WORLD RAINFOREST MOVEMENT
MOVIMIENTO MUNDIAL POR LOS BOSQUES TROPICALES
International Secretariat Ph: +598 2 413 2989
Ricardo Carrere (Coordinator) Fax: +598 2 410 0985
Maldonado 1858; CP 11200 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Montevideo - Uruguay Web site: http://www.wrm.org.uy
WRM Bulletin # 85
THE FOCUS OF THIS ISSUE:
ROLE OF AGRICULTURE AND CATTLE-RAISING IN DEFORESTATION
Large-scale agriculture and cattle-raising are activities which impact heavily on the world's forests and on their
peoples, particularly in tropical and sub-tropical regions. However, in spite of the fact that those activities are
continuously expanding, they are receiving much less attention than in the past. For this reason, we have focused
the present bulletin on both, with the aim of raising awareness about the different issues and actors involved in
order to create conditions for change.
In this issue:
* OUR VIEWPOINT
- Forests and Monocultures: Change something so that nothing changes 2
* AN OVERVIEW OF THE PROBLEM
- Deforestation by agriculture and cattle-raising 3
- The Green Revolution: From crops for food to crops for domination 4
- Colonization and the role of agriculture in a nutshell 6
- The “development” model at the apex of deforestation 7
- Oil palm and soybean: Two paradigmatic deforestation cash crops 9
* FOREST DESTRUCTION FOR EXPORT
- Côte d’Ivoire: Cacao, another cause of deforestation 11
- Ghana: Loggers and politicians, not small farmers, are to blame for deforestation 12
- Senegal: Deforestation by expansion of groundnut monoculture 13
- Bangladesh: The Modhupur forest converted into banana, papaya and pineapple plantations 14
- China: Genetically modified madness 15
- Indonesia: Palming the forest 16
- Banana plantations in Latin America 18
- Argentina: Soybean advances on Chaco forests 20
- Brazil: The “hamburger connection” threatens forests today just as it did yesterday 22
WRM BULLETIN 85 August 2004
- Forests and Monocultures: Change something so that nothing changes
For centuries, forest and forest-dependent peoples were able to carry out agricultural and cattle-raising activities
in a way that was compatible with forest ecosystem conservation. What was later described in pejorative terms by
Western experts as "slash-and-burn" agriculture was in fact a system that had proven to have minor and
reversible impacts on the forest while providing livelihoods to the communities involved. A system that in today's
language would be termed "sustainable".
Everything changed with colonization, which not only deprived local peoples of their freedom, but also disrupted
their production systems through land appropriation and the introduction of large-scale monocrops, both
accompanied by production systems alien to local cultures and societies. Tea, coffee, rubber, cocoa, sugar cane,
bananas were some of the new crops, which were not aimed at providing people with food and other necessary
products -as traditional systems did- but at exploiting local environments and peoples to serve the colonizers'
The situation worsened with the development of Western science and technology and particularly with the
imposition of the "Green Revolution" and its technological fix. Modern machinery allowed for the destruction of the
forest (by means of tractors and chainsaws), while the use of so-called "high-yielding" varieties of seeds opened
the door to the application of highly toxic chemicals (pesticides) and chemical fertilizers which degraded even
further the forest ecosystem and its peoples' health.
Large-scale cattle raising came in later in the tropics, but also within the framework of Green Revolution thinking.
Different races of cattle and different species of grass were identified to adapt to tropical and sub-tropical
environments, resulting in widespread deforestation wherever the correct choice of animal and grass was
The result is dismal, both in social and environmental terms. The Green Revolution has resulted in widespread
hunger, poverty, agrochemical-related diseases, displacement and human rights abuses; it has also resulted in
soil erosion, salinization, water pollution and depletion, natural and agricultural biodiversity loss as well as in
The world -and particularly the Third World- is still waiting for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization -the main
promoter of the Green Revolution- to come up with a serious assessment of all the suffering it has caused to
millions of human beings and to the world's ecosystems.
To make matters worse, the mass production of the same agricultural commodities in scores of countries, coupled
with the tight control over prices by a few transnational companies and northern governments, has resulted in
ever diminishing prices for those commodities and increasing prices for northern-controlled machinery and
agricultural inputs. To meet external obligations, southern governments have promoted the expansion of the
agricultural frontier, thus increasing the problems inherent to the Green Revolution model and pushing the prices
further down due to higher levels of production.
In spite of all those problems, the fact is that the system is working very conveniently to serve the interests it was
intended to serve. The North is increasingly affluent and so are the local elites in the South. The fact that there
are important numbers of poor in the North and massive poverty in the South does not seem to matter much in
international commerce and trade. What really matters is that transnational corporations (TNCs) are extremely
happy with the profits they manage to achieve.
The above partly explains why such a destructive model is still in place. Another part of the explanation lies in the
contradicting interests within different TNCs. In this respect, it is interesting to note that the official solutions to
deforestation focus more on the implementation of protected areas than on addressing the real problems. Why?
