World Rainforest Movement

Ecuador: Impacts of the Eucapacific Company on people and their environment

In Ecuador three models of monoculture tree plantations coexist: the erroneously called “carbon sinks” belonging to the Dutch foundation FACE, the pine tree plantations in Andean communities promoted by organizations linked to the Church and the pulpwood plantation model. In this article we shall concentrate on this latter and more recent model.

In the Province of Esmeraldas, the Eucapacific Company (Eucalyptus Pacifico S.A.) is actively planting eucalyptus trees. It is a new company that was set up at the end of the year 2000 to carry out a major eucalyptus plantation project. The project involves four Japanese companies (Mitsubishi Paper Mills, Sumitomo Corporation, Electric Power Development and Environmental Engineering Service) and Waltz International and the idea is to plant thousands of hectares of Eucalyptus trees.

The objective is to produce pulp and paper from eucalyptus trees. The timber will be turned into wood chips in the port of Esmeraldas and later exported to Japan where they will be turned into pulp and paper.

Eighty per cent of the investment was provided by the Japanese government as a loan. The consortium obtained this loan from the Japanese Government under the reasoning that it is an “ecologically sustainable” project. According to them, the plantation of eucalyptus will fulfil the function of absorbing greenhouse gases generated by the Electric Power Development Company.

Eucapacific is being installed through an aggressive process of buying up land, initially from the owners of medium-sized plots of between 500 and 2000 hectares and later from smaller property owners. They are offered good prices for their lands and promised employment. In order to expand its control over the whole zone, Eucapacific put pressure on the peasants to sell the farms that were isolated in the middle of the Company’s properties. They did this by enclosing the land and placing security guards to prevent free circulation of the peasants along local public roads that the transnational company had already obstructed with its plantations.

There have been frequent cases in which the peasants have been obliged to accept ridiculous prices for their lands simply by preventing them from having access to their properties by the purchase of adjacent land. Thus, at the same time, the company makes the passage through their domains illegal. There are also other types of pressure exerted by Eucapacific. They include open boycott of peasant production, theft from their property, death of their animals and non-compliance with specific agreements. To this is added intimidation by death threats and harassment of the communities’ children, a situation that has been denounced in the community of Matambal.

Work promised to the local population is notoriously absent. During the 2003 planting “300 people from outside were employed.” Of these 300 people, today there are only 10 left. Help promised at the time of purchasing lands, in particular referring to the creation of sources of labour has been reduced to “zero so far.”

Furthermore, the company has found a way – through the mechanism of outsourcing – of freeing itself from labour responsibilities towards the workers.

Labour conditions are deplorable. Approximately 400 people work in a farm of 400 hectares, living in a single camp if the farm has access to roads. If not, they are distributed in 3 or more camps in the plantation areas. The camps with access to roads are usually large, separated into barracks for thirty or forty men, with three-story bunk beds. They are made out of poor quality timber with tin roofs and usually have no sanitary facilities. Those that do include six to ten barracks with septic tanks that are full after a week, causing a serious health problem: the faecal waters overflow, turning into breeding sites for mosquitoes transmitting typhoid fever and malaria.

The chemical inputs (weed-killers, insecticides, fertilizers) are located close to the dining areas and in the camps, exposing the workers to contamination. The camps scattered in the forest have plastic roofs and walls and measure no more than five metres by five where six people live. They have no basic services. The houses of the former owners of the farms are used and in populated areas, communal housing.

There is no drinking water in the work place, neither medical care of any type, no access to medication nor means of transport to the nearest health centre in the event of an emergency. Illness caused by intoxication from chemical products is frequent. Tree logging causes frequent work-related accidents that are not treated by the bosses under the slogan of “cure as you can.” Each plot sees two or three sick workers leaving per day. In Eucapacific people have died, such as in the camp of the contractor Tito Zambrano in the Quitito plot. A contractor called Ramón Zambrano also died.

There is no job continuity. Many people are hired for the initial phases of the plantation. This involves an average period of between three and four months, followed by mass dismissal of the workers. Remuneration for 22 days of continuous 8-hour per day work is between five and six dollars, with an average of 133 dollars, less than the minimum wage. The days of rest are not remunerated. Sick leave is not paid. The cost of food is deducted from the salary and the food itself is of very poor quality.

To the above are added other impacts from the plantations. Shortly after the plantation of the eucalyptus trees, their impact on water started becoming evident. The people say that “the rivers are drying up completely; there are no fish or anything.” To this is added contamination and now the water is dirty and contaminated by chemicals. This has led to diseases among the local population. At certain times the “river stinks,” because “they have poisoned the river and dead fish and shrimps stink.”

Furthermore, it should be pointed out that Eucapacific, in spite of having identified zones for the protection of biodiversity and the hydrographic basins in its properties, has installed plantations thus destroying the stated protection objectives.

Various water courses located in the Eucapacific plantations flow into the mangroves and the reproduction and survival of endemic species to the mangrove system are affected.

They spray weed-killer that, when it rains, ends up in the rivers and swamps due to leaching, killing the shrimps and all it finds in its way. It is also known that the spray tanks are washed in the rivers. There have been cases of poisoning, for example in Las Delicias (Quinindé), where the company purchased 40 hectares that it planted with eucalyptus trees. To avoid the ants eating the plants they sprayed bananas with the poison called NUBAN and placed them around the trees. Many domestic animals eat them and died.

Due to the use of agro-chemical products, cases of intoxication caused by bathing in the rivers Peninsula and Tortuga have been reported. An important point is that the population of Tortuga consumes the water from the river of the same name, where poisoned dead fish are always to be found. Banana plantations among others get infested due to lack of water because the eucalyptus trees dry out the springs and rivers.

On decreasing the flow of water, various crab species have almost disappeared. The people of Tortuga say “We have had two plagues, two enemies, the shrimp farms in those times and now the eucalyptus.”

The result of this model is there to be seen: in the plantation zone the people describe the situation by saying that “life there is dreadful. It is sad.” Those who did not sell their lands live in fear of threats, of loosing their means of survival (in particular game), migration to the cities, the closing down of routes used by their ancestors (and consequent “fencing in” in the plantations), and the lack of job opportunities.

By Ivonne Ramos, Acción Ecológica, e-mail:

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