Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

5. Conclusions

The information presented in this study on forest plantations in the tropics and sub-tropics is the best available to 1990. The conclusions and recommendations made in this chapter are therefore believed to be based on a more solid formulation than has existed previously.


The findings of this study are directly related to the immediate objectives of the study outlined in the first chapter, which can be broadly stated as an assessment of the forest plantations resource of tropical countries and their evaluation on the basis of plantation inventories for estimating the net area of successfully established plantations, actual growth and yield and other issues related to the planning and management of plantations.

Survey/Inventory of Plantations

Plantation areas are in a constant state of flux, with areas being added and taken away. The actual state of forest plantations at a given reference year can be known only through efficient monitoring systems. The level of monitoring of plantations is very poor in developing countries and only a fraction of plantations have been surveyed. The cumulative total gross area of plantations subjected to some kind of survey in the countries studied (mostly done during 1980–90, but not always in the same reference year), was about 22% of the total reported plantation area (1990). In other words about 80% of the current plantations were not surveyed at all. Assuming that part of the plantations surveyed in the early 1980s were harvested before 1990, then the proportion of surveyed area was even further reduced.

There may be doubt about the study's access to all inventory reports and to some extent it is justified as such documents are often restricted. Hardly any reliable plantation inventories were available in 1980 when FAO/UNEP carried out plantation assessments and while considerable efforts were made in the current study to gather information at personal and institutional levels, the area of plantations that has been reliably surveyed remained small.

Some of the countries with the largest areas of plantations, like India, Indonesia and Brazil, have surveyed them very little. There was no reliable and comprehensive nationwide plantation inventory in India. Indonesia's forest plantations under the regreening project consisted of about 69% of the total reported plantation area in the country and were not surveyed. In Brazil no nationwide plantation survey has was out since 1981. Some surveys, mainly on survival rates, performed at sub national or divisional level were not properly designed for statistical analysis.

Countries with plantation inventory reports

Tropical AfricaTropical AmericaTropical Asia & Pacific
Côte d'IvoireBrazilBangladesh
SenegalPuerto RicoLaos
  Sri Lanka

The assessment of plantations established for environmental and soil protection objectives was poor compared with industrial plantations. Plantations established under community forestry programmes were also not reliably surveyed.

Nor was it possible to obtain data on plantation areas or volumes from many developed countries. To a great extent this was due to different definitions of plantations from that used in this study, but even in many developed countries the plantation resource of the private sector or local government was inadequately known.

Forest plantation areas

This study has revealed that the reporting of plantation areas was often vague. Area information by species and end use which are important for overall assessment was rarely available, and was difficult to derive. Anomalies also because besides new plantations being added every year, the old/mature plantations are also harvested. Countries, however, mostly report cumulative areas making it impossible to check existing plantation area. The plantation data sheet previously designed by the FAO for furnishing information through Regional Forestry Commissions could be amended to show the area planted, the area harvested and the yield obtained in the year preceding the report. Non-industrial plantations, which include significant areas of trees planted under community forestry programmes accounted for 64% of the total reported area of plantations in the tropics. But most of the countries established trees through community forestry singly, in small groups or in linear plantations that were difficult to monitor or to convert to area figures comparable to block plantations. Furthermore, this conversion was done by a notional factor that varied from country to country.

The results and analysis of the available plantation inventory reports from the tropics confirmed that the actual area of forestry plantations was less than the area reported. The estimated net planted area in the tropics, up to the end of 1990, may have been between 27.60 and 34.08 million ha. For tropical Asia it varied between 17.71 and 21.83 million ha, and for tropical America between 6.75 and 7.81 million ha. These figures were calculated on the basis of inventory results from their respective regions. Success percent in tropical America was relatively high compared to that of tropical Asia. Inventory results from tropical Africa were too few (covering only 6% of the plantation area) to make an estimate on the basis of regional data. However, using the overall success rate (70%) of the tropical zone, the net planted area in Africa was estimated to lie between 1.88 and 2.32 million ha. Estimation of net planted area at country level was difficult and also risky because of (i) statistical reasons (high standard error in estimating the individual survey) and (ii) the factors affecting the success or failure of plantations were many (plantation type, age, species planted, sites, organisation responsible for planting, etc.) and varied from country to country.

