Forest News #5

This month's issue looks into the difficult balance between forests and plantations, taking palm oil as an example of the different issues at stake. We then move on to FLR - Forest (and) Landscape Restoration and REDD+ approaches. The monthly online course suggestion looks into business approaches to sustainable landscape restoration.

Can palm oil really be produced without causing deforestation? In Indonesia, the global top producer, palm oil is one of the main drivers of deforestation in the country. But palm oil is also a critical industry, involving small farmers & multinational companies, governments and international investors. As this video from The Forests Dialogue platform shows, any attempt to improve the current situation must deal with all these levels and realities.

This month:


  • Plantations are one of the key themes when discussing the global loss of forest habitats, possible ways to restore them and the trade-offs involved. The conversion of forest land for productive uses has a long history. Nowadays, plantations play a critical role in the global flows of different agricultural commodities and raw materials. However, the extent to which former forests have been turned into monoculture plantations – particularly in the tropics – has created social and environmental impacts recognized as unsustainable. This has led to multiple initiatives to reform the plantation models, within and outside the associated industries, by limiting concession sizes or aiming for more functional landscapes by adopting mixed production schemes or keeping intact areas as biological corridors. Ultimately, how much should be converted, in which way, and what are the trade-offs when losing (or restoring) forest ecosystems?
  • Production of oil palm, the focus of this month’s video, is a perfect example of these tensions. In the last 10 years, palm oil became a key ingredient in everyday food, cosmetics and biofuels, representing a global export market worth over 30 billion US dollars in 2017 according to the International Trade Centre. Since most of it comes from intensive monoculture plantations, it is also strongly linked to tropical deforestation and has become one of the most controversial forest-related commodities involving NGOs, industry groups, financing organisations and civil society movements across the globe. In Indonesia, a country with one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world and the top global exporter of palm oil (over 18 billion USD in 2017), this industry occupies both large and small producers. As discussed in the video, implementing more sustainable approaches is the desire of many but the path is not straightforward.
  • One important point is that, despite their economic importance, tree plantations are considered to be poor providers of ecosystem services. Essentially this is due to a strategy that promotes low biodiversity, low ecological structure and high turnover, leading many researchers to argue that plantations are not comparable to natural forests and that FAO should stop including commercial plantations in their forest cover assessments. Interestingly, the Indonesian government states that the national deforestation rates have declined due to improved land management policies but researchers argue that the decline is explained by the government’s decision to count pulpwood plantations as reforested areas – whereas many international methodologies count the conversion of forests into industrial plantations as deforestation.
  • Despite the controversy about definitions, plantations keep on expanding. To manage them better and to design better policies, we need more real-world data on the ecosystem services that they provide. That is why researchers at CIFOR developed an easy-to-apply framework to assess ecosystem services from plantations. Interestingly, the study shows that plantations can potentially provide greater benefits than agriculture and other land uses if managed properly.
  • Going across the ocean, Peru and Colombia provide two interesting examples. Timber production in Peru comes traditionally from natural forests. However, a recent study by CIFOR shows that tree plantations have a large potential to reduce pressure on natural forests, provide ecosystem services and diversify the economy. By promoting tree plantations, Peru could achieve its restoration and climate change mitigation commitments but there is a need for more research and secure land tenure. Similarly, Colombia has huge potential for developing commercial plantations because of its excellent conditions for tree growth and vast areas of land potentially suitable for commercial reforestation.  A report of the World Bank shows that the Latin American country could use commercial plantations to meet the local and global demand for timber, pulp and paper products.
  • Our latest member hails from Kenya. BICO (Biodiversity Conservation) is focused on planting and capacity-building work to help restore the Mau Forest complex. This mountain watershed forest has a critical role since it stores rain during the wet seasons and pumps it out during the dry months, feeding major rivers and lakes in the region. This ensures the water supply for millions of people to drink, grow food and generate hydro-power year-round. 25% of the forest has been destroyed in the past decades, directly and visibly impacting live in Kenya and surrounding countries, as reported by the BBC and better detailed in this CIFOR article.

Forest Landscape Restoration

  • The topic of Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) has been covered in our previous newsletter editions. This concept has evolved over the past 20 years, developing into a mix of methodologies and a growing body of practice with reference examples around the world, while proving to be flexible enough to cover different contexts. Global efforts such as the Bonn Challenge and the New York Declaration have provided a momentum to apply FLR on a larger scale.
  • For those interested, the infoFLR portal maintained by the IUCN provides a good overview of FLR and the different types of FLR interventions, together with reference tools and case studies. Another reference entity is the Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration (GPFLR), whose website provides a wealth of information and resources from transnational to sub-national level.
  • Larger intergovernmental organizations are also active in this field, such as the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) with its focus area on Forest and Landscape Restoration, or the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) through its Forest and Landscape Restoration Mechanism.


  • REDD+  is a mitigation approach that was introduced by the UN about 10 years ago. The aim was to reduce deforestation and degradation (and the resulting emissions) by creating a financial value for the carbon stored in the forests. However, its implementation has not been very successful and some critics argue that the market-based schemes and payments for environmental services (such as carbon storage) simply do not work together, and that the approach should be abandoned. However, other scientists argue that REDD+, though troubled, is not dead. The concept of REDD+ has evolved and today is more a results-based aid with financing from governments, civil society and the private sector.
  • If you are interested in learning more about this approach, visit REDD+ Academy, the UN-REDD Programme’s capacity development initiative. A free online course on REDD+, from the basics of carbon sequestration to stakeholder engagement, is available in English, French and Spanish.

Online Course Suggestion:

  • Our suggestion this month goes to the online course “A Business Approach to Sustainable Landscape Restoration”, developed by the Erasmus University Rotterdam and the ENABLE Partnership, a coalition of organisations dedicated to landscape restoration.
    The course starts on June 25, 2018 and runs for 7 weeks requiring about 2-4h of work per week. More details about the course, platform and (free) registration at the Coursera platform here.