The term « forest » is a concept that has not always designated the same space, and is still complex to define universally. In most cases, the term includes the use that we make of it. A forester will call a tree plantation for paper pulp’s production a forest, while an environmentalist will not consider it a forest. Historically, the German school of utilitarianism has permeated three centuries of “modern” forest management: the forest must provide timber (construction) and wood for energy (fire and heat). Much more recently at the scale of changing consciousness, evolutions are based on more intrinsic values, notably the value of the biodiversity that the forest harbors; and built in opposition to human use, or utilitarian values. Nevertheless, in a broader sense the forest produces ecosystem services that it is important to restore/maintain/increase, and with a more global vision where the place of human beings is central.
- The important stakes of a disappearing forest
Although it is only a definition, the forest in its most recent sense, i.e. the forest ecosystem including the fauna and flora as well as the ecosystem services which are intrinsically attached to it, has multiple positive actions :
- Firstly, it is an extremely efficient carbon sink,
- Then the forest spaces allow to regulate the climatic disasters, droughts and floods in particular, by the filtration and the retention of the water in the grounds.
- Moreover, the ecosystem being complex, it is very resilient thanks to the biodiversity that lives there (fauna as well as flora) and allows to regenerate the soils by themselves.
- Finally, directly linked to this richness of biodiversity, the forest represents for man a very interesting collection space. For example, more than 50% of traditional medicine materials, on which more than 80% of the populations in developing countries depend, are found directly in the forest. And ¼ of the products of modern medicine also come from forest areas.
The exploitation of this space is natural, but its overexploitation is dangerous. However, this is what happen every day.
Indeed, the deforestation that began at the dawn of the industrial era is still going on today. The forests mainly affected in recent years are those of Africa (acceleration of deforestation) and South America (slowing down of deforestation), where the population needs it the most. As a result, the poverty in these countries is more important, the populations rely on the forests to survive, whether it is through medicines and other foodstuffs recovered from the forest, or thanks to the ecosystemic service of the forests which ensure a livable environment and favourable conditions for the cultivation of cash crops (cocoa, soy, etc.). However, these same populations are responsible for 80% of the deforestation (extension of cultivable plots of land and cultivation on burnt land mainly, timber exploitation).
It should be noted, however, that in Europe and Asia, forest areas have been increasing in recent years. However, this is not enough to compensate for the current deforestation in the tropical areas of South America and Africa.
Reforestation to create tomorrow’s forests.
Reforestation or Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) consists in recreating complete forest ecosystems: fauna, flora and man. Indeed, to reverse climate change and capture the equivalent of what humans have emitted in greenhouse gases since the industrial revolution, we would need to reforest 1 billion hectares of new forests. Although this is a colossal surface, the combination of open and suitable spaces for reforestation of only 6 countries allows us to acquire these dimensions (Canada, United States, Brazil, China, Russia and Australia)! All we need to do is plant! Well, not exactly. There are several methods of forest restoration, which require different and complementary actions to ensure maximum efficiency of these reforestations.
First, and fortunately for us, we do not need to plant 1 billion hectares of forest. Indeed, on one third of this surface, systems that have not yet been too damaged by humans are suitable for passive restoration (or natural reforestation). There are multiple advantages to letting Nature do the work:
- Economically, the action does not cost directly (no labor, no trees to buy);
- Ecologically it is the best way to do it: no emissions related to the implementation, the plants that grow carry out a full cycle of growth which traps a maximum of carbon;
- And the best part is that Nature does it even better than we do: natural selection for better resilience, optimization of effort to get a more suitable result.
Although it is preferable and more efficient, this type of restoration still requires lowering the pressure that we exert daily on these still rich spaces (agriculture, hunting, overexploitation).
Then, on the remaining 2/3, it is necessary to put hands to earth in order to give a boost to the natural cycle of life.
- Operational and economic feasibility:
Although it still seems like a huge area, if we all pitch in, it is more than feasible. In Ethiopia, during the campaign of reforestation of the country following its desertification (due in particular to the timber industry and the demographic increase of the country), it is 353 million trees which were planted in 12 hours of time. A movement that has involved the entire country in its reforestation effort to counteract the country’s food insecurities and increasingly frequent landslides.
The reforestation action is as engaging as it is unifying! And in addition to the operational feasibility, the economic feasibility of the project is also viable! The program planned by Ethiopia represents 330 million euros for an objective of 4 billion trees planted, which is not an astronomical sum if we look at the budgets invested in development projects.
But this action phase is not enough to obtain a lasting and positive result. It is indeed necessary to have intermediate planning phases, knowledge, governance, and communication to ensure an action with a significant impact… Indeed, planting trees randomly will not result in the expected ecosystem, or might even be useless because the plantations will not last in time.
The preparatory phase: trees in an ecosystem
In the 1970s, China set up a reforestation program nicknamed “the Great Green Wall” (supposed to end in 2074) in order to slow down the expansion of the Gobi Desert, a consequence of major deforestation and intensification of agriculture during the Great Leap Forward policy. In a few years, more than 13 million hectares of forest were replanted (making it the largest reforestation project in existence). To achieve express climate results, the project selected fast-growing trees (higher carbon sequestration). Only the monoculture planning of these tree species made this “artificial forest” not very resilient, i.e. fragile to change. And for good reason, when the forests were invaded by a small insect (Anoplophora chinensis), nearly a billion trees perished, setting back the project by 20 years and destroying all the efforts that had been made.
