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IEFC - Lettre - Article n° 45

Lettre IEFC

Article 44 - Article 45 - Article 46

Posted bySamia Pelletier [2008-01-20 00:00:00]

Becoming shareholder of a hardwood plantation : a sustainable and ecological alternative?

plantation de noyers At the time of global warming and carbon trade the entreprises try to integrate more and more notions of sustainable development and environmental protection in their activities.The concept of ecological entreprise reaches an new stage with the development of forest societies proposing ecological investments in the logic of the Ecoinversions: the purchase or sale of market shares in environmental beneficial activities. Such investments are presently available in forest plantation and will soon concern also solar, eolian and other renewable energy forms (Cf. portal : Ecoinversions).

This concept has been developing for few years particularly in Spain where no less than 5 societies propose to become shareholder of a forest plantation. They aim both at producing high quality hardwood from sustainably managed tree plantations and at contributing to environmental regeneration.

The arguments used are at the same time ecological, economical and social. It acts of :
-placing money in an ecological and citizen saving product that ensures a good profitability based on the constant increase of global hardwood price for several decades,
-participating to environment protection by planting trees in abandoned agricultural lands, and fighting against global warming by contributing to carbon sequestration in forest plantations,
-developing a local economy supporting employment in rural zones,
-contributing to the decrease of wild deforestation of tropical forests by privileging an ecological and sustainable local resource.

Pousse de noyer
According to Maderas Nobles S.A. each tree planted according to their practices would produce after 20 years 8 000m3 of oxygen (28 000 m3 according to Bosques Naturales S.A. and Bosques del futuro S.A.) and 10 000 kg of organic matter. It also would use 400 000l of water and fix 25 000 m3 of CO2.
However the numbers obtained after calculation based on scientific value (1 cubic meter of wood = 0,8 to 1 ton of CO2 fixed) show a consumption by tree going from 3 to 5 000 m3 of CO2 gas and almost as many O2 produced (Source: Mémento FCBA; INRA).


These societies propose to individuals and entreprises to invest in hardwood production by buying seedlings (mostly walnut or cherry tree and sometimes tropical species) sold as an ecological and highly profitable saving product. These trees often come from their own nurseries and cost between 3 300 and 3 700 euro per batch of 10.

The customer pays the ownership and care of the trees on the society lands. This last is in charge of tree care, logging and wood sale to the customer benefit after 16 to 25 years of growing according to species. Approximately 90% of the sale's benefit goes to the owner and 10% to the society. The profitability for the customer is estimated to between 7 and 21% per year, cumulated on 20 years. It is based on a constant increase of hardwood price. The customer can sell his share anytime and creates therefore a secondary ecoinversions market.
Although the idea seems interesting it raises several questions particularly in terms of environmental impact, sustainability and financial risk for the investors.

Which environmental benefit and guaranties of sustainability ?plantation de noyers

These plantations generally follow intensive production schemes close to fruit production including watering, fertilization, sanitary treatments, soil work, weeding, pruning and sometimes intercropping. These practices with numerous interventions and use of chemicals free incomes are closer to organic farming than silviculture. In this case what about their environmental impact? What is the real ecological benefit of these plantations grown with energy consuming scheme compared to a classical plantation forest?
Indeed including water reserves building, watering systems, oil, mechanical interventions frequency and expenses due to trade activity, the question of environmental impact and respect of the carbon balance announced must be asked and should be answered before promoting such plantations.

The promotional arguments used in some cases also raise many interrogations.
Firstly these plantations would contribute to increase the global forest surface. However should we call them forests or rather orchards? Indeed the ecosystem, activities and other benefits linked to forest seem limited in these plantations.
Secondly does the plantation of foreign species (in some cases) allow them to communicate on 'contribution to biodiversity maintenance'? And as these species are not well adapted to their environment can they truly ensure their maintenance during the next 100 years as announced, especially in a context of water resource limitation? Can they call this sustainable management?
And finally does the plantation of these species really contribute to decrease exotic wood importation, as annouced? How could it be verified?...

