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  Today Online 22 Oct 07
May a billion trees bloom

Clement Mesenas Editor-At-Large

SHE made her millions purveying luxury timepieces and diamonds to royalty, but these days Dr Jannie Tay is more concerned about paying it back.

At a lunch on Friday, attended by bankers, environmentalists and businessmen, the co-founder of The Hour Glass spoke of her vision to save the planet by planting a billion trees and in the process, help eliminate poverty around the world.

"What our planet urgently needs to check global warming and self-destruction is life-giving oxygen and only trees can provide that," said Dr Tay, whose mantra of late has been to spread global wellness from health foods to a healthy lifestyle and now, a mission to give Mother Earth a new lease on life under her Save Our Planet Fund.

She is confident she will be able to secure land in Indonesia, China and Australia to reforest the earth and that she will be able to harness the energies of the scientists, investors and environmentalists to make her vision work: To make a billion trees bloom.

Big projects, noble objectives but most importantly, they will provide livelihood for the world's poorest, especially the farmers and women in Third World countries, said Dr Tay. "We have got to succeed. The alternative, a slowly dying world, is too horrible to imagine," she said.

As is her entrepreneurial wont, Dr Tay has joined forces with experts from both the East and West.

From the West, she has roped in investment experts, but because they are sinking funds into a world facing an environmental crisis, they are treating the venture not as "business as usual" but more "business as unusual".

From India, she has the services of Dr Ashok Khosla, a former top United Nations and World Bank official and adviser to governments on environmental issues.

Dr Khosla, who lectured at Harvard University on the environment and who counts Nobel Prize winner Al Gore among his students now heads Development Alternatives, an Indian non-profit research, development and consultancy organisation.

Dr Khosla recounted a similar initiative in Colombia, which transformed vast tracts of arid savannah land, lying dormant, into a fertile forest. The land was bought cheap 8,000 hectares at US$1 ($1.46) a hectare.

Three tractors, costing US$1,000 each, worked the land. More importantly, the world's best scientists volunteered their services and devised a viable plan to plant the resilient Caribbean pine.

The result: A forest teeming with birds, bees, butterflies and other creatures in just seven years.

Apart from the timber yield, there was also precipitation making it possible to collect 13 tonnes of clean drinking water from each hectare every day.

Said Dr Kholsa: "The water, tested to be one of the world's purest, is now being bottled and sold."

The project caught the interest of investment bank J P Morgan, which invested US$350 million to cultivate over six million hectares. A similar project is planned in China's Yellow River Delta to cultivate biosaline reeds for paper pulp.

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