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Blog: Planting trees to save the forests: the benefits of commercial plantations (Carole Megevand)

Carole Megevand

This blog post was submitted by Carole Megevand, Sr. Natural Resources Management Specialist and Forest Lead for the World Bank Group

When we think about meeting the resource needs of a growing population, issues of food and water security often come to mind. But there is another type of resource that also deserves attention, because rising demand for it not only presents a supply problem for consumers, but also has direct and devastating impacts on natural ecosystems and on our climate. That resource is wood.

In 2012, over 1.5 billion m³ of industrial roundwood were harvested to be used in furniture, paper and construction materials (Indufor, 2012). This demand could quadruple by 2050, to 6 billion m³ every year. Increased wood consumption has been particularly dramatic in Africa, where about 80% of households rely on wood for their energy needs (IEA, 2014). Overall, Africa consumes more wood than any other continent (GEF, 2013).

Unfortunately, most of the global demand for wood has historically been met by cutting down natural forests. Although agriculture continues to be leading driver of global deforestation and degradation, demand for wood has actually had greater deforestation impacts in certain areas. Between 2000 and 2010 in Indonesia, more forests were cut down to establish fast wood plantations for pulp and paper than for oil palm plantations and coal mining (Abood et al., 2014). Across the tropics, poor logging practices and over-harvesting are primary causes of forest degradation. (Hosonuma et al., 2012). The decimation of natural forests can have detrimental effects on people’s access to forest products, as well as on biodiversity and ecosystem services. Deforestation is also a major contributor of global carbon dioxide emissions, second only to fossil fuels (Van de Werf et al., 2009).

However, planted forests are in a position to change this trend, as I noted in El País in September 2015.

The area under commercial plantation has increased rapidly over the last 25 years, growing by over 110 million hectares. Most of these plantations are in the U.S., China, Brazil, India and Indonesia, but Africa also presents significant potential for timber investment (as well as for growing consumption). Plantations currently meet about a third of global roundwood demand; with smart and sustained investment efforts, plantations could play an even greater role, and help to take the pressure off of natural forests.

Moreover, if carefully designed and managed, commercial plantations can provide many of the same benefits as natural forests. These include improved water flow, habitat for plants and animals, and jobs, income and wood resources for people. In fact, every aspect of commercial planting is a source of employment, from land preparation to planting and maintaining trees. Many countries have experience planting and restoring forests, and they could expand their activities. Others, such as Colombia, are new to the idea but are keen to make the most of their favorable growing conditions, which represent a promising opportunity for millions of hectares of commercial forest.

However, it is vitally important that plantations programs be well managed, particularly in terms of respecting the rights and interests of local communities. They also need to be sustainable, by complementing - not replacing - natural forests and other native ecosystems. Ideally, commercial plantations should reclaim degraded lands, such as former cattle pastures. In China, which has increased forest area by 3 million hectares per year since 2000 (FAO, 2011), most new forests were planted on land that had not been forested in recent times, and three-quarters of these plantations consisted of native species.

When done correctly and at scale, plantations offer a very viable solution for meeting growing wood demand, providing sustainable livelihoods and benefits for people, and protecting natural forests.


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Last Updated : 12-19-2016