Sunday, November 28, 2010

Jatropha curcas – Part 1: A profitable solution for pool soils

Jatropha curcas fruits
One of the biggest complaints about growing crops for biodiesel or fuel is that they take away from arable land needed to grow crops for food. However, there are numerous places in tropical and desert zones where the soil is for all practical purposes infertile and unsuitable for growing food crops. This is where Jatropha curcas steps into the picture. This tropical tree is tolerant of very poor soils, gravels, sand and salinity, producing large amounts of oil suitable for biodiesel, while serving to reclaim and improve the poor soil in which it was planted. It also offers the attraction of producing cash renewable energy crops in a short time frame, with a long perennial life span and the promise of socio-economic development opportunities in developing countries. The point this part 1 article wishes to make is that investing in tropical trees is not limited to just lumber profits. Part 2 will be a list of some of the numerous and profitable benefits of growing Jatropha curcas in tropical and semi-tropical locations.

Jatropha curcas seeds inside fruit
Jatropha curcas grows as a small tree reaching heights of 6 meters or 20 feet. While the tree is known to live for up to 100 years, its productive span for oil production is considered to be between 30 to 40 years. As mentioned it is resistant to aridity, but starts to thrive with as little as 250 mm or 10 inches of annual rainfall. The more rain, the larger the oil crop will be. The oil seeds are encased in an outer fruit that makes excellent fertilizer rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Fruit production starts within 9 months of planting, but best yields start to occur in the 2nd or 3rd year after planting. The yield is amazing: measured on a per hectare basis (2.47 acres) the plantation owner can anticipate average yields of 5000 kilos (5 metric tons) of oil seeds, rendering on average 1,650 kg (1.65 metric tons) of oil and 3,200 kg (3.2 metric tons) of compostable fertilizer. The tree can be propagated both by seed and by cuttings, and the plantation looks for good branching or ramification, as that increases seed yield.

Universal nut sheller used by the Full Belly Project in Africa
Depending on rainfall, the seeds will render between 27 to 40% oil that can be easily processed to produce  biodiesel for standard diesel engines. The oil cannot be used for human consumption, because the oil and the fruits are highly poisonous, containing both HCN (Hydrogen cyanide or Prussic acid) and toxalbumin curcin, a compound similar to Ricin. However, this is not a bad thing, because it makes Jatropha curcas trees resistant to all sorts of pests and fungi. The said compounds are also a very valuable precursor for pharmaceutical and polymer production. Jatropha curcas is a social tree and can be planted with other trees and plants, in which case it will act like a natural repellent, protecting its neighbours. Seed extraction is low tech, requiring the use of a nut shelling machine or mill and then the use of an oil press, providing employment to local people. Some combustion engines can be modified to use the oil directly, or the oil can be transesterified into biodiesel, which is also a simple and relatively cheap process.

Jatropha curcas plantation
At Amazonia Reforestation we are planting Jatropha curcas as part of our 2011 cultivation schedule. The idea is to make our entire operation energy independent (tractors, trucks, generators) using renewable energy, while creating economic opportunities for local workers. Doing this also fits in with our CO2 Tropical Trees program, as renewable energies like biodiesel and wood pellets can be considered carbon neutral, especially when processed on site.The carbon released is equal to the carbon absorbed by these amazing tropical trees and their oil seeds.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why Plant Tropical Trees?

Afforestation Plantation in Vichada, Colombia
Many people have probably never given much thought to why one would plant tropical trees, or any tree for that matter. A recent blog comment asked “Why plant trees? Is it just for carbon sequestration?” Before answering, it seems like a good idea to point out that this blog is about tropical trees for a reason. Their amazing diversity and therefore their wonderful and numerous uses not only answer the question with an endless list, but once again emphasize why tropical trees are such a profitable green investment. This article is a summary of some of the 25 principle reasons for planting and using tropical trees, with no effort being made to distinguish between plantation and native tree species. No doubt many other uses and reasons exist. Let’s review the 25 most common reasons.
1. Lumber: Tropical trees are an important source of the world’s hardwood supply. Hardwood trees are used in everything from fine furniture to building materials and from pulp and paper to renewable energy and firewood. World demand for tropical hardwood increases year after year. We plant tropical trees because it is better to have our coffee tables made with plantation wood, as opposed to natural rain forest wood.

Fast growing Acacia mangium at 3 years
2. Construction: It may seem strange to separate this from the general description of lumber, but people plant tropical trees for a range of applications, from flooring to cement boards, from plywood to roofing materials. Ironwood species like Congrio (Acosmium nitens) are used for utility and telephone poles, railway ties and heavy construction. Some of these hardwoods can be left untreated in the ground for decades without suffering from insect, fungus or moisture damage.

3. Musical Instruments: Many of our favourite musical instruments would not sound the same if we didn’t have tropical trees planted to provide the exotic woods used in their manufacture. Have you ever given thanks for ebony (Diospyros dendro and ebenum) piano keys or purpleheart (Peltogyne purpurea) guitar frets, or Brazilian Biriba wood (Rollinia mucosa) for berimbau sticks and Jacaranda wood (Jacaranda brasiliana) for atabaque drums?

