THE DANGERS OF MONOCULTURE TREE PLANTATIONS (fwd)
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 3 Oct 94 11:31:27 EST
From: Net News Filter <netnews@DB.Stanford.EDU>
To: "Tom Hodges (moderated newsgroup)" <email@example.com>
Subject: THE DANGERS OF MONOCULTURE TREE PLANTATIONS
I found this article interesting, and thought others may share the same view.
THE DANGERS OF MONOCULTURE TREE PLANTATIONS
This article highlights the ecological and social impact of
large-scale monoculture tree plantations which service the
export-led strategy of many Third World countries. A global
network of NGOs has been formed to address this issue.
By Ricardo Carrere
Third World Network Features
During the past two decades, tree planting has been
increasing on a global scale. This has been encouraged by a
number of multilateral financial agencies, as well as by
national and international advisory and support agencies.
Transnational corporations (TNCs) have also become directly
involved through the implementation of large-scale forestry
projects in diverse areas of the world.
The reasons underlying these tree-planting activities may be
very different; for example, tree planting for fuelwood
needs at local community level, to halt desertification, and
to supply raw materials for local timber and paper
industries. Nevertheless, the main thrust arises from large
wood and pulp transnationals attempting to secure a
homogeneous, abundant and cheap supply of raw materials.
To do this, TNCs are trying to locate plantations in regions
which exhibit appropriate characteristics for achieving
their goal: cheap land and labour force, foreign currency
hunger, and environmental conditions that guarantee fast
tree growth. Most Third World countries fulfil all these
conditions, thus becoming potential suppliers of this raw
The terms 'afforestation' and 'reforestation' lead to
confusion because they are used to define extremely diverse
situations. They are used to refer to monoculture
plantations of exotic or native species, (in areas which
were either previously covered by forest or used for some
other purpose), and also to refer to native or exotic tree
planting within agroforestry systems. This is why many
people are surprised when environmentalists support certain
types of afforestation but oppose others.
In order to understand the problems, it is therefore
important to define more precisely the concepts being dealt
with. The term 'reforestation' should be applied only to the
operation of planting local species, with the aim of trying
to recover a degraded or clear-felled native forest.
The term 'afforestation' should be replaced by 'tree crops'
when referring to monocultures that include soil
preparation, selected genetic material, agrochemical inputs,
a high degree of mechanisation and market-oriented
Agroforestry systems also imply tree planting, but these are
part of the agro-ecosystem, having both directly productive
functions (timber, fruits, leaves, resins etc) and support
functions (nutrient recycling, shelter and shade etc).
Finally, there are other possible types of afforestation,
different from the above: protective landscaping,
recreational afforestation. What matters then is not to be
Tree planting in itself is not the problem. What has
triggered concerns from both environmentalists and local
communities has been, and still is, the establishment of
large-scale mono-culture tree plantations, mostly composed
of fast-growing eucalyptus and pine trees. These plantations
are being promoted and established in vast areas throughout
The present pattern of industrial tree crops is leading to a
number of negative environmental and social impacts.
Environmentally, the adverse impacts of these large
plantations on hydrological basins are being exposed. This
is because the fast-growing species of trees commonly used
in timber plantations consume huge volumes of water.
Secondly, there are concerns about the possible irreversible
changes of soils under plantations of exotic species, which
could lead to desertification processes.
Furthermore, these large plantations modify the native
wildlife substantially . This could lead to a chain of
adverse impacts on the different ecosystems involved.
The above may also be aggravated by the polluting
processes derived from transforming large volumes of wood
into pulp and other wood products. It is likely that once
plantations become productive, these industries will move to
developing countries, given the growing trend towards
relocation of polluting industries from industrial countries
to the Third World, where standards in legislation for
environmental protection are much lower.
From a social point of view, large-scale industrial tree
crops have in some countries resulted in open opposition at
the local level. In many cases, this opposition arises from
pre-existing conflicts over land tenure, where tree
plantations have deprived local people of the lands they
need for survival.