This project shows the need to bring biodiversity and heterogeneity into the plantations, and therefore to carry out important and informed planning phases before planting. Questions such as which tree essences, where and how to plant them? what impact on local populations? etc. are major questions to be addressed before starting the operation.
In fact, the species chosen must be adapted to their geographical and methodological environment, considering their utility in a complete ecosystem: some trees, for example, fulfill the function of providing food for wild species while others are perfect for nesting. Putting trees of the first category without trees of the second would not allow the installation of animal life.
Likewise, the space given to each tree to grow, its coherence in a larger ecosystem will influence the place and the layout that we will choose. As an illustration, there is a transitional zone at the edge of the forest, containing less fauna and therefore less flora. It is better to try to reduce this transitional zone to maximize the impacts and ecosystem services of the forest, by reforesting at the edge of the forest or directly in an area that has been stripped of forest because of strong winds or fires. Or one can reforest in order to restore an ecosystem service, for example by creating bridges (wooded paths between two pieces of forest) which allow the migration of predators and thus maintain a good prey-predator balance.
Finally, and not minor, the social aspect of a reforestation is essential because it is the local populations who will have to manage and use the forest. It is therefore necessary to educate on the positive impacts of the forest and to help the local populations developing alternative and sustainable practices.
Forest&Life : an education and reforestation program
It is because all these stakes are important that we surround ourselves with qualified experts on the subject at Kinomé: the Forest&Life program is a program of education to the forest and to Nature. It contains an important part of plantation with the objective of a reforestation in France and in the South countries. We work closely with technical actors to ensure that our plantations have a maximum positive impact and sustainability. We also have the immense pleasure of noting the federative aspect of the action at each plantation (the children who come to plant, but also the administrative staff of the city, the employees of the patron structure, a true exchange with the countries of the South…). It is not necessary to have a lot of technicians, only a lot of little hands and good will to plant 180 000 trees in France and all over the world.
Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) is an affordable and feasible process. If it is well done from start to finish, from the construction of the project to its long-term follow-up, it brings an incredible number of positive impacts for the land as well as for the populations who benefit from it and against climate change. It is necessary to solve the issues related to the forest. However, it can take a long time to prove useful: the planted trees only sequester a tiny amount of carbon in the first 10 years. This is why this process should be started today for a positive long-term future, but it is not sufficient for the emergency (which is a bit of a watchword for many projects today).
Conservation to save today’s forests
FLR is a great process for recreating forests, but they will never be as diverse as still standing ones. To take the most important example, the Amazon rainforest contains a collection of 16,000 tree species (1,100 per square kilometer), and a faunal diversity of over 10 million different species. In addition to this important diversity, there are many endemic species (especially on islands, such as Madagascar or New Zealand) that are on the verge of extinction because of the destruction of the forests… However, to lose today’s biodiversity is to compromise our resilience for tomorrow.
Conservation projects to curb deforestation
This is why FLR is not enough; it is equally necessary to safeguard existing forests. Curbing deforestation, especially of tropical forests, is also a crucial issue for today’s climate change as well as for the support of many local populations.
For this, the conservation of spaces (by the establishment of national parks, protected areas) is increasingly implemented in areas of interest. Many actors (NGOs, Government, international bodies) have launched programs and projects in this sense. This is the case of REDD initiatives (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) which are financial incentive programs for the non-destruction of forests: a financial value is attributed to the carbon stored in the forests, and REDD+ initiatives which focus on sustainable management and strengthening of these forests.
These projects focus on:
- Capacity building of stakeholders managing the areas: provision of tools, specific field studies, training of decision makers on certain issues,
- Changing agricultural practices to less devastating and more sustainable practices: agroforestry, crop diversification
- The inclusion of local activities in a sustainable and environmentally friendly practice,
- A better management of natural resources
Legislation for conservation
In addition to these projects, another way to protect a forest area is to create a legislative framework that regulates activity in that area. To have maximum impact, it is necessary to penalize the bottlenecks in a chain to ensure that the entire chain is respectful of these forests. This is why in 2021 the legislation on imported deforestation was discussed within the European Union (law voted in 2022) to force companies to have a responsible sourcing concerning forests: products such as cocoa, soy and other exotic products coming from agricultural space acquired by deforestation (primary cause of deforestation in the world) will be heavily sanctioned in the importing countries. Thus it is up to the giants of these sectors to prove that their supplies are respectful of the forest, and more broadly of the environment. This implies a better traceability of the products, which is not obvious for now because of the many intermediate actors in these value chains.
Consulting as a lever of impact
Kinomé advises a lot on these issues. Indeed, years of experience in sustainable value chains and in capacity building allow us to propose an ever increasing expertise on these issues. For example, Kinomé has written a guide on sustainable vanilla production in Madagascar as part of a mission for the World Bank in 2020. Kinomé also organized a forum on sustainable cocoa farming in Soubré in 2016 under the auspices of IDH to discuss practices and issues in the cocoa sector in West Africa.
Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) is fundamental to the well-being of the future. However, not to supervise the conservation of today’s forests would cancel out all reforestation efforts: an unprotected, poorly managed, poorly exploited forest is bound to disappear.