Reforestation Projects Need to Consider Multiple Factors

14 September 2016 Geoffrey Craggs, JP, Research Analyst, Northern Australia and Land Care Research Programme


Reforestation programs of differing scales are being implemented across many tropical and developing countries, in response to substantial deforestation over many decades. Whilst location is a critical component in the long-term success of reforestation projects, as are environmental, soil, rainfall, climate and geography, the influences of the biophysical, socio-economic, institutional, policy and management aspects are also drivers to project success.


De-forestation is the most significant cause of the loss of primary, or old-growth forests. Occurring extensively in South East Asian and in South American countries surrounding the Amazon Basin, de-forestation is due to unsustainable forestry practices for timber and non-timber products, conversion to agriculture and pasture, mining, urbanization and infrastructure development, and fire.

Whilst de-forestation is wide-ranging, efforts are being undertaken to re-establish forests to reduce green house gases and to re-introduce biodiversity. In Western Australia for example the Yarra Yarra Biodiversity Corridor Project has the objective of removing 1.257 million tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere in a region where over 90 per cent of the old-growth woodland had been cleared for agriculture. Another reforestation project on Thiaki Creek in Far North Queensland is aimed at reforesting a long-cleared grassed landscape in order to return to area to rainforest. Those projects will recognise secondary outcomes of addressing loss of diversity, environmental resilience and poor water quality.

Reforestation projects can be highly successful. At the same time they can fail completely or at the very least, realise only limited success due factors such as poor planning, a lack of technical expertise or, planting with species not suited to their environment as is the case on the Chinese “Great Green Wall” programme. Commencing in 1978, long-term analysis suggests the ambitious large-scale tree-planting campaign has been is far less than successful; millions of seedlings have been manually and hand-planted, augmented by the aerial delivery of seed, but research and surveys conducted by the Beijing Forestry University demonstrate that over time, as many as 85 percent of the plantings failed from planting deep-rooted and thirsty trees not suited to their environment.

In South-east Asia reforestation efforts have likewise relied on using non-native tree species, often planted as monocultures, and correspondingly the results were poor. Significantly, it was also identified an absence of community participation and consultation, that would focus on local livelihoods and biodiversity conservation, were relevant to the project not meeting its intended outcomes. This is because engagement with the local community provides the local knowledge essential to good planning, aids to diverse thinking and identifies areas of consensus and potential conflicts between developers and local communities. To assist in better targeting of projects to provide multiple benefits to end-users, community engagement is critical to success in reforestation projects at all levels.

An approach to reforestation that is meeting with varying degrees of success in some South-east Asian countries, was developed by Visayas State University and the German Agency for International Cooperation. Termed rainforestation or rainforestation farming (RF), RF integrates the selection and planting of annual crops, fruit trees, and native timber species in combination. In the Philippines and being disseminated to Cambodia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and southern China, the mixing of economically and ecologically important species was considered necessary, where the rural population densities are very high, for local communities to gain multiple economic benefits, at the same time restoring forest cover. RF has lead to a diversification of approaches aimed at using native species to address an array of management objectives, including timber production, biodiversity conservation, watershed rehabilitation, slope stabilization and topsoil regeneration.

Consistent with limited community involvement, species selection and poor planning, importantly, funds for reforestration projects have generally been assigned to goal of planting large numbers of trees; little effort and few resources are allocated to managing and maintaining those trees, with the result that few survive. As well, the exact impact of these programs remains largely unknown from an absence of any long-term, systemic monitoring or analysis due to not being considered during project planning or limited availability of financial support, either from government or the private sector. The lack of post-project monitoring, care and maintenance also has a detrimental effect on the willingness of community groups and individuals to offer their time and involvement in prosecuting new planting projects. Notwithstanding, the situation is changing as regional institutions in South-east Asia have developed more ecologically and socially sustainable methods to restore forest cover, and market-based funding mechanisms; prices are determined by supply and demand which, are beginning to finance those efforts in that region.

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