World Rainforest Movement

Paraguay: Peasants can better confront eucalyptus advancing on their lands thanks to the experience of their Brazilian peers

The Paraguayan Federation of Wood Industries (Federación Paraguaya de Madereros – FEPAMA) is talking of “collaborating with the Agrarian Reform Project promoted by the Government, through a proposal for comprehensive rural development and generation of wealth by introducing tree plantations on idle lands.” (1)  FEPAMA alleges that “with this work special support could be provided to small and medium-sized rural landowners, to enable them to help organize the promotion of tree plantations … in the farms of small and medium-sized landowners.” (2)

The “idle lands” referred to by FEPAMA are part of the peasants’ productive system, which is generally diversified. The proposal is to plant fast-growing trees on these lands. This business, that will mainly benefit the forestry sector, providing the necessary raw material to develop an industry, will be implemented by using national funds. The FEPAMA proposal is to set up a fund to activate Law 536 which established subsidies to tree plantations with “an initial input of between five and ten million dollars from the MERCOSUR Structural Funds and/or the social contributions from Itaipu [a large hydroelectric dam shared between Brazil and Paraguay] and/or the World Bank, IDB, JICA and others.”

The 1994 Law 536 set out the bases for the development of a large scale forestation model – although due to special circumstances in Paraguay it came to a halt – which is suspiciously similar to the legal frameworks of other countries, such as Chile and Uruguay that have promoted tree plantations.  

Thus, in Paraguay the process is being launched of imposing large-scale monoculture plantation of fast-growing trees. This is an opportunity for Paraguayan peasants to benefit from the experience of their Brazilian brothers and sisters regarding the plantation of eucalyptus on peasant farmland.  

In this respect, a document prepared recently by the Brazilian Movement of Small Farmers (Movimiento de Pequeños Agricultores – MPA) (which can be accessed at the WRM website at http://www.wrm.org.uy/paises/Brasil/Fomento_Florestal.pdf) analyzes the impacts of the “forestry promotion” programme fostered by the Government in the State of Espirito Santo, which promotes monoculture eucalyptus plantations by small farmers.  

Behind the discourse of “benefitting” the peasants is concealed a new strategy for the expansion of agribusiness companies (the pulp company, Aracruz, in the concrete case of Brazil).  This strategy ensures them the supply of raw material without the responsibility of producing it and allows them to avoid any type of restriction on land ownership.  Furthermore, the companies are able to obtain timber from trees planted on lands that would not be profitable for industrialized company management, such as hilly areas.  

Small landowners entering the programme become captive to the company as it has a monopoly over the purchase of wood. Furthermore, they sign a contract with the company in which they take on numerous obligations such as the application of agrochemicals, technical assistance defined by the company, delivering of the timber to the company and achieving an estimated production. If this goal is not reached the farmer may even have to make up the difference himself.

“We almost had to sell coffee to pay the freight to transport the eucalyptus. I went to the Aracruz office and told them I was not going to do that, but they insisted that I had to pay.”

The experience of these farmers tells us among other things, of the dangerous and unprotected work in the monoculture tree plantations, the drop in water courses caused by these trees and the obligatory use of poisons in the plantation.  

Using a practical approach, the document compares the economic and socio-environmental returns from a eucalyptus plantation (in the worst and best scenarios) with those of corn and bean plantations. The results leave no doubts, even in the best of the scenarios for eucalyptus it is more profitable for the peasants to invest in growing food-crops and even to diversify their production with the plantation of native trees.  

It is important to transmit this experience to other countries where the intention is to impose the expansion of industrial tree plantations using the same arguments. The Paraguayan peasants and people can back themselves on the experience of their regional peers to avoid being misled.They are still in time to resist.     

(1)   “Paraguay: FEPAMA plantea apoyo a reforma agraria mediante forestación”, ForestalWeb,http://www.forestalweb.com/Noticias-internacionales/paraguay-fepama-plantea-apoyo-a-reforma-agraria-mediante-forestacion/

(2) “Fepama plantea desarrollo forestal”, ABC digital, http://www.abc.com.py/2009-01-26/articulos/490192/fepama-plantea-desarrollo-forestal