The "benefits" of plantations: naked myths


By World Forest Movement - WRM

The myths that are said about the supposed benefits of tree monocultures did not emerge alone, but are the result of a long process, in which people and institutions linked to the planter-business sector have been inventing arguments to convince both the public in general and to governments and institutions about the convenience of massive tree planting. The fact that none of these arguments has the slightest scientific foundation has not prevented them from being disseminated as "scientific truths."

The International Day Against Monoculture Tree Plantations is a good opportunity to expose the myths that are said about the supposed benefits of monoculture tree plantations.

Such myths did not arise alone, but are the result of a long process, in which people and institutions linked to the planter-business sector have been inventing arguments to convince both the general public and governments and institutions about the convenience of the massive planting of trees.

The fact that none of these arguments has the slightest scientific foundation has not been an obstacle for them to be disseminated as “scientific truths”, not only by those directly benefited - companies - but also by the entire technical-bureaucratic apparatus - national and international - at your service. In the process, local wisdom has been dismissed as "ignorance" and true ignorance has been elevated to the pedestal of "science."

Over the years, the WRM has echoed the voice of the shocked, who time and time again have shown that the "scientific truths" about plantations are nothing more than falsehoods. In this sense, our publications and articles have collected and disseminated the testimonies of people who have suffered the degradation of all the resources on which they depended –soil, water, flora, fauna– as a direct effect of the implantation of monoculture tree plantations in their regions.

We have also spread the voice of forestry professionals and students who oppose the expansion of tree monocultures, who last year declared “not only that tree monocultures are not forests, but that such plantations result or have resulted in the destruction of our native forests and other equally valuable ecosystems that they replace ”(see full statement at

However, despite all the accumulated evidence, business interests have continued to prevail and plantations continue to benefit from the positive image invented by their promoters.

In this newsletter we wanted to complement the local testimonies with those of people with extensive experience and involvement on a global scale in the fight against monoculture tree plantations and we asked them to respond very briefly to the main falsehoods spread by the planter sector. What follows are their responses, which will undoubtedly serve to strengthen - with more arguments - those who face the planter advance in unequal struggle. To all who contributed their contributions: thank you very much!

Hunting Myths

Myth No. 1: Forest plantations are "planted forests"

The plantations are uniformed forests. They look like little soldiers lined up, and that's what they are. Dressed in green, they march towards the world market. The hymns that sing its glories in the name of nature lie. Industrial forests resemble natural forests as much as military music resembles music, and as much as military justice resembles justice. - Eduardo Galeano, writer, Uruguay

Myth No. 2: Tree plantations create jobs

Large-scale tree plantations do not create jobs because production is always carried out in the most mechanized way possible. The Veracel Celulose company in Brazil, for example, generates 1 direct job for every 103 hectares of eucalyptus. On the other hand, the coffee plantation, very common in Brazil, is capable of creating up to 1 job per hectare.

In pursuit of profit, companies exploit the few workers they employ, endangering their health. Among the operators of the cutting machines, who perform 5 functions at the same time, problems in the spine, arms and kidney failure are common.

Women who work in seedling production nurseries also suffer from problems related to repetitive efforts that cause injuries to arms and hands. The labor outsourcing policy further reduces workers' rights and wages.

The jobs generated are also extremely expensive, when compared to the cost of generating other jobs in the field. For example, a job generated by Veracel Celulose costs 2 million dollars. With this sum, it would be possible to install more than 150 families in agrarian reform settlements, which would provide a future for these families and would produce food to supply the cities, instead of exporting cellulose for the production of disposable paper in Europe. - Winnie Overbeek, Red Alert Against the Green Desert, Brazil

Myth No. 3: Plantations are much more productive than native forests

Anyone who adheres to this idea must be someone who has either never visited a forest area surrounded by communities, or is simply involved in the plantation business. The locals of the Mekong countries of Southeast Asia, who live and depend on their native forests, will totally disagree with such a statement. For them, converting their forests into plantations has become the worst nightmare they have ever suffered in real life.

In the eyes of the inhabitants of the tropical forest areas of southern China, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, the plantations are not only unproductive but are of no value. The large plantations of eucalyptus, rubber and oil palm that have taken the place of their native forests cannot provide them with daily food, shelter, medicine - everything necessary to meet the basic necessities of life. Furthermore, villagers in Laos and Thailand who worship the sacred forests inhabited by good spirits told us that "the spirits of the ancestors will not stay in the plantation" simply because they cannot live in a false forest, and people do not want to stay in a community that has no guardian spirits.

