The many benefits of afforestation don’t discount the fact that there are some disadvantages to afforestation.
The main goals of afforestation include: improving and renewing lands that were overused or abandoned and are arid or semi-arid, fighting erosion, reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (CO2), improving the fertility of the soil, and avoiding desertification.
The forests created through afforestation are also to tackle the problems of climate change and global warming, provide habitat to wildlife, create windbreaks, and food for both humans and herbivores, and may also help improve water quality.
In recent years, the afforestation of abandoned lands has become more common in many countries. Especially in China, the United States, Russia, Canada, Sweden, India, Japan, Brazil, and Finland. They have been working on afforestation projects for instance the Grain for Green project in China.
One reason why there are so many afforestation projects around the world and many plans to engage in more is because, despite the disadvantages of afforestation, the pros still outweigh the cons of afforestation.
What is the Meaning of Afforestation
Afforestation is the action of planting a large number of trees (sampling or seed) where there haven’t been any trees before, or in abandoned lands.
If an expanse of land had trees before and became abandoned and was without trees for 100 years, it can also count as afforestation. This must be an intentional process, a practice that must be managed carefully.
The Process of Afforestation
According to Duan and Abduwali, the 3 common afforestation materials are seeds, seedlings, and cuttings each with its advantages and disadvantages. The material used depends on the tree species to be planted.
Site preparation is the first activity that is carried out in preparation for afforestation, promoting and ensuring that the root system can be closely integrated with the soil.
Afforestation isn’t just planting trees. Depending on the quality of the soil, the hardness of the soil, and the availability of water, some site preparation is usually necessary. In some places, herbicides, pesticides, and soil fertilization may be necessary.
In other places, practices such as mounding, burning, scalping, trenching, bedding, and chopping, maybe what is required.
Some other considerations include planting trees that suit the environment, spacing of the trees (this depends on the goal of the afforestation project), and the direction of the winds.
List of Disadvantages of Afforestation
- Can cause or increase the housing crisis
- Can cause biodiversity problems
- The rise in food prices
- Imported species might be invasive
- Can increase carbon dioxide release
- Forests require high maintenance
- It is Expensive
1. Can cause or increase land and housing crisis
A population is said to be in a housing crisis when a sizable portion of the populace lacks access to a secure, quality home that is suited to their needs and that they can afford to live in. This is one of the disadvantages of afforestation that occurs in some regions.
Large-scale tree planting can increase competition for land and result in less space for other crucial public infrastructure. The limited supply of land and housing could lead to higher rentals and home costs for the general people.
Another factor among the disadvantages of afforestation is opportunity costs in the use of land. The transformed lands can no longer be used for other benefits such as housing and agricultural developments or any other resourceful purpose.
So for decades and maybe centuries, that large expanse of land can only be a forest.
2. Can cause biodiversity problems
Forests are home to almost half of the world’s species, from owls to small monkeys and from ants to woodpeckers. The resources of the forest also include water, food, and medicine.
The problem of the artificial forest may not get the same habitat required for the growth & survival of specific animals, fungi, and plants.
The trees chosen by the planters may not be the ones required for the biodiversity of that area. It may also cause a reduction in stream flow and absorption of water such as in China and the black locust plant. What this means is that the trees may mismatch the local species.
Biodiversity problems are major, consistent, and very popular disadvantages of afforestation. For instance, in Ireland, because unnatural forests are taking over their native habitats, Irish mammal, bird, and fish species are being driven to extinction.
This is a result of the pressure on the government to lower carbon emissions. More conifer plantations are one of the ways the government of Ireland has been addressing the issue.
Monoculture afforestation especially is a factor that produces disadvantages of afforestation through biodiversity. Monoculture does not create suitable biodiversity for a wide variety of species such as birds.
They don’t provide a habitat for the indigenous fauna or flora. They don’t supply local birds, animals, or insects with food. To solve this, afforestation must be as diverse as possible.
