- Argentina: World Forestry Congress
- Mexico: Government Approves Genetically Modified Corn Cultivation
- Condemnation of “Sustainable” Palm Oil
|The 13th World Forestry Congress (WFC) took
place in Buenos Aires Oct. 18-23.
The 13th World Forestry Congress (WFC) took place in Buenos Aires Oct. 18-23. The international gathering brings together representatives from the forestry industry—read: industrial tree monocultures—governments, scientific organizations, and the private sector. Numerous South American social and environmental organizations did not hesitate in expressing their objection to the congress and all that it stands for.
For the World Rainforest Movement (WRM), an organization based out of Uruguay, the manipulative semantics employed in the WFC communications are an example of everything that is wrong with this event. Case in point is the effort to refer to tree plantations as “planted forests.” “The issue of the ‘planted forests’ is one of our main concerns, given that these so-called ‘forests’ (that in reality are monoculture tree plantations) are having a major impact on the subsistence and environment of populations all over the world,” stated the WRM.
“One of the objectives of this gathering is to promote monoculture plantations of exotic or imported tree species, which seriously alter the internal relationships of natural ecosystems and with them, life itself,” declared Argentina’s National Ecological Action Network (RENACE, Red Nacional de Acción Ecologista de Argentina) in a communiqué titled “The Trees are Much More than Lumber.” “In this growing process of tree cultivation, the productive expansion occurs in an agrarian structure in which a growing economic concentration is manifested, effecting thousands of producers, principally the smallest ones. It makes the denationalization of agricultural production clear and present as well as its inclusion into an agro-industrial complex tied to monopolistic supply of input and technology—seeds and machinery. It is a complex created by and wholly in the hands of just a few foreign companies.”
One of the principle themes of the WFC was that of genetically modified (GM) trees. According to WRM: “The genetic modification of tree species is one of the greatest threats to forests, above all, due to pollen contamination.” They add that “the use of genetically modified trees in commercial plantations will do nothing but exacerbate all of the impacts already imposed by current monocultures. In effect, faster-growing trees will exhaust water supplies much faster; there will be greater destruction of the biodiversity in those biological deserts that the modified trees constitute in order to be resistant to insects, and do not produce flowers, fruit, or seeds; the soil will be destroyed at a greater rate through the increase of biomass extraction.”
On Sunday, Oct. 18, in the Plaza Italia of Buenos Aires there was a well-attended demonstration under the banner of the Festival of the People that Live in the Forest that included a march toward the site of the WFC. The protestors carried signs with slogans like “Plantations are not forests,” “No to forestry monocultures,” “A monoculture is not a forest,” “Resisting agribusinesses,” “Food sovereignty,” and “Land, water, and justice.”
In their proclamation to the participants of the WFC the protestors exclaimed: “The struggle against tree plantations is a celebration of life, of agriculture based in diversity and in the hands of small agricultural campesino and indigenous families, of campesino and indigenous restoration of the forests, and of the many other real solutions that exist. This celebration of life and resistance, on this day of struggle against tree plantations, we are walking together toward the construction of a new world.”
Rural Reflection Group (Grupo de Reflexión Rural), “El GRR ante el Congreso Forestal Mundial,” Nov. 1, 2009, http://www.grr.org.ar/.
World Rainforest Movement (Movimiento Mundial por los Bosques Tropicales), “Por qué nos preocupa el Congreso Forestal Mundial,” http://www.wrm.org.uy/CFM/Preocupaciones.html.
National Network of Ecological Action (Red Nacional de Acción Ecologista), “Los árboles son mucho más que Madera,” Oct. 17, 2009, http://www.renace.net/.
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|“NO to genetically modified corn.” Photo:
In October the Mexican government approved requests from U.S. biotechnology companies Monsanto, Dow Agrosciences, and Pioneer to cultivate “experimental” GM corn. The approved cultivation, that will cover a total of 120,000 square meters, will be located in the states of Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, Coahuila, and Durango.
This act puts an end to the moratorium on GM corn cultivation that governed the country for 10 years. The moratorium had been established in response to demands made by scientists and environmentalists who warned that in Mexico, being the center of corn origins and diversity, GM corn pollen could irreversibly contaminate other corn cultivations. The surreptitious and illegal presence of GM corn in Mexico has been documented since 2001. The consensus among experts is that this contamination is due to corn imports from the United States that have massively increased due to NAFTA.
The approval has caused angry protests from a variety of sectors, from academics and scientists to campesinos, indigenous peoples, and environmentalists. The Mexican daily, La Jornada, reports that in Chihuahua environmentalist, campesino, and indigenous groups have announced that they will not permit the cultivation of GM corn and that they will destroy the crops if necessary. In other parts of the country there have been local protests and more actions are planned.
According to ETC Group researcher Slivia Ribeiro, the approval is a violation of the country’s biosafety law, which is already quite favorable to the biotech industry: “The whole process has been plagued by irregularities, even within the framework demanded by the limited biosafety law … in the public consultation on the experiment requests, the government ignored the vast majority of technical and scientific opinion as well as those of many social and citizen organizations because they were critical of the release.”
