Good Wood study

Our polyculture agroforestry plantations with plantains intercropped between rows of treesOur polyculture agroforestry plantations with plantains intercropped between rows of treesThe Union of Concerned Scientists recently released a study entitled Wood for Good (PDF), which discusses the most sustainable ways to produce timber and other wood products. This is one part of a series of reports on deforestation that previously identified commercial logging as one of the main drivers of deforestation.

One whole chapter in the report discusses where we as a society should be harvesting wood from. We were encouraged to see that one of their main recommendations is for polyculture systems with native tropical hardwoods. They cite a number of studies noting the environmental and production benefits such as more biomass, habitat, reduced need for fertilizer, and increased yields. Unfortunately, they note that polyculture systems are still rare compared to their distant cousin, the monoculture plantation.

The paper did note that monoculture plantations can be sustainable sources of wood products and pulp, but primary forest should never be cleared to make space for the plantation. Logging to make room for monoculture palm oil plantations is a leading driver of deforestation in Southeast Asia and a source of carbon emissions.

Their recommendations to protect water and reduce soil erosion, reduce chemical inputs, protect biodiversity, protect genetic resources, and plant on degraded land are all practices we implement as part of our Equitable Forestry model.

Finally, they note the importance of making forestry work for the communities living in or near the forests. Without offering communities sustainable alternative income generation activities, the clearing of forests will continue alongside the illegal logging.

Shedding Problem in Teak Farms

Photo of a monoculture Teak tree farm in PanamaA monoculture Teak tree farm in PanamaThe ITTO’s latest marketplace review included a report from India revealing the negative impacts monoculture Teak plantations are causing.

The problem seems to be caused by the Teak tree’s tendency to shed its leaves during the dry season, reducing the amount of shading of the understory. Increased sunlight dries up pools of water on the ground, which are important for the survival of flora and fauna. In a more biodiverse plantation forest (or first growth forest) the trees maintain a constant canopy that provides the shade to maintain these pools of water.

During the dry season in Panama, you can see the ground cracking in the Teak plantations, but in the more biodiverse forests, there is no cracking.

While we do plant some Teak in as part of our species mix, the majority of our plantations are mixed tree species native to Panama. We purposefully leave buffers around water sources and non-commercial trees standing in order to provide biodiversity benefits, reduce erosion, and reduce the risk of blight and pests.

The majority of investment goes into monoculture Teak plantations. We hope, however, that this study draws attention to the negative environmental impacts caused by single-species plantations and encourages the creation of more sustainable forest investments.

What should you be looking for in a forest investment?

Find out »