Enrico Savona

Brazil’s Forests – Avoiding ‘the Cobra Effect’

Managed plantation forestry is necessary for sustainability. However, what if sustainability activities, in fact, further harm the environment? Avoiding this paradox is a priority for Bayer’s forestry efforts in Brazil.

During the colonization of India, British officials believed a bounty would solve a cobra problem. As a result, local residents captured cobras - and they also bred them, to collect additional income. When British administrators then repealed the bounty, the now worthless cobras were released into the wild. In the end, the cobra population exploded after all.

German economist Horst Siebert used this incident to coin the term “the Cobra Effect”: a well-intended initial action that ends up making an overall situation worse. Today, a cobra effect is something to be avoided in forestry management.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, public and private sectors have been actively working to counter the environmental effects of deforestation. Modern forestry aims to create a stable number of trees for a tremendous range of tree-based products while also providing environmental sustainability. According to Rupert Siedel, a professor at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (Austria), in a recent Washington Post article, “…the key challenge for forest management is to develop strategies that fulfill a wide range of these functions and services – including climate change mitigation – simultaneously.”

Enrico Savona
Enrico Savona
Enrico Savona,
ES Global market Manager IVM & Forestry
Bayer Crop Science

Brazil, as one example, has worked diligently to develop such strategies. In 2006, the government initiated a public forest management law. Under it, the Brazilian Forest Service was created to manage and protect public forests, and monitoring activities were decentralized to provide precise service. The National Fund for Forest Development was also established. Finally, sustainable forest districts were created, including one district of 19 million hectares in the central Amazon.

Of course, even sustainable forestry programs require activity and resources. Whether it’s the production and distribution of fuel and herbicide, or the transportation and dispersal of water, additional CO2 emissions result. The challenge, then, is to minimize damage to the environment in the process of trying to support it.

To avoid such a cobra effect requires efficiency, such as in the logistics of transporting resources. Careful monitoring of soil conditions and product usage is also needed. And stewardship programs, like Bayer’s Forestry Plus, which focuses on forestry plantation and provides training for safe and efficient product handling.

Efficiency has tremendous pay-offs for forestry activities. In Bayer field trials carried out in Brazil’s São Paulo region, effective product usage of leading herbicides resulted in a reduced number of applications. This concept - which Bayer calls “Save at least One Application” - shows that highly effective forestry products, such as Bayer’s EsplanadeTM, alongside accurate product usage translate into efficiency. For example, instead of applying weed management products every 60 days, reapplication was unneeded for up to 120 days.

“Save at least one application” can result in tremendous exponential environmental pay-offs - up to 20% of CO2 emissions; i.e., over the course of a year, if we extrapolate to the total number of eucalyptus planted in Brazil, in a forest area of 500,000 hectares, “saving at least one application” could lead to a maximum saving of:

  • 70,000 mega joules of fuel are saved – the equivalent of 450 hectares of sugar cane for ethanol production;
  • 100,000 m3 of water are not needed – the equivalent amount in 40 Olympic sized swimming pools;
  • 600 tons of herbicide would be unused – the equivalent amount inside 40 fully loaded cargo trucks;
  • and there are 10,000 tons less CO2 produced – the equivalent of producing 32,000 tons of cellulose products.

Accuracy, efficiency and first-hand attention are needed in forestry management. These are the crucial elements to avoid forestry ‘cobras’effect and to find truly sustainable solutions.

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