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Status and trends in forest management

Sustainable forest management entails the balancing of the economic, environmental and social functions and values of forests for the benefit of present and future generations - a complex and challenging task in the face of the Earth's rapidly expanding population and increasing demands for forest products and services. However, a number of positive developments give cause for cautious optimism. Among these is the unprecedented level of attention, energy and commitment from thousands of formal and informal, global to local, governmental and non-governmental organizations around the world (see Part III for discussion of international initiatives).

While frequent reference is made in the literature to areas where forests are not being managed in a sustainable manner, the magnitude of the problem globally is not known at present. A previous study by FAO (1982) estimated that less than 5 percent of the world's tropical forest classified as productive was under intensive management in 1980.8 FRA 2000 will assess both quantitative and qualitative data pertaining to sustainable forest management worldwide. Recent figures indicate that almost all European forests are managed,9 i.e. have a formal or informal management plan for one or a combination of objectives (e.g. wood production, conservation of biological diversity, soil and water conservation, recreation) (Third Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe/Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries of Portugal, 1998a).

Sustainable management of forests implies the provision of a range of goods and services. While all forests, by their nature, are multipurpose, and while more emphasis is given to management for multiple functions, most managed forests have a primary management objective: production (of wood and/or non-wood products), protection (mainly for soil and water conservation) or conservation (of biological diversity, cultural heritage sites, etc.). The following discussions of natural forests and forest plantations focus on management where wood production is the primary objective, as issues related to timber harvesting are among the more contentious in the forest debate today. Social and environmental functions of forests are treated in a subsequent section.


There is a global commitment to improve the management of forests. This improvement entails a rebalancing of forest management objectives, which is bringing about changes in the way forests are managed and, in some places, a reallocation of forest areas between different uses. This may result in reduced timber harvests in natural forests, but increased production of other goods and services. Implementing sustainable forest management may lead to reduced volumes harvested in the short term, yet there is an expectation that it will increase wood supply over the long term.

Natural forest management is currently being affected by changes in resource availability, developments in management objectives and practices, and institutional changes which have led to a more diverse set of forest managers.

Trends in resource availability and in wood supply

Area of natural forest available for wood supply. Nearly one-half (1 563 million hectares) of the area of natural forests worldwide (an estimated 3 221 million hectares) is considered to be available for wood supply under current legal and market conditions (i.e. there are no legal restrictions and forest cover is both economically and physically accessible) (FAO, 1998a)10 (see Table 2).


Natural forests - area available and unavailable for wood supply

Natural forest classification under the Global Fibre Supply Model

Area (million ha)

Area available for wood supply

1 563



Undisturbed by humansb



Area unavailable for wood supply

1 657

Legal restrictionsc


Economic restrictions:


Physical reasonsd


Transport/infrastructure constraintse





Total area of natural forest

3 221g

Source: FAO, 1998a.
a  Forest which is neither "forest undisturbed by humans" nor "plantation".
b Forest which shows natural forest dynamics, such as natural tree composition, occurrence of dead wood, natural age structure and natural regeneration processes, the area of which is large enough to maintain its natural characteristics and where there has been no significant human intervention or where the last significant human intervention was long enough to have allowed the natural species composition and processes to have become re-established.
c Forest with legal restrictions or restrictions resulting from other political decisions, which totally exclude or severely limit wood supply. Areas under IUCN management categories I and II are considered as protected from wood harvesting.
d Harvesting is economically unfeasible at the current wood price level because the terrain conditions require extraordinary equipment or time.
e Remote forests where transport distance for logs or products is prohibited by cost or where access is currently not provided. This area, however, can become accessible for wood supply if, for instance, the government or the industry invests in infrastructure.
f E.g. low growing stock volume, wood quality too low, no commercial species. g Differences in totals are due to rounding.


Concerns related to timber harvesting and the need to encourage the use of environmentally sound forest harvesting practices apply to this area. At least 42 percent (665 million hectares) of the area available for wood supply is estimated to be "undisturbed by humans"; three-quarters of this area is located in the Russian Federation.

An additional 365 million hectares of natural forest are currently unavailable for wood supply because of transport or infrastructure constraints but have potential for commercial timber harvesting should economic conditions change and/or government policies encourage commercial development of this resource. Countries will face important choices about how this land can best be used to support national sustainable development. Some of this forest will undoubtedly be cleared for other uses, some may be added to national protected area systems, and some will be managed for commercial timber production. Some will remain too remote, and thus uneconomic, for commercial forest activities. It will be important for countries to make careful policy decisions related to land use in these areas, and to encourage sustainable forest management, including environmentally sound forest harvesting practices and appropriate silvicultural treatments in areas that are eventually designated for timber production.

