An Overview and Economic Explanation of Global Forest Plantation Development

Currently, there are about 109 million ha of productive forest plantations in the world. Productive forest plantations represented 1.9% of global forest area in 1990, 2.4% in 2000, and 2.8% in 2005. The Asia region accounted for 41%; Europe 20%; North and Central America 16%; South America and Africa 10% each; and Oceania 3%.

Forest plantations have been increasing at an increased rate. The area of forest plantations increased about 14 million ha between 2000 and 2005 or about 2.8 million ha per year, 87% ofwhich are in the productive class. The area of productive forest plantations increased by 2.0 million ha per year during 1990-2000 and by 2.5 million ha per year during 2000-05, an increase of 23% compared with the 1990-2000 period. All regions in the world showed an increase in plantation area, with the highest plantation rates found in Asia, particularly in China. The ten countries with the greatest area of productive forest plantations accounted for 79.5 million ha or 73% of the total global area of productive forest plantations (Figure 3). China, the United States, and the Russian

□ Primary forest

□ Modified natural forest

□ Seminatural forest

□ Productive forest plantation

□ Protective forest plantation

Figure 1 Global forest characteristics 2005. Modified from FAO (2005) Global forest resources assessment 2005. FAO Forestry Paper 147. Rome, Italy.

Primary forest

Modified natural forest

Seminatural forest

Productive forest plantation

Protective forest plantation

0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 1600 1990 | 2000 B 2005

Figure 2 Global trends in forest characteristics 1990-2005 (million ha). Modified from FAO (2005) global forest resources assessment 2005. FAO Forestry Paper 147. Rome, Italy.

extensive margin of timber production. In a nutshell, the production and consumption of forest products were all from natural forests in the early part of human history, and forest plantations were not needed.

When the increase in timber consumption caught up with the ability of a country or a region to produce timber in naturally regenerated forests, citizens and governments would become interested in tree planting. While tree planting occurred at least several thousands of years ago in the Middle East, China, and Europe, and nearly 200 years ago in the Americas, the areas planted with trees through afforestation (planting land that was formerly in a nonforest cover) and reforestation (planting land on which a former forest had been harvested) were relatively insignificant in size before AD 1800. It was only after the industrial revolution that timber consumption increased drastically, due to increasing human population and industrial use of wood - initially as charcoal, then lumber, other solid wood products including mine props and railroad ties, and pulp and paper, and finally for conservation uses - that large-scale forest plantations started to emerge in Europe, North America, Asia, and other regions in the last century, especially in the last few decades.

Thus, forest plantations develop primarily in response to economic necessity. Timber depletion drives the transition of human consumption of natural forests to artificial forests. Early in the development of North America, for example, timber prices were low, and forest lands were more valuable for other uses, especially the production of food. So trees were removed, forest lands were converted to other use, and timber inventory declined. As the

Primary forest

Modified natural forest

Seminatural forest

Productive forest plantation

Protective forest plantation

0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 1600 1990 | 2000 B 2005

Figure 2 Global trends in forest characteristics 1990-2005 (million ha). Modified from FAO (2005) global forest resources assessment 2005. FAO Forestry Paper 147. Rome, Italy.

Figure 3 Ten countries with largest area of productive forest plantations in 2005. Modified from FAO (2005) Global forest resources assessment 2005. FAO Forestry Paper 147. Rome, Italy.

□ United States

□ Russia Federation

□ Indonesia Chile

□ Remaining countries

Figure 3 Ten countries with largest area of productive forest plantations in 2005. Modified from FAO (2005) Global forest resources assessment 2005. FAO Forestry Paper 147. Rome, Italy.

Federation together accounted for more than half of the world's productive plantations.

Forest plantations, productive or protective, develop in response to a relative scarcity oftimber and other goods and services associated with forests. In the early part of modern human history, population was sparse, forests were abundant, and survival, economic development, and territorial control were the primary concerns of governments and society. As forest resources declined, assuring an adequate timber supply gradually caught the attention of rulers and planners and became state policy. Often, the very first policy implemented would be to regulate timber harvesting schedule and intensity. Society also responded by moving to frontiers farther and farther away from population centers, which in economic terms is called a shift in the standing inventory declines, timber becomes increasingly scarce and timber prices start to rise. As the prices continue to rise for timber in natural forests, the purposeful husbandry of planted forests becomes economically attractive, and productive forest plantations begin to emerge.

Further, timber depletion affects the supply and demand balance for environmental services from natural forests, whether or not these services go through formal markets. Related to this balance is the fact that the demand for most environmental services such as clean water, clean air, and esthetics, which are often produced from or protected by forests, is highly correlated with personal income. As personal income increases, society demands more environmental services from forests, as well as more wood commodities. When natural forests are depleted to the extent that they cannot adequately provide these services, protective forest plantations emerge. In some developing countries, subsistence farming requires forests to protect farming and grass land from potential flooding, dust storms, soil erosion, and desertification, and trees are thus planted for protective purposes whether or not their personal incomes actually grow over time.

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