Forests and forest plantations, what´s the difference?

Forests and forest plantations, what´s the difference?

Natural forests are home to most of the planet’s on land biodiversity. The State of the World’s Forests 2020 report prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) explains that due to its great importance, the conservation of the world’s biodiversity depends entirely on the way we interact with the world’s forests, and how we use them, as they are the habitat of 80 percent of amphibian species, 75 percent of bird species and 68 percent of mammals.

On the other hand, the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020, also carried out by FAO, indicates that forest plantations cover around 131 million hectares, which represents 3 percent of the forest area world and 45 percent of the total planted forest area.

In Nicaragua, the agroforestry sector is incipient, according to the National Association of Reforesters (Confor) there are approximately 35 thousand hectares that have been forested for the use of forest plantations, however, according to a recent study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) the country’s potential is up to 500 thousand hectares.

But what exactly is a forest plantation?

Enrique Trujillo, from the Colombian company El Semillero explains that a forest plantation consists of “the establishment of trees that make up a forest mass and that have a design, size and species defined to meet specific objectives such as productive plantation, energy source, protection of agricultural areas, protection of water bodies, correction of erosion problems, silvopastoral plantations, among others ”.

Therefore, as specified by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), “native (or natural) forests are those that have not been significantly intervened by man and planted forests (or forest plantations) are those that man has intervened with reforestation processes to the point of changing their structure and operation. Commonly, this type of forest is quite symmetrical: it has exact distances between the trees and it handles a maximum of two species, all of the same age”.

Forest plantations contribute to the recovery of the environment

Although forest plantations are not natural forests, it can be said that it is an economic activity that is not only friendly to the environment but by its mere existence helps to improve it.

According to the EFI English publication “Forest Plantations in Europe: Challenges and Opportunities”: “In many regions, land use mosaics incorporating forest plantations are very effective in improving ecological integrity and addressing climate and environmental challenges. Forest plantations are often an important component of landscape-scale restoration and can bring degraded land back into production and improve the provision of ecosystem services. If well managed, forest plantations have the potential to sustainably supply a substantial proportion of the goods and services that society requires and therefore allow other forest areas to be managed for conservation and protection purposes.

Among the main advantages they present for protection we can list:

  • They protect the biodiversity of the area and serve as biological corridors that help protected areas.
  • By generating wood for local and national consumption, they take pressure off protected areas as it reduces the market for purchasing wood from the forests.
  • They generate various enterprises and industries that would create jobs in the area.
  • Combat desertification and improve the quality of water and rivers
  • They significantly help to combat the greenhouse effect by fixing carbon dioxide, that not only helps the country but contributes to protect the planet from climate change, whose effects we suffer year after year and are intensified, as we can see with more and more powerful hurricanes.
  • Improves the landscape effect

The potential in Nicaragua

In Nicaragua, the 35 thousand hectares that these plantations occupy today were lands with degraded soils due to their use in other crops or for pastures. As this is an item that requires up to 30 years to reach maturity, these soils are permanently protected by a forest cover that also promotes biodiversity and the recovery of water sources.

In addition to the environmental services providedto society by the supply of wood and other products from plantations, in the North Caribbean region of Nicaragua, for example, MLR Forestal is generating good jobs that help  ease pressure on the natural forest, it provides sustainable consumption alternatives, and economic growth in an area where, if this project did not exist, its inhabitants would not have alternatives for employment or to develop complementary economic activities, so there would be nothing to delay, or even stop, the advance of the agricultural frontier towards protected areas.

A forest plantation is not an agricultural crop

In view of the fact that a plantation can be considered a crop, and that its purpose is to export agroforestry products, a differentiation must be made between the two, which is why the Ministry of Agrarian Development and Irrigation of Peru points out the following points:

  • Forest timber species are not domestic species, but wild ones, that is to say that even in plantations, they maintain the genetic capacity to be subjected to processes of speciation, hybridization, mutation, and others.
  • Forest plantations are not annual production or harvest systems, nor do they have a marked seasonality, but rather depend on the quality of the site and the physiological characteristics of the species to adapt to the particular conditions of site quality in a given environment.
  • Forest plantations do not require intensive tillage work, nor do they depend on compost or soil fertilization (but on the natural adaptability of the species to the quality of the site).
  • In forest plantations, genetic exchange can occur with other planted or natural specimens of the same species, as well as natural reproduction (regeneration, crossing, hybridization) Eg Eucalyptus.

Therefore, although forests and forest plantations are not exactly the same, forest plantations, in addition to being an economic activity that brings formal work and development to an impoverished area; also has important contributions in favor of enviroment.

In areas such as the Northern Caribbean of Nicaragua, the economic activity of companies such as MLR Forestal should be encouraged so that they become more and more effective in buffering the advance of the agricultural frontier towards the core zone of Bosawás.

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