By Guadalupe Rodríguez
The FAO World Forestry Congress took place from 7 to 11 September, this year in Durban, South Africa, an event in which high-level officials and advisers meet every six years (http://foris.fao.org/ wfc2015 / program / speaker) to discuss issues that influence forest policies in many countries around the world. With a strong presence of representatives of the timber and forestry industry, all of them call themselves the “global forestry community” (http://www.fao.org/about/meetings/world-forestry-congress/es/). Its decisions are made by many governments and institutions such as the UNFCCC and strongly influence policy.
Civil society organizations and community members criticized the WFC the same week from an alternative event called CSAP2015 (http://www.csap-durban.org/) for promoting the interests of the timber industry, and putting them before those of the more than 300 million people who - according to FAO itself - depend on forests around the world.
The WFC, they say, has among its central themes investments in the forestry sector (http://www.fao.org/about/meetings/world-forestry-congress/programme/thematic-focus/es/): it justifies the expansion to large-scale industrial tree plantations, for industrial logging of wood and derived products such as cellulose and paper, as well as a firm commitment to the production of biomass for bioenergy and other new and unconventional uses of biomass related to boosting the bioeconomy and synthetic biology.
Despite using language full of terms such as biodiversity, indigenous peoples, food security, sustainability and corporate responsibility - the congress motto was “Forests and people: investing in a sustainable future” - in the reality of the WFC however, almost all local communities dependent on forests and affected by the expansion of forest plantations are excluded from the possibility of having a broad representation and participation.
The fee of 660 US dollars per participant to access the activities of the congress constitutes a sufficient deterrent to prevent their presence.
And it is that civil society and environmental organizations criticize what the FAO justifies and perhaps that is why they are not welcome at the event beyond a merely symbolic presence.
The voices of those affected are not taken into account in the official program and in the final decisions, and there is not enough time and space to discuss issues that concern those affected by the expansion of industrial monoculture tree plantations.
Defining forest There is a fundamental problem at the very root of the WFC and FAO's forest policy. And it is that the FAO defines forests in a reductionist way, as a mere area covered with trees, without alluding to their structural, functional and biological diversity as an ecosystem.
This definition then includes industrial tree plantations. FAO insists on using the term “planted forests” for “tree plantations or monocultures”.
The definition of forests and this terminology used by FAO alters the reality of the figures for the extent of natural forests worldwide, as it includes the areas occupied by industrial forest plantations, while hiding the real figures of deforestation of natural forests and of reforestation for example with exotic species. This is how, for example, FAO Director José Graziano da Silva states that "deforestation continues but its rate has slowed despite the fact that more forest products are currently being used than ever", or too optimistically that "the area has increased. of forests ”. The first statement suggests that there is less deforestation despite the high demand for forest products and bioenergy, but the reality is that more wood is produced in plantations, which in turn expand to the detriment of forests.
And by not distinguishing between natural forests and commercial plantations, the FAO director counts both as forest radiating positivism despite the critical situation and the great pressure suffered by natural forests from the expansion of tree plantations. FAO itself recognizes that globally, forest gains and losses occur continuously and are very difficult to follow exhaustively, even using high-resolution satellite images.
The dynamics are very different in each region and nation according to particular circumstances.
Overall, FAO numbers (http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4793s.pdf) show that the bulk of the world's forest, 3.7 billion ha in 2015, is natural forest (93 per percent of the planet's forest area). And the remaining 7% that they call forest -but they are not- are tree plantations.
FAO reports are in turn based on information provided by different governments, many of which are not independently prepared or verified.
The truth is that industrial plantations have increased by more than 110 million hectares in the last 25 years. From 1990 to 2015 there has been a net loss of about 129 million ha of forest (read natural and planted, what we prefer to call plantation or monoculture), representing an annual rate of –0.13 percent and a total area of the size approximate from South Africa. Thus, of the 4,000 million hectares of "forests" that FAO says exist in the world, 290 million are not forests, but industrial tree plantations.
