Often when we think about doing something to promote an ecological outlook, one of the first thoughts that comes to mind is to plant trees to combat the effects of climate change. However, not all tree planting really helps achieve this objective; actually one of the industries that contributes most to the deterioration of our ecosystems is the forest industry based on monoculture plantation of exotic fast-growing tree species.
Ever since 2004, September 21st has been commemorated as the International Day against Monoculture Tree Plantations. This day was established as an initiative by the “Red contra el Desierto” (Network Against Desertification) who began to realise the serious problems that monoculture forest plantations was causing in our countries: occupation of farmland and native forest; loss of biodiversity, soil damage, displacement of indigenous and local populations, depletion of water, etc. On top of being, as in the case of Chile, a highly subsidized industry.
Initially, reflections on the harmfulness of forest monocultures focused on the large impacts of biodiversity in competing for water, changing soil conditions, pollution, etc. However, before long it was discovered that this was only part of the problem and that the effects were far more alarming for the surrounding communities. A clear example of this were the two major forest fires we’ve had in consecutive years in the city of Valparaiso (surrounded by pine and eucalyptus monoculture plantations) which meant the loss of more than 2,000 homes and left thousands homeless.
But where this reality is most clearly evident is in the Mapuche territories in the south of Chile. There, we see increasingly impoverished populations under great pressure to migrate to cities due to the forest boundaries. This has cordoned off their communities, dried up their wells and springs, making their farmland barren, preventing their traditional spiritual and cultural practices due to the loss of medicinal plants and herbs which are used in their rituals, as well as being occupied and contaminated by companies producing Cellulose. Their opposition to this reality is criminalized, their leaders accused of terrorism by a State that protects these large industries, industries which themselves are responsible for spearheading the model of exporting natural resources which defines the country’s economy.
Successive governments since 1974 have subsidized and promoted the development of this industry which has generated huge profits for large companies and huge environmental costs for local populations. For example, between 1993 and 2007 in the Araucania region 116,388 hectares went from farmland to forest plantations with the consequent loss of the agricultural production of wheat, potatoes and cereals for local consumption. 29.636ha of native woodland was supplanted by monocultures resulting in the significant loss of native plants and animals and the deterioration of the soil. As a result, in this region of heavy rains with its many rivers and lakes, many towns nowadays have to be supplied with water by truck as the water supply no longer reaches their wells.
A significant fact published by the Fundación Sol (Sun foundation) revealing the extent of the insecurity that this industry generates, is that the regions in Chile where intensive forest monoculture is practiced as its principal economic activity are also those same regions that have the highest indices of poverty: Araucanía (22.9%), Bío Bío (21,5%%), Los Ríos (17.5%), Valparaíso (16,9%), Maule.
Therefore let’s inform ourselves and take action against these types of activities that not only impact the environment, but also impact all the communities that are suffering as a result of monoculture plantation, and that have generated socio-political problems in Chile.
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