For more than 20 years, Colombia has seen the ongoing expansion of monoculture tree plantations, to the benefit of transnational companies who have enjoyed and continue to enjoy the support of government policies. To analyze this continued expansion, whose consequences include land grabbing, rights violations and the displacement of communities, CENSAT-Friends of the Earth Colombia organized a forum entitled “Tree Plantations in Colombia: A Critical Look”, held in Bogotá on September 21, the International Day Against Monoculture Tree Plantations.
The issues addressed in the forum included the different forms of “assistance” provided to monoculture tree plantations, particularly Law 1377, which regulates “commercial reforestation” activity and introduced the concept of “vuelo forestal” or forest cover. This concept, applied specifically to commercial tree plantations, separates rights to the land from rights to the forest cover – in other words, the trees. This means that companies do not need to plant trees on land of their own in order to obtain financing, sell timber on the market or include these trees in the accounting of their assets. This enables them to absorb the production of the lands of small or medium-sized landowners.
Another boost to the expansion of tree plantations was Decree 125 of January 2011, adopted by the government to address what it called the “State of Economic, Social and Environmental Emergency owing to a serious public disaster”, referring to the heavy rains and flooding that affected 2,220,482 people, according to official figures. The decree was aimed at “the implementation of commercial reforestation projects in areas affected by the 2010-2011 La Niña phenomenon in order to rehabilitate the use of soils with the potential for reforestation, including river basins and areas connected to them.”
In this way, the devastating floods – which among other things affected 925,000 hectares of agricultural crops and dairy and cattle farms – became the perfect justification and disguise for financing for monoculture tree plantations, as highlighted by Diego Rodríguez Panqueva in his presentation, which is included in the forum's final report. He further stressed that “the development model with high levels of deforestation is the main reason for the impacts of the climate crisis facing the country, and in this regard there is a direct relationship between the tree plantations and the state of emergency, not through re-establishment of the natural forest cover destroyed and soil stability on slopes and in hydrographic basins, but rather through being one of the causes of deforestation, the loss of biodiversity, and the loss of soil fertility and other properties.”
Commercial tree plantations, which have not only aggravated the erosion of hillsides but also involve intensive use of toxic agrochemicals, have in some cases irreversibly altered the dynamics of ecosystems and rural communities. Nevertheless, the “reforestation” target proposed by the government calls for a further 280,000 hectares by 2014, which would mean that by then there would be more than one million hectares of monoculture tree plantations in Colombia.
Social movements in Colombia have responded to the threats posed by megaprojects and agribusiness by organizing the Congress on Lands, Territories and Sovereignty held on September 29 in Cali. The congress was attended by 15,000 representatives of organizations of peasant farmers, rural and urban workers, indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants.
The congress participants adopted a series of “mandates”, one of which is “to deepen the liberation of Mother Earth and to undertake participatory land reform. We will not allow the large landholdings of drug trafficking and paramilitary groups, which must be dismantled, to be replaced by large landholdings of agro-industrial conglomerates. On the contrary, those lands – stolen over the course of hundreds of years from indigenous, peasant and Afro-descendant communities – must be returned to our communities. We will peacefully occupy what is historically and rightfully ours.”
Another mandate calls for building “an articulated economy of the people, not subordinated to the global market, to guarantee food sovereignty and autonomy and the knowledge associated with seeds, plants and foods. We will strengthen practices of production, processing, exchange and consumption that are culturally appropriate, socially just and in harmony with life; we will not use or allow toxic agrochemicals or transgenics; we will prevent the establishment of agrofuel plantations, tree plantations and other monoculture plantations that threaten our land and food sovereignty.”
Finally, the participants declare: “We are tired of obeying. We are tired of being consulted while others decide. We want to govern. We will govern our territories!”
This article is based on: (1) Final report of the forum “Plantaciones forestales en Colombia. Una mirada crítica”, September 21, 2011, Bogotá, Colombia, http://www.nasaacin.org/attachments/article/2807/monocultivos.pdf; (2) Final Declaration of the Congreso Nacional de Tierras,Territorios y Soberanías, October 4, 2011, Cali, Colombia, http://tinyurl.com/3b7664q