Eucalyptus plantations were first established in Uruguay in the early 1990s after new legislation was passed to boost the forest industry.
Mats Backman, Director of Technical Customer Service at UPM Pulp, was involved in founding the very first plantations in Uruguay in a joint project between Kymmene Oy (today part of UPM) and oil supermajor Shell. Renewable energy production was top of Shell’s agenda, while Kymmene was eager to solidify its position in the pulp market.
“Eucalyptus trees are mature for harvesting in about ten years, so it was absolutely crucial to start these plantations in order to secure cost-effective raw materials and the international competitiveness of the forest industry,” says Backman, recalling the early days.
Plantations of this kind were then entirely new to Uruguay. The first task was to find eucalyptus species suited to local conditions. Specimens were brought in from as far afield as Australia and South Africa, and trial plantations were set up to identify lands where the trees would be the most likely to thrive.
“We have continued fine-tuning the species chosen for cultivation through systematic breeding. Here our ultimate goal is to ensure that our pulp remains as uniform as possible, as this is crucial for our customers’ production processes,” Backman adds.
The plantations are managed by Forestal Oriental, a UPM-owned company active in Uruguay since 1990. The company currently owns 230,000 hectares of land, 140,000 hectares of which is planted. The rest is either conserved or used for purposes such as cattle grazing.
Ricardo Methol, Technical Development & Planning Manager in charge of UPM’s plantations, confirms that tree breeding efforts aim both to increase the productivity of the plantations as well as improve the quality of their wood fibre.
“The fibre should be as dense as possible in order to maximize wood use in pulp production. We have even doubled our yield per hectare in some areas, which is an extremely positive result."
Keeping up the same momentum in the future will be a challenge, as global warming and climate change are having a significant impact on growth conditions.
“Some areas have been rainier than usual, while others have been drier and colder than normal. Our mission is to breed seedlings that are able to adapt to constantly changing conditions,” says Methol.
“In the meantime, our rigorous R&D is a visible token of our vision, goals and commitment in the long term,” he adds.
From the very outset, UPM Forestal Oriental has been evaluating and monitoring the plantations’ impact on the environment in co-operation with research facilities, universities and environmental organizations.
“This long-term monitoring proves that we are able to maintain extensive plantation operations in a sustainable way,” Methol.
UPM has taken its eco-commitment one step further by establishing a network of conservation areas covering approximately 6,000 hectares.
“We have set up nature reserves on our company-owned lands, which is rare for private companies in Uruguay. Environmental organizations are also actively involved in land management planning in these conservation areas.”
In autumn 2013, UPM and Vida Silvestre Uruguay signed an agreement to preserve biodiversity on UPM-owned lands. This agreement is the first of its kind in the country.
Methol notes that the company’s goal is to optimize land use both in conservation areas as well as on plantations. “We are investing a lot of resources in land management planning by mapping out areas for plantation and conservation in co-operation with our partners.”
UPM’s commitment to operating responsibly is testified by the fact that all its plantations are FSC and PEFC certified.
UPM is also an active member in the WWF’s New Generation Plantation Project (NGPP), whichpromotes key features of healthy, diverse and multi-functional forest landscapes.
Giving back to the community
Across the community, too, the forest industry has generated new prosperity by creating new jobs and business opportunities in the countryside.
“The forest industry has improved employment prospects for women in particular, for whom jobs have been in short supply in rural areas. In our nurseries, for example, 60 per cent of personnel are women,” says Foundation Manager Magdalena Ibanez.
In addition to creating new jobs and economic growth, UPM has mentored local communities through its UPM Foundation. Established in 2006, the foundation’s mission is to co-operate with local communities especially in the fields of education and training.
“In rural Uruguay, some children finish school as early as age 12, which makes it difficult for them to enter professions that require special training. Through the UPM Foundation, we have been able to extend their schooling and thus improve their employment prospects in the future,” she adds.
So far, the Foundation has worked together with 96 communities, and more than 300,000 people have benefited from its co-operative projects.
Recognition from exemplary forestry
- UPM has received recognition from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for its exemplary forest management practices in Uruguay.
- The acknowledgement followed a thorough investigation of social, economic, environmental and technical aspects of the company’s production chain by the panel of experts.
- Sustainable forestry is one of UPM’s key environmental responsibility areas, and biodiversity is one of the main environmental drivers in the advancement of sustainable forest management practices.
- In Uruguay, UPM’s biodiversity projects include a conservation programme for Yatay palm trees growing on UPM Forestal Oriental's land and a programme to manage native grasslands with the goal of conserving the Capuchino bird.