Plantations disguised as “forests” can only provide a product - be it wood, palm oil or rubber - that clearly cannot compete with the biological diversity, food, and cultural and spiritual products that forests provide to local populations. So if the aforementioned lie is not exposed for what it really is - an invention generated from a blind perspective - more and more people around the world will be deprived of the foundation of their lives, based on native forests. - Premrudee Daoroung, Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA), Thailand

Myth No. 4: Plantations are good for the environment

Why is this claim simply false? Monoculture tree plantations cannot improve the natural environment that is eliminated when plantations are established, because:

• Indigenous plant species, which meet the needs of both people and wildlife, are lost, thereby disappearing natural ecosystems.

• Replacing natural vegetation and even arable land with tree plantations decreases surface and groundwater.

• Monoculture tree plantations affect the health of the soil, compacting it, increasing acidity and contaminating it with toxic chemicals.

• The intrinsic beauty of landscapes is destroyed by tree plantations that block the view with "a green shroud".

• Tree plantations are usually of exotic species that spread outside the plantation, invading wetlands, grasslands and forests.

• Local communities, including Indigenous Peoples, are displaced from their land and forced to live in overcrowded and unsanitary settlements.

Apart from the direct impacts already listed, plantations also cause many indirect environmental impacts when trees are felled, transported, and processed for export as logs, chips, or paper pulp.

• Rivers, lakes and oceans are polluted by chemicals and effluents from processing plants.

• Burning fuel and chemical processes cause serious air pollution.

• The pulp and paper industry ranks third among the main emitters of greenhouse gases.

It is clear then that tree plantations are BAD for the environment. - Wally Menne, Timberwatch Coalition, South Africa

Myth No. 5: Plantations relieve pressure on native forests

A typical propaganda spread by commercial interests and governments of many tropical countries is to say that plantations will take pressure off native forests. They argue that, with enough plantations, native forests could be left alone as they would provide enough wood, making it unnecessary to extract it from them.

This argument is an absolute lie. Firstly, because plantations and forests produce different qualities of wood that target different markets. This means that the demand for high-quality wood will continue to depend on native forests while tree plantations will meet the demand for lower-quality wood.

More importantly, in most cases, tree monocultures are established replacing native forests, which are cut down and cleared to make way for them. Through this activity, the plantation company, which is often also the one that cuts down the forests, will have access to cheap wood - by cutting down the forest - and fertile land previously occupied by the forest. In many cases, these companies do not even establish the plantation after cutting down and eliminating the native forests - although they do sell the wood, obviously - and leave the area leaving behind a degraded forest. In Indonesia, millions of hectares of degraded forests have been the result of this process.

In short, plantations not only do not “relieve the pressure” on forests but are a major cause of deforestation and forest degradation. - Longgena Ginting, WALHI, Indonesia

Myth No. 6: Plantations are necessary to meet the growing need for paper

The need for paper is not increasing. We must not confuse consumption levels with need. In rich countries we already use much more paper than we need, and most of it is wasted. The real need is to reduce the demand for paper, use this precious resource more efficiently and stimulate recycling systems that ensure that paper fibers are reused over and over again. Of course, there are countries and communities where the consumption of paper is far below what is necessary for education and democratic practices, and they have the right to use more. Schools need books, voters need ballots. Nobody says that paper has no advantages. Nobody says that using it is bad or that it has to be eliminated.

But unread magazines, unsolicited blurb, overpacking, and mindless photocopies are a huge waste and should be limited. Without producing more paper than now, but sharing it more equitably, the needs of everyone on the planet could be met. By replacing virgin fibers with alternatives like recycled paper or agricultural waste, fewer trees would be needed to produce paper, not more. We definitely don't need any more fiber-producing tree plantations to make paper. - Mandy Haggith, author of Paper Trails: From Trees to Trash, the True Cost of Paper (Random House / Virgin Books, 2008).

Myth No. 7: Plantations provide opportunities for women

Ecuador's experience in areas where large-scale pine plantations have expanded indicates that, far from providing opportunities for women, they have suffered in various ways.

The arrival of forest plantations in the Ecuadorian moorlands meant the destruction of local economic systems, strongly based on a subsistence economy. Small self-sufficient agriculture was carried out by women and gave them a certain food sovereignty, as well as a margin to negotiate surpluses. The plantations dismantled that system and forced communities to integrate into a new economic system in which money is the central element, leaving little room for women, in a world dominated by men.

On the other hand, the expansion of forest monocultures also caused water sources to dry up. This falls on women in two ways: as they are - along with the children who are in charge of herding, now they must travel long distances in search of water for their animals. In turn, the scarcity of water makes domestic and agricultural tasks more difficult.