WRM BULLETIN 85 August 2004
The fact is that some TNCs need biodiversity conservation (as an input for the biotechnology and pharmaceutical
industries) while others need abundant and cheap supplies of commodities from large-scale monocultures. At the
same time, some TNCs are focusing on the appropriation and commercialization of water resources -and
therefore are interested in the conservation of water sources- while others depend on the commercialization of
products (such as agrochemicals) that result in water pollution. Protected areas offer a solution to both:
conservation of biodiversity and water inside and widespread environmental destruction outside.
This situation brings to mind one of the masterpieces of Italian cinema -Il Gattopardo- where one of the main
characters -belonging to the feudal class- explains to his uncle his reason for embracing the struggle against the
Monarchy by saying: "Let something change so that everything goes on the same as before."
AN OVERVIEW OF THE PROBLEM
- Deforestation by agriculture and cattle-raising
Tropical forests have been inhabited for thousands of years by communities that made use of them for
subsistence in many ways, including agricultural activities. It was a type of agricultural production that took into
account crop interactions and was carried out in such a way that not only did it prevent destruction of the forest
but was able to be in harmony with it. The communities promoted areas where a diversity of species useful for
human consumption were concentrated, within a diverse scenario, but which did not undermine the forest’s
biological bases. Some studies indicate that approximately 12 per cent of the Amazon forests are the “result of
prolonged management by pre-historic populations.”
However, following Colonial intervention, the colonized countries –the Third World– were incorporated into the
world market and an agricultural model was introduced that weakened indigenous land tenure and resource
management systems. Whether in Latin America, Africa or Asia, the colonizers’ common intention was to convert
previously self-sufficient economies into zones for agricultural production aimed at exports, placing the emphasis
on “productivity” understood as the maximum output of a main crop, accounted for independently from the rest of
the ecosystem. Thus crop and forage rotation, extensive animal husbandry with scant genetic diversity were
implanted and later a series of technological innovations were applied to agriculture, which led to the manufacture
of chemical fertilizers, machinery and motors (see the article on the Green Revolution in this same issue), which
further entrenched this productive model.
Even when the countries achieved political independence, the model did not change and in general terms they
remained captive of trade and economic dependency on the markets of the North, with the complicity of the
national elites in power –both economic and political– and the decisive promotion of international bodies such as
the World Bank and FAO. This dependency has progressively increased, creating instability, poverty and
environmental degradation of the Third World countries’ agricultural systems.
The expansion of agriculture and cattle-raising has been identified as one of the main causes of deforestation and
forest degradation in various countries around the world. In the case of agriculture, it is a two sided factor leading
to both direct and indirect deforestation.
Agriculture or commercial plantations are usually an agricultural business practiced by companies. Through a
concession agreement, the purchase of land or informal occupation, the companies take over the land with the
intention of converting it to other uses. In the case of tropical zones, this possession extends to forests which are
converted for the plantation of trade crops such as sugar cane, oil palm, rubber, coffee, cocoa and tropical fruit
(bananas, citrus fruit, etc.). In this case direct deforestation is carried out by the companies to convert the forests
into agricultural zones. For example, in Indonesia, the extension of oil palms has increased in an amazing way
over the past few years, to the detriment of forests and the fallow bushes that grew after slash and burn
WRM BULLETIN 85 August 2004
agriculture. The experience of Indonesia with oil palms has been repeated in many other tropical countries over
the past years.
However, commercial agriculture also produces indirect deforestation insofar as the commercial farms occupy the
more fertile and best located lands in the valleys, displacing the increasing rural population that depends on
agriculture for subsistence. Without access to agricultural lands in their immediate area and generally within the
framework of unemployment, small farmers are evicted and must migrate, very often to less fertile and productive
lands or to forest areas. During the seventies, the oil palm cooperatives that settled in the valleys along the
northern coast of Honduras led to the displacement of thousands of small farmers and cattle raisers towards the
steep wooded slopes and mudflow lands which they deforested to install their farms and grazing lands. The
tragedy is that most of these lands are not suitable for long-term agriculture or grazing as once the forest cover
has been removed the area becomes exposed to erosion and to the loss of minerals and nutrients, resulting in an
impoverished soil. It is for this reason that subsistence agriculture practiced in tropical forests resorts to the
migrant “slash and burn” system, as burning contributes nutrients to the soil for a while, and migrating to other
areas after a few years allows the forest to fully re-establish itself.
In addition to the negative environmental impacts common to all forms of deforestation, commercial agriculture
brings with it a series of problems related to the use of chemicals such as fertilizers, pesticides and weed-killers
that have a detrimental impact on the workers’ health, contaminating crops, soil and groundwater. For example, in
banana plantations, pesticides are used on the plants and the soil for pest control. But they also kill other living
organisms and are harmful to the health of the ecosystem. The banana plantations also use irrigation dykes and
underground pipes to transport water, altering the land’s hydrological balance. Once a crop produced under an
intensive system in a forest zone is abandoned, many years -even centuries- may go by before the forest is able
to grow again, if it ever does.
