World Rainforest Movement

Tree plantations: a direct cause of deforestation

What follows is part of the statement made in Rome by Mia Siscawati, from the Indonesian Institute for Forest and Environment, on the impacts of industrial tree plantations on people and forests in Indonesia.

“As a forester working for environmental NGOs in Indonesia I am glad to have the opportunity to visit the FAO and to join this COFO meeting. I would like also to thank ITFF for the opportunity to have a special meeting with NGOs.

In accordance with ITFF’s plan to put special attention on the issue of underlying causes of deforestation and forest degradation, I would like to take this opportunity to present you the deep concerns of Indonesian NGOs regarding one of the direct causes of deforestation in Indonesia: industrial tree plantations. We have identified it as a direct cause of deforestation since the beginning of its development. It was also identified during the case study process and the national workshop on Addressing Underlying Causes of Deforestation and Forest Degradation which was held prior to the Asia Regional Workshop on the same topic which was held in December 1998.

Industrial plantations in Indonesia have been extensively developed since the 1990’s. Many evidences have shown that they have caused serious environmental and social problems. I have had the opportunity of witnessing myself the following problems caused by industrial plantations : 1)displacement of Indigenous Peoples and local communities; 2)destruction of natural forests; 3)depletion of soil and water resources; 4)devastating impact on biodiversity in general, and in soil biodiversity in particular; 5)pollution by pesticides and fertilizers, contributing to soil and water resource destruction.

Moreover, we have identified that industrial plantations have contributed to the –almost annual– forest fires in Indonesia since the 1990’s. The relationship between plantations and forest fires in Indonesia has finally reached the government’s attention during 1997-1998 when we, Indonesian People, suffered from the most widespread national disaster ever experienced. Satelite images provided evidence that more than 80 % of hot spots were located in industrial plantation areas. Only 1 % of hot spots were located in community areas. The government of Indonesia officially mentioned that 176 private industrial plantation companies were responsible for the forest fires. As you might be aware, the fires have negatively contributed to climate change.

Concerning the issue of climate change, and considering ITFF’s attention on the Kyoto Protocol, I would like to take this opportunity to mention that one of the main causes of global warming is concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. OECD countries are responsible for 77 % of the world fossil fuel-related emissions of CO2. They have high responsibilities to reduce this emission. We should be aware that there are clear indications that they intend to leave this responsibility and get countries with low level emission to be responsible of capturing their emissions by developing industrial plantations. According to one calculation, 300 million hectares of fast growing trees are required to absorb the annual global emissions of CO2 if the present rate of emissions continues. So far there is no scientific evidence of their efficiency, since their capacity to capture CO2 can be much influenced by climate change.

Related to that context, allow me to deliver strong concerns from the NGO Forest Working Group about the potential inclusion of forestry and land use change in the Clean Development Mechanism. This statement was released in Buenos Aires, November 1998, at the Fourth Conference of the Parties of the Climate Change Convention. As you may be aware, the NGO Forest Working Group is an informal coalition of NGOs which has been following intergovernmental negotiations relating to forests since 1995. One of its main concerns is that this inclusion will lead to a strong increase in large-scale monoculture tree plantation development in developing countries. Large-scale tree plantation development is increasingly becoming one of the most important causes of the destruction of native forests and other natural ecosystems. These plantations tend to have very negative social and environmental consequences for local communities, as they deprive them from their land and livelihood.

Regarding those concerns, forest conservation policies should focus on providing incentives for Indigenous Peoples and local communities to conserve their forests, instead of providing incentives for industry to invest in large-scale industrial plantations through deregulation and the creation of loopholes.”

Source: Statement made at the Meeting of NGOs and Interagency Task Force on Forestry (ITFF) Side Meeting of the 14th session of the Committee on Forestry (COFO), Rome, March 5, 1999