As tropical forests diminish worldwide, more tropical plantations and agroforestry systems are established. Because of their relatively high yields, tropical and subtropical plantations have the potential to make substantial contributions to world timber production (Evans 1992, 1999; Wadsworth 1997). Tree plantations are also a source of cash, savings, and insurance for local farmers (Chambers and Leach 1990). Over the last decade, reforestation efforts in the humid tropics have grown in response to the increase in abandoned and degraded lands. Rural farmers often respond positively to government reforestation incentives (Evans 1999), dedicating some portion of their farm to the establishment of plantations with species recommended by local technical personnel. In addition to providing timber products, tropical plantations have a function in combating desertification, protecting soil and water resources, rehabilitating degraded lands, providing rural employment, and absorbing carbon to offset carbon emissions (Montagnini and Porras 1998; Evans 1999; Keenan et al. 1999; Sedjo 1999; Whitmore 1999).

The challenge is to plan and manage plantations so as to optimize productive, environmental, and social benefits. In this chapter we discuss the importance of tropical plantations and agroforestry systems in fulfilling these environmental and socio-economic functions. We emphasize management considerations that must be taken into account when designing these systems so that they can better fulfill these multiple objectives.

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