World Rainforest Movement

World Bank foresters deny that plantations alleviate pressures on forests

One of the major myths about tree plantations is that they help to alleviate pressures on forests by providing alternative wood sources. This has been proven false in practically all southern countries, but the myth still prevails in many circles, particularly among professional foresters. Another major myth is that plantations are “planted forests”, having the same positive impacts as forests. This has also proven to be absolutely false, but foresters still insist in calling then “forests.”

A recent article written by two World Bank staff –Juergen Blaser from the Environment Department and Jim Douglas, a Rural Department advisor– contains a box focused on the role of plantations, which will hopefully make foresters think. Blaser and Douglas are not “unscientific NGO people” –which is the usual easy way out for foresters to avoid the discussion about plantations. They are senior foresters and World Bank officials, which implies that foresters should read carefully what they say. And what they say is really interesting:

“Plantation incentive policies have sometimes been justified on the grounds that plantations might have ameliorating effects on destructive natural forest use by providing an alternative source of wood. To date, however, plantations have had no discernible global impact on reducing deforestation. Unless the expansion of plantations is firmly linked to the removal of perverse incentives and market distortions in natural forest operations, and strong control over illegal operations, then a positive impact on natural forests is unlikely. Indeed, the reverse can occur: the establishment of plantations on land that already carries natural forest will exacerbate deforestation rather than reduce it. Agricultural and tree crop developers may actively seek access to intact forest in order to capitalise on the standing timber value. This may be more important to them than the underlying land value, especially if part of the incentive system to encourage tree crop investment is access to forest raw material at prices and under rules far more liberal than those applied to logging operations in the permanent forest estate.”

In sum, according to these two senior foresters from the World Bank, plantations are not forests and not only do they not alleviate pressures on forests, but “indeed the reverse can occur.”

Article based on information from: Juergen Blaser and Jim Douglas, “A Future for Forests? Issues and implications for the emerging forest policy and strategy of the World Bank”, ITTO Newsletter, 15/12/00