Eucalyptus pellita plantation with your blogger
4. Boat Building: Tropical trees have been essential for boat and ship building since before recorded history. Numerous species are excellent for their durability in water, their flexibility when being bent to shape a hull, or for their properties as canoes or dugouts. Teak is a well know ship and yacht building wood in Asia, but consider that where Amazonia Reforestation plants tropical trees in the Orinoco River basin there are 14 acknowledged boat building species, like Algarrobo (Hymenaea courbaril), Ceiba (Ceiba pentandra) and Sassafras (Ocotea cymbarum).

5. Carbon Sequestration: Tropical trees are the most efficient trees on the planet at removing CO2 from the atmosphere, especially in the first 10 years of their lives. CO2 isn’t just absorbed into their woody biomass, but is also deposited into the soil along their roots and due to deadfall around the tree. The average tropical tree planted by CO2 Tropical Trees sequesters as much as 50 lbs or 22.6 kg of carbon a year, compared to the best boreal tree at 2.2lbs or 1 kg a year.

6. Medicine: Some 7,000 commercial medicines currently in everyday use are based on tropical trees and the flora that depends on them. Science and researchers have barely scratched the surface, with new compounds and new cures originating from the rain forest all the time. Many indigenous people and naturopathic medicines like Ayurveda place great reliance on tropical trees for cures and treatments. Planting beneficial species is a no-brainer. At the Reserva Natural La Pedregoza in the Orinoco River basin they have 73 tropical tree species with known medicial properties.

7. Land Reclamation: A large number of tropical trees have proven themselves ideal for reclaiming old mine sites, for preventing erosion and landslides, or for stopping desertification. The trees rebuild top soil destroyed by mining or that was lost due to extreme erosion. Many tropical trees are good at nitrogen-fixing in the soil. Some of those same trees are able to absorb pollutants other than carbon from the atmosphere and from the soil, such as heavy metals like lead and mercury. Acacia mangium has a proud history of being planted for land reclamation purposes.

Tropical tree planted in ferrous-oxide rocks
8. Soil Improvement: Some tropical trees can be planted to improve soils that are otherwise infertile, thanks to the ability of leguminous tropical trees to fix nitrogen and carbon in the soil. Many areas that have suffered from bad deforestation or mining in the past can be made productive again using careful species selection and permaculture or analog forestry processes. Better soil allows for a wider variety of tree species to be planted in future cultivation cycles. At Amazonia Reforestation Acacia mangium is planted for its recognized nitrogen-fixing capacity.

9. Infertile Soils: It may seem ironic, but many rain forests are perfect recyclers, and therefore do not need to rely on the soil. They get their energy from the air, the sun and their own deadfall. This means that many tropical tree species can be planted in rocks or sand, and with a little help can start a forest in what might otherwise seem like hopeless locations and conditions.

Tropical tree planted in infertile sand
10. Wind Breaks: Fast growing tropical trees can be planted to prevent erosion or crop damage due to wind. Tropical trees set deep roots, so they can be very effective quickly. Eucalyptus pellita and other Eucalypts are often used to establish rapid wind breaks.

11. Fire Breaks: Numerous tropical tree species can act as a natural fire break. Due to the canopy effect there is little under growth that can burn, and because of the nature of hardwood trees areas planted with tropical trees are hard to ignite. Savanna wild fires will often peter out and die when they hit areas planted with tropical trees, while damage due to lighting strikes will be confined to one or two tropical trees hit directly inside a planted area. Two examples are Saladillo Rojo (Caraipa llanorum) or Moriche palms (Mauritia flexuosa).

Congrio happily growing in flood water
12. Flood Resistant: People are often not sure what to do with low lying areas prone to flooding. Lots of tropical trees species will happily grow in very moist or flood conditions. Riparian and inundation forest species can survive in flood conditions for months on end. This means low lying areas can be productive for lumber, fruits or wildlife habitat once planted with appropriate tropical tree species. In the Orinoco River basin species like Congrio (Acosmium nitens), Saladillo Rojo (Caraipa llanorum), Saladillo Blanco (Vochysia lehmanii), Sassafras (Ocotea cymbarum) and many others thrive in very wet or flooded soils.

Wildlife and biodiversity depend on tropical trees
13. Wildlife: Tropical trees expand endangered wildlife habitat, providing food and shelter. This is especially true when native trees are planted, as many fauna species are niche dependent. Tropical trees are an important element in the conservation of biodiversity and the preservation of our natural world. Tropical rain forests are the most bio-diverse land areas on the planet.

14. Fruits and Seeds: Tropical trees bear an astonishing variety of fruits and seeds that feed humans, birds and animals. This variety includes species that do well in wet conditions, dry conditions, and at various elevations, or in conditions where soils are acidic or saline. The trees become an important element in local socio-economic development. A typical example would be Amazona Reforestation, where they plant mango, cashew, tamarind, lemon, merecure, almond and other fruit and nut trees for both human and wildlife use.

15. Water: Planting tropical trees helps hold ground water by preventing runoff and erosion thanks to their root systems. Holding ground water occurs even in places where the soil is porous and where water would otherwise drain away or sink out of sight. Perhaps even more importantly, trees are able to clean contaminated ground and runoff water by removing pollutants, solvents and fuels from the ground water.

