The need to act to slow down global warming has led many companies in the industrial and agricultural sectors to set up communication strategies on their involvement in this fight. This is even the case of the oil group Total, a large importer of palm oil to produce fuel, which is hardly ecological. To contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the “Timber Sector Strategy Committee” in France wants to be more coherent in the recent presentation of its “Timber ambition 2030 plan”.
In this ten-point plan, it is a question of “better training professionals in the timber industry from upstream to downstream”; to “develop employment” to “produce added value”; to “promote investments linked to the development of first and second processing plants towards mixed products, combining wood with other materials, in order to meet market requirements in terms of volumes”; to “promote the construction of low-carbon housing with priority given to French wood”; to “develop benchmark industrial players and processing capacities in the heart of French territories”; to “maintain a constant effort to guarantee the renewal of the French forest”. That sounds positive. “We are committed to investing in biomass plants and optimizing the use of end-of-life wood products”, finally reads the tenth point of this charter of commitments.
France exports logs and imports furniture
For a long time France has exported a lot of logs to countries with low labor costs, including China, to then import finished products, including a lot of furniture! There are therefore still changes to be made in order to achieve the objectives set by the “Timber Sector Strategy Committee”. For as long as the successive governments of our country have demanded from the National Forestry Office (ONF), in charge of public forest management, that it be self-financing through the sale of wood from state forests, which does not t is the best way to manage the resource over the long term.
For several years, we have also observed a constantly increasing mortality rate in the forest areas of metropolitan France. With global warming and the successive summer droughts, as in 2019 and 2020, forests are suffering and losing their leaves from mid-summer in many of our regions. In the public forest alone, this decline is now estimated to affect some 300,000 hectares and this trend will increase in the coming decades.
When the lack of water kills the trees
In mainland France, public and private forests today cover a total of 16.9 million hectares, or around 30% of the territory. But hardwoods like oak and beech have retreated in recent years in favor of faster-growing conifers with higher planting densities. In addition to the consequences of successive droughts which scorch the forest in midsummer, these conifers are also victims of small beetles called “bark beetles”. These insects dig galleries under the bark of trees and thus destroy the sap-conducting tissues.
As a result, it is often necessary to cut down large quantities of trees before they are too damaged in order to make timber. As a result, a supply greater than market demand often results in a significant drop in the price of timber. In 2019, in the Jura public forest, the price per cubic meter of standing softwood lumber fell to € 20 instead of € 60 to € 70 in previous years.
Given the fact that the current global warming will continue despite the promises of France and Europe on carbon neutrality by 2050, replant forests with the same fast-growing species with a high density of logs per hectare will not be a relevant strategy in most of our regions over the next few years. In a country like France, it is better to favor agroforestry, a technique that consists of planting rows of trees in meadows and cultivated fields at a rate of about fifty trunks per hectare (1).
The above-ground projects of the European Commission
The National Institute for Agronomic and Environmental Research (INRAE) has tested agroforestry for a quarter of a century in the Hérault department and draws positive conclusions. The low density of plantation does not put the trees in competition with each other to collect in depth the water needs of each one. What is more, in a cultivated field, they recover the residues of nitrogenous fertilizers which have not been assimilated by the culture on the ground whether it is wheat, sugar beet or sunflower, which reduces the nitrate content of water migrating to groundwater. In grazed meadows, the shade of trees is appreciated by herbivores, starting with the very numerous cattle in France.
In view of the advantages that can be expected from agroforestry in the 21st century in all member countries of the European Union, setting up a system of aid for plantations would be relevant within the framework of the new reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) debated by the Agriculture Ministers of the 27 at the start of 2021. But nothing of the kind is foreseen by the college of commissioners above ground which sits in Brussels. Of course, they have published two texts which they are submitting for discussion to the member countries of the Union and whose orientation we have already analyzed. But it is not by increasing the number of free trade agreements with third countries that we will reduce the distance “from farm to table”, to use the title of the second Commission text.
On the subject of agroforestry, see chapter XI of Gérard Le Puill’s latest book “Remembering 2020 to act against hunger” published in November 2020 by Editions du Croquant, 220 pages, € 12