Voices of Forestry is a series which presents analysis and insight from people working all across the forestry sector. This issue, offering his own take on the global forestry industry, its shortcomings and how they can be overcome is Stanley Hirsch, CEO of FuturaGene, a subsidiary of Suzano Pulp and Paper of Brazil.

THE forestry industry is under growing pressure to increase production. However, simply continuing to expand plantations is not an option in a world where we need to preserve natural forests, biodiversity and prioritise land use for food production. We need to find ways of producing more using less land and other natural resources. There is also a moral imperative to ensure we share the value of this increased productivity: innovations for sustainable intensification in forestry must be enabled within frameworks that consider social and environmental as well as commercial factors, to ensure value is shared where it is needed most. 

The world faces huge challenges as we seek solutions to the multiple systemic threats of climate change and resource scarcity, a rapidly increasing and urbanising population that needs to be fed and housed, and an urgent need to move away from our over-reliance on fossil fuels. 

READ MORE: Voices of Forestry: FLS apprentice and ALBAS winner Rachel Orchard on the industry

For humanity to address these growing challenges and deliver the scale of action required over the next two decades, we need transformative solutions. In this context, biomass and the bioeconomy will become increasingly important, to displace fossil fuels and carbon-intensive resources with more renewable, degradable and recyclable alternatives.

The forestry industry is already seeing the impact of this, with demand for paper and pulp products growing significantly and global wood demand projected to increase three-fold to 10 billion m3 by 2050, far exceeding the productivity of present-day natural forests and forest plantations.

This creates huge challenges for forestry. In particular, we must determine how to intensify forestry management practices while reinforcing and amplifying social and environmental shared value and resilience. We need to grow improved trees (e.g. productivity, wood quality, pest and disease resilience) on less land, without deforestation or compromising land needed for increased food production and biodiversity conservation. 

The forestry community was quick to realise the relevance of sustainable intensification in addressing the multiple challenges it faces. International forums have established interconnected dialogues on the topic. For example, the Forests Dialogue and the New Generation Plantations Platform of WWF have discussed this concept. They examined the rational use of natural resources as a way to increase production to meet demands while still respecting environmental and social values. The International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) is reinforcing the debate by establishing task forces and events worldwide. The UN FAO has introduced the idea of sustainable intensification in the context of family farmers – the pressing need for them to have access to innovation and markets, and the need for ‘innovation systems’ to guide and drive the uptake and dissemination of innovation. 

Forestry Journal:

Sustainable intensification can bring many benefits to local communities and small farm holders, primarily by sharing technology advances throughout the supply chain.

Numerous examples have shown that where sustainable considerations are weaved into operations throughout the supply chain, all parties can be winners. Small landowners benefit from improved yields and quality, ensuring better income and living standards; larger producers benefit from improved quality and security of supply, using less land to produce the quantities of wood they require.

However, given the scale and urgency of the challenges the world is facing, we now need to take a giant leap forward. At Suzano, we believe that scientific and technological innovation will play a vital part in helping us achieve this. Our innovation programme is actively researching new ways of sustainably intensifying forestry. Through our subsidiary, FuturaGene, we are exploring biotechnology, including genetic modification (GM), new breeding technologies and genomics.

GM technology has enormous potential to reduce land use, addressing deforestation while also enabling the increased use of renewable materials to replace fossil fuel derivatives, thanks to higher yields and/or the better quality of the biomass produced. It can also help develop trees which are better adapted to new threats caused directly or indirectly by climate change, as well as trees which may play a part in climate change alleviation. 

But all this innovation will only reach its full potential when it is developed and deployed within a framework of mutually supportive social and environmental commitments alongside legal and voluntary safeguards. To achieve this, we need to shift the global dialogue away from a narrow focus on risk and safety to a wider governance framework.

We must ensure the social, environmental and economic value from innovation is shared with all those involved, and where it is needed most.

READ MORE: Voices of Forestry: Retired Forestry Commission advisor John Weir on UK's tree planting

At Suzano we are already committed to sharing the value of our innovation programme with our wider stakeholders. We have recently published a comprehensive policy that provides an ethical framework for the governance of our biotechnology programme. We currently share our best technologies, including our commercial clones, with our outgrowers, including smallholders, free of charge, and would apply this to sharing GM materials. We are also committed to sharing our biotechnologies free of charge with public-sector research institutes working to improve subsistence crops for food security or developing strategies for safeguarding forest health. This approach is already providing tangible benefits for crop improvement for developing countries. This is integral to both our sustainability and innovation strategies. 

We believe that ultimately, as an industry, we need to aim for solutions which balance the needs of people and the planet using a governance framework that not only supports the interests of forestry companies but protects the interests of society and the natural world as well.