Have you ever seen "Ghost Busters", the movie? Thanks to the magic of movies, that silly story, perhaps the brainchild of a superstitious youngster became a motion picture. Many kids and a few adults maybe even believed for a moment that ghosts are for real. This is pretty close to what happened in New Zealand, at the "Experts Meeting on Planted Forests".
To many of us, this is just absurd, planted forests do not exist. But, is that a reason for not being scared?
- Well, I don't know what I saw, but I was scared!
This is a very usual statement by fellow mortals when facing a ghost in the middle of a desolate place, usually, an old Indian cemetery taken over by "civilization", or things like that.
- "Of course, I'm scared; we don't have this in my culture!" This is pretty close to how an aboriginal colleague felt when listening to some of the interventions at the Experts Meeting. "I don't know what 'planted forests' are, but they look pretty awful!" He added.
To me they too seemed pretty creepy, in spite of all my baggage of western culture and education and training that should prepare me to comprehend them. Objectively, I made an effort to place them in this world as forests. But, the harder I tried, the more they looked like plantations, in the stricter of meanings, comparable to the most conventional of modern agricultural practices and with all the same destructive potential accrued from their speculative nature.
- "C'mon Miguel, open your mind! - I've heard the conciliatory voice of a friend working with an international organization - if you call them plantations, they (plantations' owners) won't improve their practices and won't go for certification!", he moaned.
I didn't take that so seriously as I've heard from plantation company executives that they haven't changed their routine practices to get FSC certification, anyway.
But the fact is that ghosts are not as dreadful as large-scale tree monocultures. You can deal with ghosts at an imaginary level. Plantations are real and spreading as pests, replacing forests, savannas, prairies, swamps, deserts and many other valuable environments. In many cases, they also expand at the expense of people's livelihoods. This is what I call creepy!
- "So my friend, - a participant from the Middle East inquired - do you think plantations are as bad as a bunch of trigger-happy Western soldiers shooting at everything that moves?"
No, of course not. They don't shoot at you, they are less bloody than that, but now they're also planting them for the sake of oil!
Gladly, the meeting at least recognized that there are negative sides to plantations. Although, they insisted in proving the improbable: that plantations, in general, are part of a continuum of forest types. Hey… this is what we call fragmentation, ecological disruption, and land-use conversion!
- "Well, it's all a matter of definitions." An expert told me. Look, if you use the FAO definition, as I think everybody should, we'll expand the forest cover by far!"
- "This is the problem; we're talking about different things here." I replied. "What people call a ghost is just a figment of their imaginations, and in your imagination a plantation is a forest. You shouldn't allow your fantasies to blindfold you."
Nevertheless, some experts made some concessions and recognized that large-scale tree mono-crops are quite different from small mixed-species community-driven plantations, and even more from forests. But the overwhelming belief among experts is that as trees are the dominating beings in both, forests and plantations, they're both forests, and defining them is just a semantic issue.
Well, so much for semantics when subsidies and public funding are at stake. At that point, the opportunities for companies to plant large sways of monocultures instead of creating systems comparable to original local forest types are weighed. The results will almost always favour the big and easy monocultures, as companies exist for profit and not for anything else.
Another ghostly concept emanated from a few of the presentations and that kept floating around at the meeting, was that sustainability means eternal ever-growing consumption. You got to believe in ghosts to believe this one, especially when it's known that at least a half of all the paper consumption goes to junk-mail and packaging, and more than three quarters of the global deforestation is due to conversion to plantations of all sorts!
Now, that's the ultimate woe! Who're ya gonna call? Plantations busters like in the movies? Well, this isn't a movie, it's real life and it's not possible to bring a huge vacuum cleaner to get rid of large-scale monocultural plantations.
No one denies the current deficit of trees and the quasi-criminal deforestation process waged for the sake of wasteful consumption. Though, as seen throughout the history of deforestation, I dispute that by simply planting enormous ever-enlarging areas of monocultures we're going to halt deforestation and do any justice to forest peoples.
Solutions to deforestation should start by recognizing the real role forests play in giving life to the Planet and by respecting the rights of forest peoples. Yet, I know for some people this is much more terrifying than any ghost.
By: Miguel Lovera, Global Forest Coalition, e-mail: email@example.com