In a similar model to that of commercial agriculture, cattle-raising has developed as an industrial type of
production, centred on limited genetic diversity, aimed at export to the markets of industrialized countries for the
production of hamburgers in fast food chains and the production of frozen meat products. The expansion of cattle-
raising has also been promoted by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, as well as through
tax incentives and has been closely linked to land concentration. The ranchers occupy large areas of forest which
they themselves log or purchase on-farm "improvements" (cleared land) made by the small farmers. In the past
the ranchers preferred zones of dry forest because it is easy to manage for cattle-raising and as grazing land, but
later extensive logging of the tropical rainforest both in South and Central America took place.
Ecological destruction caused by cattle-raising programmes is long term and often irreversible. Soil nutrients are
rapidly depleted and the land is invaded by toxic weeds. In a few years the land is so degraded that it must be
Article based on information from: “A Brief History of Agriculture”, http://www.planetaorganico.com.br/enhistor.htm
; “Asuntos forestales. Deforestación: Bosques Tropicales en Disminución”, http://www.rcfa-
cfan.org/spanish/s.issues.12-5.html ; Throwing a Monkey Wrench into the Industrial Farm Machine”, Eco-Logical,
http://www.grinningplanet.com/2004/04-06/industrial-agriculture-1-article.htm ; “Saving What Remains”,
http://www.mongabay.com/1002.htm ; “Rainforest Destruction. Causes, Effects & False Solutions”, World
Rainforest Movement, 1999.
- The Green Revolution: From crops for food to crops for domination
In 1944, the Rockefeller Foundation funded the introduction of a series of technologies in Mexican agricultural
production. This gave rise to an agricultural production model known as the “Green Revolution” with a central
concept of “high yielding varieties” developed in the framework of monoculture crops supported by a technological
package including mechanization, irrigation, chemical fertilization and the use of toxic chemicals to control pests.
WRM BULLETIN 85 August 2004
Throughout the sixties and seventies, FAO disseminated these technologies all over the world, announcing that
the Green Revolution science was a “miraculous” recipe to achieve prosperity, solve hunger in the world and
The application of this model has had –and continues having- an enormous impact on deforestation rates through
the substitution of forest areas by large scale monoculture cash crops. Furthermore, the Green Revolution not
only did not solve, but worsened the problem of world hunger, contributing to the loss of rural communities’ means
of subsistence and to rural to urban migration. The great majority of today’s shanty towns in the cities of the South
are a direct result of the application of this model.
Examples are abundant. At one time the Punjab region in India was advertised as a model for the Green
Revolution. However, twenty years later the results are different. Instead of a land of plenty, Punjab now has soil
erosion, crops infested with pests and indebted and discontent farmers. Instead of peace, Punjab has inherited
conflicts and violence.
The introduction of “miraculous” seeds was based on a measure of output that ignored the context surrounding
cultivation systems. The symbiotic relationship between soil, water, farm animals and plants, characteristic of
indigenous and traditional agriculture was transformed by the Green Revolution into the interaction of inputs:
hybrid seeds (and at present, increasingly transgenic seeds), irrigation and agrochemical products (fertilizers,
pesticides, weed-killers). In assessing output, the interactions of this package with the soil and water systems –
noxious environmental impacts- are not taken into account.
In fact, the characteristic trait of Green Revolution seeds is that they respond extremely well to certain external
inputs, such as fertilizers and irrigation. However if these fail their output is worse than that of the traditional
varieties. Furthermore, the strategy of increasing the production of a single agricultural component is done at the
cost of decreasing other components and increasing external inputs. Thus a “high yield” may soon not be so if
considered at a system level. In this respect, the measurement of output is restricted to the commercial aspect of
crops and it sacrifices other uses of the plant. In this way, increased production of cash crops was achieved at the
price of less biomass for animals and soil and a drop in the ecosystem’s productivity due to an excessive
The Green Revolution created a framework for the entry of the commercial sector into agriculture on establishing
dependency on hybrid seeds –the basis of a private seed market– with reduced genetic diversity. Centuries of
farmer innovation were abandoned. With the Green Revolution, western capitalism penetrated into the deepest
part of agricultural production and traditional diversity was substituted by large scale cash crop farming, aimed at
exports and sustained by a system of large banks funding seed and agro-chemical companies, with
intermediaries and multilateral bodies fostering the model.
Not only is local biodiversity lost –it is calculated that over the past 100 years, agricultural genetic diversity has
dropped by 75 per cent– but self-sufficient agricultural practices are also lost. In turn, small and medium-sized
farmers have become the prisoners of indebtedness to enable them to purchase external inputs and of markets
over which they have no control whatsoever.
In a “globalized” world, agriculture has lost the essence of producing food and has become yet another
merchandise factory for market ploy, which in turn is in the hands of major capital owners who use it to dominate
the world. But in the world of human beings, farming is still something different. In the sense of the Zapotecan
indigenous people of Oaxaca, Mexico: “When corn is sown, four grains are thrown in at a time, one is for wild
animals, another is for those who like other peoples’ property, another one is for feast days and the last one is for
family consumption. The western criteria of output, efficiency and productivity are foreign to Zapotecan culture.
Corn is not a business, it is a food for subsistence and that makes us happy, that is why before planting it we
bless it to ask for a good harvest for all of us.”
