Thursday, 2 June 2011

Into the woods - some thoughts on reforestation

I was all ready to tear into the nonsense that is Oxfam's "Growing a Better Future" - how these organisations get to the point of presented half-truths, inaccurate analyses and daft solutions I'll never understand. However the point was made very clearly here:

This is much less a report about the iniquities of the international food system and the perils of climate change than it is a report about what happens to food prices as we abolish absolute poverty and destitution.

More people with more money means higher food prices - simple really!

So I'm going to talk about wood instead - after all wood is very important. Across most of the world it is the dominant source of fuel for heating and cooking - indeed this is one of the reasons why we've seen so much deforestation in Africa:

Developing countries rely heavily on wood fuel, the major energy source for cooking and heating. In Africa, the statistics are striking: an estimated 90 percent of the entire continent's population uses fuelwood for cooking, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, firewood and brush supply approximately 52 percent of all energy sources.

And you've guessed it - that fuelwood gathering doesn't rely on "sustainable" sources. Moreover, the clearance of forests is further accelerated by the persistence of low labour productivity farming - the very farming systems preferred by Oxfam and the ludicrous proponents of "fair trade".

England's woods of oak and birch were destroyed for much the same reason - to provide fuel, to build houses (and famously ships) and to make room for agriculture. System shocks like Dutch Elm disease added to the decline and the poisoned landscapes - like the face of the moon as the song goes - of mining destroyed still more old woodland. Strangely enough - although you'd not believe this to hear the NIMBYs cry sometimes - not much of our woodland was felled to make room for houses.

And woods recover - forest cover is now at its largest extent since 1750:

The amount of woodland in the UK now stands at 11,200 square miles, 11.8 per cent of the total land area. The growth, attributed in part to a boom in individuals branching out into forestry because of tax breaks, was greeted with cautious optimism by woodland historians. So much new forest is being planted that some areas could even reach the 15 per cent of woodland recorded in England by the Doomsday Book in 1086, the figures suggest. 

And much of the growth in woodland is private planting - nothing to do with all that public forest so many people fussed about recently:

The new Forestry Commission report, conducted for the UN’s food and agriculture department, disclosed that the amount of woodland owned by individuals now accounts for almost half of all our tree cover, having grown by 22 per cent in 15 years.
In an advanced society, free from the need to burn wood and no longer trapped in subsistence or semi-subsistence agriculture, woods are an asset that it treasured, managed and valued. Perhaps there's a lesson in this for the Oxfam's of this world - but don't hold you breath!

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