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Proposed grant from the global environment facility trust fund

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Current Situation: The sector as a whole is now recovering from the economic and political crises of 2002, with both tree planting and wood exports on the rise. In 2004, 32,700 ha of new plantations were established, an increase of 30% over the previous year. The provinces of Corrientes and Misiones represent about 85% of the recent expansion in plantation forests. There has also been important growth in the Entre Rios province, Patagonia (especially Neuquen and Rio Negro) and increasingly Buenos Aires province, which has close proximity to markets and ports. Santa Fe, Salta, and Jujuy provinces have also registered growth in plantations in recent years.
The export of wood products is also increasing, having risen to a high of US$653 million (or 4.9 percent of all exports) in 2003, in part to the devaluation of the peso. The sector’s contribution to GDP rose to 4% in 2003, and 4.5% in 2004, but has since settled to about 3% in 2005. Despite their limited area and distribution, plantations account for 80 to 90 percent of domestic wood supply, and for all wood exports. Because of this growth, small and medium-sized forestry enterprises have begun investing in machinery and infrastructure again. Official figures of persons employed in the sector stand at about 400,000, but if non registered operations in the informal sector were to be included, the figure would be over 500,000.
There is little physical limitation to the expansion of plantation forests in the future. Experts estimate there are around 10 million ha of land suitable to support plantations. Projections show that the production of timber from plantation forests is expected to increase sharply over the coming decades. Internal demand for wood products is also expected to increase, from 1.8 million tons of paper in 2001 to 3.1 million in 2020, and from 1.3 million m3 of timber in 2001 to 1.6 million in 2020.
World demand for paper products is expected to increase about 2.1 percent annually through 2020, while demand in Latin America is expected to increase about 3 percent during the same period, or the equivalent of about 12 million tons. Considering that a resource base of between 90 to 200 thousand hectares of plantations are required to provide the fiber necessary to generate one million tons of pulp, about 2 million ha of new plantations would be required to support the regional demand alone. Moreover, several international industries from Europe and North America are relocating their pulp and processing facilities in the region in order to supply products to international markets. Such facilities require fiber to supply their plants, most of which will come from plantations. (In the past three years, neighboring Uruguay has attracted more than $3.5 billion in forestry investments, including three new pulp mills and five major sawmills.)
Argentina is expected to respond to this opportunity and increased global demand for fiber. The country has strong comparative advantage in plantation forestry due to its very favorable growing conditions, an abundance of good quality land with low opportunity cost, large land holdings which favor economies of scale, a reliable system of land titling and good infrastructure. Despite these obvious assets, relative to its potential, plantation forestry in Argentina is still in its infancy. There are a number of barriers to growth, but perhaps the most important is still the absence of an adequate institutional and policy framework at the institutional levels, including environmental concerns.
In recognition of the growing importance and potential of the forestry sector in Argentina, the World Bank and national and provincial governments are engaged in an ongoing dialog on both plantation and native forests. Provincial governments have the responsibility for native forests and for reviewing the environmental impact of proposed plantations; the national government is responsible for the legal, economic, and regulatory framework which shapes the sector. The dialog seeks in part to address conservation issues in forest ecosystems, a subject in which the proposed project is highly relevant.
Regional Plantation Resources: Different species of trees are planted in distinct locales of Argentina according to the environmental conditions that most favor their growth. The main planting regions are Mesopotamia, Buenos Aires and the Andean Patagonia, with lesser areas of plantations being established in the Central, Delta, and Northwest regions.
Mesopotamia. The largest area of forest plantations in Argentina is found in the Mesopotamia region (Misiones, Corrientes y Entre Rios provinces) which provides highly favorable growing conditions due to its gentle undulating topography, sub-tropical climate and, in many areas, rich soils. More than 75 percent of existing plantations are now found in Mesopotamia. Exotics such as Eucalyptus globulus, Salix spp. and sub-tropical pines (largely Pinus elliotti and Pinus taeda) are the preferred species, due to their good performance. (Most of the plantations are in P. taeda, which is managed on a 15 year rotation, compared to the 20 year rotations in the U.S.). These species are mainly grown for pulping purposes, though they can also be used for light construction, crude lumber and lower quality furniture. Minor quantities of other species, including the native, Araucaria angustifolia are also planted. While Auracaria, a native of the region, grows slower than the exotics, it has a finer wood, more suited for interior trim, furniture and veneer, as well as light construction.
