World Rainforest Movement

Monocultures: The symbol of an outdated model

If there is one thing that the other possible world we are appealing for must contain, it is biological diversity. Life shouts this out at us at each step we take. The message is there for all to see. The greater the diversity of an ecosystem, the greater its wealth, the greater its beauty. The precious tropical forests, deep receptacles of innumerable animal and plant species, of colours, shades and sounds, the cradle of springs and streams, the matrix of human populations. They are valuable to human beings, both aesthetically and functionally, supplying food, shelter, building materials, ornaments, tools. The idea is not that they must not be used, but that they must be used prudently, supportively and respectfully, “sustainably” to say it in a modern way.

Only present modernity that has broken all links with the natural world can have forgotten the lesson. Accelerated technological development and the development of communications have been the links that have enabled gigantic economic and financial groups to take nature by assault and try to take over the world, this time in an overwhelming way.

The rationale of these companies of achieving increasingly greater profits, makes them recreate the world to reach their goal in a more efficient way. Thus we find the paradigm of scale –large scale– and within it, monocultures ferociously shown in agriculture, separating it dramatically from nature.

Monoculture tree plantations are one of its expressions. The interests that impose them want to disguise them as forests, but they are as far from being forests as they are from being prairies. So much so that they destroy both ecosystems.

Millions of hectares all over the world –in some cases previously occupied by forests and in others by prairies– are planted with unending, uniform lines of eucalyptus trees destined to be reduced to pulp, to produce millions of tons of paper feeding wasteful consumption, mainly in packaging and advertising. The highest rates of consumption are, of course, in the countries of the North.

Lately attempts have been made to give to commercial monoculture eucalyptus plantations another purpose: that of “carbon sinks” or carbon garbage dumps. The Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change has provided a mechanism that is supposed to compensate for carbon dioxide releases, responsible for the greenhouse effect and its serious consequences on climatic change. This implies planting trees to trap carbon while they grow. As eucalyptus trees grow fast, it is assumed that they are ideal –of course as long as they do not catch fire, or rot, or are covered by floods, because this would return to the atmosphere all the carbon they have trapped. Greenhouse gas emitters plant trees and thus, by planting and planting, they can continue releasing and releasing carbon. This has given rise to another big business, the carbon market. What about the climate? Very bad, thank you. What about the soil, the flora and the fauna and the ecosystems, the various forms of livelihood? Very bad, thank you.

Plantations of oil palm are spreading more and more in the countries of the South due to their profitability resulting from combining cheap labour, low-cost land, abundant support from the World Bank, the IMF and UNDP, the short period between planting and starting to harvest, and a market on the rise in the countries of the North. Colonization, social inequity, the dismantling of States, are all fertile fields to do big business with the plantations. The rich nature of the South is violated time and time again.

And, like the icing on the cake, the latest novelty in tree plantations is that of transgenic trees. Strengthening the genetic selection process for commercial ends, centred on certain genetic features of trees, such as rapid growth, height, diameter, the quality of the timber, and straight trunks with few branches, genetic engineering now produces genetically modified trees (transgenic trees) to adapt them even more to the needs of the forestry industry. This at the cost of the serious danger the process involves. If the rate of tree growth is stepped up, water will be depleted faster and destruction of biodiversity will be accelerated, giving way to biological deserts full of transgenic trees resistant to insects, with no flowers, fruit or seeds. The soil will be destroyed at an even faster rate because of the increased extraction of biomass, intensive mechanization and a greater use of agrochemicals.

All these different types of plantations have in common the problems they cause: they encroach on ancestral territorial rights and on the use of the natural assets of indigenous and peasant communities, they cause soil erosion, alter the water cycle, eliminate other ecosystems and other forms of production and reduce biodiversity.

In sum, monocultures –of trees, plants or of the mind– symbolize an outdated model that must be substituted by biological and cultural diversity to make that other world we aspire to, possible.

By Raquel Núñez, World Rainforest Movement (WRM), e-mail:

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