The socio-economic changes resulting from the entry of the plantations, together with the environmental impacts of the plantations, have also caused a generalized migration. In the Sierra the tendency is for men to go to work in the cities and women to stay at home with their children. This has implied an additional burden on women, since their usual domestic tasks are now being added to the fields that men used to do, with the exception of planting and harvesting, for which men return.

Ultimately, the plantations have only made the situation of women worse, without giving them any benefits in return. - Ivonne Ramos, Ecological Action, Ecuador

Myth No. 8: Certification ensures that plantations are socially beneficial and environmentally sustainable

In the area of ​​tree plantations, FSC emerges as the main body in charge of granting a certificate to plantations that it considers to be "environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable".

The insurmountable problem with this “green seal” granted by FSC is that it accepts what inherently can never be either socially beneficial or environmentally sustainable: the model of large-scale monoculture tree plantations.

In Uruguay, one after another, the companies that apply for certification achieve it, but the impacts continue and worsen as the plantations - certified or not - cover ever greater extensions in different areas of the country. Testimonies abound about what forest plantations bring to local communities: occupation of territories, concentration and foreignization of land, displacement of communities and other modes of production, lack of water, soil erosion, loss of food sovereignty , to name a few impacts. And yet FSC continues to certify them.

That is why certification does nothing more than legitimize the expansion of plantations, making them green, and thereby weakens the struggle of those who resist them at the local, national, regional and international levels.

The only socially beneficial and environmentally sustainable measure with respect to tree monocultures is to suspend their expansion. - Elizabeth Díaz, Guayubira Group, Uruguay

Myth No. 9: Oil palm plantations help mitigate climate change through the production of agrodiesel

The expansion of oil palm plantations generally takes place at the cost of the transformation of natural ecosystems, especially tropical rain forests. This has disastrous effects, on the one hand because these forests are home to very traditional populations who have learned over millennia to understand the forest and to use it while respecting its natural dynamics. On the other hand, the destruction of the forest implies the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) - one of the greenhouse gases, whose accumulation in the atmosphere is responsible for global warming and the consequent climate change. And not only that, but if a comparative CO2 balance is made between the two systems (the forest and the plantations), we will see that tropical forests, due to their complexity, store and fix much more carbon.

Palm plantations, like any large-scale monoculture, demand a large amount of inputs based on fossil fuels, which release carbon. They also require pesticides, due to the large number of pests and diseases that infest these plantations, as well as herbicides, to combat any species of plant other than palm that can compete for water and nutrients. All of this produces another carbon imbalance, to which it is added that agrodiesel produced from palm oil is generally destined for export. In turn, the transportation process that this requires generates more CO2 emissions.

The European consumer using palm oil or agrodiesel produced in a tropical country may have the feeling that they are using a “green” or “green” fuel. But it ignores that this fuel has traveled from the other side of the world, burning fossil fuels along its journey, and what is more serious, destroying the way of life of hundreds of local communities and natural ecosystems.

This is why palm plantations for agrodiesel not only aggravate climate change but also impact the ecosystems and communities where they are established. - Elizabeth Bravo, Institute for Third World Ecological Studies, Ecuador

Myth No. 10: Plantations help tackle climate change through ethanol production

For those readers of the WRM newsletter who don't already know, the southern United States is the world's largest paper-producing region. For more than 50 years we have been the testing ground for every conceivable destructive forestry method that, once perfected here, is exported around the world. For example, from the 1950s to the present day, we have converted nearly 17 million hectares of forest and arable land into monoculture plantations for timber, which places us first in the world in this regard.

The latest experiment is the plan to combat climate change by establishing more tree plantations for ethanol production. This will mean increased pressure on natural forests, a rush to convert more forested land to plantations, greater reliance on toxic chemicals for forest management, shorter growth cycles that increase pressure on soil and water resources, and a greater push to develop and implement the use of genetically modified trees. In a letter recently sent by International Paper to the United States Department of Agriculture, where it is pushing for the planting of genetically modified eucalyptus trees in the United States, the company argues that a growth in the market for tree-based bioenergy could double the pressure on the forests in the south of the country.

Wood and pulp plantations increase climate change rather than solve it. Natural forests have been shown to sequester large amounts of carbon and agrofuels have been shown not to be a great substitute for fossil fuels in terms of emissions. Deforestation and common corporate forestry practices rank second among the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, behind the burning of fossil fuels. So doesn't it make more sense to protect and restore our forests than to keep turning them into plantations to be cut continuously, in short rotations, in the rush to use less fossil fuels? - Scot Quaranda, Dogwood Alliance, United States

Myth No. 11: Plantations help tackle climate change by neutralizing the carbon emitted by fossil fuels

At a very basic level, dealing with climate change involves drastically and immediately reducing the amount of fossil fuels that we extract and burn. The idea of ​​using plantations to neutralize these emissions is counterproductive as it actually provides a false excuse to continue burning coal, oil and gas. As long as there is room for more plantations (regardless of their impact on communities and ecosystems) commercial interests will want us to believe that we can continue to build more oil refineries and coal mines.

