Tropical Plantation Management in Taiwan. Interview with Professor Shaw-Lin Lo

(Pictures: Ching Chong)

by Ching Chong

About Shaw-Lin Lo

Shaw-Lin Lo graduated from Freiburg University, and he was the Deputy for forestry department in National Chung Hsing University from 1980 to 1986. Currently, he is the emeritus professor of the department. Prof. Lo started to manage his own plantation in Dongshi in 1974 and he has such deep passion for forestry that hel decided to dedicate his entire lifetime for his career in forestry.

Why did you choose to establish a private agro-forestry plantation?

In 1974, I first started to manage a plantation in Dongshi, Taichung, in central part of Taiwan. The plantation used to be an orchard with plum trees, persimmons trees, lemon trees and orange trees until I took over the place. My aim was to practice what I learned from studying abroad in Germany by restoring the place back to its own original state and running my own forest. Furthermore, I aimed to set up the place for studying the tree planting processes, tending approaches and the growth of tree species in a sustainable and ecological way, just to prove and experiment what I learned.

Where the challenges in starting a plantation?

In the beginning, I faced a problem regarding the reforestation, because the land use model of an orchard was different from a real forest plantation. Besides that, I found out that the cost of employing workers was a lot more than I could afford. However, is impossible to the whole plantation by myself. I finally came up with an idea to overcome the problem, and that is by using an “au pair” method. It is a concept of using exchange labour, by renting the forest land to the ginger farmers. The reason that I decided to rent the place to the ginger farmers was that I saw there was a market for ginger farming, and  in that time  the revenues  from trading gingers were high. So, this was actually encouraged and a lot of the other farmers wanted to be engaged in ginger farming. The farmers had to plant the Cunninghamia lanceolata (Chinese fir) and the Aleurites montana as main species of the plantation right beside the ginger in exchange for using the land. Finally, I saved up some money for more workers and the fertilization from the ginger farming also improved   tree growth.

In general, what are difficulties in running forestry plantations in Taiwan?

Taiwan is always under severe climate conditions and the mountains are characterized by high elevations,, steep slopes and swift torrents and here are natural disasters such as typhoon and landslide. Consequently, there were many records of softwoods brought down by typhoons and landslides. I finally came to realize that the trees species Cunninghamia lanceolata and Aleurites montana which were used in reforestation from the beginning were not suitable to be planted in this location. Henceforth, I replaced them with native hardwood species, for example, Michelia formosana, Zelkova serrata, Sapindus mukurossi and so on. Besides that, I also tried the native conifer species, for instance Taiwania cryptomerioides and Calocedrus formosana, and they turned out to be suitable.

What are your reasons for practicing agro-forestry?

Agro-forestry is a land-use system, which arranges the forest, agriculture, and animals under the principle of spatial mixture in order to make optimal use of the vertical and horizontal space. For instance, I plant some coffee trees under the conifers and it becomes a mixed stand, so that I could make sure that the land would be used in different aspects and also create a diverse ecosystem in the plantation. This practice helps to make the forest more resilient to the influence of the weather as well.

What are your conclusions after dedicating so much time to the forest?

I have been with the forest for nearly forty years, and I also contributed half of my life time for the forests and lands, ( not even mentioning the energy and money that were invested in this field. If we only look at it from a short-term, economy-oriented point of view, it may seem like an investment that will not be yield immediate returns. Nevertheless, I think it is worth doing it, because I want to prove that the concept of close to nature management could be applied anywhere on earth. Therefore, as a forester, practicing forest management is all I can do to pass down the “green treasure” to the next generations. Because I believe the more deeply one is involved, the closer one is  to the truth.

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