Growth and yield

Wood production was generally the most important plantation objective, but planting millions of hectares is of little use if plants do not grow properly. While preparing plantation projects there was a general tendency to overestimate the yield. The actual yield obtained from plantations, in general, was very low, often less than 50%, of the optimum and the yield initially estimated. The wrong choice of the species on a given site, wrong site selection for a given species and lack of tending operations were the principal factors for the low yield. Matching species with the planting site taking physical, ecological and socio-economic factors into consideration is the first and most important step for any plantation programme developed for economic or environmental purposes. But due to the emphasis on the targeted area to be covered by the plantation, this primary issue was often neglected. Plantation projects launched with internal or external assistance were generally concluded as soon as the physical targets in terms of area or number of seedlings were completed. Tending operations automatically became a low priority, for which there was always a dearth of finance. Most low yielding plantations suffered from poor stocking due to non replacement of initial seedling casualties, illegal felling and damage due to grazing and fire. Non application of fertilizer, recommended in a few cases to overcome soil nutrient deficiency, also resulted in low productivity.

Experience gained from Brazil and the Congo proved that it was possible to increase the productivity of large scale plantations by research and genetic improvement. In terms of overall productivity at genus level, pines performed better than eucalypts and teak.


Barring a few exceptions most of the plantations suffered from lack of intergrated planning. The most crucial was the end use of the plantation products. There was no match between what was required and what was produced. The spatial and temporal locations were not considered to minimise the cost of production. This led to a paradoxical situation. In some places, there may have been a fuelwood shortage, but pulpwood and sawlogs have been produced with heavy investment without any market. In other places, the timber producer had no market guarantee to sell produce at an economically viable price and industrial plantations established near fuelwood deficit population centres could not be protected against theft and illicit felling.


An increasing awareness of the need to plant trees in the tropics has led to an increase in the total and annual rate of plantation establishment. This study, however, found a discouraging picture when the impact of these programmes was considered. This potential has not been realised since there is, in general, a lack of an holistic approach in planning. The most important links in the design and implementation of plantations were the weakest i.e. matching of site with species, tending, monitoring and integration of end use. Plantation projects were often designed in haste and paid scant attention to key issues due to constraints of time and financial resource.

A study of well managed plantations, however, demonstrated that they can offer a unique opportunity for socio-economic development by creating capital and increased earnings through foreign exchange. Foreign exchange earnings during 1984 from radiata pine plantations in Chile was US$ 380 million, equivalent to 10% of its total export and almost one percent of the world's trade in forest produce. This was quite high compared to the size of the country's economy. L'Unité d'Afforestation Industrielle du Congo (UAIC) was exporting 400 000 m3 of paper pulpwood to Europe per year from its 25,000 ha highly productive multi-clonal eucalyptus plantations. Bangladesh homestead plantations contributed more than 50% of total wood production.


The recommendations made here are based on the results and findings of the study. The first five recommendations are addressed to the countries and their planting agencies, such as state corporations or private agencies, and also to external donors financing plantation projects of the developing world. The object is to focus attention on the priority/key issues so that the vast opportunity for plantation improvement can be fully realised. The last recommendation is addressed to FAO which has responsibility for monitoring the state of the world's forest resources.

Integrated planning

Plantation should be seen as an investment for the production of goods (e.g. wood) or environmental services. An holistic approach is required for plantation planning. At national level planning must take into account national priorities and policies (land use, environmental, industrial), immediate and long term industrial and domestic wood requirements, the available resources in terms of suitable plantation land, trained manpower and finance, etc. Inputs of research for enhancing productivity and utilisation should form an integral part of the planning. At local level, the suitability of the land and its location, in relation to viz. consumption centres (industry and population), infrastructure, existing and future demand and supply situation of the local market, and the available resource should be studied in depth. Plantation projects should be on a long term basis starting from raising the seedlings through to final harvest and should not be limited to planting the targeted area. Cost-benefit analysis must include environmental benefits derived from plantations. Plantation cost should be a complete package and must include total cost starting from planning, actual planting, tending, monitoring, harvesting and marketing. The real success of a plantation lies not only in its biological production but in its optimum utilisation.

Studies on selection of species and growth/yield

The physical matching of species and provenance to site and to objectives, incorporating the results of trial plantations in the new environment, should be the primary and obligatory step at the start of a plantation scheme. Trial plantations should be observed for a reasonable period to judge growth and adaptability and resistance to pests and diseases before making the final selection. The species chosen should be adapted to the site and accepted by the local people. They should not have an adverse impact on the hydrological cycle, nutrient status of the soil, or local flora and fauna. In developing countries local people often favour species with multiple use; besides production of commercial wood they should also provided fuelwood and fodder as intermediate yield to meet local demand.

Since reliable data on growth and yield of plantations was found to be scarce, it is essential that more and more permanent sample plots are established in fully stocked stands to estimate the optimum yield, and data should also be collected from large scale plantations to monitor the actual yield. Research studies should be simultaneously undertaken to find the possibility of improving yield both in terms of quantity and quality by correct choice of provenance or genetic improvement or by changing management techniques.

