In 1987 legislation was adopted that implied the promotion – by means of tax exemptions and subsidies – of large-scale monoculture alien tree plantations (mainly eucalyptus and pine) for export. It is thus that the country up till then based on agriculture and stock raising, started to convert part of its fertile grasslands into “green deserts” which presently cover over 700,000 hectares.
Concurrently, increasing opposition to monoculture eucalyptus and pine plantations took place. This opposition was partly the result of years of campaigns and concrete condemnations by local environmental, social and trade-union organizations who have been documenting the impacts of this “forestry” model. However, “credit” also goes to the forestry companies themselves, as their plantations have proven to have the negative impacts predicted by civil society organizations, while the companies’ social practices have left much to be desired.
In 2001 the Forest Stewardship Council – FSC entered the picture, certifying 5,000 hectares of plantations owned by Industrias Forestales Arazati (through the SmartWood certifier). For those familiar with the company and its long track record of environmental destruction (desiccation of wetlands) and anti union policy (including threats to shoot Woodworkers Union representatives off the premises), it was clear from the start that if this particular company could be certified then all the others would be as well. And this is in fact what has happened. One after another, the companies requesting certification have obtained it, but the negative impacts continue and worsen as monoculture tree plantations – certified or not – grow to cover increasingly larger areas of land in different points of the country.
In August 2005 seven companies in Uruguay had plantations certified by FSC, with a total certified area of 133,711 hectares. Out of these, five had plantations covering areas over 5,000 hectares, while two were small plantations (31 and 184 hectares respectively). Regarding the origin of the capital, two were foreign (the Finnish company COFOSA and the Spanish company EUFORES) and the remaining companies were national. Five were certified by SGS Qualifor, while the other two were certified by SmartWood (Rainforest Alliance).
Field work carried out by WRM at the end of 2005 and published in March 2006 (“Greenwash: Critical analysis of FSC certification of industrial tree monocultures in Uruguay”, http://www.wrm.org.uy/countries/Uruguay/text.pdf), describes the main certified companies in Uruguay (EUFORES, COFOSA, FYMNSA, COFUSA) and reaches the conclusion that none of four companies examined complies with the explicit mandate of FSC which sets out that “The Forest Stewardship Council promotes environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests”[sic].
In WRM Bulletin No. 104, we made reference in our article on Uruguay to the results of the study. The serious negative impacts on water, flora – particularly affecting grasslands, the country’s main ecosystem and basis for agriculture and animal husbandry production – fauna and landscape reveal that the certified plantations do not fulfil the conditions of “environmentally responsible” natural resource management.
Furthermore, the promotion of monoculture tree plantations has led to various trends. Company benefits from the forestry model are optimized under a latifundium system with an increase in the purchase of vast tracts of land – mainly by foreign companies. In turn this is an activity which excludes other productive activities because of the negative impacts it causes, thus contributing to rural migration. And employment promoted under this system is unstable, seasonal and outsourced. All these circumstances go to demolish the “socially beneficial” requisite
Regarding the requisite of “economically viable,” what can be observed is that, had it not been for the enormous direct and indirect subsidies – ranging from tax exemptions to highway building and maintenance – received from the State, that is to say, from the Uruguayan people, tree plantations would certainly not have been implemented in the country.
Finally and in the concrete case of Uruguay, certification of these plantations does not contribute to the promotion of sustainable forest management (forests are protected by law) and endorses the complete destruction of the country’s main ecosystem (the grasslands). .
Additionally, certification implies a weakening of local opposition because the companies receive a so-called “green label,” granted by a prestigious institution, in which social and environmental NGOs actively participate and that were actually those that created and promoted this certification scheme.
The fact is that these certifications erode the credibility of FSC, as its original terms of reference were aimed at the protection of forests through their appropriate management. The very fact that FSC considers plantations to be “forests” is detrimental to its credibility and added to certification of large monoculture tree plantations, in fact implies that it declares them to be “environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable” (as defined by its mandate).