WRM BULLETIN 85 August 2004
Article based on information from: “The violence of the Green Revolution”, Vandana Shiva, 1991; “Intellectual
Property Rights: Ultimate control of agricultural R&D in Asia”, GRAIN, http://www.grain.org/briefings/?id=35 ; “El
día en que muera el sol”, Silvia Ribeiro, Biodiversidad, sustento y culturas, Nº 3º, July 2004.
- Colonization and the role of agriculture in a nutshell
From the 15th century onwards, technological progress enabled Europe to take an enormous lead in charting the
whole world through the invasion of the American continent, the almost total annihilation of the native population,
and the unrestricted take-over of political and economic power.
America's economy was restructured and oriented according to European requirements. A diverse agriculture was
replaced by a system of large plantations to grow sugar, cotton and tobacco for the European market, under a
monoculture system which was usually harmful to the soils after repeated use and left the countries vulnerable to
plant diseases sweeping through the entire crop. Local biodiversity was degraded or lost and forests were
The American plantations were based on the exploitation of enslaved African people which made of Africa an
annex to America, with the function of providing the continent's slave labour. Some hundred million African people
were savagely chased for that purpose.
In the 19th century, the large scale single-crop farming that had been introduced in America was also imposed in
Africa by the Europeans, along the same basis: to provide goods inexpensively to the European markets.
Sugar cane, tobacco, cotton, tea, rice and coffee were some of the main products grown in the colonies, which
paradoxically had to begin importing food since cash crops generally took a majority of the available farmland,
sometimes up to 80%.
Sugar cane required a heavy input of labour (originally slaves). Grown in monocropping, it depleted the soil
quickly. By 1700, Brazil was the main sugar producing area in the world, and most of the West Indies became
largely sugar cane plantations.
Tobacco was originally grown on small farms, later on in large plantations with slaves. Also cotton was a key raw
material for the Industrial Revolution, which was originally focused on the textile industry, particularly cotton
goods. Most cotton was grown on plantations. Like sugar and tobacco, it depleted the soil quickly.
Tea as a cash crop came to dominate the economies of south-east Asia. In India, tea plantations were
established on the hills of Assam province by clearing the forests.
Rice had been grown by peasants in south-east Asia for their own use or for trade in local markets, for centuries
before European control was established. Britain annexed Burma in 1852 and established extensive rice paddies
to produce rice for export to Britain (the area under rice cultivation there increased 20 times between 1855 and
1920). Also the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 meant that crops from Asia were easier to transport. France
occupied Indo-China in 1861 and brought about similar transformations. In both Burma and Indo China, large
plantations drove out the small landowners and left the sharecroppers permanently in debt.
Coffee is indigenous to Africa, but it was first grown as a cash crop in Ceylon in the late 17th century, and later in
Java. After a coffee blight broke out in the 1870s, production in south-east Asia fell. Brazil stepped in and became
the main supplier in the world. As large coffee plantations exhausted quickly the soils, new fields were opened up
as the railways penetrated deeper in the forest in the 19th century.
The independence of American and later African states did not mean a change in the economic and social
structure. Agricultural, trading, and land-ownership patterns set during the colonial period persisted.
WRM BULLETIN 85 August 2004
Diversification proved very difficult, so newly independent colonies simply tried to produce more of the cash crops
they had already been producing. This resulted in even greater dependence on the same commodities and a
general response of finding even more products to export for cash. Newly born local elites also helped to maintain
commercial dependence which was in general reinforced by economic and financial treaties with the former
colonial powers and/or following successors.
In the early phases of Western imperialism, Asia wanted nothing that Europe offered. European powers could
interpose themselves only as brokers of the common items of Asian trade. However, European colonialism
transformed the landscape of Southeast Asia and the lives and livelihoods of its peoples, as it regularized, fenced
and atomized the region in entirely new and foreign ways diminishing its shared identity. Between about 1870 and
the early years of the twentieth century, European colonialism created a whole new state system in Southeast
The coffee production and trade of the Dutch East Indies company from the early eighteenth century on thronged
the hills of West Java with imported coffee trees and carried off the produce for sale in Europe. Similarly, the
Spanish in the Philippines sought to establish a monopoly over the production and marketing of tobacco in
specified parts of Luzon for nearly a hundred years from the late eighteenth century on. From the 1830s, the
Dutch forced Javanese peasants in their millions to grow huge quantities of coffee, sugar, indigo and other
tropical products for export and sale in Europe.
The export-oriented monoculture productive pattern imposed by the colonial system –in the past as in the
present-- has been at the expense of the people and the ecosystems, mainly the forests. Those cultures who had
lived in close contact with nature had developed quite a balanced relationship with their environment, which could
be a referent to follow. But old and later new colonization put a wedge that made the global world enter into the
present blind alley.
