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Article "Can logging save biodiversity"

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Tropical Forests

Each year, the forested area in the tropics shrinks by nearly one percent. There are many reasons for this. Sustainable forest management, which maintains the economic value of the forest to the affected countries, helps protect natural forests.

Proportion of tropical forests

Tropical forests account for a proportion of around fifty percent of the world's forested area of around 4 billion ha. According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization, 2008), the world lost about 3% of its total forest area from 1990 to 2005, with an average decrease of 7 million ha of forest per year from 2000 to 2005.

Proportion of forests worldwide

Reasons for shrinking forested areas

Rapid population growth in the developing and threshold countries of the tropics is affecting tropical forests in various ways. More and more land is being used for subsistence farming by shifting cultivation, large forest areas are being converted to the cultivation of food and agricultural products for export, cleared for industrial and energy projects or for settlement, as well as used to provide wood for building and fuel. In the developing countries of the tropical zone, the greatest portion of the wood is used as fuel wood (about 85 percent of wood use).

Depending on the source, conversion of forests to agricultural and livestock land accounts for 70 to 90 % (Kanninen et al, 2007) of global deforestation. A selective logging operation in the tropics does not usually reduce forest cover, can lead to forest degradation. In Asia and Latin America where the intensity of harvest (volume per ha) is higher than in Africa, forest degradation is more important.

Deforestation in Africa not caused by Industrial forestry

Interholco is mainly active in the Congo basin (Central Africa) with a total forest cover of about 1,1 million ha.
The main causes of deforestation in Africa are the conversion of land for agriculture and fuel wood collection: 87% of the wood in the Congo basin is used as fuel wood (calculated from FAO, 2007 Status of the world’s forests 2005).

Even if industrial forestry is often seen as a main driver of deforestation and forest degradation, this is not correct in particular in Africa.

The Congo basin constitutes the second largest tropical forest area after the Amazon. The average annual deforestation rate in the Congo Basin from 2000 to 2005 was 0,2%, much lower than in the other tropical forest areas of South-East Asia (1,2%) and south America (0,5%).
A study on potential REDD+  mechanisms for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) shows the different causes of deforestation and forest degradation. Deforestation has been relatively low in the last 20 years in D.R.C. (0,2% per year) The study estimated that from 2007 to 2030, industrial forest harvesting will not contribute to deforestation and will cause only 15% of forest degradation. On the contrary, fuel wood and agriculture are estimated to cause 77% of deforestation (19% and 58% respectively) and 80% of forest degradation (64% and 16% respectively). Industrial forestry is estimated to make up only 7% of total Carbon emission in the D.R.C.

Rather than accusations towards Industrial forestry, means should be provided to tackle the real causes of deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries. Solutions should be provided for poverty, the lack of technical and financial know to improve agriculture, the lack of fuel wood production and good forest management etc.

Maintaining the value of the forest

The most important way that sustainable forest management helps tropical forests is by maintaining the value of the forest. This calls for managing and exploiting the forests to ensure that local industries can thrive and for making tropical wood processing for export the basis of the local wood industry. Interholco has been taking an active part in African industry for decades already. Its commitment is accompanied by investments in competitive and social structures aimed at building up a sustainable and economically profitable local wood industry.

Sustainable forestry in tropical forests

Using wood for industrial purposes is one of the few functioning industries in West and Central Africa, for instance, which is creating jobs and income, as well as tax and export revenues. Sustainable forest management can help decisively to promote the economic and social development of these countries while at the same time helping conserve tropical forests.

Boycott is not a solution

Boycotting tropical wood, by contrast, is counterproductive and damages the tropical forests more than it helps preserve them. A boycott does nothing to change the primary causes of deforestation. Refusing to buy products made of tropical wood causes their price to decline. But the consequence of sinking revenues from wood production is that some developing countries will make increasing use of forested areas in other ways, such as for agriculture.

Selective logging in Africa

Internationally, approximately 126 million cubic meters of tropical wood are produced each year. Of this amount, 64 percent comes from Asia, 26 percent from Latin America and ten percent from Africa. In the Congo Basin, for instance, around 0.5 cubic meters per hectare of forested area are logged in 2003, 1.0  cubic meter in the USA and 2.5 cubic meters of wood per hectare of forest in the European Union. While in Europe, logging is almost exclusively for industrial use, in the Congo Basin 87% of the timber is harvested by the local population for fuelwood (2). Deforestation in the Congo Basin is mostly due to conversion of forest to agriculture. Industrial roundwood harvest per ha of forested area in the Congo Basin represented in 2005 only about 0,06 m3 / ha (2). Within a period of thirty years, Interholco fells on average 1 trees per 2 ha or one tree in the size of 4 soccer fields in its three million hectares of forest concessions in the Congo Basin.

(2) Calculated from FAO, State of the World's Forests 2007.

In an area the size of 4 soccer fields, one tree is felled every 30 years (1 trees per 2 ha)

Illegal logging is an ecological and economic problem

Another important principle of sustainable wood processing is checking the origin of the logs to make sure that no wood from illegal logging operations comes into circulation. Illegal logging not only destroys important ecosystems, it also has far-reaching economic consequences. Owing to unfair competition from illegal tropical wood, companies that invest in sustainable forest management can hardly hold their own. Illegal logging is particularly a problem in Indonesia. It is estimated that half of the wood logged in this country (sixty million cubic meters) is illegal – nearly twice as much as the entire amount of tropical wood from Africa.

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