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Clear and Fertilize, a programme providing support for forest production and management

Active and professional forest management pays off. CELPA is working in partnership with producers, forestry service providers and with the timber industry to implement a programme covering almost 250,000 acres (100,000 hectares). The result will be an increase in timber production within that area but with a lower fire risk.

The Clear and Fertilize programme, promoted by the Paper Industry Association (CELPA), forms part of the Better Eucalyptus project. António Macedo, who is in charge of implementing the programme, is a man whose life and work are connected with the forest. He worked as a forest engineer at Soporcel for 18 years (1985-2002), where he headed up the Forest Management Planning Office. From 2002 to 2005 he was the director-general of Forestry (DGF and DGRF) and the director of the Biomass and Energy Centre [Centro de Biomassa e Energia (CBE)]. From 2005 he worked as a consultant at several companies in the forestry sector, and after 2009 took on the Administration of Metacortex. In February of 2013 he was elected chairman of the Engineering Association’s Forest Engineering College. He has worked with CELPA since January 2017, when he was invited to join and coordinate a more operational dimension of CELPA’s Better Eucalyptus programme, in order to extend the outreach of its technical support structure to private individuals.

António Macedo explains the Clear and Fertilize initiative and the reasons why it was created. “The hangover after the forest fires of 2017 led to apathy, a total lack of interest and a withdrawal of investment by many forest owners and producers. Furthermore, forest reform was passed that penalised and discredited the eucalyptus tree”. He tells us how those who work on the ground know that many people lost their enthusiasm for working the forest. They now prefer to hand over or sell their land. A hefty proportion of owners were already failing to comply with minimal forest management standards and good practices, and following 2017 this situation only worsened.

Portuguese industry lacks timber

The lack of timber is a problem, and the increased and perceived risk by owners associated with investing in forestry is not helping. It’s a worrying situation for CELPA and for the industry. A plot which should hold 100 trees is only holding 50, even on fertile ground, as a result of the forest being neglected and good practices not being applied on the ground.

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Simple procedures with no red tape, which respect owners’ autonomy

As well as the devastation of eucalyptus forests caused by the 2017 fires, there are also pests and diseases which affect productivity. António Macedo coordinates an Iberia-wide plan of action to fight and control the eucalyptus weevil (Gonipterus platensis), which also affects eucalyptus tree productivity. If we add to these factors the legal limitations and restrictions on planting, we end up with a scenario where there is a highly problematic imbalance between timber production and consumption.

Goals of the Clear and Fertilize programme

1. Reduce the risk of forest fire and pests, increasing the eucalyptus forest’s resistance and resilience by controlling vegetation and selecting saplings.
2. Increasing productivity of privately-owned eucalyptus, by encouraging forest management using good practices, but also by promoting investment with a view to achieving greater profitability.
3. Improving relations with stakeholders and ensuring better public opinion, by cultivating a better image for the tree species.
4. Promoting forest management and certification with owners and the organisations which represent them.

Promoting forest management by owners

An owner of a forest mini-holding with a small plot of land generally does nothing to improve it. Some of the rationale behind this outlook is: “If I’m lucky I may just get by – I didn’t invest anything but I still managed to make some money; however, if there’s a fire I won’t have lost much because I didn’t spend anything.”  In order to fight against this inertia and lack of interest, the industry decided to support the sector in promoting good practices and increasing forest owners’ productivity. It was against this background that the Better Eucalyptus project arose in 2015. It was important to understand the best way to convey knowledge to owners. An information website was created, and 15 excellent videos produced detailing best forestry practices and different operations. Sessions were held up and down the country. It was a worthy effort but it needed to go further, with forest management operations actually implemented, together with owners employing good practices from a more operational standpoint. As António Macedo says, “Anyone can pay lip service, but it’s more difficult to actually do what needs to be done. Talk is cheap”.

Models of cooperation with forestry management bodies were tested on the ground throughout 2017. Pilot projects were trialled, with the prior knowledge that these experiments may not be a total success but would indicate the path that needed to be taken and the best way to support forest owners. The projects were carried out in the region of mini-holdings in Cantanhede, where half the district’s plots of land averaged about two and a half acres (one hectare). This can be transposed to this entire region. The pilot project was assisted by an association of forest producers.

