World Rainforest Movement

Tree plantations generate unemployment

One of the arguments used by large-scale tree plantation promoters (with the pulp and paper industry at the forefront) is that they contribute to the well being of the rural areas where they are set up, by increasing employment opportunities. This is a crucial issue: unemployment is one of the most negative consequences of the ongoing globalization process, so any activity that promises to increase jobs can be perceived as being attractive by local people. In the case of plantations, however, the opposite has been proven true and one example is that of the extreme southern region of the state of Bahia in Brazil, where local communites and indigenous peoples are actively opposing plantations.

An opinion poll was performed in that region to learn what different sectors of society were thinking about the establishment of a development plan based on the pulp and paper industry. At the time, 45% of the people interviewed were in favour of such initiative, and the generation of employment was one of the most frequent arguments for such support. Now, when three large corporations (Aracruz Celulose, Bahia Sul Celulose and Veracel) have taken over extensive areas and have planted them with eucalyptus, people think differently.

A comparative study recently carried out on the jobs created in cattle-raising, industrial agriculture, small-scale agriculture, and eucalyptus plantations, showed that the first one employs on average 1 worker every 50 hectares; the first and second ones, considered together, employ 1 worker every 26.1 hectares, while small-scale agriculture employs 1 worker every 5 hectares. Eucalyptus plantations only generated 1 job every 60 hectares! Such figure results from dividing the total area of 371,156 hectares owned by the above mentioned three companies by the 6,212 jobs they created.

But that’s not all. Comparing the number of jobs created by the three companies with the jobs lost in cattle-raising and agriculture on the lands where the plantations were set up – 50,000 hectares formerly used by agriculture, 271,000 hectares by cattle-raising and 50.000 with no direct use- the result is even worse: 15,420 jobs were lost! This means that for every single job generated by the pulp and paper industry in that region, 2.5 jobs were lost. In sum, if job creation is a priority, plantations are not only the worse solution: they even aggravate the problem by generating yet more unemployment.

Sources: Jose Koopmans, “Alem do eucalipto: o papel do Extremo Sul”, Memorial das Letras, Salvador, 1999; Carrere Ricardo, “Ten replies to ten lies”, World Rainforest Movement, Montevideo, 1999.