Buenos Aires and Pampeana. The Buenos Aires region (Province of Buenos Aires) has overall excellent biophysical conditions for forestry on as much as 5 million hectares, and about 9 percent of the country’s plantations are presently found here. Development of the forest sector in Buenos Aires has been relatively slow, despite its potential capacity and its close access to shipping ports. This is mainly attributed to historical preferences for cattle ranching and the lack of knowledge and interest in forestry. However, ranching and forestry are not incompatible and innovative silvopastoral systems can be envisioned, which may provide opportunities for integrating plantations into the pasture lands, diversifying farmer’s investments, and reducing environmental impacts. Genetically improved varieties of Eucalyptus globulus which thrive in the area have been developed, which increase production by up to 8 percent for pulp and paper purposes.
Patagonia. The Patagonia Andes region has about 2.3 million ha of land with a moderate to good potential for forest use, and presently has about 6 percent of the plantations today. The preferred species are Pinus ponderosa and Pseudotsuga menziessii while Pinus contorta is planted in lesser quantities. These are much slower growing trees than the eucalypts and subtropical pines found in the Pampeana and Mesopotamia, but, in contrast, are excellent choices for saw timber needed for construction and other purposes. P menziessii is considered one of the best all-round construction woods in the United States and is highly valued in Argentina as well. P ponderosa is also a very good choice for furniture making and light construction, whereas P contorta is more useful for pulping and heavy construction.
Central. The Central region (South of Santa Fe and Cordoba, and eastern La Pampa), has about 2 percent of the plantations. Most of the planting is being carried out in the province of Cordoba, with Pinus taeda and Pinus elliotti being the primary species planted. Smaller areas of eucalypts and radiata pine are also planted, sometimes as windbreaks, or ornamentals. No estimates of land appropriate for forestry are available, but the sector is considered relatively weak in this particular region.
Northwest. The Northwest region (Provinces of Jujuy, Salta, and Tucuman) has a very low plantation cover (about 2 percent of plantations), mostly consisting of subtropical pines, eucalypts and a few high-value hardwoods. Recent trials with quality hardwoods in Salta, such as Cedrela australis, show very promising results, indicating the possibility of generating significant revenue through forestry on relatively small areas of land over reduced rotations. However, poverty rates are high in these areas, and plantation development needs to be aligned with non-commercial, agro-forestry systems needed to provide minimum subsistence levels for many of the small farmers.
Delta. The Delta region, near the rivers of Paraná and Uruguay, has less than 1 percent of plantations and has a fair potential for plantation forestry. The climate is subtropical and its alluvial soils are often wet and low, rendering them unsuitable for most high-value trees. Salix spp. and Populos deltoides grow best here, and make up the bulk of the plantations in the region. These trees produce light and weak wood, which has utility for pulp, packing crates, and light construction. Despite the low value of the trees being grown there, plantations make use of areas which have little other potentially productive use and are an important source of pulp used for making newsprint for the Buenos Aires newspapers.
Plantations and Biodiversity Conservation: Plantation forestry in Argentina overlaps with several globally important ecosystems. In the northeast of the country, the Alto Parana Atlantic Forest in Misiones and the Mesopotamian Grasslands in Corrientes and Entre Rios, and Parana Flooded Savannas in parts of Buenos Aires Province are most affected by plantations. The Patagonian Valdivian Forest and Steppe ecosystems are the focal areas for planting in southwest Argentina. Silvicultural practices and management regimes in these plantation regions have been designed and subsidized to maximize the production of wood fiber while keeping costs low. In the pursuit of profits, examples of sustainable forest management, and other approaches which encourage biodiversity conservation in the productive landscape are scarce. One NGO estimates that 40 percent of the country’s most important grasslands are threatened by plantation forestry.7 A primary concern is that without proper planning, habitat loss because of plantation forestry could lead to increasing losses of biodiversity throughout many parts of the Argentina.
Plantation forests have shown good potential as the basis for succession of natural forests in degraded and fragmented landscapes. Plantations may create desireable conditions in soils, understory conditions, and other factors conducive to increasing biodiversity in impacted areas, and can provide critical ecosystem services such as watershed protection and carbon cycling. In Patagonia for example, exotic Ponderosa Pine has been used to provide shade and cover needed for the regeneration of native Nothofagus trees, resulting inmixed plantations along with the restoration of the native habitat. To ensure that plantation development is sustainable over the long term, conservation principles in the Argentine forestry sector need to be strengthened through the adoption of a strategy which integrates and institutionalizes conservation into plantation development, and provides the incentives to land owners follow suit. There are, however, difficulties in achieving balance and consensus among the different stakeholders (government, private sector, and civil society) to seek integration of conservation principles and landscape planning into development of the sector. Economic analysis of several alternatives for Argentina’s plantations have shown that good rates of return are feasible or even better than existing models with modifications in management regimes that benefit biodiversity.
Without additional investments to ensure global biodiversity values are incorporated, the current situation could mean loss of native ecosystems such as grasslands, wetlands, and forests from expansion of plantation activities in areas important for conservation of biodiversity corridors, migration habitats, and reproductive grounds. To ensure the sustainable development of plantation forestry, environmental considerations will have to go hand-in-hand with production objectives. Expanding plantation forestry without covering the costs of providing global benefits will make it difficult to incorporate biodiversity conservation into the planning process.
