Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

The forest crop of the future: Quality or quantity?

FAO forestry staff

An important issue in tropical forest management today is whether to reforest - or afforest - with plantations or with mixed, natural stands. While plantations generally offer the promise of greater output per hectare, they are expensive to maintain and have uncertain long-term environmental impacts. Natural stands normally produce a lower output than plantations, but they are generally cheaper to manage, produce a wider variety of trees and provide greater environmental stability.

In the early years of forestry at FAO, there was debate over a similar issue: would quantity prevail over quality in the forest crop of the future? An FAO paper raised the issue at the Third World Forestry Congress, in Helsinki in July 1949. The majority of delegates favoured an emphasis on quality. A few months later, Unasylva (Vol. 4, No. 2, 1950) carried an article by FAO's forestry staff on the same question which, at Helsinki, was "left rather in the air". Here are some excerpts.

WOOD QUALITY harder to achieve

· In view of the varied interpretations which can be attached to the word "quality", it is not surprising that the trade and the forester tend to think in different terms.

For the trade the prime factor is the value of the timber, based on suitability for the purpose for which it is required. The user is not interested in the vigour, health, or appearance of the stand from which the timber has come. He assesses value according to utility and the extent to which the raw material measures up to the particular requirements of an industry.

To the forester "quality" is a subtle mixture of fine appearance and value. He is more concerned with the value of the standing trees than with the value of the harvested timber. But, generally, the forester cannot help associating value with the general aspect of the forest crop.

MONOCULTURE IN ARGENTINA maximizing the volume

The ideal forest crop

Before considering the world market, the forester must consider the demand in his own locality. It may therefore be asked whether in the event that he decides to lower felling limits, he will not run the risk of limiting the size and grade of product which he can offer on the market.

Will this not lead to local upsets, which could be avoided by more progressive local action, even though the global trend is inescapable? In other words, is there not a danger, even if we again stress we are generalizing, that the mere statement that there is this trend will lead foresters to try to establish more uniform types of crop, whose output will furnish supplies for some industries but fail to satisfy the raw material needs of others? Is it not contradictory to foster the idea of integrated forest industries while recommending steps which might render it difficult to supply certain industries that should constitute an integral part of such a set-up?

The paper submitted by FAO to the Helsinki Congress attempted to obviate just such a reproach by suggesting that present trends in the requirements of wood-using industries made it advisable, whenever possible, to cultivate mixed, uneven-aged forests rather than uniform, even-aged types. Preference was expressed for what might be termed a silviculture looking toward the growth of individual trees rather than the growth of the stand as a whole.

Even where this kind of silviculture is possible - and it cannot always be possible - it is assuredly the more difficult to carry out successfully. It involves complex methods of management and continuous control of the forest, which is not practicable without a large staff, an adequate network of roads and paths, an effective fire-fighting system, and a grouping of industries capable of absorbing all the produce of the forest. However, as an ideal, it is the most flexible means of adapting forest production, not only to the special needs of industries, but also to changes in their requirements.

When a certain industry needs a particular species or very large-diameter trees from a forest managed in this way, the desired species can be favoured or selected trees left to grow to the required diameter. When the demand from this particular industry falls off, the proportion of the particular species in the growing stock can be changed or the maximum felling limit reduced. This can be done without drastic treatment of the forest or any serious modification in the working plan, and without any interruption in the supplies to other industries.

It is advisable, whenever possible, to cultivate mixed, uneven-aged forests rather than uniform, even-aged types.

Were such a system of silviculture universally adopted, it might be virtually unnecessary to worry further about trends in wood-using industries, because the adaptation of forest production to industrial requirements would be practically automatic. Unfortunately, we are still very far indeed from such an ideal state of affairs, and, as we have just stated, such a system presupposes a harmonious development of both silvicultural methods and forest industries, which cannot be expected to come about quickly. It is nevertheless true that the present trend in wood requirements logically favours such a development.

The conclusion of this paper is that, from the silvicultural standpoint, there are no valid grounds for an assumption that quantity production will displace quality production. For the future, as in the past, a fine-looking tree and a fine stand will have to measure up to certain standards which are a sign of high raw-material output of the desired quality. Although on the global scale the requirements of the wood-using industries appear to be for "quantity" rather than "quality", this does not in any way lessen the need for effective and improved silviculture. The trend may, and probably will, necessitate more or less extensive local adjustments. But such adjustments need not cause the forester to alter his ideal of a high-quality forest. Rather, quantity and quality production will go together as a means toward wood abundance and economical silviculture.

No strict rules can, of course, be laid down for foresters as to the course which they should follow in view of probable wood utilization trends. Not only is there room for much latitude in the light of local conditions, but naturally each country will define its own policy, coordinating this policy with that of other countries in the world through the medium of FAO and its regional bodies.

The Division of Forestry and Forest Products seeks to point out the trends as they emerge from statistics and general thinking, and to deduce from them consequences of worldwide import. That is what was attempted in the paper presented to the Third World Forestry Congress, and what is again attempted here.

FAO's answers are here, In two widely quoted recent books on tropical forest resources

FAO FORESTRY PAPER No. 30 (1982) tropical forest resources (available In English, French and Spanish

FAO FORESTRY PAPER No. 37 (1982) conservation and development of tropical forest resources (available In English and Spanish)

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page