Fruits of tropical trees feed humans and wildlife
16. Transpiration: Transpiration is similar to evaporation, but involves the sweating or release of water by plants. Tropical trees actively seed clouds thanks to the transpiration process. The clouds then reflect sunlight away from the Earth, cooling the planet. Transpiration is responsible for climate cycles relied upon by farmers to grow crops, making civilization possible. This is not just a local effect; for instance, the Amazon rain forest determines weather patterns as far north as Texas. Planting tropical trees for transpiration is another element in the struggle against climate change and for a cooler planet.

17. Cooling: Tropical trees cool our planet by 0.7º C per annum thanks to their canopy effect. The more rain forests we cut down, the hotter the planet becomes. This may be among the most important reasons to plant tropical trees.

18. Sap Products: Tropical tree saps supply raw materials for many valuable products, such as the latex from the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) for products ranging from tires to condoms. Tropical tree saps are also used to make syrups, tonics, beers, liquors, sugars and medicines. A large number of tropical trees yield glues and pigments, as well as organic poisons used by indigenous peoples for hunting and fishing.

Flowers of Acacia mangium trees make great honey
19. Honey: Tropical trees have flowers and extra-floral phylode stems that produce nectar for honey production. Some species, like Acacia mangium, can produce as much as 100 kg of honey per hectare of trees per year. This makes planting tropical trees important for local socio-economic development programs.

20. Air: Tropical trees sequester carbon and release oxygen, so that we can all breath. The more trees we plant, the better the air quality. The Orinoco River and the Amazon River basins are considered the green lungs of our planet because of the oxygen they release into the atmosphere.

21. Shade: Tropical trees provide shade for humans, cattle and others in extremely hot climates, like for example the majestic Guanacaste trees (Enterolobium cyclocarpum) of Costa Rica. This type of shade is also important for numerous crops beneficial to humans. Farmers will deliberately plant leguminous tropical trees for shade and nitrogen fixing in permaculture and analog forestry settings, such as Erythrina spp. trees to shield coffee shrubs for better production rates.

Cashew tree seedlings waiting to be planted
22. Other Products: The wood, bark and fruits of many tropical trees provide soaps and detergents, insect repellents and specialty oils like safrole, almond and eucalyptus oils. Some species, like Yopo (Anadenanthera peregrina) have hallucinogenic properties important to indigenous peoples. Yet others produce tannins and dyes used by industry or used in folkloric and artisan manufacture, while yet others provide fibres for ropes and linens.

23. Oil: Some tropical trees are planted because they have oil fruits suitable for human consumption as cooking oils. Yet others are planted because they have oil fruits that are ideal for the production of bio-diesel and other fuels. Jatropha curcas is reputed to yield 1.6 metric tons of oil for bio-diesel per hectare planted, while African oil palms (Elaeis oleifera) may yield over 3 metric tons per hectare per year, making these tropical trees important renewable energy sources.

24. Renewable Energy: Planting many species of tropical trees makes sense, because they are fast growing and offer an excellent renewable energy source. The woods of numerous tropical trees like Acacia mangium and Eucalyptus pellita have high calorific values that boost heat and power production, or that can be used in low-tech applications like charcoal. Tropical trees are also a very important source of bio-diesels for renewable energy purposes.

Merecure tree and fruits feed people and wildlife
25. Development: Tropical trees are an essential element in socio-economic development programs using permaculture or analog forestry practices to assist developing countries to become emerging green economies. It should be stressed that planting tropical trees yields multiple results with just one species. While some tropical trees do indeed seem to grow “slowly”, virtually all tropical trees outperform the growth rates of boreal and temperate zone trees. For instance, the plantation woods planted by Amazonia Reforestation go from seedling to mature harvestable tree in just 10 year’s time, while an equivalent boreal tree would take from between 80 to 120 years to produce similar results as a softwood tree. This amazing diversity means that developing countries can benefit more from planting and maintaining their tropical rain forests and tropical tree plantations, than they ever could from deforestation for subsistence agricultural purposes.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Arbolito the Saladillo children's book

Front Cover of Arbolito the Saladillo
My children's book Arbolito the Saladillo has been published and is now available for purchase on-line in bundles of 10 books each just in time for Christmas gift shopping. Please visit my Arbolito the Saladillo book purchase page. The book is 24 pages long and in full color. It tells the story of Arbolito, a little Saladillo tree growing up on the edge of the inundation forest (riparian forest) in our Reserva Natural La Pedregoza in Vichada, Colombia. Arbolito has a steady stream of exotic animal visitors in both the dry season and the wet season. Very few books tell a story from the point of view of a tree, so children will definitely enjoy this. The book includes a detailed glossary and cast of characters with their scientific names and interesting facts, making Arbolito the Saladillo an educational book as well as a great bed time read.

Back Cover of Arbolito the Saladillo
The foreword was written by Canada and North America's most famous wildlife artist, Robert Bateman. I would like to  express my deep gratitude for Mr. Bateman's well-known support for all things to do with nature, especially the conservation and preservation of endangered wildlife. Needless to say that conservation and preservation of biodiversity depends in large part on maintaining and expanding our forests with afforestation and reforestation programs involving native trees, such as that of Amazonia Reforestation. This is also a great opportunity to mention the support and encouragement I received from our partner organizations and institutional friends, like the renowned Omacha Foundation in Colombia, the Swiss and Belgian NGO Weforest, and the wonderful scientists and researchers at the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.