At the same time, it is impossible for us to quantify the amount of carbon that a given plantation is capable of sequestering. This means that all the methodologies to define the exact amount of 'tons of carbon' absorbed, from the plantation to the exhaust pipe, are nonsense. The only thing we can say with any scientific certainty is that monoculture tree plantations are much less efficient than primary forests at storing carbon.

The irony is that the communities that are normally evicted to establish tree plantations tend to be those that lead a sustainable, low-carbon life. Using plantations to offset the emissions of individuals, companies or countries of the North is a kind of 'carbon colonialism' - a new form of the appropriation of the land by which colonial history was characterized. - Kevin Smith, Carbon Trade Watch, UK

Myth No. 12: Plantations as carbon sinks help tackle climate change by offsetting the carbon emitted by fossil fuels

From a climate perspective, tree plantations are not only not a solution but also add more problems. It is impossible to predict how much carbon a plantation could capture from the atmosphere, or for how long. Unlike underground coal or oil, carbon stored in trees is "brittle" - it can quickly return to the atmosphere at any time, through fires, storms, insect attacks, disease, and decay.

When tree plantations are harvested, it is very difficult to track the carbon stored in the wood. Some of the pulp and paper products can be burned almost immediately; others may break down more slowly; Others may even enjoy a somewhat longer life in buildings or furniture; and some end up in landfills, which, depending on the circumstances, can lead to long-term storage or dangerous methane gas emissions.

And this is just the beginning. In order to credibly claim that a tree plantation “offset” a certain amount of CO2 emitted, carbon plantation advocates should consider a figure that represents the degree to which their plantations destroyed pre-existing carbon pools, thus adding CO2 to the air.

Furthermore, the activities of any community displaced by carbon plantations should be closely monitored for, say, a century, regardless of where they have migrated, to accurately determine their impact on forests or pastures elsewhere, and the consequent release of carbon stored in these ecosystems.

For these and a long list of other reasons, large-scale “offset” plantations, rather than mitigating climate change, could even make it worse. By postponing the phase-out of fossil fuel extraction, the transition to a more equitable distribution of emissions and a more prudent use of energy and transport, such plantations could end up generating an increase in avoidable carbon emissions, both from industry and land. - Larry Lohman, Corner House, UK

Myth No. 13: Genetic modification is useful and necessary to improve trees

There is a particular arrogance associated with this argument. It implies that scientists and corporations know more about improving trees than has been achieved in 3 billion years of evolution, and ignores the fact that some tree species being manipulated have genomes several times longer than the human genome. . But what they are really saying is that "genetic modification of trees is useful and necessary to make more money."

The first assumption that we must make to agree with the statement that "genetic modification is useful and necessary to improve trees" is that the consumption of trees can and must continue to increase indefinitely, because we can modify trees to obtain " more wood on less land ”(which is the motto of the biotech company ArborGen).

The second necessary assumption is that scientists can create trees capable of ignoring ecological limits - such as the availability of water, soil nutrients, etc. - and growing faster and faster on smaller and smaller tracts of land.

The third assumption we must accept is that scientists can understand and deal with the full range of possible impacts of these trees, studying them in field trials for approximately 5 years, even though the traits they are modifying and introducing into these trees have not never existed before and that trees can survive in the environment for many decades. We must also believe that genetic modification itself is safe, and that intermingling and mixing the genomes of trees with genes of other organisms will not have negative, unpredictable or unintended consequences.

The final assumption we must make is that scientists can manufacture trees that will never escape into native forests - either from contamination through pollen from wild species of the same family, or from the escape of invasive non-native species, such as eucalyptus. . We must believe this, although trees can spread their pollen and seeds for hundreds of kilometers and although the scientists themselves who work with transgenic trees show great concern about the inadvertent contamination of species that we do not want to modify.

Therefore, if we can block the rational side of the brain and believe only in a fantasy world, then, and only then, can we believe that "genetic modification is useful and necessary to improve trees." Fortunately, most of us still have a rational brain at work and we can report this as a big lie. - Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project, USA

Myth No. 14: Including plantations in the REDD mechanism (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) will help tackle climate change

This myth is rooted in the fact that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) does not differentiate forests from plantations. According to the UNFCCC, "forest" is an area of ​​more than 500 square meters where at least 10 percent is covered by trees that can reach more than two meters in height. Thus, for the UNFCCC, there is no difference between a eucalyptus monoculture, a severely degraded forest and an intact primary forest.

