Is monoculture undesirable?

2008-11-07 00:00

EVER since I was berated in the press by Jason Londt for confusing plantations with forests I have kept very quiet about tree farming. I am still confused about this because people were taught at our local university about plantations in the discipline of forestry. Milking cows is my forte, not trees, so I must accept that Londt is correct. My apologies.

Apart from cows I have also been involved with some very successful monocropping operations in Africa, since I was a child, so the following report is interesting, but not necessarily my point of view.

The general assembly of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is meeting in Cape Town, from November 3 to November 7. Coinciding with the opening of the event, an open letter was distributed to FSC members, calling on the FSC “to urgently resolve the serious problem of FSC certification of monoculture tree plantations”.

Wally Menne, from the South African Timberwatch Coalition, explained that “the Forest Stewardship Council was created for the certification of forests. Plantations have nothing in common with forests and should therefore never have been within the mandate of the FSC. The time has come for the FSC to decide to stop certifying them.”

Another South African activist, Philip Owen from GeaSphere, added that “timber plantations have resulted in the depletion of scarce water resources, making them prone to devastating fires such as those recently experienced in South Africa and Swaziland, [which resulted in] a number of people dead or homeless.”

Those plantations, he emphasised, were FSC certified.

“By certifying these plantations, the FSC is strengthening large timber companies, [which] are members of the FSC, and weakening local peoples’ struggles to protect their land and resources,” said Marcelo Calazans from the Brazilian NGO FASE, adding that by certifying these plantations, the FSC label has totally lost its credibility.

After fires ravaged the Pigg’s Peak area in Swaziland, Nhlanhla Msweli from GeaSphere Swaziland said: “Our experience is that plantations have not benefited local communities — instead they have brought pain and servitude.”

He summed up the situation: “We can link timber plantations to the poverty that is experienced on the ground. Evicting people from their land is fatal, paying them peanuts is exploitation, not being environmentally responsible is wrong, and not taking any responsibility for damages done to the environment is not being concerned at all.”

Nathalia Bonilla from Accion Ecologica in Ecuador said she is frustrated, because, in spite of all the documented evidence about their negative social and environmental impacts, the FACE-Profafor and Endesa/Botrosa plantations are still FSC certified. The certification company GFA is currently in Ecuador assessing Endesa/Botrosa’s plantations. “We fear that the opinion of local communities will not be taken into account and that the company will be able to continue its destructive activities under the FSC’s ‘green label’,” Bonilla said.

“For many years we have been documenting the impacts of monoculture tree plantations and publishing [the results of] detailed studies done in a large range of countries [Brazil, Cambodia, Chile, Ecuador, Indonesia, Uganda, Uruguay, South Africa, Swaziland, Thailand and others]. Instead of learning lessons from them, the FSC chose to ignore the evidence and has continued to certify uncertifiable plantations,” explained Ricardo Carrere of the World Rainforest Movement.

The open letter, signed by hundreds of organisations and individuals from all over the world, calls “on those FSC members who share with us the desire to protect local peoples and nature from the damage caused by the expansion of tree plantations to raise their voices at the general assembly and to help bring about the change that is needed.”

The urgency of that change is expressed in the letter: “The time has now arrived for FSC members — particularly from the social and environmental chambers — to take sides: to continue to allow business as usual, or to fight for change; to protect the interests of large pulp and timber corporations or the rights of local peoples and nature; to carry on accepting that plantations are a ‘type of forest’ or to agree that they have nothing in common with them; to greenwash a most harmful land use, or to oppose social and environmental destruction.”

The contact person for further information is Wally Menne of the Timberwatch Coalition who can be phoned at 082 444 2083.

I have not had time to discuss this issue with our timber organisations but their comments would be appreciated.

Regarding the Swaziland situation, I am also concerned about the poverty that is going to result from the loss of timber from fires in that country. However, the poverty that is coming is not from the exploitation of the people but from the huge loss of earnings from the sale of that timber that used to alleviate some of the poverty in Swaziland.

• Alastair Paterson is an agricultural consultant. He can be contacted at 033 330 4817, 082 880 9002 or e-mail

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