The second pilot project was held in the area of Abrantes with Sociedade Gestiverde, which manages a Forest Intervention Zone [Zona de Intervenção Florestal (ZIF)], and which knows the area of intervention, the land and the owners.

António Macedo acknowledges that not many signed up to this initiative, partly owing to the kind of measures proposed and to the contractual requirements. On top of this, there were the fires of 2017, which laid waste to two thirds of the ZIF in Abrantes and all of Cantanhede.

Focusing on a model of proximity

The aim was to learn from past mistakes in encouraging proximity and building closer ties with forest producers and owners, based on the Growth Sul programme which aimed to increase productivity and resilience to fire. The initiative came to CELPA’s attention. The process was a simple one: owners had to invest to control vegetation, and adjust densities and fuel management, and in return they would receive investment to fertilize their cleared land.

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As well decreasing the fire risk, the programme also allows productivity to be increased

The initiative, which was implemented at the start of 2018 in the districts of Monchique, Odemira and Aljezur, was welcomed by owners, with 104 of them signing up and an area of intervention of almost 2,500 acres (1,002 hectares). Three service providers also joined up to help implement the Growth Sul programme. The way in which the model was received was the spark that ignited CELPA’s desire to roll it out to other areas. “We liked the concept. We understood that we needed to test this model on mini-holdings, starting with pilot projects in the districts of Cantanhede, Anadia and Águeda.”

In addition, they understood that they couldn’t just involve forest producer associations, and would have to extend their remit to include timber suppliers and service providers. António tells us “These bodies are able to reach many smaller owners and can help in growing the network of partners involved”, and emphasises that “where there’s business to be done, the emphasis is different, and there is a different impetus”.

Eligibility criteria of eucalyptus areas


• Pure eucalyptus population;
• Area suitable for eucalyptus;
• Population age range from 2 to 6 years, preferably until the 3rd rotation;
• Densities of populations (>800 living stumps);
• Areas with no environmental restraints, particularly on fertilization;
• Areas of over 0.6 acres (0.25 hectares) per plot;
• Priority and upscaling of forest certification;
• Owner’s commitment to clearing land and selecting saplings,
in accordance with the technical recommendation of the Better Eucalyptus Project.

Over four weeks, with four partners taking part (loggers, service providers and forest producer associations) almost 500 acres (over 200 hectares) were identified as being suitable for hosting the programme. Work was carried out on 370 acres (150 hectares), corresponding to 48 plots of land on the spot, the smallest of which was one acre. The owners cleared their land, and in return were offered fertilizer and its application. António Macedo says that “Everyone was happy”.

According to CELPA, the model adopted was a hit. It demonstrated that it could be replicated on a larger scale and that the Clear and Fertilize initiative was good at stimulating action in areas of mini-holdings. António Macedo explains what, in his view, led to this initiative being successful and highly-regarded by those who signed up to the programme.

“If ground is cleared in accordance with technical recommendations the fire risk is decreased by reducing the fuel load. This doesn’t mean that that plot of land can’t be swept by a forest fire, but the risk is lowered. Even if that area does burn, it is more resilient. It still burns, but its recovery is much faster.”

As well decreasing the fire risk, the programme also allows productivity to be increased. This could be the driving force to guarantee that this initiative remains in operation for a long time. In the near future, if the results of the programme are positive, and the timber imports are able to be reduced, CELPA’s goal is to channel a part of that sum towards continuing with the initiative. Indeed, with the restrictions on increasing new areas of eucalyptus, the challenge is to increase productivity. Macedo assures us that “There is great scope for improvement in existing eucalyptus forests”, and he cites the example of what happened during five consecutive years in a network of permanent plots which were subject to on-the-ground visits. 64% of those plots showed no signs whatsoever of management having been carried out. This demonstrates how the forest is neglected and explains low productivity.

Simple to sign up

Forest management pays off, and this programme helps to promote it. António Macedo believes that the two main aspects of Clear and Fertilize are “there being no commitment to selling the timber, and a removal of red tape in signing up for the programme, with no contractual documentation, which greatly simplified the signing up process”.

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The programme is only implemented in areas which are purely eucalyptus rather than a mixture of trees, and on land which is average to very good for eucalyptus cultivation

Further to these two points, there is also the forest agents’ positive reaction towards the advantages and benefits of “business” taking place, either for the loggers, owners, forest producer associations and service providers, of appropriate interventions being carried out, of case-specific good practices being implemented on each property, and finally, of setting up a partnership for resuming forest management.

