“A dead forest that kills everything”

By Winfridus Overbeek

World Rainforest Movement (WRM)  –  www.wrm.org.uy

September 2017

The title given to this short blog-piece may perhaps be one of the best ways in which to describe or to define a large-scale monoculture tree plantation. It is a definition that was suggested to me by a wise, experienced indigenous leader from one of the Tupinikim villages in Espirito Santo, Brazil.

About 50 years ago, while the country was under military dictatorship, this indigenous People suddenly saw their lands being invaded by the foreign-owned plantation, pulp and paper company Aracruz Cellulose, which is nowadays called Fibria. It destroyed their forest and most of their villages.

Fortunately, the Tupinikim People, together with a few communities of the Guarani indigenous People, were able to get organised so they could resist Aracruz’s tree plantations. After 40 years of struggle, in 2007 a portion of their lands at least were finally recognized by the Brazilian government as indigenous territory. During those years, far too many human rights violations to mention here were committed against the Tupinikim and Guarani, but in complete denial of this reality, according to the FAO, Aracruz was just “planting forests”.

“A dead forest that kills everything” is therefore a realistic suggestion for the FAO to rename what is in reality not a forest, but an industrial tree monoculture, and which is still being wrongly categorized as a “planted forest” by this United Nations body.

After many letters have already been written to the FAO asking that it should define a ‘forest’ by its true meaning, it appears that after receiving the Open Letter sent on March 21st, which was signed by 200 organisations, that the FAO has now come to the conclusion that it may be time to act. In my view, this should definitely include one fundamental activity: The FAO should take leave of its office in Rome, and go around to listen to communities like the one of the aforementioned indigenous leader, who have a lot of experience of industrial tree plantations, as well as having knowledge about real forests, and understand clearly how the one is quite different from the other, for communities that depend on their territories and forests to live well.

Organisations like Timberwatch, Rainforest Rescue and WRM, together with many other groups from around the world, have been working together to raise awareness of this issue, based on what we have learned and seen in communities who had lost lands and livelihoods to industrial tree plantation companies.  But it is the FAO that must take responsibility, and make an important first step to also learn from these local communities, in order to start getting an idea of what a large-scale industrial tree monoculture means for the local people, rather than business corporations.

The FAO should leave its office in Rome and take the initiative to visit and to listen to communities whose livelihoods depend on forests, as well as those who once lived like that, but are now enclosed by monoculture tree plantations. Communities that must endure all of the negative impacts and human rights violations that plantations cause, for example in: Argentine, Brazil and Chile; Laos and Indonesia; South Africa and Moçambique, to mention just a few. And we can give some hints of where to go.

Such an initiative would finally give the women and men from these communities a chance to express their feelings about everything they lost due to these plantations that FAO proclaims to be “forests”, and to talk about the difficulties they face in trying to resist them. It would also give them a chance to speak about all the violations and empty promises made by plantation companies that are represented on the FAO´s advisory committee on Paper and Wood Products.

The FAO urgently needs to be advised by the people, not by business corporations.

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