Article based on information from: “The Third World”,
http://www.yorku.ca/bwall/nats1840/lecturesx4/4x11thirdworld.pdf ; “Reinventing a Region: Southeast Asia and
the Colonial Experience”, Robert Elson, http://www.palgrave.com/pdfs/1403934762.pdf
- The “development” model at the apex of deforestation
Agriculture and cattle-raising are direct causes of deforestation. However they should be looked at in depth in
order to be able to understand what promotes them, who benefits from them, how they arise. It may be said that it
is a funnel-like process. What is most visible is on the outside, the disappearance of the forest as a consequence
of these activities. Delving deeper, a series of policies and programmes promoting them may be identified,
together with the actors who apply them and benefit from them, even deforestation actors who are not necessarily
the beneficiaries, but rather the victims of such policies. Finally, at the apex of the funnel is the origin of the
process: a development model of an industrial nature, sustained on unequal structures in which the concentration
of wealth on one hand causes poverty on the other, having a philosophy of relating with the world – and with
nature – of a strictly commercial vision.
We have already discussed the more visible manifestations of deforestation due to the expansion of agriculture
and cattle-raising (see the article on “Deforestation by agriculture and cattle-raising” in this same issue). As to the
policies encouraging the sector, a series of government measures may be identified on a national scale, such as
subsidised credits (at lower interest rates than commercial rates), rebates on income and commercial taxes,
exemption from paying import taxes on agro-industrial machinery, research and rural extension activities by the
State, all acting as powerful factors to legitimate and consolidate the cash crop production model.
The problem of land tenure is also one of the underlying causes of deforestation. The processes have been
varied in the different parts of the world, but a common trait has been that the lands that traditionally were in the
hands of indigenous or peasant communities are allocated to national or foreign commercial agents.
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Among the various problem situations regarding land tenure linked with agriculture and deforestation, two main
ones may be identified:
* when the situation of disregard for the community’s rights over its territories occurs in the forest itself. In general
this implies the eviction of the communities inhabiting the forest to allow for the entry of external agents, who
launch the process of deforestation, while incorporating the area into the intensive production circuit aimed at
In general this has been a characteristic process in Asia and to a certain extent in Africa.
* when the disregard of rights over land takes place in zones outside the forest. This process leads to migration –
either spontaneous or promoted by the government– towards the forest, with the consequent process of
In the case of Latin America for example, governments have used the forests as a sort of “safety valve” for
pressure on land and the consequent social and economic problems. Thus in some settlement plans, free access
to forest lands has been offered, often accompanied by road building with multilateral bank funding (increasing
foreign debt) in order to open up and “develop” the forests. In other cases, as part of “development” projects,
settlement programmes have been implemented, stipulating that the settlers must “clear” the land in order to have
access to the deeds, which implies cutting down the forest. In this case, deforestation ends up by being
considered as land “improvement” and the expression of the willingness of the occupants to “improve” their
property. This same process is repeated, in another situation, with cattle-raising.
Central America is one of the best-known regions where the expansion of cattle-raising has caused severe
deforestation. Cattle-raising has been part of the culture of the rural areas of Central America since Spanish
Colonial times. In the hands of large landowners, cattle-raising was concentrated in the fertile lands of the
highland valleys of the isthmus and along the Pacific Coast. With the opening up of the United States market for
cheap beef and the improvement of local facilities during the second half of the twentieth century, the cattle
ranchers increased their operations, encroaching on the rainforests of the North Coast. Many took possession of
large tracts of forests and hired workers to clear them with chainsaws and by burning them. However, the most
common way of acquiring new pasture lands was that of purchasing on-farm "improvements" that the slash-and-
burn farmers had made on deedless land. These so-called “improvements” were no more than a small forest area
that the farmers had cleared to plant their crops. After having obtained the rights of those occupying the land, the
rancher finished off clearing it, planted grass and fenced in the property. Once the land was transferred to the
rancher, the farmer moved on further into the rainforest to repeat the same deforestation cycle.
International policies have also been decisive in the expansion of the cash crop model. Such is the case with the
structural adjustment programmes designed by multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the
International Monetary Fund. Their application conditioned the granting of further loans and moratoria on the debt
weighing down the impoverished countries of the South. Structural adjustment policies have promoted the
expansion of export crops, directly accelerating the clearing of forests for agriculture or cattle-raising, as a recipe
to obtain foreign currency. And, as we have seen, very often this has implied the displacement of small farmers or
subsistence farmers, who have been pushed into the forests, where they practice slash and burn agriculture.
This system introduces, sooner or later, the idea that is at the centre of the development model, that is that
worthwhile activities are those that lead to short-term economic profit. Activities that do not generate monetary
value are scantly estimated in such a market oriented context. For this type of system to operate, three things are
necessary and closely linked: large-scale production, monoculture production (either of crops or animals) and the
concentration of land and capital.
Thus, ways of relating with the earth, water, plants, animals, seeds, are no longer “sacred”--to define a way of
feeling that is characteristic of cultures that are closely linked with nature and natural cycles-- and become mere
“resources” to obtain profit from. The ways of social relationship in this system also perpetuate inequity through
WRM BULLETIN 85 August 2004
unjust land tenure models, neglect of the rights of indigenous and traditional peoples, an unjust international trade
system that does not consider the real value of the products and that takes advantage of monopolistic domination
and unsustainable consumption models that are one of the pillars of international trade. Now, for the dominant
ideology, everything becomes merchandise that must be given as a tribute to the new god of the globalized
market, well custodied by the new high priests: the transnational corporations, multilateral institutions and local
elites in power.
