Piecing together the puzzle: What do cows, bamboo shoots, berries and elephants have to do with managing plantations?

Well managed and designed, inclusive and profitable plantations contribute positively for people and nature

Well managed and designed, inclusive and profitable plantations contribute positively for people and nature

A dairy farm, sugarcane fields and a water treatment works in South Africa. A charcoal plant, a beef ranch and a community-run nursery and horticulture project in Brazil. A village in China where people grow bamboo, and a nearby factory that processes its edible shoots. A social housing project in Santiago and a berry orchard in southern Chile.

These are just some of the places visited on recent study tours organised by the New Generation Plantations (NGP) platform. Along the way, participants have counted worms and dragonfly nymphs to determine water quality in a stream. Learned to tell wetland from dryland soils by sight, smell and touch. Hiked through ancient forest. Watched elephants roaming across savannah that just a few years ago was covered in pine trees.

What does all this have to do with the business of managing tree plantations? Nothing – and everything.

NGP was set up by WWF in 2007, in collaboration with a group of plantation companies and government agencies. Our belief is that plantations, located in the right places and managed in the right way, can make a positive contribution to the environment and to people.

NGP provides a platform where we can share knowledge, ideas and experiences and learn from each other. As anyone who has attended an NGP study tour or meeting in the last few years can attest, it’s a dynamic environment, where practical tasks and innovative facilitation techniques support close interaction, vibrant discussions and active learning.

But the more we’ve learnt, the more we’ve discovered we still have to learn. Perhaps the greatest realisation is that our work doesn’t stop at the forest gate. To make a positive contribution that really counts, then we need to look to the wider biophysical and social landscape.

Plenty of examples exist of NGP participants doing just that. Companies working together to restore Atlantic rainforest alongside plantations. Working with cattle producers in Uruguay to enable grazing on their forested and set-aside land. Removing trees from wetland soils to help conserve freshwater habitats in South Africa, including transferring 4,500 hectares of commercial plantations to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a World Heritage Site (that’s where we saw the elephants). You can read about these and other examples on our website.

Counting bugs… What does it have to do with the business of managing tree plantations? Nothing – and everything

Counting bugs… What does it have to do with the business of managing tree plantations? Nothing – and everything

Of course, the idea of taking a landscape approach is not a new one. But it’s much easier to talk about in theory than to put into practice. We can imagine different productive land uses, ecosystem components and social needs slotting into place like a giant jigsaw. But in reality, everyone holds a different piece of the puzzle and has different ideas about how they fit together. Past conflicts and mistakes can make the task even harder.

And that’s where the NGP platform has something truly valuable to offer. It’s a place where we can all bring our pieces of the puzzle, and try to see the bigger picture.

That’s been increasingly apparent on recent study tours. In the Brazilian Cerrado, we looked at how plantations can help revive degraded pasture and boost incomes for cattle farmers, take pressure off natural forests by supplying the charcoal industry, and support community food production.

In South Africa the focus was on water stewardship and landscape resilience across an entire river catchment. Representatives from the dairy and sugarcane sectors joined us, along with other businesses in the value chain who also have an influence on the landscape, including manufacturers, retailers and insurers.

Crucially, we’ve also sought to bridge the gap between companies, government and the local people whose lives are most affected by plantations, but who often lack a voice in landscape planning and decision-making processes. From Chinese smallholders to indigenous Mapuche people in Chile, we’ve tried to increase our common understanding and find opportunities to create shared value, bringing mutual socio-economic and ecological benefits

NGP doesn’t pretend to have all the answers. Participants don’t always agree. And we’ve only just begun to collect the pieces of the puzzle.

What we do have is a safe space where we can freely discuss ideas and opinions, build trust, learn together, and co-create new solutions.

Ultimately, a landscape approach isn’t about good planning policies, or effective consultation processes, or maintaining ecosystem resilience – though all of these are crucial components. It’s about cooperation, trust, respect, and getting on with each other as human beings.

What does all this have to do with the business of managing tree plantations? Nothing – and everything.

Blogpost and pictures submitted by Luis Neves Silva (WWF International – Portugal) – lnsilva(at)wwfint.org
Pictures courtesy New Generation Plantations

The content, structure and grammar is at the discretion of the author only.


This post is published as entry #36 of our #Forests2015 blog competition. It is submitted in the “Open” category.

The first selection of the winners will be based on the number of comments, likes and views each entry gets.

As a reader, you can support this speaker’s entry:

  • Leave a comment on this project in the field at the bottom of this page
  • Support the post by clicking the “Like” button below
  • Spread this post via your social media channels, using the hashtag: #Forests2015

Have a look at the other blog competition entries too!

One thought on “Piecing together the puzzle: What do cows, bamboo shoots, berries and elephants have to do with managing plantations?

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s