Sunday, November 22, 2009

Key Land Factors for Tropical Tree Plantations

Typical tropical savannah land
Last posting, I discussed the 3 key climate factors for tropical tree plantations. This time I want to comment on the 3 key land and soil factors affecting tropical tree plantations. In the tropics there is a wide variety of vegetation specific to different land types. By far the largest tropical vegetation area is savannah (42%), followed by rain forest (30%), semideciduous and deciduous woodland (15%), and finally desert areas (13%), with desert shrub and grasses or even with no vegetation. These numbers are changing as deforestation continues unabated and deserts are growing. From a plantation perspective the ideal areas for afforestation and reforestation programs are savannah, because of reliable rainfall and ease of access. Amazonia Reforestation is doing extensive planting in the savannah areas of the llano oriental or eastern plains of Colombia.

Lush rain forest but poor soil
Despite the lush and profuse vegetation found in most rain forests, that abundance is not an indication of high soil fertility. In fact, most rain forest soils are infertile, but the forest itself  has evolved to make extremely efficient use of nutrients by recycling everything, thanks to rapid decay and absorption of litter, dead fall, old leaves, fallen fruits and nuts, and atmospheric sequestration of gases like CO2 and nitrogen. This is why deforerstation for subsistence farming and ranching has produced such poor results, with crops failing within a couple of years of clearing the rain forest, and ranching producing eually poor results because of the low nutrient value of grasses that have replaced the rain forest.  In contrast, poorly vegetated savannah often has superior soil fertility. Only 7% of the soil types found in the Amazon basin have agricultural potential. CO2 Tropical Trees plants in savannah areas with superior carbon sequestration potential, as part of their "Make your car carbon neutral campaign!"

Tropical tree planting in the savannah
Tropical tree plantations also favor savannah and steppe areas, because the cost of land is lower in those locations. The majority of the world's unused but potentially arable land is in tropial savannah and semidesert areas. Since these areas generally correspond with countries in development, they suffer from under-use or inefficient use, or from environmentally bad use, such as mono-cultures of oil palms. Tree farms see these areas as having great potential for timber by making improved use of the land and by implementing modern forestry practices and environmentally sound  programs. Amazonia Reforestation, for instance, is active in planting native tree species for conservation and preservation of endangered wildlife. This goes hand in hand with the final reason why tropical tree plantations like these areas. They have human populations that require the resources for economic and social development, something that afforestation and reforestation programs offer.

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