The Atlas Cedar Tree: Preserving Algeria’s Precious Ecological Heritage

Amina shares the vital and promising work carried out by the Cedar Tree Association in Algeria, which was founded by a young group of Algerian’s with a mutual passion for this emblematic, endemic tree which is now under huge threat.

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Cedar forests in Chrea National Park– Algeria (Photo from La Voix D’Algerie website).

Climate change atrocities and manmade crimes against the environment, or “ecocide”, are contributing to the incremental deterioration of  ecosystems throughout the world. Ecosystems are the ecological heritage of the planet that all species need for continuity. Despite the uphill struggle of preserving the ecological heritage, increasing numbers of environmental enthusiasts are taking up the challenge. This is the result of the increasing environmental awareness worldwide.  In this article, I will shed light on a spirited environmental movement to preserve the Atlas Cedar tree forests in Algeria – one of the most important parts of the ecological heritage of the country and the world. The newly established Cedar Tree Association has been founded by young Algerians from multiple disciplines and occupations yet united by their lively passion for the Cedar tree and the environment overall. This article presents a summary of my interview with some of the founding members about the Cedar tree in Algeria, the foundation, activities, and achievements of the Cedar Tree Association. Their responses are instructive, powerful and reflect a deep sense of environmental commitment to safeguarding the Cedar tree and building environmental awareness among the public.

Q1.Could you please tell us about the Cedar tree in Algeria, its geographic and ecological characteristics as well as the potential threats that face this endemic tree?

The Cedar of the Atlas (Cedrus Atlantica) in Latin, or “Al-Arz” in Arabic, or Idhguel in the Berber language, is a vital endemic tree in the mounts of North Africa (Morocco & Algeria). The tree is considered by different experts and scholars as the most important ecological species in the Mediterranean. In Algeria, the Cedar tree grows between 1500 and 2500m in altitude. In well-irrigated areas in the North and the Ouest of Algeria, the tree can ascend to 50m. Its longevity is remarkable as it can last for several centuries. Covering 30,400 hectares, the strands of the cedar settlements in Algeria are divided into two parallel blocs. The first block comprises the Tellien Atlas (the northern area of Algeria (Djurdjura, Chréa, and Babors). The second block comprises the Atlas Saharan which consists of the Cedar trees in the Aurès mountains and Belezma. The Cedar tree is considered as a noble, emblematic and a majestic green creature.

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Cedar tree (Cedrus Libani. Atlantica) in Chelia – Algeria (Photo from Wikipedia).
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Distribution of Cedar tree in North Africa (Photo from Wikipedia).

Nowadays, the status quo of the Atlas Cedar tree in its natural habitat is quite critical as the Cedar forests undergo a rampant decline which worries the specialists. Several Cedar forests are on the verge of extinction, particularly due to natural as well as manmade deforestation, pest attack and lack of adequate forestry and silviculture. Recently, global warming became a major threat to the Cedar tree forests which is clear in the perturbation of precipitation levels and the notable increase in heat waves.

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The photo illustrates illegal deforestation of the Cedar tree to make traditional wooden bowls.
(Photo obtained from the Cedar Tree Association Facebook page).

Q2. Could you please introduce the Cedar Tree Association? Who founded it and why has it been founded?

Cedar tree or “Al-Arz” association is a local Algerian non-profit environmental organization which was founded in 2018 in khenchela province – Algeria.  The association was founded through the will and perseverance of young individuals and environmentalists who aim to promote environmental awareness, sustainability and preservation of ecosystems in the area and on a national level. The association consists of over 150 adherents including young researchers and university students who belong to different disciplines, health practitioners, journalists, lawyers, architects and so on. The association grants the opportunity for everyone wishing to contribute to development and sustainability in the region at large.

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The photos show the Cedar Tree Association members in MENA Experts’ Meeting on Assessing the Impacts of Climate Change on Migration in North Africa and the Middle East (Photo obtained from the Cedar Tree Association Facebook page).

Q3. Could you please tell us about the objectives and the activities of the association?

The Cedar Tree Association aims to:

  • Contribute to the preservation of the Cedar forests in Algeria
  • Build a culture of sustainability and eco-citizenship
  • Increase public awareness about the developmental issues that obstruct sustainability and eco-development, especially the eco-tourism and sustainable agriculture.

