Stump-Harvesting in Nicaragua

To foreigners, the concept of ‘stump-harvesting’ may be a completely novel idea. While you can usually think of a hundred different uses for the wood of a mighty tree, the unsightly stumps left behind after felling are usually thought of as little more than a difficult obstacle that needs to be removed. However in Nicaragua ‘stump-harvesting’ is one of the largest industries in the country.

The cool shady pines which once dotted the landscape have long since been chopped down and processed by now abandoned lumber mills. Now, about a decade after the lumberjacks moved out, you will find stump plants being quickly established by the local inhabitants. Some stump plants have a stockpile of about 15 000 tons of stumps!

But why would anyone want to harvest tree stumps?

Well, the people of Nicaragua use them to make rosin, turpentine, dipentene and pine oil – four precious commodities amongst locals. As it turns out the tropical climate of Nicaragua facilitates a natural chemical action which takes place in the remaining stumps. While the outer layer of the stump rots away, the raw materials inside it become locked in the stump’s wood fibers. This process, which can take up to fifteen years in northern climates, takes only between seven and ten years in Nicaragua. Before long, the stump is harvested by a tractor which simply pushes it out of the ground. After a number of stumps have been harvested, they are loaded onto trucks and taken to the plant where they are processed.

At the plant, the stumps are grinded into chips which are placed in an extractor and washed with a petroleum solvent. In this way, the raw materials are extracted from the wood. Later the petroleum solvent is removed from the crude material by steam distillation, captured and returned to storage tanks for later use. The remaining crude material is then separated into oil and rosin. The oil is taken for further separation through steam distillation since turpentine, dipentene and pine oil all have different vaporizing temperatures. The rosin and dipentene are exported and the turpentine and pine oil are used locally in the manufacture of insecticides and disinfectants. Thus, from the humble tree-stump four amazing and versatile products are created and are used to support Nicaragua’s economy.