Every purchase of Arbolito the Saladillo plants trees!
I have saved the best for last. Every purchase of a bundle of 10 Arbolito the Saladillo books allows us to plant up to 100 tropical trees in the Reserva Natural La Pedregoza and at other locations and other natural reserves in the region. The book was published to be both educational and a fund raiser for our natural reserve. So even if you think you don't know that many kids, please buy a bundle of books and donate any extras to your local children's Christmas Gift charity or to a local orphanage. School libraries are also most appreciative of donated children's books. Remember, every purchase puts trees in the ground, so if you believe in the benefits of afforestation and reforestation, then help us to root out the problem of deforestation! And start thinking about coming to visit Arbolito the Saladillo one day...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Investing in Tropical Trees as Renewable Energy

Typical Hardwood Pellets
Some people worry about making an investment in tropical trees, because they can’t predict what economic conditions might be like in 10 year’s time. Fear of another recession or economic slow-down with a consequent possible decline in lumber, building material, pulp or furniture sales has them worried. What they don’t understand is that tropical trees can be a recession-proof investment, because there are so many uses for them. They aren’t thinking about the fact that tropical trees are an excellent source of renewable energy. Power plants need to produce electricity and homes need to be heated in North America and Europe, regardless of economic conditions. Many governments around the world are legislating that power plants use renewable energy sources, at least for a percentage of their fuel requirements. Answering that call are wood pellets, which are almost carbon neutral, cost less than other fuels per heat unit produced, and are a complete renewable energy product. So let’s ignore the fact that demand for tropical hardwoods has consistently exceeded supply since the 1940’s; let us instead focus on tropical trees as a source of renewable energy. To do so we need to know some numbers.

40 lb Wood Pellet Bag
Fast growing tropical trees can reach maturity in just 10 years time, with each harvest immediately followed by replanting. A typical hectare (2.47 acres) of plantation wood at harvest can yield around 500 cubic meters (211,888 board feet) of wood. Depending on the species this can translate into anywhere from 347 to 600 metric tons (382 to 662 US tons) of woody biomass. However, that is only a lumber calculation, as production of wood pellets allows one to use additional biomass such as branches, bark, roots and stumps, easily adding another 25% to the above numbers. The next issue is calorific or BTU value, in other words how much heat does a kilogram of wood produce. There is a great difference between wood types. What is important to note is that the hardwoods growing in a typical tropical tree plantation like Amazonia Reforestation can have high calorific values. For example, Acacia mangium has a calorific value of 4,900 kCal/KG (8,800 BTU/lb), while Eucalyptus pellita has a calorific value of 4,800 kCal/KG (8,640 BTU/lb). That makes these woods not only useful as potential firewood sources, but of great value for the manufacture of wood pellets. Bottom line, managed plantations can produce significant quantities of valuable calorific biomass for renewable energy purposes.

While North American utility companies are often slow to take up alternative energies, European power plants have been implementing wood pellet use as a renewable energy fuel for some time now. In North America wood pellets have seen their greatest use for home, condominium and warehouse heating, with owners installing special wood pellet burning stoves and heaters to get away from the high cost and environmental problems associated with natural gas, LP gas, coal or heating oil. This may be about to change, as North American governments are starting to mandate the use of a percentage of renewable energy sources in power and heat generation plants. In part, this is to get away from the high cost and environmental problems associated with dependence on non-renewable fuels like oil, natural gas and coal. Wood pellets stand out, because they do not require agricultural crops to be turned into bio-diesel or ethanol, at the expense of human food production. Pressure from consumers and governments to convert to renewable energies like wood pellets, geo-thermal, solar and wind sources is likely to grow in the coming years, further increasing the demand for hardwood products. This makes now the perfect time to purchase some tropical trees, as a green investment today will pay off handsomely in the near future.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Eucalyptus pellita: Our Red Mahogany Tree

Eucalyptus pellita exhibits rapid growth!
Eucalyptus pellita is one of the most popular plantation tropical tree species. It has all of the requirements for a commercially successful timber tree, including rapid growth under plantation conditions, straight stems with limited branching and decent wood quality for particular uses and products. Plantation species should also be tolerant of a variety of soils and location conditions, and be resistant to common pests and diseases, requirements Eucalyptus pellita meets readily. Eucalyptus pellita is marketed as red mahogany or large-fruited red mahogany because of its attractive lumber, though it is equally popular as a source tree for the pulp and paper industry. Eucalyptus pellita is tolerant of poor, infertile soils and will grow in sandy or rocky soils, provided they are well drained.

Eucalyptus pellita has distinctive red and green leaves!
A medium height tropical tree, Eucalyptus pellita can grow to be 40 meters or some 130 feet in height, and  measure approximately 1 meter or 40 inches in diameter at breast height in just 10 years time. The pulp and paper industry harvests this tropical tree after just 7 or 8 years, or when it reaches 35 meters or 115 feet in height. Eucalyptus pellita prefers locations ranging from sea level to 800 meters or 2,625 feet above sea level, with mean annual temperatures from 14⁰ to 34⁰ degrees Celsius (57⁰ to 94⁰ degrees Fahrenheit), and annual rainfall ranging from 900 to 4,000 mm (35.5 to 157.5 inches). The trees preferences are readily met at the Amazonia Reforestation and CO2 Tropical Trees plantations, which are on average 60 meters above sea level, with a mean annual temperature of 26⁰ degrees Celsius or some 80⁰ degrees Fahrenheit, and blessed with 2,400 mm (95 inches) of mean annual rainfall.