Changes in natural forest area available for wood supply. The area of natural forest that is currently available for wood production is diminishing because of deforestation and the designation of some forests as strict conservation areas. The Philippines, for instance, has recently banned all logging in "old growth and virgin forests" and placed such forests under the National Integrated Protected Area System. In China, a similar ban on timber harvesting in natural forests was imposed in July 1998. Proposals have been made to add about 60 percent of the State-owned natural forests (approximately 25 million hectares) to the country's protected area system, which would have an overall effect of reducing log production from the State forest estate by 43 percent (The China Daily, 7 May 1998; ITTO, 1998). In Suriname, 1.5 million hectares of natural forest (one-tenth of the country's total land area) were set aside as a Wilderness Nature Reserve in 1998. In April 1998, the Government of Brazil announced its intention to put 25 million hectares of rain forest under protected area status. In addition, Brazil, Cambodia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the United States, among others, have recently either banned or severely restricted timber harvesting in primary forests.

Other recent developments which may affect the area of natural forest available for wood supply are the restitution of large forest areas to past owners in Eastern Europe; devolution and decentralization of responsibility for forest management (e.g. in the Philippines); and the designation of large areas of public forests for the use of native communities (e.g. in countries in the Amazon region, the Philippines and Canada). New owners of small areas of forests or woodlands in many developed countries are increasingly likely to use the forest for aesthetic or recreational purposes rather than for timber production. Changing ownership patterns, in which larger areas of natural forest are divided into smaller, individually owned forest units, may in some cases make timber production uneconomical. The overall effect is expected to be a reduction in the area of natural forest available for wood supply.

Changes in the types of forest available for wood supply. Timber harvesting is gradually shifting from forests undisturbed by humans to semi-natural forests,11 plantations and trees outside forests. Factors driving this shift include deforestation, past timber harvesting and the recent inclusion of areas of natural forest that were previously available for timber production into countries' protected area systems. (See also the section on global trends in forest products, below.) The shift has already taken place in Europe, where an estimated 85 percent of forests are considered semi-natural (Third Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe/Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries of Portugal, 1998a). The area of semi-natural forests and forest fallows on agricultural land is expected to increase, mainly in the developing world. As a result, interest in managing this resource for wood production has grown in recent years, and considerable effort has been devoted to identifying means by which this can be done sustainably.

The impact of sustainable forest management on future wood supply. More than 150 countries are participating in regional and ecoregional processes to establish criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management (see Part III). Member countries of the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), which account for more than 80 percent of the world's tropical forests and more than 95 percent of the global tropical timber trade, have made a commitment to have their exports of tropical timber and tropical timber products come from sustainably managed sources by the year 2000. ITTO consumer countries have made a commitment to maintain or achieve sustainable management of their own forests by 2000. The World Bank and WWF have joined forces in a recently announced programme aiming for a target of 200 million hectares of certifiable forests by 2005. (Certification is discussed below under "Global trends in forest products".) A variety of other efforts, ranging from model forests to research efforts to NGO initiatives, are helping to promote sustainable forest management.

A study carried out in conjunction with the FAO Global Fibre Supply Model reviewed recent efforts to estimate how implementation of sustainable forest management might affect wood supply (FAO, 1997a). Much of the information available was based on simulation models and trial operations, and should be interpreted with caution. Nonetheless, the review indicated that implementing sustainable forest management would lead to reductions in harvest volume, particularly over the short term, and that management costs could be expected to rise on average between 5 and 25 percent.

There is, however, an expectation that long-term supply will increase through application of sustainable forest management. In the tropics, much of this increase is expected to be realized through improved harvesting methods leading to the maintenance of site productivity and prevention of damage to immature stems. In temperate forests the long-term increase is expected to be less pronounced because of the high level of productivity already reached, and increases may be captured only by intensified silviculture.12

Recent developments in natural forest management and silviculture

Many wood producing countries will continue to rely on natural forests as the main source of their wood supply, at least for the short term; only a few countries currently harvest the majority of their wood from forest plantations and trees outside forests.13 The challenge, therefore, is to manage natural forests designated for wood production in such a way as to meet economic and socio-cultural needs, while maintaining and enhancing the forests' ecological and environmental functions.

Increasingly, the trend in many countries is towards multipurpose management of forest ecosystems. Consideration of long-term impacts of management interventions is made at the landscape, subnational and national levels. This trend has been reinforced by recent efforts to identify and apply criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management.

