New Business Models for innovating the cork sector and contrasting cork oak woodland abandonment

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Cork oak plantations are progressively being abandoned in Sicily as well as in other Italian regions because of the low profitability of cork harvesting; their subsequent invasion by shrubs and forest species leads to the built-up of fire-vulnerable ecosystems. The project deals with the restoration of cork production potential in an abandoned cork oak plantation owned by a cork processing enterprise (Syfar Srl) in Sicily. It was jointly conceived by Syfar Srl and the University of Palermo and it seeks to provide economic sustainability to restoration actions, by transforming a cost item into a revenue item in the annual budget of the enterprise. This is done by transforming a waste material (clearing residues obtained from the restoration of abandoned cork oak woodlands) into a product. In fact, saleable firewood is obtained from cutting tree species other than cork oak and wood chips from shrubs and branches. The latter product has been used to produce thermic energy for the heating of buildings in the cork processing factory.

In this way, several objectives have been reached: (i) the reduction of fire risk by removing part of the shrubs; (ii) the re-activation of the production potential of the stand; (iii) the production of marketable firewood and wood chips.

A detailed handbook about best practices for cork oak stands restoration together with a Lyfe Cycle Assessment of the process were realized by the University of Palermo, in the frame of two degree theses and will be the object of a scientific article to be published in a peer reviewed journal.