Eucalyptus pellita trees at the La Pedregoza tropical tree farm.
Extreme size increases are a feature of Eucalyptus pellita, which is known to achieve growth well in excess of 2 meters a year. Some of the trees planted by Amazonia Reforestation have achieved growth in excess of 6 meters in just their first 12 months after transplantation from our tropical tree nursery. Eucalyptus pellita production rates average 40 cubic meters of wood per hectare per annum, though better managed forestry operations can have production rates exceeding 50 or even 60 cubic meters of wood per hectare per annum. This fast growth is of course important not just from a wood investor’s point of view, but also because of the high carbon sequestration it implies, as discussed at the CO2 Tropical Trees web site.

Eucalyptus pellita wood is marketed as red mahogany.
This exotic wood has numerous potential uses. A full description of Eucalyptus pellita is available in PDF  e-book format for free download at the Amazonia Reforestation web site. Like many of our tropical trees, Eucalyptus pellita is a superb money maker for those making a green investment. It can easily earn returns on investment of 340% over 10 years and do something good for the planet at the same time, because of the tree’s carbon sequestration and cloud seeding properties. All of the plantation pictures in this posting are from our La Pedregoza tree farm in Vichada, Colombia.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

How much carbon does a tropical tree sequester? (Part 2)

Woody biomass is 50% carbon in tropical trees
Continuing from Part 1 (previous Post), let me cite some additional studies and methodologies. A Dutch study entitled “Estimation of Tropical Forest Biomass for assessment of Carbon Sequestration using regression models in remote sensing in Berau, East Kalimantan, Indonesia” by Irvin K. Samalca, Alfred de Gier and Yousif Ali Hussin, of the Department of Natural Resources at The International Institute for Geoinformation Science and Earth Observation confirms and shows that 50% plus of a tropical tree’s woody biomass is carbon. That means that fast growing tropical trees like those planted by CO2 Tropical Trees and Amazonia Reforestation, which reach maturity in just 10 years, are excellent carbon storage vessels.

Dexter Dombro observing biomass increase in 11 month old Eucalyptus trees
Let’s calculate this from a different perspective. We know from several studies  that the woody biomass of a tropical tree plantation can increase by at least 35 cubic meters plus (14,382 board feet) per hectare per year. Depending on the hardwood species, one cubic meter (424 board feet) of tropical hard wood can weigh from 600 kg to 1,200 kg (1,322 lbs to 2,645 lbs). Assuming 1 hectare of trees with a gain of 35 cubic meters of wood times a conservative average of 750 kg (1,653 lbs) per cubic meter, and you get 26,250 kg (57,871 lbs) per hectare per year. If at least half of that woody biomass is carbon, then one gets 13,125 kg (28,935 lbs) of carbon. Divide 13,125 kg of carbon by an average of 600 mature plantation trees (after culls) and one gets 22.6 kg (50 lbs) per tree, the number used by CO2 Tropical Trees.

View of natural tropical forest canopy absorbing carbon
Why conservative? There is ample scientific support for much higher carbon sequestration rates by tropical trees. For example, Reforest the Tropics is an applied research program in Costa Rica demonstrating climate change mitigation through sustainable farm forestry. Using a 40 year base line they suggest that a natural tropical forest can sequester between 100 US tons to 160 US tons of carbon per acre (90.7 metric tons to 145 metric tons). This translates into 224 metric tons to 356 metric tons per hectare stored in a natural tropical forest over 40 years. Their research also suggests that a managed plantation of tropical trees will store as much as 800 US tons of CO2 per acre (725 metric tons). That translates into 1,792 metric tons per hectare. If one were to take 1,792,000 kg and divide by 40 years and then divide again by 1,250 tropical trees planted per hectare one would get 35.85 kg (79 lbs) per tree per year.

CO2 Tropical Trees bumber stickers are on cars all over the world!
CO2 Tropical Trees is actually relying on the most conservative estimates of carbon sequestration for its carbon neutral program. They are not alone in relying on those numbers. For example, Carbonify has a carbon calculator that is based on 22.6 kg or 50 lbs of carbon per tropical tree per year. Another example is the article by James Post, citing a 2005 study in Wikipedia that uses 22.6 kg or 50 lbs of carbon sequestration per tropical tree per year for the purpose of calculating carbon offsets. In conclusion all I can say is that every time someone funds the planting of a tropical tree with CO2 Tropical Trees or with Amazonia Reforestation, the very least they can expect from that tree is 22.6 kg or 50 lbs of carbon sequestered per year from our atmosphere. Given these facts and numbers people and institutions really don’t have any more excuses for not funding tree planting as an obvious partial solution to climate change.

How much carbon does a tropical tree sequester? (Part 1)

Dexter Dombro at experimental native tree plantation
Some people have asked me what evidence there is to support the claim by CO2 Tropical Trees that the average tropical tree will sequester 22.6 kg or 50 lbs of carbon per year. First off, let me stress that this is affected by location, soil type, rainfall and species. Having said that, most tropical trees located within 15 degrees northern and southern latitude of the equator do indeed sequester significant amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, something that is supported by numerous studies and ongoing research. In this 2-part article I will offer some calculations in support of the efficiency of tropical plantation trees as a method of carbon sequestration. I will base my calculations on industry standard hectares (an area measuring 100 meters by 100 meters, or 2.47 acres) with 1,250 trees planted per hectare, later culled back to 600 trees per hectare.