The emphasis on sustainable forest management has led to changes both in silvicultural systems and in timber harvesting practices. At the operational level, the persons responsible for harvesting operations are increasingly being tasked with pre- and postharvesting silvicultural actions as an integral part of the harvesting system in countries where this has not traditionally been the case.

Recent developments in silviculture. Changes in silvicultural systems are occurring in all types of forests - temperate, boreal, tropical and subtropical.

In the temperate zone, revised silvicultural guidelines are being developed by several countries and groups of countries as an outcome of recent initiatives related to identification and use of criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management. The Pan-European Operational Level Guidelines for Sustainable Forest Management,14 for instance, addresses regeneration, choice of silvicultural systems, tending and harvesting, the use of pesticides and herbicides, protection of key biotopes, sensitive areas and sites of specific historical, cultural or spiritual significance, among others. The new United Kingdom Forestry Standard (DANI, 1998) is one example of national guidelines prepared in accordance with the Pan-European guidelines.

Concepts which reflect silvicultural management changes adopted in North American temperate and boreal forests in the late 1980s and 1990s include "sustainable forestry", "ecological integrity", "mimicking natural disturbances" and "ecosystem management". The corresponding silvicultural systems are identified with another set of terms such as "new forestry", "variable retention silvicultural system" and "improvement cutting". Codes of best management practices or forest practices codes have been developed for virtually all regions of Canada and the United States. These codes, which can be voluntary or prescribed in statutes and regulations, have had a significant impact on forest management in both countries.

In the tropics, there are clear indicators of gradual change towards silvicultural practices that better reflect the multiple goals of sustainable forest management. The CELOS management system,15which has been undergoing field trials for several years in Suriname, is being adopted in other parts of Latin America and in Asia. For example, Indonesia and Nepal have developed shelterwood/enrichment planting in dipterocarps, and Malaysia and Uganda are moving to the Selective Management System.16Recent attention has also been paid to improved management of secondary forests, particularly forests that have developed on agricultural land either as a fallow (i.e. forest fallow) or following abandonment of the land.17

Efforts to improve forest harvesting practices. Various efforts are under way to develop methods of timber harvesting that maintain both the potential for future production and the environmental services that forests provide. At the international level, FAO and CIFOR have been working on codes and guidelines for environmentally sound forest harvesting. FAO published a Model Code of Forest Harvesting Practices in 1996 (FAO, 1996b). CIFOR recently developed guidelines for reduced-impact logging in dipterocarp forests in Indonesia (Sist, Dykstra and Fimbel, 1998). A regional Code of Practice for Forest Harvesting developed for the Asia and the Pacific region under the auspices of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission (APFC) was adopted by the member countries at APFC's seventeenth session in February 1998. National codes in line with the regional code are currently being developed by several countries in the region, and a number of training workshops on implementation have been held. Box 6 reports on some of the expected results of implementing the FAO Model Code of Forest Harvesting Practices and the guidelines developed by CIFOR.


Environmentally sound forest harvesting

A requirement for the widespread adoption of environmentally sound timber harvesting technologies is the demonstration that such operations can be economically feasible, environmentally sound and socially acceptable. In response to this need, case studies sponsored by private enterprises have been undertaken in tropical forests in the Congo (FAO, 1997b), Brazil (FAO, 1997c) and Indonesia (FAO, 1998c) to test some of the applications suggested in the FAO Model Code of Forest Harvesting Practices.

These studies have found that:

∑ environmentally sound timber harvesting is not necessarily more expensive than traditional timber harvesting methods;
∑ use of the environmentally sound practices reduced damage to standing stock as much as 60 percent (from 51.5 to 22.2 percent in the Brazil study) relative to traditional harvesting methods;
∑ appropriate preharvest planning reduced the area of forest roads, skid trails and landings considerably (from 20 to 4.5 percent in the study in Brazil);
∑ disturbance of the canopy was reduced from 25 to 11 percent;
∑ total timber loss was reduced by more than 50 percent (from 8.5 to 3.9 percent of utilizable stem volume).

These findings correlate well with the expectations for reduced-impact logging for lowland and hill dipterocarp forests in Indonesia as stated in the CIFOR guidelines (Sist, Dykstra and Fimbel, 1998). The endorsed practices were expected to:

∑ reduce disturbances to soil and residual vegetation by at least 50 percent in comparison with conventional logging operations where the guidelines are not applied;
∑ limit overall direct impacts to the forest to less than 25 percent;
∑ conserve wildlife and other forest resources, including non-wood forest products, threatened and endangered species, keystone plant resources and water;
∑ diminish direct logging costs by at least 15 percent;
∑ protect the long-term integrity and value of the permanent forest estate.