These have a multitude of very important negative implications for forest-dependent communities.
In the first place, plantations are in fact called green deserts by many communities, because unlike what happens in natural forests, there is no biodiversity or food in them, and for their maintenance they need large amounts of water as well as the application massive chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Secondly, it promotes false solutions to climate change such as the buying and selling of carbon with mechanisms such as REDD + (which allows the industry to pay for the conservation of forests in certain parts of the planet to continue polluting in others, instead of incentivizing the cutting of polluting emissions); or the production of bioenergy from biomass.
Third, the experience of the communities affected by the expansion of tree plantations speaks for itself.
In South Africa itself, the country that hosted this edition of the WFC, affected groups from various parts of the country tell shocking stories about tree plantations that are drying up the water sources that people use to produce their food crops and animals; tree plantations that destroy grasslands that are home to more than 4,000 species; They also describe the working conditions in the companies that own plantations in remote areas planted with eucalyptus, pine or acacia, in which workers live under the continuous threat of being evicted, in precarious housing, without access to health services, and each time with less work due to increasing mechanization.
In a word, the FAO definition of forests favors the large forest industry and seriously harms forest-dependent communities. Numerous civil society organizations such as the World Forest Movement, Salva la Selva, Timberwatch, Biofuelwatch and the Global Forest Coalition insistently demand a change in this definition (https://www.salvalaselva.org/mailalert/1013/las-plantaciones -not-forests), which FAO clings to because of the high economic interests of the most powerful whom it favors.
A replanted forest with native species and with a true vocation to regenerate previously destroyed forests is something possible to carry out, positive and very different from an industrial monoculture of trees. Bioeconomy, biomass for energy, genetic manipulation and synthetic biology Among the investments promoted by the wood and forestry industry in the framework of the WFC, are those related to the increasing use of wood biomass for the production of energy as an alternative to fossil fuels and as a (false) solution to climate change.
False, because its large-scale production cannot take place in a sustainable way, among other reasons, due to the large amount of greenhouse gases that are released, the theft of land from local communities and the loss of natural ecosystems associated with the expansion of the plantations, thoroughly documented by affected communities and by environmental and human rights NGOs.
Another disturbing area of interest of the World Forestry Congress is the use of biotechnology applied to the productivity and rapid growth of industrial tree plantations, as well as the use of unconventional technologies for various uses within the field of synthetic biology. And they also promote transgenic trees and the use of genetically modified microorganisms, very worrying about the dangers of contamination.
Making up the forest policy green It should be noted that the abusive use of the prefix "bio" in all these activities mentioned above does not make them sustainable or friendly with nature, but rather they are part of the growing wave of commodification of nature and in the idea that everything is capable of being bought and sold.
Despite the dubious willingness to make changes, given the number of interests surrounding the bioeconomy, FAO as an agency has become aware of criticism of its policies that favor industry and not forest-dependent communities, for What a lot of resources are invested in advertising campaigns around all the new technologies that they want to promote, which include the use of genetically modified organisms and others.
The Durban Declaration (http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/wfc2015/Documents/Durban_Declaration_FINAL.pdf) is the name of the final document submitted by the WFC. Wally Manne, organizer of the alternative civil society event to critically analyze the results of the WFC, believes that “the beautiful words around conservation, sustainability and responsibility around forests will continue to be a double talk of the FAO, until it changes its confusing definition of forests to one that is limited to natural forests and their variety of functions, excluding forest plantations destined for corporate profit ”.
The worrying reality that environmental and human rights organizations want to show is that the destruction of forests is not diminishing and that communities dependent on forests are threatened in an increasingly violent and serious way.
If we want a future for forests, the way is in the construction of alternative and solid spaces, as has been CSAP2015 in South Africa, where real people discuss the problems that affect them and seek solutions and create paths of denunciation and resistance.
Save the jungle