Ribeiro adds that the government “did not take into account the large quantity of opinions, protests, letters signed by a wide sector of the Mexican and international community, denouncements, demonstrations, and endless number of reasons continually presented for the past decade, solid arguments from a large variety of perspectives—scientific, economic, political, social, cultural, historical, geographic—against the liberation of GM corn in Mexico.”
“The introduction of GM corn in rural Mexico will be a coup de grace to our food independence, as our corn producers will be dependent on companies like Monsanto,” denounced Aleira Lara, who coordinates the Greenpeace campaign against GM products. “The rural workers will be sued by these companies when their lands are contaminated and no producer will be able to return to planting their own seeds, as they have done up to now. They will have to pay royalties to the corporations to return to their planting. To what interests is the Mexican government responding? Evidently, not to those of the people and the nation.”
The Union of Scientists Committed to Society (Unión de Científicos Comprometidos con la Sociedad) sent a letter to Mexican President Felipe Calderon against GM corn, signed by 700 distinguished national and international scientists and academics, including experts, intellectuals, and artists from the fields of biology, biotechnology, agronomy, and ecology, and even the humanities, social sciences, anthropology, economy, biosafety, politics, and law. “This year, you have the historic responsibility of preventing the irreversible damage to one of the most valuable natural resources in the world: the diversity of Mexican maize,” states the beginning paragraph of the document.
“We are convinced, with the knowledge base that we have from available scientific evidence, that this decision represents a disproportionate and unnecessary risk. This should be avoided at all costs for the good of Mexico and the world. United by a well-grounded ethical commitment to preserve this resource for humanity, we demand that your administration take drastic measures to guarantee that no strain of GM maize be planted in Mexico, the place of origin and diversity of this important food.”
With respect to the issue of genetic contamination, the declaration affirms that the effects “of the introduction of trans-genes into the germplasm of maize—a botanical heritage watched over by campesinos and indigenous peoples in Mexico—could be irreversible and progressive due to the gradual accumulation of trans-genes in this germplasm. This would undoubtedly mean that the responsibility that you have over this issue will transcend to future generations like no other.”
Ribeiro, Silvia, “Ilegal e Inmoral, Pero no Impune,” La Jornada, Nov. 7, 2009.
Ribeiro, Silvia, “Maicidio Racista,” La Jornada, Oct. 24, 2009.
Union of Scientists Committed to Society (Unión de Científicos Comprometidos con la Sociedad), “Extrañamiento Dirigido al Presidente de la República Mexicana,” http://www.unionccs.net/article.php?story=extraamiento-presidentedelarepublicamex.
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|Palm oil monocultures are one of the main causes
of deforestation. Photo: www.ecoportal.net.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a forum that gathers agro-industrial companies involved in the production of oil palms (used for biodiesel among other things) and civil society sectors that aim to develop criteria for its sustainable production and grant a “green” certification to those operations that comply with such criteria. One of the Roundtable’s principle members is the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), one of the most well-funded and influential environmental groups in the world. But a growing number of activist groups are denouncing the Roundtable as a public relations plot to paint an unsustainable industry “green” and are demanding that the WWF leave the RSPO.
The Roundtable has considerable influence at the international level. The organization’s lobbying, with WWF backing, convinced the European Union that oil palm monocultures can be sustainable. This made the EU require that all fuels consumed in Europe by 2020 be composed of at least 10% agrofuels.
The Rainforest Rescue campaign recently published an open letter to the RSPO and WWF. It has already been signed by dozens of organizations from countries like Mexico, Paraguay, Spain, Italy, and Switzerland. The signatories include the Latin America Network against Tree Monocultures (Red Latinoamericana contra los Monocultivos de Arboles).
“Palm oil monocultures … are one of the main causes of deforestation and, as a result, of climate change as well. They destroy subsistence systems and the food sovereignty of millions of small agriculturalists, indigenous peoples, and other communities,” reads the open letter. “They require agrochemical products that poison the workers and surrounding communities, and they contaminate the soil, water, and biodiversity in addition to exhausting fresh water supplies and the soil. Palm oil monocultures are not and can never be sustainable and the ‘certification’ serves as a means to perpetuate and expand this destructive industry.”
The letter makes references to the specific case of Colombia where the palm oil company Daabon, a member of the RSPO, is described by the European press as a “responsible company” despite the fact that they illegally displaced small farmers from their lands, engaged in logging, and polluted the Caribbean with palm oil spills.
Among the demands of the signatories are: agrarian reform to return land to local communities, guarantees of food sovereignty and the restoration of biodiverse agriculture and ecosystems, and a resolution to land conflicts, respect for human rights, and reparations for the multiple damages caused.
Complete text of the open letter: http://www.ecoportal.net/content/view/full/89436.