Some conceptual errors are hard to die. Such is the case of the concept of "planted forests". Although increasingly weakened as a credible definition, the draft plan for implementation agreed upon in Bali during the last Preparatory Conference for the World Summit on Sustainable Development insists on calling plantations "forests."
More importantly, the draft plan insists in assigning them the same social and environmental benefits provided by forests. Reality shows that large-scale tree plantations generate poverty, increase inequity, affect food security, deplete water and soil resources, drastically reduce biodiversity, to mention but the most obvious impacts. Ignoring all available evidence, the draft plan says that "Sustainable forest management of both natural and planted forests ... is essential to achieving sustainable development and is a critical means to eradicate poverty, significantly reduce deforestation and halt the loss of forest biodiversity and land and resource degradation, and improve food security and access to safe drinking water and affordable energy, highlights the multiple benefits of both natural and planted forests and trees and contributes to the well-being of the planet and humanity."
The above is clearly bad news for forests, given that plantations are in most cases a direct cause of deforestation. It is also very bad news for forest peoples whose livelihoods depend on forests and for whom plantations provide almost nothing and in most cases result in their eviction from their traditional lands. By using that definition, if a forest is destroyed to be substituted by a "planted forest", it would appear that no harm has been done and that "forest cover" has not changed at all, thus hiding the fact that the forest --and forest peoples' livelihoods-- have been definitely destroyed. The same is applicable at a global level: if ten million hectares of forests are destroyed in one place and ten million hectares of eucalyptus are planted in another place, then forest cover will appear not to have changed at all, thus hiding the real destruction that in fact took place.
Is it so hard to understand that a forest is much more than just trees? Is it so difficult to perceive that the amazingly rich flora and fauna that compose --together with the trees-- the forest ecosystem cannot be "planted"? And what about the millions of human beings that inhabit them? Will they also be "planted"? In fact, the issue is so simple, that anyone can understand it: plantations are not forests. As simple as that. It is therefore not a question of stupidity but one of vested interest. Who stand to benefit from including plantations as "forests"? Why cannot they accept to discuss separately forests and plantations. What are they afraid about? This is not an issue of an academic or grammatical definition, but one that can determine the conservation or destruction of forests, the survival or disappearance of forest peoples.
It is therefore crucial that forest activists present at the upcoming Johannesburg Summit put pressure on government delegates for the adoption of a different wording that clearly distinguishes forest from plantations. This would provide a useful tool in the struggle against the spread of monoculture tree plantations and for forest conservation.