The result of the pilot projects undertaken in these areas was an eye-opener. The interventions could clearly be seen in the form of cleared undergrowth of appropriate density, which has a positive impact on the community.

Extending to 250,000 acres (100,000 hectares)

The Clear and Fertilize project was created for mini-holdings and designed to be applied in five regions. In accordance with CELPA’s inventory data, the programme is only implemented in areas which are purely eucalyptus rather than a mixture of trees, and on land which is average to very good for eucalyptus cultivation. Our interviewee tells us “the earlier the intervention is carried out, the better the results will be”. He explains that when resources are limited, choices have to be made. On the land selected for intervention, not including its own property managed directly by the industry, the existing area for the enhancement programme includes over a million acres (411,000 hectares).

The forest is only given priority at election time

He was the Director-General of Forestry from 2002 to 2005. He gained this position not through political affiliation but on technical merit alone, which he had accrued at Soporcel. He acknowledges that it wasn’t an easy decision to switch jobs. “You give everything you’ve got, until there’s nothing more to give”. As always happens, the forest is always a priority at election time, but when it comes to taking action there are always other issues to deal with. With António Macedo, it was no different. He found a minister with other priorities within his Ministry. This was the case with Armando Sevinate Pinto, the minister for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries from 2002 to July 2004. But after the major fires of 2003 which saw over a million acres (430,000 hectares) go up in flames, António Macedo says he witnessed the minister spending 70% of his time rethinking the forest and coming up with measures to prevent such an event being repeated. Many of the measures still in place came about at that time. One of them was the structural reform of the forestry sector which included the permanent management fund – provided through a fuel tax – GIFs (Major Forest Fires), and the management fund.
As a professional and technician, António Macedo thought it would be impossible to get any worse than the fires of 2003. Unfortunately, the events of 2017 showed how wrong he was.

The Clear and Fertilize plan drawn up by CELPA, for a period of five years, aims to cover 250,000 acres (100,000 hectares of eucalyptus forest. António Macedo would like to go even further than that, but his plan is very difficult to design and implement, particularly on mini-holdings. We are at Year 0, and we still don’t have a real idea of how it will be received and how the initiative will develop on the ground. For now, it has been well received.

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The impacts and benefits of the Clear and Fertilize programme are evident for all those involved, distributing wealth amongst the entire forestry industry

The programme has already been put in place in three operating regions. This year each region will have an area of around 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares), making a total intervention of almost 15,000 acres (6,000 hectares). Next year this initiative will be extended to two more regions, making a total area of 30,000 acres (12,000 hectares), the year after that 37,000 acres (15,000 hectares) and the following year 44,500 acres (18,000 hectares). It will follow an upward curve until 2024, by which time the area covered by the Clear and Fertilize programme will have totalled 250,000 acres (100,000 hectares).

Implementation through partners

This is the project that has been designed and approved by CELPA. On issues relating to the methodology and process, CELPA will not be directly joining the operation with owners, as the initiative is being implemented on the ground through a network of partners. The association deems that the network or partners may be an organisation of forest producers, a service provider, a logger or a forest certification group. According to António Macedo, “All bodies which reach out to owners via their EAC business activity and which may bring this initiative to them are of interest to us, to form part of our network of partners”.

The impacts and benefits of the Clear and Fertilize programme are evident for all those involved, distributing wealth amongst the entire forestry industry. The simplified signing-up procedure, with no red tape, enables owners to increase productivity on their land which, in practice, translates into increased revenue. More timber produced in the same area is also a positive thing for loggers and service providers. Once cleared, the area will be more resilient to fire, and there will be less land burnt and decreased losses. It is estimated that there will be an increase of two million cubic metres between 2023 and 2033, which will allow for a portion of the timber imported to meet the industry’s needs to be replaced by home-grown timber. António Macedo knows that for the initiative to be successful, it needs a good communication strategy, both inside and outside companies. Partners therefore have to be carefully chosen to make up the network, making sure to include bodies and companies which can see the benefits of this initiative: “The partners mustn’t feel threatened by the industry or compete with it. The industry has historically been very inward-looking, focusing on its own needs and properties. This is a large-scale programme to promote and increase the value of the forest which is in private hands, and this may lead to some conflicts with service providers. We need to handle this issue sensitively.”