Why Tree Plantations Are the Problem, Not the Solution
Have you ever clicked on a 'plant a tree' button on some website? I have been an environmentalist my whole life. I would strongly urge you to plant your own tree instead of paying for one in a distant plantation.
In the fifty years since the publication of Rachel Carson's 'Silent Spring' book – which stimulated the birth of the environmental movement and led the USA to ban the chemical DDT- public environmental awareness has come a long way.
But I wonder why many people, including some environmentalists, still believe that large-scale tree plantations heavily sprayed with chemicals are desirable or even sustainable.
The reality is that timber plantations have a negative impact on communities, local economies and biodiversity. These plantations are not a solution to climate change nor to biodiversity loss. They are simply a huge concern and cause numerous problems in many countries, including my own, Costa Rica.
Friends of the Earth International, together with many social movements around the world, are raising awareness about the problems associated with timber plantations with the ' International Day Against Monoculture Tree Plantations' on 21 September.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization predicts a massive increase in monoculture tree plantations: between 40 and 90 million hectares will be planted by the year 2030. This number does not even include the rapidly expanding areas of oil palm plantations.
Unfortunately the current definition of forests used by the United Nations is problematic. It includes plantations (branding them 'planted forests' and giving the idea that plantations are forests) and thereby promotes their expansion.
But branding a plantation a 'forest' is like branding a big swimming pool a 'lake'. Tree plantations are not forests.
A forest is a complex, biodiversity-rich, self-regenerating system, consisting of soil, water, a microclimate, and a wide variety of plants and animals in mutual coexistence. Forests host more than 70% of terrestrial biodiversity.
1.6 billion people rely on forests, including 60 million indigenous people who are entirely dependent upon forests for their livelihoods, food, medicines and building materials. They have rights that we need to respect, strengthen, and promote.
Monoculture plantations have no biodiversity and require ongoing human intervention - including fertilisation - as "weeds" must be removed using herbicides and pesticides.
Furthermore, plantations offer nothing to Indigenous Peoples and local communities who lose lands and resources when plantations are started.
Tree plantations are also becoming a new form of land grabbing. Many transnational corporations start plantations in foreign, often developing countries, gradually expanding their operations to cover vast areas of land.
They capture access, control and management of forest land and resources with tree plantations, depriving communities of their means of subsistence. They usually negatively impact the cultural and biological diversity of the area.
Communities who do not join plantation projects often suffer intimidation. We have seen this phenomenon in land grabbing cases from Colombia to Mozambique to Indonesia.
Large-scale tree plantations often replace forests and are thus a direct cause of deforestation. There are comparatively few cases where large-scale tree plantations have been established on degraded land.
Testimonies and case studies collected by Friends of the Earth groups also show that plantations have very serious impacts on local populations and the environment. They fail to fulfill the promises of job creation, sustainable development, climate change mitigation and biodiversity protection.
The world's 'Big 6' pesticide manufacturing corporations -BASF, Bayer, Dow, Dupont, Monsanto and Syngenta- are obviously happy if we believe that large-scale tree plantations, heavily sprayed with their pesticides, are 'sustainable'. And if their massive sales and profits keep increasing.
Shockingly, over 98% of sprayed insecticides and 95% of herbicides reach a destination other than their target species, including non-target species, air, water, bottom sediments, and food.
The 'Big 6' certainly do not want us to implement the real solutions urgently needed to tackle the climate crisis and to preserve biodiversity, as these solutions do not include large-scale plantations nor their dangerous chemicals.
Instead of large-scale tree plantations and associated chemicals, our societies simply need to properly manage our remaining forests, and apply agroecology (i.e. applying ecological principles to the production of food, fuel, fiber, and pharmaceuticals and the management of agroecosystems)
In particular, we need to:
- Implement and promote 'community management of forests', in essence regulations and practices used by many communities for the conservation and sustainable use of forests;
- Implement and promote food sovereignty, which is the peoples' right to sufficient, nutritious, healthy, ecologically-produced and culturally adequate food, as well as implementing corresponding public policies;
- Decrease our current, unsustainable patterns of consumerism, the demand for forest products such as pulp and paper in particular, which is one of the main underlying causes of the expansion of monoculture tree plantations. Reducing our consumption and consumerism would also alleviate the demand for dangerous chemicals.
In addition to implementing real solutions we must also raise awareness around the problems.
That is why on September 21st - the International Day Against Monoculture Tree Plantations - Friends of the Earth groups plan various activities around the world, including challenging the expansion of palm oil tree plantations destined for agrofuel production, challenging monoculture tree plantations grown for export, and exposing over-consumption and consumerism.
But September 21st is first of all a celebration: we celebrate resistance to large scale tree plantations and the struggle for real solutions.