Article base on information from: Marketing the Earth. The World Bank and Sustainable Development”, FOE,
Halifax Initiative, http://www.foe.org/res/pubs/pdf/marketingtheearth.pdf ; “Asuntos forestales. Deforestación:
Bosques Tropicales en Disminución, http://www.rcfa-cfan.org/spanish/s.issues.12-5.html ; “Deforestation of
Tropical Rain Forests, Rain Forest Report Card, BSRSI, http://www.bsrsi.msu.edu/rfrc/deforestation.html
- Oil palm and soybean: Two paradigmatic deforestation cash crops
Deforestation of tropical forests took place at a rate of 10–16 million hectare per annum during the last two
decades, and is showing no signs of slowing down. 16% of the whole Amazon forest has already disappeared
and every day, another 7,000 hectares of forest is lost – a surface of 10 kilometers by 7 kilometers. The causes
are complex and often interrelated, but among them is the role of large-scale commercial agriculture.
In recent years, some of the fastest expanding crops in the tropics have been oil palm and soybean primarily
planted as export driven large scale monocultures. Globally, the oil palm area increased by 43% (10.7 million
hectares) and the soy area by 26% (77.1 million hectares) during 1990-2002. Government policies have facilitated
this expansion which has occurred primarily in Indonesia and Malaysia (for oil palm), and in Argentina, USA and
Brazil (for soy). In Brazil, in 1940 there were only 704 hectares of soy fields, by 2003 there were 18 million
The most direct impact of this process has been the deforestation of approximately 2 million hectares of tropical
forest in the case of Indonesia by 1999, and the loss of vast areas of forests in the Centre-West region of Brazil to
make way for oil palm or soy plantations. Pesticides and herbicides inherent to these monocultures kill off the last
vestiges of biodiversity able to co-exist with the plantations, and significantly diminish the chances of habitat
restoration. In Indonesia and Brazil, oil palm and soy companies have been linked to devastating forest fires, that
in 1997-98 alone destroyed over 11.7 million hectares of forest and other vegetation in Indonesia, and 3.3 million
hectares of forest and other vegetation within the northern Amazonian state of Roraima, Brazil.
Soybean is a crop very suitable for capital intensive, large scale cultivation. The main products derived from
soybeans are soy meal (the world’s main oil meal for animal feed) and soy oil (the world’s most consumed
vegetable oil). Only a small part of the global harvest is processed as whole bean for human consumption, mostly
in Asia. The growing demand for cattle feed in Europe has driven the production of soybean, but recently also by
a growing market in China for the production of oil.
Brazil is the second biggest producer (50 million tons or 26% of world production in 2003) world wide, after the US
(38%). Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia have market shares of 18%, 2% and 1% respectively. Other big
producers are China and India (8% and 2% respectively).
Soybean is traditionally grown in temperate and subtropical regions worldwide, but now is expanding into tropical
regions. The Amazonian region is being directly impacted as new high-yielding tropical soy varieties have been
specifically developed for expansion in this region. According to data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space
Research, the annual rate of forest loss in the Amazon increased by 40% in the year 2002, resulting mainly from
pressure to replace forest with soy agriculture and cattle ranching.
Argentina shifted to the production of genetically modified soybeans, and it is assumed that until 2003 the
expansion of the soy area has been at the expense of other agricultural crops, while now 75% of the soy area
WRM BULLETIN 85 August 2004
growth is assumed to take place in the humid parts of the Chaco region, and the remaining 25% in the Atlantic
forest in Misiones Province.
In Bolivia, soy will expand by converting Chiquitano (dry) forests, while in Paraguay it will do so in the Atlantic
forest. In Paraguay, although formally illegal or severely restricted, genetically modified soybeans are increasingly
planted, a process which has also happened in Southern Brazil.
Soybean trading and crushing in the four South American soybean production countries is dominated by a limited
number of large, international commodity trading companies, being Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Bunge, and
Cargill (the three are based in the United States and control 80% of the European soybean crushing industry),
and Louis Dreyfus, France. Although these trading companies usually don’t invest in soybean growing as such,
their influence on the expansion of the sector is very large. Soybean farmers are often very dependent on these
trading companies for seed, credit, and other inputs.
The financial stakeholders of the four main soy trading and crushing companies mentioned above are ABN
AMRO Bank (The Netherlands), Bank of America (United States), BNP Paribas (France), Citigroup (United
States), Commerzbank (Germany), Crédit Agricole (France), Crédit Lyonnais (France), Crédit Suisse
(Switzerland), Deutsche Bank (Germany), HSBC Bank (United Kingdom), ING Bank (The Netherlands), IntesaBci
(Italy), J.P. Morgan Chase & Co (United States), Rabobank (The Netherlands), Société Générale (France).
