The potential of fast-growing trees to improve the environment and people’s livelihoods has gained added recognition from FAO’s highest governing body. The FAO Conference has approved new language expanding the scope of the International Poplar Commission, which focuses on the use of trees to boost sustainability.
The International Poplar Commission, based at FAO headquarters in Rome, has promoted the use of fast-growing poplar and willow trees since 1947. It helps 38 member countries on five continents to protect, restore and sustainably use forests, drylands and pasture and to increase urban green spaces, with a view to improving people’s livelihoods and food security. It also addresses issues ranging from plant pests to responsible land use.
Recognizing the potential of the IPC to help address global challenges for restoration, climate change adaptation, and the production of wood, IPC Member Nations and FAO’s Conference endorsed an expansion of the IPC’s scope beyond poplars and willows to other fast-growing tree species. This change takes effect as of June 2019. The IPC’s new title reflects its new scope and mandate: the “International Commission on Poplars and Other Fast-Growing Trees Sustaining People and the Environment”. The new mandate will allow the successful approaches and networks developed by the IPC to be applied for new species and in new geographies.
“The International Poplar Commission reform includes a stronger focus on climate change, biodiversity and restoration issues. These issues are all highly relevant for the future of humankind and require urgent action. Now we can concentrate on working with those issues, attracting more people, especially younger people, to the work of the reformed International Poplar Commission,” said the Chairperson of the Executive Committee of the IPC, Dr Martin Weih.
Trees as natural buffers
When done properly, poplar and willow plantings have helped to control erosion, stabilize riverbanks and improve fish habitats. They are also important in production of wood, which is a valuable building material and an important source of energy. In Italy, for example, poplar stands account for one percent of that country’s total forest cover but support sustainability by providing some forty percent of its industrial roundwood production.
International Poplar Commission-supported tree plantings have increased urban greening in Canada, reduced wind erosion by 75 percent in some arid areas of northern China, and now provide feed for 45 percent of herds during the dry months in arid and semi-arid areas of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Commission’s work has also helped to increase the value of land by 500 percent in New Zealand’s Southern Hawke’s Bay by improving the production of feed for livestock and reducing flood risks.
In the lower delta of the Parana River in Argentina, the International Poplar Commission has supported silvopastoral systems, or combinations of forests and pasture lands in which poplars provide quality wood as well as shelter and fodder for cattle. By allowing cattle to graze in the poplar stands, farmers can diversify their production and increase the resilience of their incomes; as well, they reduce their outlays for weeding and animal feed, which makes this system economically more attractive to them than alternatives.
"Long before sustainability was a household word, the countries joining the International Poplar Commission understood that fast-growing trees and other plants were part of the answer to one of the urgent questions of our times, namely, how to improve people’s livelihoods and food security without depleting the forests, soil and other land resources on which we all depend,” said Tiina Vahanen, Chief, Policy and Resources, of FAO's Forestry Division.
Guiding, learning, sharing
As a statutory body of FAO, the International Poplar Commission is also authorized to develop policy and guidelines and promote the exchange of ideas and information on sustainable resources, technology and the sharing of plant-breeding materials. Its expanded functions will include the mandate to administer trust funds from member countries, allowing the IPC to engage directly in the application of the latest research in priority geographies.
Keeping forests and other land resources healthy are a necessary part of achieving the internationally-agreed Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, including those which focus on protecting life systems on land and eliminating extreme hunger, malnutrition and poverty. Planted forests and fast-growing trees can contribute directly to sustainable development goals (SDGs) on poverty reduction as a source of income (SDG 1) food security (SDG 2) energy security through production of wood (SDG 7) economic growth (SDG 8) sustainable cities through urban forestry (SDG 11) climate action through carbon sequestration (SDG 13) and life on land through their potential to assist in biodiversity conservation (SDG 15).
Source: FAO Forestry Newsroom [www.fao.org/forestry/news/96001/en/]