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A Thorny Solution to Deforestation

Saving "Crown of Thorns" trees

Did you know, according to Greenpeace, only one-fifth of the Earth’s original forests remain? The rest have been destroyed, degraded, or fragmented by human activity.

In Argentina, Intel Science and Engineering Fair finalists are making a difference

High school students Clara and Emilce live in Presidente Irigoyen, a tiny, remote village in Argentina. Clara’s family raises farm animals, Emilce’s mother grows citrus, and both girls attended school in a barn while construction of a permanent school was under way.

Although they live in an isolated area, they understand the consequences of deforestation. “Our class went to study the local forest, and we saw a lot of trees had been cut down,” says Emilce. “We did a survey to find out what people were using the trees for, and found out that people were using them for firewood and charcoal.”

Research pays off

As part of a research project for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), a program of Society for Science & the Public, the girls discovered that the trees, called “Crown of Thorns” (Gleditsia amorphoides), were important to the local ecosystem. Their pods could be used as protein-rich cattle food and in industries such as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. The teens distributed information about the trees’ value throughout the village, and petitioned the local government to create a forest preserve to prevent the trees from being cut down.

Villagers now use pods collected from trees in the newly established “School Nature Reserve” to feed their cows. “This helps when we have a drought and there is no grass,” says Clara. The pods are also sold for manufacturing in other industries, giving the community a new source of income.

Clara and Emilce

2011 Intel ISEF

Clara and Emilce’s project earned them a trip to the 2011 Intel ISEF competition in Los Angeles, California, enabling them to further their goal of raising awareness of the importance of the “Crown of Thorns.”

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