trees here will soon provide an income as they are selectively harvested and sold for traditional timber- framed Ladakhi homes. The fruit trees and greenhouse will supply much-needed nutrition to the campus when fresh fruit and vegetables are virtually absent during the long winter and all this work means that this year’s funds will be used to finance the employment of another gardener. After the day I had seeing the project, I was sorely tempted to apply for the position myself.
Future work not only include more planting, but Principal Eshey has also told me of his plans for solar cookers for the girls’ and boys’ hostels that will save the school a huge amount in fuel bills. This is something we’d be very keen to fund through this so-called Reforestation project, as it seems very clear that all these plans work together for genuine sustainable development - a key part of the UWC mission where partnerships are formed to bring environmental, social and economic benefits to those that most need them. This is a project that raises the quality of life (health, income, employment, skills, well-being) of a community while not only protecting, but actually enhancing the natural life-support systems of the region.
There remain both ethical and technical issues with offsetting in general - Carbon is a lot easier to calculate as emission from fuels than absorption by nature during the life of a tree, and its use as an excuse not to change behavior is problematic. However, while we will definitely review the promotion of the project as a way to offset carbon, we will also certainly look to expand this and similar projects as part of the College’s commitment to sustainable development.
My only regret in carrying out the review was that I could only stay a few days. Not only did I miss the main planting season, but I hardly had a chance to thank the people at Lamdon for being such wonderfully warm hosts and carrying out such valuable work as our partners. I’ll have to leave that to our Grade 9 expedition team that are heading to Ladakh in June. Now, I wonder if they need any porters….
For more information and to donate to the project click here.