A critical requirement for the effective application of advanced technology capable of reducing environmental impacts associated with logging is a well-designed and continuous programme of training for the logging crews, their supervisors and the persons responsible for harvest planning.

Achievements in environmentally sound road construction using hydraulic excavators and advanced blasting techniques have been thoroughly documented by recent case studies in Austria (FAO, 1998b) and Bhutan (FAO, 1998d). Trials with central tyre inflation (CTI) on a timber hauling truck (which allows the driver to vary the tyre pressure while the truck is in motion) found that a road that normally would have been closed during a period of reduced bearing capacity (e.g. spring thaw) coped comfortably with 30 passes by a CTI-equipped truck. A conventional truck with normal tyre pressure would have caused deep ruts in the road in just six trips (SkogForsk, 1998).


New managers and new management roles: a focus on people's participation in forest management

Recent changes in forest policy and legislation reflect support for increased involvement of the private sector (forest owners, forest industries, NGOs and community-based organizations, indigenous people and the general public) and local government units in forest management. Privatization, devolution and decentralization, recognition of indigenous peoples' rights to ancestral land and participatory approaches to forest management have all led to changing roles of forest administrations and a new type of forest manager (see also Part II).

As a result of both internal and external pressures, stemming from the growing recognition over the past two decades that active stakeholder participation is a key element of sustainable forest management, a variety of approaches to increasing the participation of local communities in natural forest management have been developed. The past few years have seen a significant acceleration in the implementation of community-based forest management programmes and considerable improvement in the results as experience, both good and bad, has accumulated.

Asia has been at the forefront of participatory forest management. Joint forest management in India, whose roots date back to the early 1970s in West Bengal, was one of the first initiatives. Under joint forest management, communities are given rights to manage areas of forest, as detailed in a management plan, in return for which they receive a portion of the resulting benefits. Through Nepal's community forestry programme (see Box 7), user groups manage forests according to a management plan drawn up with and approved by the District Forest Officer. In the Philippines, some forest management functions have recently been devolved to local government. A community-based forest management strategy has been adopted as the main approach to sustainable development of the country's public forest resources.


Examples of community-based forest management


Under community forestry, the government may assign local forest users the right to manage an area of State forest. Users form forest user groups, which are responsible for setting and enforcing forest management rules, designed to ensure that extraction of forest products is limited to sustainable levels. The rules are included in a forest operational plan, which must be approved by the District Forest Office. The user group can sell the forest products, including timber, at prices that it sets, and it may use the income for forestry and community development activities.

The Gambia

Establishing community ownership of forest land has been an important strategy in promoting sustainable forest management practices in the Gambia. Local inhabitants previously had little incentive to conserve public forest resources and often overexploited resources on State forest lands. Recognition that access to forest ownership serves as motivation for preserving forests has led to the development of community forestry activities within the Gambia. The Gambian-German Forestry Project has sought collaboration between local forest committees and the Forestry Department in developing local management plans. These plans, known as Preliminary Community Forest Management Agreements, provide for community-based forest management over a three-year period. If the community displays an ability to manage the forest well, it is granted forest resources ownership rights. Communities are entitled to keep the benefits derived from the forest in exchange for managing the forest according to the established plan. Over 300 villages are currently involved in this project and numerous others also wish to participate.


In 1994, the Guatemalan Parliament approved a law enabling local communities to apply for forest concessions in the buffer zones of the Maya biosphere reserve, a protected area in northern Guatemala. A community must legally register its organization or association, apply for use of a specific area, develop a forest management plan for 30 or 40 years and elaborate a one-year operational plan. All these documents are presented to the National Council of Protected Areas (Consejo Nacional de Areas Protegidas - CONAP). CONAP technicians help with the development of the management plans and an NGO advises the community on both technical and legal aspects. The community organization agrees to pay CONAP 1 percent of the revenue generated by the forest. The community contracts private companies to harvest timber and non-wood forest products and monitors the forest management. To date, approximately 92 000 ha have been given over to such local concessions.


Other regions are also seeing participatory approaches to forest management. In Africa, for example, several countries have adopted community-based forest management as their main strategy for managing forest resources. Participatory forest management is also being extensively used in Latin America, where efforts to involve indigenous peoples have been particularly noteworthy. Collaborative management of protected areas has become the primary approach of international NGOs such as WWF and IUCN in projects in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

These initiatives have certain features in common. For example, the community gains secure rights to the use of resources on forest land, rather than ownership of the land itself. Another is that even though the responsibility for managing forest areas is either shared or shifted primarily to the user manager, the authority in most cases continues to lie with State forest administrations. Thus, if conflicts arise between the State agency and the user group, the State agency usually has the authority to resolve the dispute. In general, government support of local forest management is increasing, partly as a consequence of the positive results being obtained, but also because of diminishing financial and human resources at the central level.

