World Rainforest Movement

Ecuador: A strange “dialogue” for the promotion of tree monocultures

In May 2003, we said that “In nearly all countries, large-scale monoculture tree plantations have been imposed and implemented once the laws of each country have been changed in such a way as to enable national and foreign companies to obtain all kinds of benefits, such as direct and indirect subsidies, tax breaks and even soft loans and refunds for large-scale plantations.” (See the article on Ecuador in WRM Bulletin Nº 70.)

At that time, the World Rainforest Movement witnessed firsthand the pressures exerted on the government of Ecuador to adopt such measures. We participated in a seminar/workshop organized by the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment to formulate a “National Plan on Forestation and Reforestation”. Because of the way the event was structured, however, it ended up being monopolized by forestry companies, which led the small number of Ecuadorian civil society, peasant and indigenous organizations in attendance to issue a declaration expressing their viewpoints. The declaration stressed, among other points, that for peasant and indigenous communities, large-scale commercial tree plantations, and especially monoculture plantations, are not a development alternative; on the contrary, they cause such problems as:

* The deforestation of native forest areas to make way for the introduction of tree plantations, which has been a regular practice in “reforestation” projects.
* The decrease in water resources as a result of the plantations already established, particularly in the páramo highland region.
* Reduced soil fertility, as the result of the replacement of native species and biodiversity with monoculture plantations of alien tree species.
* The appropriation of community lands through leases and mortgages, as in the case of the communities that have signed their lands over to forestry companies under mortgages with terms of up to 99 years.
* The purchase of vast areas of land by transnational corporations, as in the case of Mitsubishi in Muisne.
* The loss of biodiversity and changes in flora and fauna, a consequence seen in all tree plantation projects.
* The increased risk of fire, as in the case of Sig Sig.
* The reduction of conservation areas, as in the case of Cotopaxi National Park.

More than three years later, another twist of the screw is threatening to take Ecuador one step closer to the adoption of legislation to promote large-scale monoculture tree plantations. The Ministry of the Environment is conducting a process it calls a National Dialogue on the Forest Management System in Ecuador, which includes the organization of five regional workshops and a national workshop, and is aimed at implementing the new System as of this July. This process has been harshly criticized by numerous Ecuadorian social and indigenous organizations, who view it as a “dialogue” totally devoid of popular participation. These groups joined together to send a letter to the minister of the environment on June 9, in which they demand, among other things, the immediate suspension of this process. (The complete letter is available in Spanish at http://www.wrm.org.uy/paises/Ecuador/CartaMAE.pdf)

The organizations stress: “This process does not include important actors who are directly affected by the destruction of forests, their grassroots organizations and their national organizations. The regional dialogue, held in the city of Esmeraldas illustrates the lack of participation by citizens’ and community groups. The sector most widely represented in these processes is the forestry industry. This is a serious cause for concern, because its representatives cannot serve as judges and parties in the discussion of an issue as sensitive for the country as the control of deforestation. This representation demonstrates that these meetings are aimed more at formulating a forestry policy, expanding the area devoted to tree plantations (deregulation) and increasing incentives for plantations. This blatantly benefits the forestry companies and does nothing to address the fundamental aspect of the process: forest management control.”

“Adopting a forest management policy, in our view, should involve the following aspects:

“1. The active participation and consent of the communities affected, their grassroots organizations and their national organizations.

“2. Conserving the country’s last surviving primary forests, fully prohibiting their exploitation, and enforcing compliance with the legislation that protects Ecuador’s national forest heritage.

“3. Imposing a moratorium on the logging industry until its social, environmental and economic impacts on the country have been determined.

“4. Prohibiting the expansion of tree plantations, particularly eucalyptus, pine and oil palm plantations, which result in the loss of primary forests and agricultural land, as well as in serious impacts on water resources and the lives of local populations.”

The organizations that signed the letter maintain that “the forestry sector is attempting to establish a new forestry policy to suit its own purposes, while completely disregarding the need for an authentic forest management policy, which our country currently lacks.”

On these grounds, the organizations have withdrawn from the process and called on the authorities to “convene a dialogue with genuine participation, representation and consent, in which we can make decisions on the management of our resources, and which does not create the conditions for the usual power groups to continue destroying the country’s natural heritage.”

It is still not too late for Ecuador. This is why an international action was organized to support Ecuadorian social and indigenous groups in their efforts to prevent the adoption of legislation that would promote the expansion of large-scale monoculture tree plantations (see at http://www.wrm.org.uy/countries/Ecuador/ForestryLaw/index.html). Around the world, those who understand that these plantations only benefit large companies, while offering the local population nothing but disastrous social, environmental and economic impacts, have shown their solidarity by sending letters in support of the Ecuadorian peoples’ efforts to stop this legislation, before it really is too late.

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