Environmentally speaking, the timber industry bears an infamous reputation. As a whole, loggers and timber producers are often blamed for deforestation, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, and violations of the rights of indigenous communities—and in many cases these accusations are rightfully leveled. However, the single story of timber production as a social and environmental scourge is incomplete at best. The FAO estimates that “25 percent of the world’s lands are either highly degraded or subject to high rates of degradation” with an additional “12 million hectares of land degraded globally each year.” A growing body of research suggests that initiating responsible timber production on these degraded landscapes to satisfy timber demand is actually the key to wide-scale land restoration. For those willing to plant, manage, and market sustainably, the global timber demand provides a huge open door to consistent profits that all stakeholders can feel good about.

Timber Demand High, Sustainable Management Restores Land

The WWF Living Forests Model projects that demand for wood products will triple by 2050, compared to 2010 numbers. A report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) backs up this assessment. According to their Global Forest Products Model, the UCS predicts: “[for] products such as construction timber, plywood, and furniture, for example, demand will increase (compared with 2010 consumption) through 2060.” They estimate growth of solid wood products in particular at 28-61%. Because of the increasing global timber demand, the report emphasizes forest management as the key to long-term success.

“The analysis suggests that, without protections, tropical forests will become increasingly susceptible to destructive logging and clearing,” authors Elias and Boucher write. “However, we show that properly managed plantations could meet projected future wood-product needs while also ensuring forest conservation.” In essence, the report summarizes, “there are two possible futures: one in which demand for wood products is met in a sustainable way through the careful use of forest plantations; and another in which business as usual for wood and paper production continues to degrade and destroy tropical forests.”

In unison with the UCS, the FAO also recommends carefully managed plantations as a form of global landscape restoration and economic development. Agroforestry is such a powerful tool, the organization asserts, “because it can enhance physical, chemical and biological soil characteristics, thereby increasing soil fertility, controlling erosion and improving water availability.” Transitioning degraded landscapes into agroforestry production, the FAO notes, can “increase the resilience of communities to shocks, including drought and food shortages, and help mitigate climate change.”

The Bonn Challenge—a global effort to bring “150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030”— is predicated upon the environmental and financial opportunity of agroforestry. In this case, restoration does not mean non-engagement. It means profitably satisfying the global timber demand in a sustainable manner. The Bonn Challenge predicts that the restoration of 150 million hectares of degraded land “will create approximately USD 84 billion per year in net benefits.”
and roughly “90 percent of this value is potentially tradable, meaning that it encompasses market-related benefits.” The Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration cites one estimate that “restoring 350 million hectares of degraded and deforested lands around the world would create up to $9 trillion in net benefits.”

Truly sustainable design is about taking the pieces of a broken system and reworking them into a cyclical whole. Here are the pieces of the current problem: Due to erosion and land degradation, we lose ecosystem services valued at $6 trillion a year. One quarter of the earth’s land is degraded and in need of restoration. And demand for wood products is projected to continue increasing for at least the next four decades. Transitioning degraded land into sustainable agroforestry production, such as Ganaderia Pietrasanta’s teak forests, achieves this quite beautifully by stabilizing soil, restoring watersheds, and creating sustainable revenue streams all at once. Of course, as Elias and Boucher mention, success is ultimately dependent on responsible management from site selection to milling and product delivery. When all stakeholders align, financial and environmental thriving go hand in hand.

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