Although participatory forest management has been implemented over a relatively short period, information is emerging which indicates that these approaches are having a positive effect on the condition of forest resources. This is partly because the direct accrual of benefits to local communities gives them greater incentive to manage and conserve forest resources actively. Several studies have been made of the benefits of shared forest management. For example, the Overseas Development Agency of the United Kingdom (ODA, 1996) concluded from the review of its projects in community-based forestry that several had positive environmental impacts, benefiting water supply, soil erosion control and biological diversity. The review also found that the projects had social and economic benefits, including strengthened local institutional capacity, improved relations among stakeholders (particularly communities and forest departments), increased product flows, greater product diversity and better access to markets.

A major challenge to be met in the future is to improve links between forest policy and ground-level implementation. Policy formulation needs to incorporate the experience of local-level forest users and managers, both traditional and non-traditional, and forest policies need to be better understood, accepted and effectively implemented at the local level.


Forest plantations have attracted both considerable positive attention and criticism in recent years. Plantations will be increasingly important sources of industrial wood in the future, thus potentially allowing reduced levels of timber harvesting in natural forests. Some groups, however, oppose them as unsustainable monocultures unable to provide the multiple goods and services available from natural forests. There is concern that some natural tropical forests are being cleared and replaced with forest plantations. A closer look can shed some light on questions about the potential of plantations to meet demands for industrial wood products and thus their indirect role in conserving natural forest resources.

The area of plantations

The area of forest plantations in the world has been increasing for the past two decades, and this trend is expected to continue (see section on global trends in forest products). Viet Nam, for example, recently announced plans for the rehabilitation of 5 million hectares of forest land, of which about 3 million hectares would be forest plantations. Other countries with continuing afforestation programmes include (among others) Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, India, Indonesia, Morocco, Thailand and Uruguay.

Several developed countries in the temperate and boreal regions have forests of native species that are largely regenerated naturally, but with supplementary planting as necessary. The difficulty of distinguishing forest plantations from natural forests - or rather, the fact that a hybrid of the two prevails in many countries, particularly in Europe, has made it impossible to get exact figures on the area of forest plantations in the developed world. An estimate, however, is that there are over 60 million hectares of forest plantations, of which about 29 million hectares are in European countries (including over 17 million hectares in the Russian Federation), over 13 million hectares in the United States, over 10 million hectares in Japan (Third Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe/Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries of Portugal, 1998b),18 1.5 million hectares in New Zealand (New Zealand Ministry of Forestry, 1997)19and 1 million hectares in Australia (Bureau of Resource Sciences, 1997).20 Forest plantations make up a large proportion of some countries' total forest cover (e.g. 44 percent in Japan and 19 percent in New Zealand). Not all of these plantations have been established for wood supply, however; many have been planted for protection functions, such as soil and water conservation, slope stabilization and wind protection.

There is a clearer distinction between natural forest and forest plantations in developing countries.

Table 3 shows the regional totals derived from a recent FAO review of the literature of forest plantations established for wood supply. Almost 75 percent of forest plantations are located in the Asia and the Pacific region (with 21 million hectares in China and 20 million hectares in India), while about 15 percent are in Latin America and 10 percent are in Africa. The reported annual afforestation rate in the tropics and subtropics in 1995 was about 3 million hectares per year.


Reported forest plantation areas and annual
establishment rate in developing countries in 1995
(thousand ha)a


Reported areasb





Estimated net areas

Area established per year


3 787

3 025

6 812

5 861


Asia and Oceania

31 781

21 216

52 997

40 471

2 330

Latin America

7 826

2 134

9 960

8 898



43 394

26 375

69 769

55 230

3 019

a The figures incorporate the latest revisions of area figures arising from recent inventories. They refer to forest plantations established for wood supply. They do not include plantation areas established for protection purposes or for non-wood forest products. They are thus considerably smaller than, and are not directly comparable with, the figures published in SOFO 1997 for base year 1995.
b "Reported areas" refer to gross areas derived from various published sources. The "estimated net areas" are derived from the reported areas through the application of reduction coefficients to allow for poor survival or other losses, based on inventory results where available and on expert opinion where not.