Dexter Dombro with 11 month old tropical tree plantation
In an article entitled “Carbon sequestration in tropical agroforestry systems”, Alain Albrecht and Serigne T. Kandji of the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement found that the carbon sequestration potential of tropical agroforestry systems produced a median sequestration value of 95 metric tons (104 US tons) per hectare per year. Taking into account the variables of location, soil type, rainfall and species it can be as high as 228 metric tons (251 US tons) per hectare. Assuming a median of 95,000 kg divided by 1,250 trees per hectare one would get 76 kg (167 lbs) per tree. In a managed plantation trees are often culled back to about 600 trees per hectare, which would result in 158 kg (348 lbs) per tree per year. These numbers support the cubic meter increase of woody biomass observed in growing locations with excellent conditions. Please note that managed plantations generally produce 20 to 30 times more wood than do natural forests, resulting in higher carbon sequestration rates per hectare.

Natural tropical forest is less dense than plantation forests
Studies cited in Science Daily show that natural African tropical forests absorb about 600 kg (1,323 lbs) of carbon per hectare per year. If you take 600 kg by 25 times more wood per hectare in a plantation setting, you get 15,000 kg (33,000 lbs) per hectare per year divided by 600 plantation trees per hectare, which results in 25 kg (55 lbs) of carbon sequestered per tree per year. I should also mention that one of the species CO2 Tropical Trees plants is Acacia mangium, a recognized nitrogen-fixing tree (NFT). Studies like “Greater Soil Carbon Sequestration under Nitrogen-fixing Trees Compared with Eucalyptus Species” published by Ecosystems, a Springer publication, show that NFT’s sequester more carbon in the soil than do other types of tropical trees.

Dilmun Dombro admiring rapid growth of 2 year old Acacia mangium
One problem in the literature is the vastly varying time-lines on which research has been based. Both Amazonia Reforestation and CO2 Tropical Trees rely on a 10 year cycle from seed to mature tree for all of their calculations. This fact further enhances their credibility on the issue, because in the study “Carbon sequestration through afforestation: Role of tropical industrial plantations” their methodology of using a 10 year cycle to maximize woody biomass growth and carbon sequestration is supported. The article confirms that once tropical trees reach maturity their effectiveness for carbon sequestration purposes declines. That means that using a 10 year cycle maximizes the carbon sequestration efficiency of their tropical tree plantations. This analysis of studies and methodologies will continue in Part 2 of this article (next Post).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Deforestation Helps to Drive Up Wood Prices

Deforestation in Kerala, India
Earth’s forests are being cleared on a massive scale, making deforestation one of the prime environmental issues of our time. Rain forests once grew over fourteen (14%) percent of the planet’s land mass. Satellite imagery shows that they now cover a mere six (6%) percent. Throwing the soft wood boreal forests of Russia, Scandinavia and Canada into the mix, forests still cover some thirty (30%) percent of the Earth’s land area. However, deforestation on a planetary scale means that an area the size of Panama, Maine or South Carolina is cut down every year. The world’s rain forests could completely vanish in a hundred years at the current rate of deforestation. At present, annual afforestation and reforestation efforts account for barely ten (10%) percent of what is being cut down every year. To add insult to injury, deforestation is a leading cause of climate change, global warming, soil erosion and landslides. Seventy (70%) percent of Earth’s land animals and plants live in forests, and many cannot survive the deforestation that destroys their habitat.

Rain Forest Deforestation in Mexico
Deforestation is driving climate change. Normal forest soil is moist, but once trees are cut the soil quickly dries out. This is why NGO’s like Weforest stress the importance of cloud seeding by forests. Trees help to perpetuate the water cycle by extracting ground water through their roots and then sending the water as vapour back into the atmosphere. When a forest is removed the trees no longer evaporate away the water, resulting in a much drier climate. Deforestation has a direct impact on groundwater, the water content of soil and atmospheric moisture. Without trees, areas that were once forested may quickly become barren deserts, because the tree canopy blocks the sun’s rays during the day and holds the heat at night. Once trees are removed, extreme temperature swings occur that are harmful to humans, plants and animals. Needless to say tropical trees play a critical role in carbon sequestration, absorbing the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Deforestation means more CO2 gets stuck in the atmosphere, raising global temperatures and causing damaging climate change at a more rapid rate. CO2 Tropical Trees is planting trees to fight that type of climate change.