Oil palm is native to Central Africa, where its cultivation as a staple crop is central to the livelihoods of millions of
small scale farmers. But elsewhere in the world it has become big business, grown mainly on large-scale
plantations. Palm oil is a vegetable oil derived from oil palm. It is the world’s second most consumed edible oil
(after soy), and has a huge range of uses –from shampoo to chips to frozen foods to cosmetics.
Commercial oil palm plantations have spread throughout the tropics, being most significant in South East Asia,
particularly Malaysia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea, where it is a major driver of the destruction of tropical
forests. Industry figures show that nearly half (48 per cent) of South East Asian oil palm plantations are created
on some kind of primary or secondary forest land. The use of fire to clear that land was also a major cause of the
forest fires that ravaged Indonesian forests and cast a devastating smog over the entire region in 1997.
Oil palm planting has also led to enormous human suffering and the destruction of forest lands that communities
rely on. In Indonesia, oil palm plantations are associated with the displacement of forest peoples from their land. A
serious imbalance of power exists between these communities --who have no formal right to their traditional land--
and the companies that are granted leave by the Government to convert the forest to plantations (see “The Bitter
Fruit of Oil Palm”, at http://www.wrm.org.uy/plantations/material/oilpalm.html ).
According to the FAO, forest cover in Indonesia and Malaysia declined by 12 per cent in the 1990s. In the past
much of this loss has been blamed on so-called slash-and-burn practices by local communities and on the
activities of logging companies exploiting the forest for timber or pulpwood. The role of palm oil plantations has
gone relatively unacknowledged also because industry sources argue that there is very little “direct” forest
destruction involved in their operations since oil palm plantations are usually located in areas that have been
Indeed, much of the forestland cleared to make way for oil palm plantations has been previously logged and may
be viewed by outsiders as “degraded” and therefore valueless. This, however, ignores that those “degraded”
forests often still provide a habitat for an array of species, which is destroyed when the forest is substituted by oil
palm. Research has shown that an oil palm plantation can support only 0 – 20% of the species of mammals,
reptiles and birds found in primary rainforest. Those species that are able to survive cannot find sources of food in
the new environment of the plantation and frequently come into conflict with humans in and around the
plantations. Workers and villagers encounter elephants, orangutans, tigers, porcupine and wild boar for some
time after forest clearing. The results are often serious and sometimes fatal.
WRM BULLETIN 85 August 2004
The global significance of forest destruction in terms of biodiversity and climate change should not be
underestimated, but it is the local communities who most immediately feel the impact of its destruction. They
depend on these forests, often managed under the community's traditional law, for their subsistence and cash
income, as well as for cultural and religious practises. Deforestation completely overhauls their entire way of life.
Economies of scale demand that an oil palm plantation is at least 4,000 hectares in size in order to be able to
feasibly operate a crude palm oil mill that processes the fresh fruit bunches from the plantation estates. In
Southeast Asia an average individual plantation company manages a plantation area of 10,000 – 25,000
hectares. These companies are mostly part of larger agribusiness holdings, with plantation estates ranging from
100,000 to 600,000 hectares in several provinces and countries.
Apart from Malaysia, Indonesia and PNG, oil palm projects are developed in many other countries including the
Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, India, Solomon Islands, Kenya, Tanzania, Congo, Cameroon,
Nigeria, Liberia, Guinea, Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, Guyana, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and
Present concerns on the social and environmental impacts of soybean and oil palm plantations are being
heightened by the fact that further growth of both crops in those and other countries is predicted.
Article based on information from: “Oil Palm and Soy: The Expanding Threat to Forests”, “Soy Expansion - Losing
Forests to Fields”, WWF Forest Conversion Initiative, July 2003,
http://www.wwf.ch/images/progneut/upload/WWF_OIL_PALM_AND_SOI.pdf ; “Accommodating Growth: Two
scenarios for soybean production growth”, Jan Maarten Dros, AIDEnvironment, November 2003,
http://www.wwf.ch/images/progneut/upload/1122_Soy_quick_scan_v6.pdf ; “Corporate actors in the South
American soy production chain”, Jan Willem van Gelder, Jan Maarten Dros, November 2002,
; “Greasy palms – palm oil, the environment and big business”, March 2004,
http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/reports/greasy_palms_summary.pdf ; “Greasy Palms - The social and ecological
impacts of large-scale oil palm plantation development”, March 2004,
FOREST DESTRUCTION FOR EXPORT
- Côte d’Ivoire: Cacao, another cause of deforestation
As has been the case with most Southern countries, Côte d’Ivoire inherited from the colonial period the role of
exporter of tropical agricultural products. Apart from the ivory from which the country was named, prior to
colonization Côte d’Ivoire had less to offer for trading compared to its eastern neighboring country Ghana, more
endowed with gold. So, when the French arrived in the area in the 1880s they found it simple to use the vast
fertile land of dense tropical forest for agricultural production.
France's colonial division of labour determined that Côte d'Ivoire was to supply French markets with cash crops,
so colonial authorities introduced the cultivation of cacao by 1912. That was the beginning of the cacao story in
the country. Late in the 1900s, France's trading organization in West Africa, with firms like the Compagnie
Française d'Afrique Occidentale (the first French trading company in Côte d'Ivoire), laid the foundations for a
capitalist farming development, including research stations in the south for the improvement of varieties of seeds
and plant diseases treatment. This type of development did not change significantly after the country's
independence in 1960.