Under the UN definition, forests become almost indestructible. A forest, or a plantation, can be cut down and remain a forest. The cleared areas are defined as "areas that are normally part of the forested area but temporarily lack forest population as a result of human intervention." With only three months to go until the UN climate negotiations to take place in Copenhagen in December, the UNFCCC has yet to agree on a definition of forest degradation.

This is not simply a theoretical problem. Asia Pulp and Paper, to mention one particularly egregious example, has destroyed vast areas of forest in Sumatra. However, according to the UN definition of “forest”, it has not caused any deforestation. APP could even benefit from REDD payments instead of being held liable for the damage it has already caused.

The answer to this myth is simple: plantations are not forests and cannot, in any way, help to tackle climate change. - Chris Lang,

Myth No. 15: Tree plantations to produce “biochar” can help reduce climate change

Una coalición de compañías emergentes, consultores y algunos especialistas en suelos promueven una nueva “solución” para el cambio climático: convertir grandes cantidades de madera y otros tipos de biomasa a un fino polvo de carbón vegetal (eufemísticamente llamado “biochar” en inglés) que se aplicaría a suelos agrícolas. Causa gran preocupación que sus promotores, organizados en la Iniciativa Internacional para el Biochar, argumenten que el carbono del carbón vegetal permanecerá en el suelo por miles de años y “compensará” la quema de combustible fósil, y que el carbón vegetal aportará mayor fertilidad a los suelos. Ellos clasifican a toda la biomasa como “carbono neutra”, ya sea que provenga de plantaciones de árboles o de despojar a enormes superficies de cultivos y de bosques de sus residuos vegetales. Ninguno de los argumentos está demostrado:

* No existe una comprensión acabada de los impactos del carbón vegetal en el clima, y hasta podrían ser negativos, incluso en una pequeña escala.

* El carbón vegetal no es en sí mismo un fertilizante. Los agricultores indígenas lograron combinarlo con residuos orgánicos para aportar mayor fertilidad a los suelos, pero lo que proponen los defensores del biochar exigiría despojar a grandes extensiones de tierra de los residuos vegetales de cultivos y bosques para fabricar carbón vegetal, en un proceso muy distinto. La eliminación generalizada de residuos agota el suelo y aumenta las probabilidades de erosión, y deja a los bosques más vulnerables y menos biodiversos. También causaría dependencia de los fertilizantes basados en combustible fósil, porque los residuos ya no volverán al suelo.

* No se ha tenido en cuenta el potencial de contaminación del suelo y el aire, que podría ser grave.

No existe una cantidad de residuos tal que pueda producir las cantidades de carbón vegetal que se anuncian. La madera es el tipo de biomasa de la que se obtiene más carbón vegetal, y se necesitarían grandes cantidades y a bajo costo. Las plantaciones industriales de árboles son la fuente más probable de biochar a gran escala. El anunciado “potencial” de miles de millones de toneladas de biochar se basa en la falsa idea de que hay vastas superficies de tierras de cultivo “abandonadas” que podrían ser apropiadas, como si la gente, la biodiversidad y el clima no dependieran de tierras que no están todavía en régimen de monocultivos. Los mismos argumentos se han utilizado para justificar la apropiación de grandes zonas de pasturas, tierras comunitarias y bosques, con consecuencias desastrosas para la gente y también para el clima, ya que cuando se cortan los árboles y otro tipo de vegetación, y se ara la tierra, se liberan grandes cantidades de carbono, y junto con la gente otras actividades agrícolas son empujadas a los bosques que van quedando en pie.

Además, las propuestas de incluir el biochar en el Mecanismo de Desarrollo Limpio (MDL) del Convenio sobre Cambio Climático no se limitan a los “residuos”. Ya se aprobó la primera metodología MDL para dedicar plantaciones de árboles a carbón vegetal como combustible, para la empresa Plantar en Minas Gerais, Brasil. Se aplica al carbón vegetal como combustible pero si los defensores del biochar se salen con la suya, es posible que tengamos muchos más eucaliptos y otros monocultivos para carbón vegetal, lo que significa más apropiaciones de tierra y más catástrofes para los pueblos indígenas y los campesinos de los países del sur – Almuth Ernsting, BiofuelWatch, Reino Unido

Extractado del Boletín Mensual del Movimiento Mundial por los Bosques –

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