There are two basic levels at which conservation can be integrated into productive forestry – the landscape level and the stand level. Actions which serve to enhance the conservation value of plantations will key on the spatial, temporal and structural distribution of stand and landscape elements. At the landscape level, issues that need to be considered by the project are (a) the extent, location and distribution of the plantations in the overall landscape, and (b) the way that the plantations and the surrounding land cover evolve and interact over time. Such broad issues must be addressed at the planning and policy level in order to be considered by multiple land holders over large areas of land.
At the stand level, the project will work directly with producers to carry out activities such as (a) providing alternatives to monocultures and encouraging the use of native species, (b) encouraging thinning and the management of cutting regimes to increase the heterogeneity of the cover, (c) maintenance or development of natural areas within plantations, (d) planting, management, and harvesting techniques which promote conservation in the productive landscape, and (e) use of conventional best management practices in all silvicultural activities to reduce environmental impacts (for example, location of forest roads and log landings, low impact harvesting and planting (site preparation) techniques, among others. Regardless of whether interventions are to be made at the landscape level or the stand level, they must be tailored to the particular ecosystem and targeted to specific biodiversity conservation objectives. With this in mind, on-site approaches must be worked out according to the local situation while taking into account the producers’ objectives and situation.
Incentives: There is broad recognition that the primary threat to Argentine biodiversity is not forestry but rather agriculture. Despite this threat, actions like those proposed under the project can be extremely successful in conserving biodiversity in critical ecosystems. This is especially important given the quickly expanding forestry sector and the current system of incentives which shape it. Current economic and legal incentives do not encourage deforestation for the establishment of plantation forests, whereas deforestation for soy cultivation is currently a major problem in the Argentine Chaco. In respect to plantation development, of much greater concern is the expansion of plantations into areas of natural grassland and wetland ecosystems, where establishment costs are low, and into previously deforested areas which may have been critical corridors and are in need of restoration. Current environmental regulations included under the forestry promotion law have provisions that require demonstration for forestry projects of over 100 hectares, that there are no impacts to biodiversity. However, the planning tools, biodiversity information, and capacities are lacking for adequately addressing these issues, therefore forestry projects proceed minimally addressing biodiversity issues. Furthermore, provincial governments share responsibility for the EIA approval process and in general have a weak capacity and lack planning tools for proper oversight and decision-making regarding forestry projects.
Incentives such as the certification of forestry practices, which promotes socially and environmentally-responsible management, are not widespread in Argentina as compared to its Southern Cone neighbors such as Brazil and Chile. Only eight certificates for a total of 131,214 hectares of plantations are currently listed under Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) certification,8 which means that little plantation area is subject to standards that can improve the situation of biodiversity, lessen impacts to the environment, and minimize social impacts to communities. The changing corporate landscape of plantation forestry in Argentina however, is resulting in increased environmental protection thanks to the presence of Chilean forestry companies with more modern corporate environmental responsibility programs that are at a minimum improving stand management to comply with existing laws and are looking at greater levels of certification.
On a positive note, a National Working Group with broad representation has presented for comments the draft Standards for Management of Plantation Forests under FSC principles and criteria. Argentina is also a party to the Montreal Process on criteria and indicators for SFM. This is a basis for activities under the proposed project which allow for synergistic effects towards achieving mainstreaming of biodiversity.
Environmental policy and enforcement: In Argentina, as with many developing countries, the only environmental safeguard in place is a requirement to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment before planting on areas which exceed 100 hectares under the current forestry legislation9. This, however, is largely a bureaucratic requirement which falls far short of assessing the wider and longer term impact of plantation development on the environment. Biodiversity conservation is at present not a driving force in the planning or management of forest plantations throughout Argentina. Land use planning with a broad ecosystem vision has yet to take hold in at the federal and provincial level.
Even though EIAs are carried out in areas of over 100 ha, they do not always register the wider ecological implications of large scale planting – something which can be better achieved by having a more strategic and mainstreamed approach. Such an approach could also address the problem of the high costs associated with screening smaller areas of under 100 ha by focusing on priority areas/zones of concern rather than all areas. While certification can also help to deter bad practice, its application is still low and generally a more difficult and costly undertaking for smaller producers.
Interventions Identified