An estimated 57 percent of the plantation area is planted with hardwood species and 43 percent with softwoods. Various species of pines make up the majority (61 percent) of the softwoods. Eucalypts comprise the largest area of hardwood plantations planted for industrial use (30 percent), followed by acacias (12 percent) and teak (about 7 percent). Short-rotation plantations of hardwood species have been grown for many years, but until recently there has been little interest in growing valuable hardwood species, such as teak, because of their slow growth and delayed economic returns. Because of the prospect of reduced supplies of high-quality hardwood logs from natural forests, however, a number of countries - Costa Rica, Ghana, India and Malaysia among them - are now investing in valuable hardwood species, especially teak.21

Utilization of wood and fibre from species not traditionally considered forest crops - in particular rubber, coconut and oil-palm - has continued to increase. Coconut and oil-palm stems and the branches of rubberwood are used in various forms of reconstituted wood, and rubberwood stems are used for sawnwood. About 80 percent of the furniture manufactured in Malaysia is made from rubberwood; this industry was valued at approximately US$750 million in 1997. Furniture is also manufactured from rubberwood in Thailand, and this industry is being developed in China, India, Indonesia and Viet Nam. Rubberwood has in fact become so valuable that the Rubber Research Institute of Malaysia is now breeding dual-purpose latex/timber clones, which have recently been released for commercial planting (Forest Research Institute of Malaysia, personal communication, 1998).

The total plantation area of these three "non-forest" species was reported as more than 26 million hectares in 1995 (see Table 4), as compared with 14 million hectares reported for 1990 (FAO, 1997d). While much of this apparent increase is actually the result of improved data collection, there is good evidence that the plantation area of oil-palm is increasing significantly and that of rubber is increasing gradually, although that of coconut is decreasing. Most of the plantations are located in Asia and Oceania, but they are concentrated in a few countries. The majority of the coconut plantations are in Indonesia and the Philippines, those of rubber in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia and those of oil-palm in Malaysia and India. Wood and fibre are not harvested from all these plantations, but area figures illustrate their production potential.


Reported plantation areas of the major "non-forest" species
in tropical and subtropical countries in 1995
(thousand ha)






Latin America









1 912

Asia and Oceania

8 718

10 546

4 587

23 851


9 485

11 276

5 774

26 535


Plantations' contribution to wood supply

The area of forest plantations established for industrial wood supply can help compensate for an anticipated reduction in production from natural forests because of deforestation or increased areas being set aside for conservation or other reasons. For example, over 25 000 ha of high-yielding hybrid poplar plantations were established in the northwestern United States between 1992 and 1997 in response to both increased demand for poplar wood for oriented strand board and decreased supply from public forests (USDA Forest Service, 1996). There is also a perception that the establishment of a sufficient area of forest plantations may reduce logging pressure on natural forests by providing alternative sources of wood supply. One of the three objectives of the forest plantations programme of the Seventh Malaysia Plan, for example, is to reduce pressure on natural forests through higher timber outputs from concentrated plantation forests. A similar strategy has been applied in New Zealand (see Box 8).


Substituting wood from natural forests with that
of forest plantations: the case of New Zealand

Prior to human settlement, forests covered almost 80 percent of New Zealand's land area. Much of this forest was subsequently cleared for grazing. Today, natural closed forests constitute only about 23 percent of the country's land area. Since the 1920s, New Zealand has progressively developed a significant plantation forest estate, largely in response to the recognition that without a concerted effort to establish supplementary wood supplies, the natural forests would be rapidly depleted. Forest plantations now cover 5 percent of the land area (1.5 million hectares) and produce 99 percent of New Zealand's industrial wood harvest.

Three-quarters of the natural forest is State owned and protected in national parks and reserves. Of the remaining 25 percent in private hands, four-fifths is inaccessible or has protected status. This leaves only 5 percent of the natural forest (approximately 300 000 ha) effectively available for wood production. In general, this area may be harvested only under a government-approved sustainable management plan. (Exceptions are forests subject to the West Coast Forest Accord or the South Island Landless Maoris Act of 1906.)