In addition, plantations generate other problems arising
from the competition between trees and agricultural crops
and also from the proliferation of pests under the tree
At the same time, these plantations give rise to a number of
changes in the social structure of the affected communities
and even within their culture. In some countries, the
conjunction of these elements has led to conflicts, where
peasants have attacked tree nurseries and uprooted or
burned plantations, having suffered repression by the State
The economic convenience of tree crops for Third World
countries must be questioned. Despite the obvious
contradiction in a world ruled by the neo-liberal ideology,
tree plantations are being subsidised in a number of
countries with support from a wide range of agencies,
including the World Bank.
The question is why? If investment in plantations were great
business, subsidies would not be necessary. The answer lies
in the industrialised countries' wish to secure the supply
of this raw material at the lowest possible price.
Subsidies, linked to credits and support, at the present
price levels make this investment profitable. However, the
increasing production of the vast plantations being
established everywhere will result in a widespread price
decrease in the mid-term.
This would be one of the central aims of this North-driven
strategy. This price decrease is already foreseen for the
1995-2000 period for eucalyptus wood in the Pacific area, as
a report by the American consultancy Jay Gruenfeld Ass. Inc
in May 1992 pointed out.
Domestic markets would not be able to absorb all the timber
on offer since it is an export crop, and the only way out
would therefore be to export at any price, with the whole-
hearted approval of importing countries.
During the 1992 Earth Summit, a number of non-governmental
organisations (NGOs) held a meeting and decided to create a
global network to share information and implement joint
actions on this issue. Among those who participated in this
meeting were Project for Ecological Recovery (Thailand),
Third World Institute (Uruguay), Sustainable Agriculture
Forum (Laos), Greenpeace International (Netherlands),
Indonesian Forum for Environment (Indonesia), Legal Rights
and Natural Resources Center (Philippines), Associao Gacha
de Proteo ao Ambiente Natural (Brazil), Instituto
Brasileiro de Analises Sociais e Economicas (Brazil),
Pacific-Asia Resource Center (Japan), CEPEDES (Brazil),
ACAPEMA (Brazil), Japan International Volunteer Center
(Japan), Japan Tropical Forest Action Network (Japan), CDDH
(Brazil) and the European Rainforest Movement (Netherlands).
Initial concerns relating to monoculture tree plantations
were broadened to include the issues of pollution derived
from industrial processes of paper manufacturing, and the
wasteful consumption of paper which leads to a continuous
increase in demand for the raw material.
In May 1993, the World Rainforest Movement organised a
Southeast Asian Regional Workshop on Plantations, which was
hosted by the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center, in
Manila, the Philippines. Local organisations from the region
(the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Japan)
were joined by representatives from IBASE (Brazil), the
Third World Institute (Uruguay) and the British publication
During the meeting, participants described problems
arising at the local level from large-scale forestry
projects, and discussed the roles that governments, local
business, TNCs, multilateral agencies and international
The importance of NGOs and grassroot organisations from
local communities was also discussed. Despite the different
country specifications, a number of important common
factors emerged, giving evidence to the increasing
globalisation of the issue of tree plantations, particularly
in the Third World.
In view of the above, the need to strengthen the network
born in Rio was re-affirmed, and a decision was taken to
launch joint actions aimed at creating a trend to encourage
forestry adapted to local needs, which arises from local
communities and which is environmentally sustainable.
In line with the latter, the network will campaign against
industrial monoculture tree crops in all cases where they
are considered to be incompatible with improving the quality
of life of local populations, and with the long-term
interests of these countries. --Third World Network Features
- ends -
About the writer: Ricardo Carrere is with the Third World
Network in Montevideo, Uruguay.
When reproducing this feature, please credit Third World
Network Features and (if applicable) the cooperating
magazine or agency involved in the article, and give the
byline. Please send us cuttings.
Published by Third World Network 87, Cantonment Road, 10250
Penang, Malaysia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Phone: (+604)373511;
Coordinador Ecologia / MedioAmbiente
Nodo Wamani - Red A.P.C.