During project preparation, extensive studies were undertaken to examine possible techniques to promote biodiversity conservation measures in plantation forests in Argentina, as well as the economic implications and geographic applicability of such interventions. Through this process, 27 techniques were identified as being especially appropriate for the scope and objectives of this project. Rather than creating a one-size-fits-all approach, these techniques form a type of “menu” which will allow the project implementers to select the intervention, or interventions, which fit the scale, location, resources and needs of target small and large-scale producers. As other methods are tested during project implementation, this list may expand to include other newly-developed interventions. The table below illustrates various approaches identified during preparation in order to increase biodiversity conservation and the protection of fragile ecosystems in plantation landscapes.

Biodiversity Conservation Measure for Plantation Stands


Plantations of native species

Lower financial return than exotics, but increases compatibility with the natural environment and improves habitats when implemented properly.

Mixed plantations of natives and exotics

Reduced return and complex management, but increases compatibility with natural environment. Shade tolerant natives can be cultivated in understory of exotic plantations. Less susceptibility to pests.

Establishment of silvopastoral systems (est. 350-500 stems/ha)

Diversifies incomes, increases management costs and need to protect young trees from grazing /browsing

Reduction of stocking density in plantations by 50 percent (est. 666 stems/ha)

Lower density stands open up plantation to natural vegetation and increased biodiversity. Opportunity to improve timber quality.

Carry out periodic thinnings to reduce density of plantations

Periodic thinning while opening up area to natural vegetation. Opportunity to improve timber quality.

Maintain habitats through leaving snags, felled trees, residual from fellings, etc

Provides habitats, especially for amphibians, but increases possible risks for fire hazard and pests

Increase rotation length

Increases the complexity of the stand or compartment and provides for increases in habitats for biodiversity

Leave a percentage of the tree crop standing after harvest

Increases heterogeneity and variation of habitats for biodiversity.

Plantations on degraded lands

Increase production in marginal areas and control erosion.

Use of conventional best management practices for site preparation, planting, management, road building and harvesting

Use best management practices to reduce impacts to the environment on site and downstream which helps to preserve habitats

Establish buffer zones around sensitive and high conservation value areas

Buffer zones reduce the chance that plantations will impact surrounding areas.

Avoid interrupting natural corridors necessary for ecosystem function

Prior survey of planting areas is needed to ensure that natural corridors are not interrupted

Species selection

Avoids invasive species and emphasizes indigenous species whenever possible

Variation of age structure between plantation compartments/stands

Increases heterogeneity of landscape

Use precaution with chemical treatments for site preparation and pest control and select the most specific chemicals according to the need

Chemical agents are toxins which may have indirect and unintended effects on plants not the target of the treatment

Favor, in some cases, use of herbicides for site preparation rather than mechanical site preparation

Use in situations where soils may be susceptible to erosion

Establishment of set-asides to ensure native vegetation is incorporated into part of the stand.

Increases heterogeneity of production area and improved habitats and connectivity for biodiversity.

Favor the use of improved clones in 3rd cycle of harvesting of eucalypts over cultivation of stump sprouts. Cultivate stump sprouts in areas susceptible to erosion.

Use of improved planting stock will ensure more efficient plantations, esp. in 3rd cycle where productivity is reduced. Stump sprouts to be retained in sensitive areas where site preparation might contribute to erosion.
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