These numerous questions are an invitation to bring further arguments based on technical and scientific data to better know and understand the real benefit of these initiatives.

The practicies and guaranties presented by these societies are quite heterogeneous: some of them have the FSC label and work in collaboration with technical forest institutes while others do not show nor well known certification neither technical or scientific partnership. For example the CO2zero label guarantying that the enterprises compensate and reduce their carbon emissions has been delivered to two of them under technical assessment of AIDIMA (Cf. CO2Zero). Therefore it is important to discriminate the various societies as they are not equivalent in terms of guaranties or methods.

Which financial guaranties for the investors?

The investment in tree plantations proposed by these entreprises is more risky than other types of ecoinversions because of a late return on investment (20-25 years) and the risks linked to production and price evolution. Indeed without pre-established sale contracts the economical perspectives for the investors totally depends on the wood market's context in the future.
The society Bosques Naturales was at the centre of discussions about financial questions in Spain few years ago (Cf. articles of Bolsacinco; Lukor ; Eleconomista ).

Some examples of societies :

Available species
Plantation forets sites
Certifications and guaranties
(Albacete, Spain)
Walnut, Chestnut tree Spain : Alcaraz (Albacete) and Vincios (Pontevedra) -Certification Sohiscert (as organic farming operator).
- Project of FSC certification .
(Madrid , Spain)
Belongs to Promociones Keops group.
Walnut, cherry tree (pear tree and ash) Spain : Galicia, Càceres, Toledo, Cuenca, Gerona. 1314 ha, 9000 customers ?? (not precised)
(Alicante, Spain)
ecobosques.com , ecoforests.eu
Teak, Silky oak and Chinaberry tree (Tectona grandis, Gravillea robusta, Melia azedarach) Costa rica and Argentine, on deforested lands (1700 ha managed) -3 FCS certified sites.
-Technical support by AIDIMA, INTA
-CO2zero certification
-External audit by BDO Audiberia
BOSQUES DEL FUTURO S.A (Valencia, Spain)
Mostly walnut Spain : Sinarcas (Valencia) -Certification CO2zero
-Project of FSC certification
-AIDIMA and AITIM member
-Partnership with research centers
BIENES ECOFORESTALES S.A (Valencia, Spain) Website Mostly walnut Spain : Cuenca -FSC certification in project

Development of environmental actions

Some of these entreprises want to go further in their environmental and social action. This is the case of Maderas Nobles which created the foundation « Mas Arboles ». Its aim is the promotion tree replantation for environmental purpose (book edition, event organization Cf. the 1st international meeting of the tree's friends, information campaigns, Cf. MasArboles). The foundation also initiated a project called ResponsARBOLidad which aims at planting 100 millions trees in 4 years in the South of the Iberic peninsula as a natural barrier against global warming (Cf. Responsarbolidad). The United Nations Organization recognized this action in October 2007 and integrated it to its global campaign « Plant for the Planet : Billion Tree” which tries to implicate private, public organizations and individuals in the plantation and protection of 1000 millions trees during the year 2007 (Cf. Billion tree campaign).

Mas Arboles also works in partnership with private enterprises. An action with Volkswagen is in process : for each Polo Blue Motion registered in Spain the firm will plant 17 trees according to the sustainable scheme of the foundation, in order to compensate the CO2 pollution generated by the vehicle.

To conclude the promotion of tree plantation is fundamentaly an interesting initiative. However it must absolutely be done in a considered way and present solid economical and environmental guaranties to the investors and the society, as well as guaranties of sustainaibility founded on scientific basis, before considering to develop those activities. Such guaranties would also avoid a drift towards a purely financial purpose in the management of these plantations which would be at the opposite of the sustainable development concept. Thus we can be glad of this new interest of the marketing and financial world for the trees, and wish that the traditional forestry professionals will be able to bring satisfying technical answers thanks to independent operators or the expertise of a project like DEFOR to solve all the questions raised by this new actors.