Investment in tending

Plantations are artificially created, by men and women, and have to be differentiated from natural forests in concept and practice. With some simplification one can say that natural forests have grown on their own without human interference, especially in the tropics, whereas plantations have to be tended from the beginning to the harvesting stage. Planting seedlings or sowing seeds alone is an incomplete action and must be followed by protection, weeding, restocking, irrigation, fertilisation, pruning and thinning depending upon the local site conditions and the end use of the plantation. Whenever plantation projects are designed the cost for tending operations must be included.

Plantation monitoring and evaluation

Plantation monitoring provides information on the actual state of forest plantations and the changes taking place in the site, i.e. survival, growth, effect of crop on soil, etc. It also helps in identifying the timely corrective steps to control or optimise the benefits and is essential for the planning of future plantations. Decisions about key variables to be measured periodically will depend on the context and scale of plantations. Variables such as survival percent, stocking levels, and areas by productivity/site class, species and age class are essential for all kinds of plantations. Minimum additional variables required for sustainability and management of commercial plantations are growth, nutrient dynamics and soil moisture, and the impact of plantation on local flora and fauna, all of which can be measured through permanent sample plots. Application of remote sensing using satellite imageries and aerial photographs combined with ground data could be a viable option for large scale plantations. Monitoring and evaluation are expensive and should, therefore, be an in-built component of the plantation projects.

In order to maintain a high level of reliability and freedom from bias, independent agencies (government or non-government) not involved in the plantation programme and having experienced and qualified staff should be responsible for monitoring and evaluation of plantation programmes.

Creation of Plantation Data Banks

The author's present and past experience (Pandey, 1983) reinforces the view that there is a strong and urgent need for the creation of national level plantation data banks to bridge the existing gap in knowledge about growth, yield, and the site/species relationships of plantations. The data results from permanent sample plots, the results of plantation inventories and reliable data on actual yield from harvested plantations could be pooled in computerized form at one focal institution in each country. In addition to species, density, rotation, yield, etc, information about site factors such as climatic variables, soil conditions and local biotic factors, both human and animal, and a brief history of plantations (damage due to fire, etc.) should be recorded to make the plantation data useful. Such an information centre will not only help the country concerned but also other countries which have less experience in plantation forestry. By sharing and organising the existing knowledge there could be a major advancement in plantation forestry.

International agencies like the FAO and ITTO could play an important role in underlining the need for such an information centre to the countries, preparing guidelines for establishing such a centre, providing technical assistance in creating data banks, and developing a standard and common format for collection, storage and retrieval of information.

Each country should identify one focal institute where such a data bank could be created. The size of the data bank will depend on the extent of plantation activity and available research and plantation data of the kind mentioned above. The flow of information to the data centre should be a regular activity.

This endeavor will definitely require financial support. International organisations, like the World Bank and some developed nations have already made a generous contribution to the establishment of large scale plantations, and would hopefully support this programme.

Continuity of assessment of forest plantation resources

Keeping in view the increasingly important role of forest plantations for wood production and environmental benefits, it is essential that this resource is continuously assessed and global data updated. FAO could play the key role. Two lines of action are possible for global assessment: (i) continuous updating of the reported plantation area and (ii) estimation of net planted area and evaluation of plantations at intervals, say 10 years, combined with the regular assessment of the natural forest resource.

Most of the data on reported area of plantation collected in this study originated from country reports submitted to FAO Regional Forestry Commissions. This source could be useful for future studies, provided that the existing plantation data sheet is suitably modified. The format for the new data sheet should bear in mind the availability of information in various countries. Regional Forestry Commissions could also help member countries by guiding/training to collect and maintain more information useful for international organisations.

The minimum basic information required for global assessment is the total area under plantation and current annual rate (preceding year) by species, ownership and end use and its growth/yield, actual and potential. In situations where end use is uncertain, it would be possible to estimate it on the basis of species information. Experience shows that since the knowledge base on the growth/yield of plantations is very poor, countries might be requested to furnish data on actual yields after harvest, at least from government owned plantations, and should include total volume obtained, total area harvested, rotation age and average stocking at the time of felling.

Non forestry plantations (rubber, coconut, oil palm) have become a potential source of wood, particularly in Asia. Therefore, it would also be useful to include this resource in the assessment.

In view of the increasing role of plantations in the world timber trade it is essential to collect information about annual timber exports of plantation origin.

In order to assist international organisations in global assessment on net area estimation and evaluation of plantations, countries should quote the references for the inventory of their plantations.

Since Regional Forestry Commissions usually meet every two to three years, global data on reported plantations could be updated with the same regularity.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page