In addition to these aims, the association prides itself for diverse environmental activities which vary between the scientific aspects and training aspects:

  • The scientific aspect

Thanks to the increasing positive profile of the association, four members of the association benefited from master’s and PhD scholarships abroad to pursue postgraduate degrees in environmental studies.

  • Training and skills development-wise

Within the context of “Appui au Plan National Climat” (APNC) piloted by the German organization “GIZ”, the Algerian-Eco network in collaboration with the Algerian ministry of the environment and renewable energy, ten members of the association benefited from training on the effects of climate change in Tikjda area -Algeria.

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A view from the area of Tikjda area – Algeria – The photo also shows the existence of the Cedar tree throughout the mountains of Tikjda.  (Photo obtained from Hive Miner website).

On the tree national day and in the context of “Appui au Plan National Climat” project, the association established a campaign to raise awareness of the effects of climate change and the importance of tree planting for young pupils and students. Additionally, five members of the association participated at KAS – REMENA Experts’ Meeting “Opportunities and Risks of Digitalization for Climate Change Mitigation/Adaptation and Research Security in the MENA Region”.

The association has recently organized several activities including tree seedlings planting as well as wide cleanup campaigns in different areas of Khenchela city – where the headquarter of the association is based- with further plans to include different areas.

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Members of the association in the process of planting tree seedlings (Photo obtained from the Cedar Tree Association Facebook page).
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Members from the association in the process of cleaning the central area of Khenchla city alongside other volunteers from the local community  (Photo obtained from the Cedar Tree Association Facebook page).

Q4. Has the association cooperated with any national or international organization for the preservation of the Cedar trees in Algeria? What are the results of any cooperation if existed?
Despite the short duration since the foundation of the association, it received financial support for a project in the context of PPI-OSCAN 2 Programme financed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The association successfully proposed a project entitled: ‘’Protection of the Atlas Cedar against extinction in Chelia Mount’’, which has the following scientific objectives:
•           Realization of a scientific study to classify the Cedar tree in the region of Chelia as a national park (Chelia National Park)
•           Training for journalists and social media admins to understand the role of the media for the protection of the environment and documentary film making on the Atlas Cedar tree of Chelia for the general public.
•           Plantation and maintenance of Cedar shrubs on the degraded spaces
•           Introduction of beekeeping in Cedar trees of Chelia to contribute to the bio-protection of the Cedar forests.

The future project of Chelia Park – a proper project of the association- aims to host a richness of biological diversity, comprising endangered and rare species alongside maintaining eco-tourism in the area to provide the opportunity of experiencing the spectacular natural views in the park. The project aspires to establish ecological benefits, consisting of leisure, relaxation, touristic, educational activities, sport, health, and scientific research sites which require earnest valorization and protection against all forms of degradation.

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A view from Chelia Mount in the winter (Photo from Wikimedia).
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A view from Chelia Mount in warm seasons (Photo from Nature Art and Photography website).
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The distribution of the Cedar tree forests in the Aures Area which includes Chelia Mount (Photo from Wikipedia).

Q5. What are the future goals and projects of the Cedar Tree Association?

The association aims to achieve the following objectives in the near future:

  1. Integration and training of young people in the installation and maintenance of the solar energy panels.
  2. Irrigation training for agronomists and agriculturalists through photovoltaic solar pumping.
  3. Focusing on providing training opportunities in several environmental fields to promote eco-education and raise environmental awareness and sustainable development among the public.

Q6.  Do you have any message that you want to transfer to people worldwide about the protection of the environment and nature in general?
Our message is simple: preservation of the environment equals the preservation of the future of the human race. The environment is the source of our livelihood; it allows the continuity of our survival. The biodiversity is an invaluable resource which allows us to live, prosper and to find solutions to persisting issues and scientific questions.  Mother nature is, in fact, a green reservoir of natural cures, nutrition and livelihood. Therefore, protecting the environment ensures survival.

Q7. Finally, what advice would you give to people who aim at founding a similar environmental association?
As a young and prospering environmental association, we urge and support all people to set environmental initiatives. We urge everyone, especially the experts and specialists in environmental science and neighbouring fields to create environmental organizations and integrate different networks, especially the public, on the national and international level. Planet earth is shared by everyone!

Acknowledgment

I would like to thank all the association members for contributing to this article and for their inspiring enthusiasm to protect the Cedar tree in Algeria and the environment overall.

About the Author: Amina Ghezal is a Postgraduate Student (PhD) at the College of Social Sciences & International Studies, University of Exeter. 

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