Mountain bike centre, Wales, UK

As New Generation Plantations (NGP) celebrates its 10th anniversary, platform lead Luis Neves Silva looks at how far it has come – and where to go next.

"It always seems impossible until it's done."

This famous quote from Nelson Mandela has always been a source of inspiration for me, and it seems appropriate that it was in South Africa that the idea of New Generation Plantations (NGP) was first conceived.

In 2005, I joined a group of WWF colleagues and representatives from four companies involved in plantation forestry for a one-week study tour. The idea was to create a forum for understanding the realities and issues associated with plantations, and to promote open-minded, constructive dialogue.

It certainly seemed at the time like an impossible task. Many environmentalists, including some within WWF, were strongly opposed to plantations, seeing them as "green deserts" that brought only negative impacts to the environment and the local community. On the other side, many within the industry had an equally closed mindset, with little interest in engaging.

But that study tour showed a willingness on both sides to listen and learn, and two years later, in 2007, the NGP platform was born. Our premise was simple: that well-managed plantations, located in the right places, can make a positive contribution to people and nature, while helping to meet global demand for wood. NGP became a space to discuss how to make that happen, to share ideas, and to learn from real-world experiences.

Over time, a deep sense of trust began to develop between participants. This enabled open and transparent discussions around critical environmental, social and economic issues and potential solutions. As discussions evolved, NGP opened up, and more participants joined. Study tours and annual encounters introduced a changing cast of characters – representatives from forestry companies and other sectors, staff from every corner of the WWF network, government personnel, NGOs and academics, along with the farmers, community members, forest workers and others we met along the way.

It is in bringing people together to co-create solutions that NGP’s greatest value lies.

This week, NGP celebrates its 10th anniversary with our annual Encounter in London and Edinburgh – where our first meeting took place. And today we launch our new e-book: Plantations for people, planet and prosperity: 10 years of the New Generation Plantations platform.

The e-book looks at why plantations matter, why they need to be managed better, and how NGP is contributing to this. It showcases stories of the positive role plantations are playing around key issues – from helping to restore the Atlantic rainforest in Brazil, to supporting water stewardship in South Africa, to healing relationships with Mapuche communities in Chile, to contributing to climate mitigation and adaptation in China. Looking to the future, it also considers how plantations can contribute to major global agendas such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement, and the possibilities opened up by new technologies.

Of course, plantations are not perfect. Examples still exist of poor management, of land grabs and of natural ecosystems being converted to monocultures, such as in Indonesia. Even among NGP participants, whose plantations are close to 100 per cent FSC certified, there’s a continuing need to address issues such as water scarcity, land tenure and community relations. NGP provides a safe space where these and other challenges can be collectively thought.  

Just as the use and uses of wood are rapidly expanding, so are the opportunities for plantations to contribute to important environmental and development challenges. Equally, the increased pressure on the world’s land, water and natural resources, climate change, biodiversity loss and socio-economic inequality make finding solutions to these challenges all the more urgent.

It is in bringing people together to co-create these solutions that NGP’s greatest value lies. In a world of finite resources and growing demands, success will depend on how intelligently and sensitively we integrate a mosaic world of different cultures and values, where areas for agriculture, industry, forestry, infrastructure and cities coexist with nature.

Ten years ago, our dream of a new generation of plantations that benefit people and nature might have seemed impossible. Today, we believe it can become a reality.