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Plantations, poverty and power: Europe's role in the expansion of the pulp industry in the South

Plantations, poverty and power: Europe's role in the expansion of the pulp industry in the South


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By Chris Lang

For the people who live in the areas where the plantations were established, the reality is that they have destroyed their livelihoods and dried up streams and rivers. Development funds should no longer be used to facilitate the expansion of the global pulp industry and associated industrial tree plantations.


Before the current global economic collapse, the pulp industry had ambitious expansion plans. While factories were closing in the North, the industry was expanding dramatically in the South, where an additional capacity of five million tons per year was to be generated over the next five years. Vast areas of monoculture tree plantations were established to supply raw material to gigantic new factories, especially in Latin America, Southeast Asia and South Africa.

Yet today industry analysts are talking about overproduction and referring to it as a "wall of cellulose." Between September and December 2008, world pulp production fell by more than 2 million tons. The hardest hit was suffered by Southeast Asia, where Asia Pulp and Paper and APRIL decreased their pulp production by a total of 580,000 tons. In Brazil, Aracruz is desperately trying to save money after losing some US $ 2 billion of investments in derivative products, and has scrapped (at least for the moment) its project to build a pulp mill with a production capacity of 1, 5 million tons per year in Rio Grande do Sul.

Neither plants build themselves nor plantations establish themselves. One of the reasons for the current problems in the industry is a conflict of interest. European companies, institutions and aid agencies play an important role in promoting and financing the expansion of the industry in the South. They promote this expansion not as a form of "development" but because it is beneficial to European industry.

My new report, “Plantations, Poverty and Power”, deals with the role of European companies and institutions in promoting and expanding the pulp and paper industry in the South. It responds to the lies that plantation advocates repeat to justify the expansion of industrial tree plantations in the South: that plantations create jobs, take pressure off forests, settle only on degraded lands, restore soils, sequester carbon and they help meet a “global demand” for paper. The biggest lie of all is that plantations are forests.

For the people who live in the areas where the plantations were established, the reality is that they have destroyed their livelihoods and dried up streams and rivers. One of the reasons the South seems so attractive is that the regulations are less strict. Trees grow faster in the tropics, labor is cheaper, and governments provide a series of subsidies to stimulate the expansion of the industry. But another important reason that the industry is more reluctant to acknowledge is that, in several countries, the area of ​​industrial plantations expanded rapidly under brutal military dictatorships, when protest against the impacts of plantations was extremely dangerous or impossible. Examples include countries such as South Africa, Chile, Brazil, Thailand and Indonesia.

The report examines five pulp projects in detail: Veracel (Brazil), Sappi (Swaziland), Advance Agro (Thailand), Asia Pulp and Paper (Indonesia) and Botnia (Uruguay). It is unlikely that any of them would have moved on without generous subsidies. The projects generated a series of lucrative contracts for consultants, machinery companies, chemical and engineering companies, European, Nordic and North American. All of them led to serious problems for local communities.


This examination is followed by the description of some European actors involved in the promotion, design and construction of projects in the South. Pöyry is the world's largest forestry consultancy firm and has facilitated (and profited from) the expansion of the pulp industry in many countries, both North and South. The Confederation of European Paper Industries supports the pulp and paper industry regardless of its impacts on people and forests. The Asian Development Bank, the International Finance Corporation and the European Investment Bank are examples of multilateral aid agencies that support the pulp industry. Each of these aid agencies has different standards that they are supposed to apply to potentially destructive projects like industrial tree plantations and the pulp industry. In all cases, these parameters (and the way they are applied) are inadequate to avoid impacts on local communities and the environment.

The report considers two sets of voluntary parameters in detail: the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) guidelines on “planted forests”, and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification system. Both organizations support the pulp industry and the expansion of industrial tree plantations. By defining plantations as forests, FAO helps create the illusion that plantations are not destructive but simply another kind of forest. FSC supports the pulp industry by certifying the sound management of industrial tree plantations and in doing so does not address even the most egregious impacts they often have.

The report concludes by suggesting an alternative way for the development of the pulp industry, which consists of supplying the paper necessary to satisfy local demand through small-scale pulp and paper mills, using local raw materials. Paper could and should be produced without destroying forests, grasslands and people's livelihoods. A first step towards a less destructive pulp and paper industry would be to eliminate the subsidies that help maintain the current situation. Development funds should no longer be used to facilitate the expansion of the global pulp industry and associated industrial tree plantations.

Chris Lang's new report, “Plantations, Poverty and Power: Europe's Role in Expanding the Pulp Industry in the South”, can be downloaded from: http://www.wrm.org.uy/publications /Plantations_Poverty_Power.pdf

Chris Lang, http://chrislang.org - Article published by WRM World Forest Movement - http://www.wrm.org.uy


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Comments:

  1. Ajani

    Amazingly! Amazingly!

  2. Finnbar

    An interesting topic, I will take part.

  3. Lunn

    Brilliant phrase and it is duly

  4. JoJotilar

    I think this is a great idea



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