Rethinking the value of planted forests

Demand from industry and climate change mitigation increase planted forest potential

27 February 2009, Rome – With two-thirds of potential industrial wood production available from planted rather than naturally occuring forests, the contribution of planted forests has become increasingly critical to future wood supplies, notes a new FAO study. 

“Planted forests also help counter the negative affects of global warming by absorbing up to 1.5 Gigatonnes of carbon every year, which is in parity with current emissions from deforestation,” says FAO’s Jim Carle, Chief of the Forest Resources Development Service and co-author of the study.

In 2005, planted forests represented not more than 7 percent of the global forest area – or 270 million hectares - compared to a total 4 billion hectares of forest covering 30 percent of the world’s land area. However, in the coming decades, the importance of planted forests is expected to increase steadily with wood becoming an increasingly vital feedstock for industry, an increasingly competitive source of bioenergy and due to the role of forests in mitigating the negative effects of climate change.  

Planted forests may also indirectly help to reduce losses of natural forests, notes the FAO study published in the December 2008 issue of Forest Products Journal.

The FAO study surveyed 61 countries representing 95% of all planted forests. It found that potential industrial wood production from planted forests in 2005 was 1.2 billion cubic metres (m3) or two-thirds of global wood production. An outlook for the year 2030 indicates that the area of planted forests may increase by 30% and wood production by 50%, taking expected higher productivity into account. 

Environmental role

Planted forests play an increasingly important social and environmental role in the areas of conservation, protection of soil and water, in rehabilitating degraded lands, in combating desertification and in urban and rural landscapes. 

With deforestation continuing at an alarming rate of 13 million hectares per year, forest planting has significantly reduced the net loss of forest area, according to FAO’s State of the World’s Forests 2007.

Given the diverse social, economic and environmental benefits of planted forests, appropriate management is essential, helping to reduce pressure on native forests while enhancing the livelihoods of local communities that are frequently dependent on forested lands. FAO leads the development and implementation of voluntary guidelines for responsible management of planted forests. 

Modern forest industries

Wood-based industries are increasingly encouraged to adapt to “new wood” from planted forests. Industrial products range from timber, plywood and veneer, reconstituted panels such as chipboard, pulp and paper and increasingly bioenergy.
Wood from planted forests is renewable, energy efficient and environmentally friendly as a raw material for construction compared to alternatives such as steel, aluminium, concrete and plastic. The development of forest industries technology has increased the end-use options for raw materials from planted forests, together with improved productivities and reduced wood industry costs.  

Forests in a changing world will be the theme of World Forest Week taking place within the framework of FAO’s Committee on Forestry, that will be held in Rome from 16 to 20 March 2009. On 16 March FAO will also launch its report State of the World’s Forests 2009.

Photo:Veracel Co. Bahia, Brazil
Industrial roundwood production from planted forests, Brazil