The team’s test area also hosts some of Jordan’s rarest flora.In Marka, this includes pistachiowild pistachio trees—there are only about 50 left in the wild in Jordan—and Southern Nestlesometimes called European hackberry, is more rare.
However, not everyone is convinced that these small-scale forests will help alleviate Jordan’s environmental problems. Climate change is already making the country hotter and drier — and there’s a growing need for forest restoration. Currently, only about 1% of Jordan’s land is still covered by forest, and even these areas are threatened by wildfires, livestock grazing and illegal logging. Nizar Obeidat, who specialises in forest and rangeland research at Jordan’s National Agricultural Research Centre, said the Miyawaki method was not suitable for reforestation in the country in any practical way. This method is “very expensive because you use a small area with high density and do some manipulation of the soil with straw and fertilizer,” Obaidat said.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of the small urban forest that Assaf and Motoharu’s team is planting is raising awareness among ordinary citizens and those in power of the value of green space in urban areas. “You have to create the right generation to have these meaningful projects,” said Dana Mismar, a volunteer on the team. “The government should invest in this. That’s the most important thing. What’s more important than losing a plant that doesn’t exist anymore?”
Assaf echoed that sentiment. “Today, we are so disconnected from native ecology. It’s like this foreign issue,” she said, citing local knowledge of plants that have been lost. “For me, it’s about re-weaving native ecology into the fabric of the city, people’s lives and their memories.”
She thought of the potential of urban children to recognize and value plants, such as Jordan’s national tree, the Wallonia oak, even if they never left Amman. “It’s going to be part of their memory, which really excites me because we can’t protect what we don’t care and love, we can’t care and love what we don’t know,” Assaf said.
Part of Assaf and Motoharu’s work involves building partnerships with local nurseries. Fadwa Al-Madmouj, a 25-year-old volunteer and agricultural engineer at a nursery in southern Amman, has been instrumental in researching different methods of disseminating Jordan’s native plants. In 2019, the first year the nursery worked with Assaf and Motoharu, it grew around 15 different native species. Today, that number is around 50 — and just as importantly, customer interest is growing.
“In my first year at the nursery, people laughed at native plants,” Al-Madmouj said. “Now we have a large group of people who love the locals. They bring friends, they bring their families to buy native plants.”
Al-Madmouj said the Marka project “is a little forest, but it sends a message to people: ‘Look, we can do it, so can you. We can do something together.'”
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