Afforestation in Vichada, Colombia
According to the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agriculture is a primary cause of deforestation. UNFCCC estimates that subsistence farming is responsible for forty-eight (48%) percent of deforestation, commercial agriculture for another thirty-two (32%) percent of deforestation, trailed by commercial logging at fourteen (14%) percent and fuel wood harvesting at five (5%) percent of global deforestation. One might think that all of this deforestation should make hardwood prices cheap, but the reality is that more and more governments are restricting legal cutting and protecting more and more areas of old growth forest and biodiversity. This means that plantation trees are becoming an increasingly important way of meeting world demand for lumber, as well as a vital link in the fight against climate change. This makes a lot of sense when one considers that natural forests yield only 1 to 2 cubic meters of wood per hectare, while managed plantations yield at least 10 cubic meters of lumber per hectare. The bottom line is that those with a “green investment” in tropical trees are going to do exceedingly well, as natural sources of lumber continue to decline. Amazonia Reforestation is the best place to make that green investment.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Carbon Offsets and Tropical Trees

Smoke Stacks emit Carbon Dioxide
The issue of carbon offsets is very important in Europe, and slowly gaining ground in North America. In May of 2010 the public market for carbon offsets was around €16 Euros ($20 USD) per metric ton (2,204 lbs). I am going to show in this article why planting tropical trees is a much more cost effective method of carbon sequestration for a company or business seeking to offset its emissions, than is the purchase of carbon offsets in the public market. For that purpose I am going to use a hypothetical ABC Company that needs to purchase 10,000 metric tons (10,000,000 KG or 22,046,226 lbs) of carbon offsets every year to balance its emissions.

Acacia mangium plantation
The average fast growing tropical tree, like Acacia mangium or Eucalyptus pellita, sequesters 22.6 KG or 50 lbs of carbon per year. That means that one would have to plant 442,478 tropical trees to balance 10,000 metric tons of emissions every year. In order to account for any losses of trees planted to disease, pests, drought or fire, I am going to round up that number to 500,000 tropical trees, providing an ample safety margin for ABC Company’s carbon offset requirements. The cost of planting and maintaining each tropical tree for carbon sequestration purposes for a period of 10 years is approximately €1 Euro per tree ($1.27 USD in May 2010). That means that ABC Company would have to spend €500,000 Euros or $635,000 USD to plant sufficient tropical trees to offset 10,000 metric tons of emissions for a 10 year period.

Eucalyptus pellita plantation
The reason for the 10 years is simply that the average tropical tree is most effective at carbon sequestration in the first 10 years of its life, after which its effectiveness declines. That is why organizations like CO2 Tropical Trees work and calculate how they balance emissions on the basis of a 10 year cycle. ABC Company may have one other additional expense of approximately $30,000 USD or €23,630 Euros to obtain carbon certification of the trees planted, should it require the same for legal, political or tax reasons. Needless to say, planting tropical trees in the Orinoco or Amazon basins of South America provides ABC Company with excellent public relations and advertising value as well, given ther increased consumer demand for “green” business conduct.

Fan palms in the rain forest
Now let’s compare these numbers to the cost of purchasing carbon offsets from the public markets. At €16 Euros per metric ton, ABC Company would have to spend €160,000 Euros every year for 10 years to offset its carbon emissions, or a total of €1,600,000 Euros ($2,032,000 USD). That is an amount that is more than 3 times higher than the cost of planting tropical trees to offset its emissions. This means that funding the planting of tropical trees is not only more cost effective than purchasing carbon offsets in the public markets, it is also better for the environment, as trees seed clouds, expand wildlife habitat, and have a significant impact on socio-economic conditions in developing countries like Colombia, Venezuela or Brazil. Tropical trees also remove a number of pollutants other than carbon from the atmosphere, and depending on the species used can greatly enhance soil fertility for permaculture activities. Organizations like CO2 Tropical Trees and Amazonia Reforestation, when planting for carbon sequestration purposes, also plant native tree species, whose conservation enhances global biodiversity.

Wildlife like capybaras benefit from trees
Dexter B. Dombro, B.A., LL.B., is a former lawyer who is actively engaged in afforestation and reforestation projects in the Orinoco river basin of Colombia in South America. His web sites include for carbon sequestration and, while his blog on investing in tropical trees can be found at  The plantations Dexter works with are also associated with the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, and the Swiss-based NGO Weforest.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Palm Oil - Lucrative Environmental Disaster

I thought it would be a good idea to discuss the oil palm as part of this blog. There are 2 species of oil palm  commonly cultivated. The more prevalent one is the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), though there is also an oil palm native to Central and South America (Elaeis oleifera). Mature trees can be as much as 20 meters or 65 feet tall, with pinnate leaves. Young trees produce about 30 leaves a year, while mature trees over 10 years of age produce about 20 leaves a year. Oil palms can be productive for up to 40 years, bearing fruit just 3 or 4 years after planting. Palm fruits take about 5 months from pollination to maturity. The tree can flower year round regardless of season. Since oil palms are very lucrative their cultivation has become an environmental as well as a socio-economic development issue in many parts of the world.

 A high producing plantation can have up to 30 tons of fruit per hectare per year (1 hectare is about 2.47 acres). On average 1 hectare of oil palms can produce 7,250 liters or 1,915 gallons of palm oil per hectare per year. Palm fruits are usually purplish, the size of a plum and clustered in big bunches that weigh between 40 to 50 KG (88 to 110 lbs) each. Each fruit contains a single seed or kernel which is surrounded by an oily fruit pulp. Edible palm oil is extracted from the fruit pulp, while palm kernel oil is extracted from the kernel for use in both foods and soaps. 100 KG of oil palm fruits will yield 22 KG or 48.5 lbs of palm oil and 1.6 KG or 3.5 lbs of palm kernel oil. It takes about 600 hectares of oil palms to support 1 oil palm mill.

