According to the latest data from the FAO, the global demand for timber products is at a 70-year high, driven by widespread economic growth in North America, Europe, and Asia. The data indicate that global production and trade of all major wood-based products recorded their highest-ever values in 2018, and the FAO’s report confirms that the demand for wood products will continue to grow significantly for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, sustainability remains a major issue for the industry, and the depletion of natural forests necessitates the expansion of plantation timber resources.
Timber and timber products are vital to the global economy. Forests contribute to poverty reduction, economic growth, and employment, and generate essential ecological processes that sustain key sectors such as agriculture, energy, and water. Forests also provide critical absorption of greenhouse gasses, and help to slow climate change. The economic and environmental importance of forests cannot be overstated.
The rising demand for timber products is good news for the forestry sector. However, the prospect of short-term profits at the cost of long-term viability is a serious question for the industry. The depletion of natural forests has caused massive international outcry from consumer groups and world governments, and the forestry industry must adapt to these demands or suffer the consequences.
In 2019, widespread wildfires across the Amazon region prompted the EU to propose new rules on products deemed to be causing deforestation. The proposals suggest strengthening standards and certification schemes “that help to identify and promote deforestation-free commodities”, such as coffee, cocoa, palm oil, soy and timber. Certification schemes are one tool that companies can use to reduce deforestation by ensuring that timber is sourced from sustainably managed plantations, and these measures are likely to become more widely adopted in the future.
In Latin America, mounting concerns over environmental issues and illegal logging activities have created a growing demand for sustainable forestry practices. Potentially more financially attractive land-use alternatives in the agricultural sector have led some landowners to choose to plant crops rather than trees, and there is concern that if many current owners of forest plantations choose this path, there will be an insufficient supply of wood raw-material for the forest industry in the region.
Enter plantation forestry. Plantation forestry is simply the act of planting trees as crops, generally in rows, and in a manner designed to efficiently utilize space and facilitate extraction. The benefits of plantation forestry are massive: they protect natural forests from deforestation, absorb greenhouse gasses during the growth phase, and impact local economies, among other benefits. As the world’s natural timber resources are consumed at a faster and faster rate, plantation forests are the only alternative for those who seek sustainable, traceable timber products.
The simple act of planting trees can have far-reaching implications, not only for the environment, but for local economies, emerging markets, and investors. As concerns about the environmental impact of mass deforestation continue to build, plantation forestry is increasingly emerging as the future of the timber industry.