The New Zealand experience shows that exchanging wood production from natural forests with plantations is not a matter of straightforward substitution, nor is it simple. Some of the considerations are as follows:

∑ Substitution is not immediate. Harvesting in natural forests will need to continue until plantation wood supplies come on stream, if production levels are to be maintained.
∑ Technical research and market development is often needed to help in the change-over from products of the natural forest to plantation wood. The Government of New Zealand initially invested in substantial plantation wood processing facilities to prove the efficacy of processing plantation timbers and to overcome some of the early technical difficulties.
∑ It will generally be much easier to impose harvesting restrictions on State-owned natural forest land than on privately owned land. Landowners may demand compensation for infringements on property rights and may be concerned about the costs of rigorous requirements for sustainable natural forest management.
∑ Forest policy for the management of natural forests may be contentious for many years. In New Zealand, management of natural forests harvested under the West Coast Forest Accord remains a source of major controversy. Tension exists between the relatively small industry still processing natural forest timbers and environmental groups and communities. Meanwhile, forest plantation practices remain subject to environmental criticism and stricture.
∑ The success of this strategy depends in part on the species planted and the end uses required. Species providing sawlogs or veneer logs not only are generally slower growing but may be more difficult to raise in plantations. In New Zealand's case this has not been an issue because the mainstay of the plantation programme is a utility-class timber species, radiata pine, which is relatively easy to grow in plantations and grows quickly enough to yield commercially acceptable rates of return.

Sources: FAO, 1997e; New Zealand Ministry of Forestry, 1996.


No global figures are available for current output of timber from forest plantations, but the potential annual growth of industrial wood from forest plantations in developing countries has been estimated at about 5 percent of the increment of natural forests in 1995 (FAO, 1998a). In some countries, however, plantation production already makes up a significant portion of the industrial wood supply. For example, 99 percent of New Zealand's industrial roundwood in 1997 was grown in plantations, 84 percent of Chile's, 62 percent of Brazil's and 50 percent of Zambia's.

Projections of the future contribution of forest plantations to wood supply are based on various assumptions, the main one being the rate of afforestation. Assuming today's rates of deforestation and afforestation, it has been estimated that by 2010 the potential increment from forest plantations will be about 40 percent of that from natural forests in Asia, Oceania and Latin America and about 15 percent in Africa (FAO, 1998a).

Gains in productivity of forest plantations continue to be made through improved management, tree breeding and tree improvement. Simple selection, particularly of provenances, may give results nearly as dramatic as and often more resilient to external influences than intensive tree breeding. Recent advances in biotechnology are increasingly being applied to the forestry sector, resulting in improved yields. For example, researchers at Aracruz Florestal, the plantation company supplying a Brazilian pulp and paper company, have developed synthetic interspecific hybrids of Eucalyptus grandisEucalyptus urophylla which yield over 70 m3 per hectare per year in commercial plantations on optimal sites, compared with the 45 m3 per hectare per year previously yielded by natural hybrids. Breeding programmes can also achieve increases in fibre density or in the ratio of usable to unusable fibre, which may bring greater gain than increased yields. As illustrated by the rubberwood example, breeding can help make adjustments to adapt to new market demands. Finally, breeding programmes can be oriented towards minimizing risk to plantations from biological threats.

Current environmental, social and policy issues related to forest plantations

Many of the environmental and social issues surrounding forest plantations are related to the way they are established - blocks of trees of the same age and same species planted in straight lines with regular spacing. Criticism of monoculture has increased interest in using more than one species in plantations. The potential benefits of mixed-species plantations include reduced risk of disease and pest outbreaks; improved nutrient cycling in forest soils; reduced risk of fire damage when suitable fire-resistant species are used; increased habitat diversity for native plant and animal species; increased market security through species and product diversification; and improved visual and amenity characteristics. However, apart from a few examples, such as the longstanding practice of using nurse species in mahogany plantations in West Africa, Central America and Oceania for shade and protection against attack by the Hypsipyla insect, both experience and quantitative information on the establishment and management of such mixed-species plantations are limited.

The availability of land for forest plantations is of growing concern. Private enterprise is increasingly conscious of environmental and social issues related to the establishment of large blocks of trees. The clearing of forest for plantations is reported to have ceased in Chile, Argentina and Brazil, although it is still continuing in Indonesia and some other countries. Large blocks of unencumbered land, even of low fertility, are increasingly difficult to find, particularly in Asia where the area under forest plantations has expanded most rapidly. This paucity of land has led to the growing of trees for industrial roundwood production on land outside forests, such as farmland, where trees are either planted as small blocks or integrated with agriculture in agroforestry systems. In Pakistan, for example, 45 percent of respondents to a survey on farm trees grew trees for timber production on irrigated farmland, which made a significant contribution to wood supplies (Leach, 1993).

"Outgrower" schemes encourage farmers to raise trees on their own land for sale to processing companies. There are many such schemes, for example Populus deltoides grown for peeler logs in India, Albizzia falcataria grown for pulpwood in the Philippines, and Acacia mearnsii grown for tan bark and eucalypts for pulp in South Africa. Under these schemes, outgrowers usually receive loans, improved planting stock, technical advice and a guaranteed price for the product.

