On all continents, women and men are fighting for the conservation of nature. This week, Match met the heir to an empire dedicated his life to rebuilding the planet with forest.
Paris Match. What memory do you have of your father, Yves Rocher?
Jacques Rocher. He was silent and had an almost spiritual relationship with nature. He said, “The forest is my private conversation.” I think she brought him some kind of comfort. As a teenager, my father had experienced health problems related to a period of his schooling spent in a poorly heated boarding house. My grandfather ended up teaching him at home, then he died in 1944. My father was 14 years old. That was when he made the forest his refuge. He healed bruises in his soul there, took his inspiration from it, gathered there and found the meaning of life there.
Did he take you?
A little … But above all, I have created my own experience. This will no doubt seem esoteric to you: to me, forests are inhabited by spirits and by time. As a kid, I used to play with my brothers in the woods around La Gacilly. My real sensitivity came when I was 14 years old. I took pictures of the glénac moss that was completely foggy at dawn. The beauty of nature, the explosion of life, the hundreds of frogs singing around me … There are such little things that make you upset forever. We have not yet talked about ecology or environmental protection. My father had always been aware of the fragility of wild beauty. Mayor of La Gacilly, he was a fierce opponent of land consolidation, which involved felling hedges and centuries-old trees. I also remember that in 1972 he had funded the arrival of 500 children and young people. Among them was Allain Bougrain-Dubourg. Our “Club of young friends of animals and nature” had organized the expedition. We switched on live for three days. Today, children and teenagers are very interested in ecology, we must help them mobilize. When I see that we in France still have to fight against the worst hunting methods, such as the use of sticks coated with glue to catch birds! In the name of what do we indulge in such barbarism? Tradition has a good back!
What is the first tree you planted?
I can not remember anymore. But in the family, we have a habit of planting one at every birth. Trees are so magical. Thanks to the molecules they exchange and their root networks, they communicate with each other and are able to enter into alliances. They can transmit signals in ways other than a nervous system, aren’t they dizzying? The tree is the container of life, and it embodies the notion of time. Right after the war in Lebanon, I planted with an NGO cedar near the famous Bcharré forest where God’s 2,000 year old cedar stands. Faced with them, we understand: we only pass through. The oldest tree in the world is more than 9,000 years old, it lives in northern Europe. It relativizes our sufficiency to want to dominate everything!
We want to save nature, but we prevent children from climbing trees so they do not fall!
In thirty years, thanks to your foundation, 100 million trees have been planted in 35 countries. Had you imagined such a success?
First I wanted to plant 1 million, they told me I was crazy. So I replied, “We want to create a crazy club!” This is how I met in 2007 Sadhguru, an Indian spiritual master who in 2020 wanted to sow 25 million trees in the heart of Tamil Nadu, a state located in the far south of India, seriously threatened by desertification. The first time we saw each other was at his ashram. I asked him about his age, he replied 325 years old! He’s actually 60 … but I thought it started well. The energy he spent with his volunteers made us want to keep pushing the desert back and regrowing a ruined place. We now plan to replant 114 million trees.
How did you manage to enamel the world of planters and planters?
The first step, the key, is on the spot to discover the local actors or NGOs carrying out a project in favor of nature and biodiversity. We have a team that uncovers these gold nuggets at the Foundation, but it also happens without necessarily having to go to the end of the world, through meetings. In 2008, we awarded the Terre de femmes prize to Sylvie Monnier, an Auvergne farmer and founder of Afahc (the French association of trees and hedges). She is a tough defender of obstacles. We decided to expand the story. Deforestation not only affects developing countries, the situation is also alarming in France: since 1950, we have lost 70% of hedges. Every year, 11,500 kilometers of shrubs disappear, which is crucial for biodiversity. With our partner, Afac-Agroforesteries, and thanks to the mobilization of farmers, local authorities, associations and schools, we have planted 5 million land trees in twelve years. And by 2050, with the fund for the tree, which we launched to reconstruct the bocage, we hope to build another 750,000 kilometers of hedges. Our goal is to protect soil and water resources, revive bocage biodiversity and encourage farmers to engage in more sustainable practices.
What is your most important program?
Ethiopia. This country is exposed to the ravages of drought as well as to humanitarian crises. Its dazzling development is happening at the expense of the environment. In just fifty years, Ethiopia has lost 90% of its forests. Members of Green Ethiopia are fighting to preserve vegetation, make the soil more fertile and support food security. Since 2009, more than 46 million trees have been replanted thanks to the involvement of 40,000 people. Unfortunately, the escalation of the Civil War put a damper on our plans. But we are not going to stop, we have just reduced the sails a bit for safety reasons.
You entered the video game world with Minecraft #plantforlife. Explain to us …
Microsoft France, patron of the fund, financed the production. The idea was almost to create 100,000 trees or 140 football pitches by December 15, 2021, so that we could actually plant in France or Ethiopia. The goal has been reached. The interest is to speak to all generations. In our hyper-connected world, we are totally cut off from nature. Which was not the case for my generation, even though we were not talking about global warming. On the contrary, young people who are experiencing climate change are mobilizing, but they are locked into ultra-secure schemes. We prevent them from climbing trees, we forbid them to scratch the ground, we are afraid that they will fall or get dirty …
What are your next goals?
Continue ! We started with the idea of 135 million trees in 2025. The fund is part of a long term. Being recognized as a public utility is also a way to carry it over time. After me, my children, nephews and nieces will no doubt take over.
To consult: Our special page dedicated to Heroes of the Planet
Deforestation has been condemned for decades without the phenomenon slowing down. How do you maintain faith?
In fact, there is enough to be demoralized: 100 million trees planted in thirty years, that’s what deforestation destroys in twenty days! I was in Rio in 1992 for the 2nd Earth Summit. Three years after the end of the Cold War, there was a euphoria, a global energy: civil society was finally to work with governments for a better world. I was there again in 2012, I had just spent five weeks in the Amazon … Governments came and went, the problems remained. Worse, we’re going back. A Native American proverb warns: “Once the last tree has been felled, the last fish were caught and the last river polluted; when inhaling the air will be nauseating, it will be too late. You will find that you can not eat the money! ” But I always prefer to see the glass half full. The adventure began with an arboretum created with school children in a small garden in La Gacilly: The 500 children who had committed themselves to protecting nature are now in their forties and are coming to go there with their own children! We have created 500 arboretums around the world that bring together thousands of children! My optimism, I owe it to the people I meet for these moments of life and sharing. All over the world, in France as in Ethiopia, people are sticking their hands in the ground and planting. The flame must not go out. As they say, the one who plants a tree hopes.