3. A rise in food prices
This sudden land use change can cause less space for farming, less produce, and a rise in food prices. Selecting the right trees to plant might help the local population.
Planting trees such as nuts, berries, fruit trees, and other trees that provide edible yields, such as perennial trees, can provide food and assuage the situation.
For instance, the World Bank-supported Shandong Ecological Afforestation Project (2010-2016) is a perfect example of an afforestation project that helped the people by providing food worth millions for years to come.
If the site is close to a farming plot, the trees can obstruct sunlight and cause low yield and food scarcity. So, proper planning must be done.
4. Imported species might be invasive
The fourth in this list of disadvantages of afforestation is invasive imported species. They can be invasive and harm other trees which have adapted to the environment. It may fight the resistance of the ecology and when the resistance is weakened, the invasive specie causes monoculture.
Non-native trees can also bring diseases with them affect disrupt the equilibrium that biodiversity provides. The right trees should be planted in the appropriate places.
An example in history was the Invasive Specie Plantation Planting on Former Agricultural Lands in Illinois. This was the result of sampling after 15-18 years after planting:
- Dutch elm disease (OphiosThe survival of the Ulmus population within these stands over the long term is in jeopardy due to Dutch elm disease (Ophiostoma ulmi).
- There have also been tree disease epidemics and insect outbreaks.
- The growing invasive plant species dominance is predicted by the negative correlation between invasive species cover and tree density as more Fraxinus are killed as the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) outbreak spreads throughout the study area and destroys this crucial native canopy component.
The imminent extinction of many native tree species leads managers to wonder whether they should take preventative action against alien species in areas where they might act as a suppressive force.
Trees should be planted native to the area to avoid the disadvantages of afforestation.
5. Can increase carbon dioxide release
The fifth point in our list of disadvantages of afforestation is the increase in carbon dioxide release.
When the environment chosen is arid or semi-arid as it oftentimes is, droughts and fires that usually occur in these locales can kill trees releasing carbon dioxide back into the environment in dangerous ways.
Therefore, trees should be planted in areas less likely to be attacked by droughts and fires so that the carbon storage stays long-term and so that the carbon collection continues.
6. Forests require high maintenance
After the trees are planted, they must be continuously monitored against forest fires and legal logging. Planting trees such as fruit trees and economic trees that will be beneficial to the locals will definitely make them maintain them from dying.
For trees to grow, proper upkeep is necessary. Fruit trees need more upkeep to grow.
7. It is expensive
Afforestation is costly. Many times, it involves types of heavy machinery such as tractors, and sometimes irrigation and dams are required.
Many times, large quantities of chemicals are needed, large manpower to perform various duties, legal protection from logging, and constant maintenance. An unavoidable one among the disadvantages of afforestation.
Disadvantages of Afforestation – FAQs
What are the disadvantages of afforestation?
The disadvantages of afforestation include increasing the housing crisis, which can cause biodiversity problems, rises in food prices, imported species might be invasive, can increase carbon dioxide release, forests require high maintenance, and it is expensive.
How does afforestation harm biodiversity?
Nearly half of all species on the planet, including owls, tiny monkeys, ants, and woodpeckers, live in forests. In addition to these things, the forest provides water, food, and medicine. The issue with the artificial forest is that certain animals, fungi, and plants may not have the same ecosystem needed for their growth and survival.
“We are for the right trees, in the right places being managed in the right way so that everyone benefits; the environment, the wildlife, the communities, the farmers, the economy, the county, and the future,” said John Brennan of Save Leitrim.
It is obvious that the pros or disadvantages of afforestation far outweigh the cons and that the cons also have effective solutions as shown above.
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Precious Okafor is a digital marketer and online entrepreneur that got into the online space in 2017 and since then have developed skills in content creation, copywriting and online marketing. He is also a Green activist and hence his role in publishing articles for EnvironmentGo