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Afforestation is the process of planting trees, saplings or seeds on non-forest land. In other words, afforestation is the term used for the process of creating a forest on land where there is no forest or where no forest has existed for a long time.

Afforestation is a controversial issue because while many ancient woodlands of mixed trees are being lost, the new plantations consist almost exclusively of conifers. It is claimed that such plantations acidify the soil and conflict with the interests of biodiversity (they replace more ancient and ecologically valuable species and do not sustain wildlife

Why should I be aware of this?

Afforestation is usually confused with reforestation, which is a tree-planting process undertaken to replenish already harvested trees in existing forest land.

The need for afforestation is two-fold: environmental and commercial. Rampant deforestation over the past centuries has hurt and continues to harm the earth’s ecosystem at an alarming rate. Furthermore, the increasing greenhouse effect, soil erosion, drastic climate changes and danger to the ecological balance are just a few of the many environmental concerns facing the world today. Therefore, afforestation is considered an important environment tool. Commercially, sustainable afforestation methods have become extremely necessary to cater to the ever-increasing demand for wood and wooden products.

All about afforestation

Emphasis is placed on maximizing the use of available land and resources with high yield tree species. Trees can either be of similar species or mixed in a manner that will result in a stand or forest. Depending on the climate, geographical layout of the area and the soil conditions, trees that have the greatest growth potential are selected.

Commerce and Afforestation

Commercially, wood is required for various purposes such as timber, paper pulp, wood pulp, charcoal, fuel, etc. Afforestation for commercial purposes has led to the growth of plantation forests, where trees are grown primarily as agricultural plantation crops and harvested accordingly. This, in turn, has helped prevent further exploitation and destruction of natural forests.

According to a report published by the Australian National University, the area under plantation forests globally had increased to 135 million hectares by 1997, with annual plantation afforestation and reforestation rates nearing 10 per cent of the total area. About 75 per cent of these plantation forests were established in temperate regions as the rate of expansion has been the highest in tropical areas. [1]

Successful Afforestation

The scope of afforestation should extend from simple planting of trees to planting the right types of trees at the right places. Many communities and countries have already taken steps towards setting standards for planning, designing and executing afforestation projects. The Climate Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA) is one such example. The CCBA is working towards creating standards in this field.

Britain offers an example of successful, sustainable and standardised afforestation and reforestation management. According to Forest Research, a research organisation under Britain’s Forestry Commission, at the start of the 20th century the forest reserves in Britain were less than 5 per cent due to centuries of deforestation. Since 1919, there has been a sustained expansion of forest cover in many areas of the country. As a result, at the beginning of the 21st century, forests cover nearly 12 per cent of Britain, with the figure in parts of Scotland nearing 25 per cent. In other words, areas of the country have moved from being ‘forest poor’ to becoming ‘forest rich’. The achievements represented by this expansion of forest cover have been internationally recognised as the opportunities for diversifying the forests to meet the multiple criteria of sustainable forest management. The new forests that have been created provide the opportunity for developing modern wood processing industries that are internationally competitive yet help support a diversified and vibrant rural economy. [2]

Another great example of successful afforestation is Israel. About 70 per cent of Israel’s forests are man-made. They have managed to successfully execute afforestation in harsh desert conditions and have consequently prevented the desert from expanding. The Yatri Forest in Israel, which was planted by the Jewish National Fund in 1964, is a healthy mix of vegetation and forest animals today.

In the years to come, continuous and sincere efforts in this sphere would be of vital importance. Afforestation could be the answer if amalgamation of commerce and environment on a sustainable basis is to be achieved globally.

Environment and afforestation

The effects of an increasing population, growing pollution and the consequent decrease in forest area on the environment are well known. Afforestation is the answer to some extent, but needs to be carried out in a structured way with thorough knowledge of local environment, vegetation, soil type and socio-economic issues; not knowing or ignoring local conditions can prove extremely dangerous to the ecosystem.

A sustainable and well-planned afforestation project helps improve soil conservation, catchment management and water quality. Such a project can also act as a wind barricade, as in the case of the The Great Green Wall Project in China. A very ambitious afforestation project that has spanned 70 years and 4,480km, it involves the building of a tree wall skirting the Gobi Desert. The tree wall is being built with the sole aim of fighting and acting as a barricade to ferocious sandstorms originating from the desert.

Afforestation projects undertaken without a complete understanding of the surroundings can cause additional environmental damages. For instance, fast-growing trees commonly used in timber plantations consume huge amounts of water, hence depleting water resources around the area. There are also concerns about irreversible changes in the soil caused by exotic species. For example, pine trees are known to turn the soil acidic. The water from the soil eventually trickles down to local streams and water bodies, which, in turn, causes harm to both the water and land ecosystems.

The concern mainly arises with large-scale monoculture tree plantations in Third World countries. Such plantations are usually set up for the purposes of abundant and cheap supply of raw materials to industrialised countries. A number of non-government organisations have joined hands to form a global network in order to share information and implement joint action against such plantations.


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