World Rainforest Movement

Ecuador: Zero community benefits from FACE PROFAFOR certified plantations

In 1999, the FACE Forestación del Ecuador S.A. programme, known as PROFAFOR, hired the Swiss certification firm SGS-Société Générale de Surveillance to assess the forestry management of 20,000 hectares of its monoculture tree plantations in the Ecuadorian Andes. In 2000, SGS granted a certificate to PROFAFOR’s plantations for absorbing carbon dioxide emissions (this was the first case in which storage and uptake of carbon dioxide were certified in tree plantations and not in real forests), and in December 2000 granted the Forestry Certification Seal accrediting that PROFAFOR fulfils “FSC Principles and Criteria.”

What is FACE-PROFAFOR? FACE (acronym meaning Forest Absorbing Carbon dioxide Emissions) is a Dutch Foundation that was established in 1990 by the Board of Management of the Dutch Electricity Generating Companies, N.V. Sep, with the initial objective of establishing 150,000 hectares of tree plantations to compensate for the emissions from a new coal fired electricity generation plant to be set up in the Netherlands. The new project was to represent millions of tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Due to the costs involved, they turned to the establishment of tree plantations in developing countries. This is how FACE came to Ecuador where it established the FACE Forestación del Ecuador (PROFAFOR) programme, and funded the PROFAFOR del Ecuador company to establish monoculture tree plantations of exotic species (pine and eucalyptus) to “store” atmospheric CO2.

Following the serious negative environmental and social consequences generated by the establishment of the tree plantations, in 2005 the Ecuadorian organization “Acción Ecológica” carried out a research, resulting in the report “Carbon Sink Plantations in the Ecuadorian Andes. Impacts of the Dutch FACE-PROFAFOR monoculture tree plantations’ project on indigenous and peasant communities”, available at http://www.wrm.org.uy/countries/Ecuador/face.html

The field work identified that – in addition to not guaranteeing economic, social and environmental benefits to the communities under a certified forestry project – in the case of the indigenous communities in the Ecuadorian Andes, FSC Certification has led to a situation which is precisely the contrary, insofar as the communities find themselves obliged to absorb the costs of the project as well as its impacts.

Additionally, with certification FACE PROFAFOR has improved its image and managed to make the negative impacts generated by the project invisible. The local communities affected by certified projects must face the force and weight of the “Green Label” which deprives their struggles and claims of credibility.

The report has identified what PROFAFOR obtains from the communities: land, labour and money.

Under the terms of the contracts signed, FACE does not pay any kind of rent for the community-owned lands where the “Carbon Intake and Storage” that it is negotiating on the international market, takes place. FACE PROFAFOR keeps 100 per cent of the Rights for Absorbing Carbon while it requires that the communities do not use these lands for any activity other than maintenance of the carbon sink during the 25-30 years duration of the contract.

Furthermore, the project’s offer to “generate employment” is fictitious. Indeed, the communities have to absorb the negative impact of the project as, in order to comply with the FACE PROFAFOR contract, on occasions they have had to resort to hiring people from other places, either because they do not possess the necessary skills to carry out certain jobs in conformity with technical specifications or because the plantations are located in places of difficult access and subject to extreme climatic conditions.

Regarding money, out of the figure originally offered to the community, over the first three years PROFAFOR deducts the “cost” of the plants and technical assistance it provides. In addition to the communities receiving almost half of what was initially offered, the contracts oblige them to use the resources provided by FACE exclusively for the Plantation Contract, but these resources are generally insufficient to cover the communities’ expenses in completing the establishment of the plantations.

Additionally, the contracts ban activities such as grazing. In many cases this implies that the families owning cattle have to rent land for their animals, an expense that previously did not exist. Sometimes due to lack of grazing land they have to reduce their heads of cattle.

To improve its image, FACE alleges that its activities are carried out on degraded lands and at altitudes where agriculture is impossible and where grazing is not profitable.

The true situation is very different. FACE introduces pine plantations in primary ecosystems, not on degraded lands. The plantations are established in a very fragile ecosystem, of great hydrological importance: the Paramo, fundamental for the regulation of regional hydrology and a source of water for most of the population in the Andes. The great amount of organic matter enables these soils to retain much water. The implantation of alien tree species in the Paramo does NOT favour ecosystem stability. On the contrary, it transforms and damages the fragile soil structure, causing serious cracking due to the changes in the water regime. It also affects the flora and the fauna and determines that the plantations have a poor yield, which finally leads to prejudicing the carbon sequestering it intends to achieve.

Eight years after launching its activities, FACE obtained FSC Certification. It was of scant relevance that to establish its plantations primary systems were destroyed, nor did it matter that no measures to mitigate the impacts generated by the project were demonstrated.

Summing up, FSC Certification in the FACE PROFAFOR plantations in Ecuador does not guarantee that the communities “benefiting” from the project receive economic, social or environmental benefits. Rather it shows a considerable – and questionable – “flexibility” in the application of FSC Principles and Criteria.

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