Palm oil is widely used in cooking in Asia and Africa and is gaining access to other world markets due to its  lower pricing. It is popular because of the refined oils high oxidative stability and high levels of natural antioxidants. It contains more saturated fats than other competing oils like canola, sunflower or soybean, making it an excellent choice for deep frying. Other by-products include palm fronds for roofing and kernel meal used as livestock feed. Worldwide annual palm oil production is around 40 million metric tons (44 million US or imperial tons), with the vast majority of production occurring in Malaysia and Indonesia. Palm oils are the most widely produced tropical oil, and account for almost one-third of the world’s edible oil production.

 However, oil palm production faces severe criticism in many quarters. The worst aspect is biodiversity loss, as countries like Malaysia have seen fit to cut down their rain forest to maximize oil palm acreage and production. Governments justify this on the basis that oil palms create significant socio-economic development and provide a lot of employment. One oil palm farmer in Costa Rica told me that their incomes went from $150 a month to $2,000 a month thanks to oil palms. Unfortunately many governments have failed to regulate when and where oil palm plantations can be planted, or have failed to enforce environmental laws, because of perceived socio-economic benefits. The arguments have become even more virulent in recent years, as oil palms have proven themselves to be an excellent source of bio-fuels, causing food versus fuel debates, as acreage is used to feed refineries instead of humans.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Making Money with Rubber Trees

Tapping a Rubber Tree
The world consumes in excess of 18 million tons of rubber annually. Rubber is either natural or synthetic. Natural rubber provides nearly half of the world rubber market. Natural rubber is produced from rubber trees, grown in tropical areas by over 30 million small landowners and farmers, making it an important source of employment and socio-economic development. In contrast, synthetic rubbers all have one problem in common: they depend on the price of crude oil and are a petro-chemical industry product. The Pará rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) is originally native to the Amazon basin, but grows well in a variety of tropical climates. Amazonia Reforestation is planting rubber in the Orinoco basin of Vichada, Colombia. Rubber tree latex production starts within 5 to 6 years of planting.

Rubber Tree Plantation
As the standard of living improves around the globe, the price of rubber has been rising. There is increasing demand for rubber products, with 70% of natural rubber being used in automotive and motorcycle tires. Items like medical gloves, tubing and hoses, condoms and mats are other typical examples of other everyday rubber products. Just like wood, rubber plantations face the same pressures from urbanization, high land costs and short term demand for other commodities that are sometimes planted instead of rubber. Reflecting the world’s increased demand for latex, it is interesting to note that China has reduced its import tariffs on natural rubber, confirming China’s intention of becoming more aggressive in the global automotive industry.

Rubberwood or Parawood
Natural rubber is unique in that it is produced as an agricultural product but consumed as an industrial raw material. This has prompted some producing countries, like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, to set up a rubber cartel, much like OPEC for crude oil, to try and control natural rubber sales and withhold stocks in order to maintain price levels. Vietnam, which has doubled its production in the last 10 years, may join. This opens up considerable opportunity for plantations outside of those countries to benefit from relatively high prices and growing demand. Amazonia Reforestation also benefits from parawood or rubberwood having a verified international market for the manufacture of furniture. It is a hardwood with a dense grain, attractive color that accepts a variety of finishes, and is subject to only minimal shrinkage. Rubber wood is considered "environmentally friendly", because latex production causes the tree to sequester a lot of carbon, while productive use of the tree’s wood can be made at the end of its latex-producing years.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Permaculture Design in Tropical Forestry

The socio-economic benefits of tropical tree plantations can be greatly enhanced by including a permaculture design in the process. Permaculture means permanent agriculture, a system in which food is raised for human and animal consumption in a bio-diverse framework. Since tropical afforestation and reforestation usually includes soil reclamation, it can lend itself to an integrated permaculture design. The idea is to include vegetable, root and herb plants with farm animals for manure, all placed in strategic locations with fruit trees and shade trees, possibly using recycled water, and with each element within the design performing several functions. At the end of the day, the goal is to use the least amount of space for the largest amount of food production with the lowest possible labour requirements. Low maintenance, but high productivity, is the buzzword!

There are 3 significant philosophical objectives that underpin permaculture design. The first is environmental  and ecological. Look after the Earth by implementing biodiversity in the design, while restoring or reclaiming damaged land, so that the impact is one of conservation coupled with an ethical use of resources. The second is to create a design that can look after a large number of people within the system. This is what we mean by socio-economic benefits, as people can meet their basic needs and generate some income, all within a sustainable development framework. The final and third objective is to perfect one’s environmental and people permaculture design, so that one can start to reach out and help others to achieve their goals with the least impact and in a sustainable manner.

It should come as no surprise that permaculture design tries to copy natural eco-systems. Natural eco-systems are usually bio-diverse, recycle, and do not depend on man-made chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and hormones for success. Good permaculture may include micro-climates within the overall design, such as using the heat reflected off a wall for areas that need warmth, or using shade trees for areas that perform best with less sunlight. Trees can act as windbreaks or firebreaks. Composting reduces the need for external additions to one’s food production. The bottom line is that no two permaculture designs are alike, as each is based on local conditions, preferences and human requirements. Amazonia Reforestation is happy to be associated with Weforest for the purpose of developing good permaculture designs within their afforestation and reforestation areas.