Contract reforestation schemes allot plots of public land to farmers or other individuals on which they grow trees in return for part of the profit received from the sale of the product. Such schemes are found mainly in Asia, for example in Thailand, Indonesia and Viet Nam, supported to a great extent through loans provided by the Asian Development Bank.

The involvement of the private sector, from large-scale commercial industries to small-scale outgrowers, in the establishment of forest plantations throughout the world is of considerable and increasing importance. In most countries various incentives in the form of public subsidies are given for the establishment or management of forest plantations.

Lack of finances, however, may be less of a constraint to forest plantation investment than insecure tenure and lack of suitable lands. In a regional study of Asia and the Pacific (Chipeta, 1996), a sample of countries, donors and international organizations identified the main constraints for forestry investment (not only in forest plantations) to be inappropriate policies, poor institutional capacity and difficult bureaucratic procedures. Key problems faced by many developing countries in the region were weak business orientation of forest administrations; bureaucratic delays; and unsuitable tenure policies, laws or practices. The respondents noted that farmers and rural communities, who have an important investment potential in forest plantations, suffered from interim cash flow problems before harvesting the tree crop and lacked access to credit. The future development of plantation programmes around the world will depend upon countries' ability to resolve these problems. In addition, if plantation areas increase as expected, efforts to ensure their sustainable management will be given more emphasis. The maintenance of productivity and plantation management in general are likely in future to be measured against criteria and indicators of sustainability.

8 Defined in the study (FAO, 1982) as the controlled and strict application of regulations on timber harvesting combined with silvicultural treatments and protection against fire and diseases.
9 Data exclude the Russian Federation.
10 This study (FAO, 1998a) does not include "countries with very minor forest cover" or countries where political conditions made statistics impossible to collect. Thus the total amount of forest cover is slightly smaller than that reported in the Forest Resources Assessment 1995 interim study, as indicated in the State of the World's Forests 1997 (FAO, 1997d). The estimates of area available for wood supply are based upon FAO's assessment of the best available information, bearing in mind market conditions and current government policy. Regional meetings were held to discuss the statistics in Asia, Africa, Latin America and North America. Figures for Europe were obtained from the ECE/FAO fifth European Timber Trends Study (Joint ECE/FAO Agriculture and Timber Division, 1996). Figures for the Russian Federation were supplied by the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis.
11 "Semi-natural" forests are natural forests where the impact of (prior) human intervention is still evident (i.e. forests that are neither "undisturbed by humans" nor plantations).
12 In some temperate countries - notably in Europe - where forests have been intensively managed for a long time, an increase in wood supply may depend on more intensive management of small, privately owned woodlands. The conversion of marginal agricultural areas to forests may also result in increased wood supply.
13 E.g. Bangladesh, Chile, Japan, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Zambia.
14 Endorsed at the Third Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe, Lisbon, Portugal, 1998.
15 The CELOS harvesting and silvicultural system is a polycyclical selection system based on 20- to 25-year cutting intervals and a minimum harvest size of 35 cm diameter at breast height (DBH).
16 Similar to CELOS, the Selective Management System is a polycyclical system in which a lower volume of wood is removed at each cut, especially in the first cycle, in order to sustain the long-term harvestable volumes. The system is based on 25- to 30-year cutting intervals and a minimum harvest size of 35 cm DBH (see FAO, 1997l).
17 Secondary forests have been defined in various ways. Some definitions include previously harvested primary forests, while others include only forests that develop on agricultural land, either as fallow or following abandonment of the land. Recent events and activities regarding secondary forests include a side meeting on tropical secondary forest at the eleventh World Forestry Congress; the FAO/Netherlands International Workshop on the Sustainable Development of Tropical Secondary Forests in Pucallpa, Peru, June 1997; the establishment of a Tropical Secondary Forest Network; and projects implemented by the Tropical Agriculture Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE) and the Organization of Tropical Studies (OTS/OET) in Costa Rica, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Indonesia and the International Cooperation Centre on Agrarian Research for Development (CIRAD-ForÍt) in West and Central Africa. The importance of secondary forests and their management is also receiving high priority in the framework of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty.
18 Figure for 1997.
19 Figure for 1996.
20 Figure for 1994.
21 There is a risk, however, that a teak controversy may develop, stemming from environmental concerns, such as soil erosion associated with dense, pure plantations of teak planted on slopes, and fears of grower disappointment should the promised returns fail to materialize because of market conditions.

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