WRM BULLETIN 85 August 2004
Each year, Côte d'Ivoire produces about 40 percent of the world's cocoa for the production of chocolate. Cacao is
planted on large scale plantations and by individual farmers, and it has affected heavily the tropical rainforests of
the country. From 12 million hectares, the Ivorian humid tropical forest decreased to some 2.6 million hectares
nowadays. The area of cacao plantations has increased from 500,000 hectares in 1975 to some 2 million
hectares at present and have contributed to nearly 14% of the deforestation in the country.
Apart from the direct impact on forests, this type of agricultural development goes along with road building, which
destroys additional kilometers of forest –directly by the road itself and indirectly through providing access to new
forest areas for logging.
The impact of such a devastation has changed the ecosystem and affected flora and fauna as well as living
conditions in rural areas. The use of agrochemicals has led to soil and water pollution. To make matters worse,
the cultivation of different trees – cacao, coconut, rubber, coffee- implies the use of a different set of chemicals in
the different plantations. Those chemicals affect the biological composition of the soil and have a negative impact
on terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity. Chemicals in the soil are drained by rains into rivers and as a result rivers
and streams now carry less fish than before. But above all is the visible desertification in the northern part of the
country, that has altered the climate and the rainy season.
Besides destroying most of the country's rainforests –and exporting the resulting logs- the export-driven
agriculture pattern has not prevented Côte d’Ivoire from ranking very low in the UN's Human Development Index
(163th. in 180 countries rated); indeed, it is at the root of it.
Article based on information from: “Cocoa Trade in Cote d'Ivoire (COCOA)”, Trade and Environment Database
(TED), http://www.american.edu/TED/cocoa.htm ; “Shade Grown Cacao”, Koffi N'Goran,
- Ghana: Loggers and politicians, not small farmers, are to blame for deforestation
Even by conservative estimates, less than a quarter of Ghana’s pre-colonial forest remains. Loggers and
politicians caused most deforestation, though they like to shift the blame to farmers. But the fact is that throughout
the Twentieth Century farmers have had little control over the trees on their land. British colonialists gave timber
rights to chiefs, who promptly sold them to loggers, or ordered them cleared and replaced with cacao plantations.
After independence, the government claimed ownership of all trees and land, and sold most of it off to loggers.
Cocoa farmers followed the loggers, settling in the newly cleared areas. Because cacao trees grow better under
shade, small farmers usually conserve forest cover. But decades of bad forest policies and a corrupt forest
department meant that farmers received no compensation —only ruined fields— for the trees that logging
companies cut from their land. Government officials —often receiving kick-backs from loggers— set extremely low
royalties on logged trees, and failed to collect most anyway. Booming foreign demand in Asia combined with new
timber mills financed by the World Bank plunged the timber sector into crisis.
Reforms in the 1990s came too little and too late. After substantial civil society and donor pressure, the
government reluctantly implemented a few token reforms to involve communities in scattered projects. But
farmers still have no say over forest policies, over whether their land is given off as a concession, nor over which
trees companies cut from their backyards.
By blaming farmers, politicians and loggers evade responsibility. Similar scapegoating happens in Madagascar,
Senegal and many other countries across Africa. Such stories about destructive slash-and-burn farmers are then
picked up by naïve scholars and self-seeking international agro-input companies. Fertilizer companies say
governments must get ‘destructive’ ‘slash-and-burn’ farmers to buy more fertilizer in order to raise productivity on
existing land thereby stopping expansion. Biotechnology firms argue that new genetically engineered seeds will
enable farmers to boost yields on current land. In the process, we are blinded to the real villains, and we lose
opportunities for real changes in policy and government to foster conservation and rehabilitation.
WRM BULLETIN 85 August 2004
By: Aaron deGrassi, e-mail: email@example.com . Note based on: deGrassi, Aaron (2003). Constructing
Subsidiarity, Consolidating Hegemony: Political Economy and Agro-Ecological Processes in Ghanaian Forestry.
Washington, DC: World Resources Institute. Environmental Governance in Africa Working Paper No. 13.
deGrassi, Aaron (2003). (Mis)Understanding change in agro-environmental technology in Africa: Charting and
refuting the myth of population-induced breakdown. In, Zeleza, P. T. and Kakoma, I. (eds.), In search of
modernity: Science and technology in Africa. Trenton: Africa World Press. pp. 473-505.
- Senegal: Deforestation by expansion of groundnut monoculture
Senegalese exposure to European trade started in 1444 when the Portuguese established trading posts along the
coast on the river Senegal: Goree (which eventually became a major slave transit post), Rufisque and along the
south as a whole.
Reflective of the European struggles for power along Africa’s coast, the Portuguese were displaced by the Dutch
and these eventually by the French. During the time around World War 2, French colonists promoted cultivation of
groundnuts (peanuts) as an export cash crop. Monoculture groundnut crops encouraged clear cutting and
contributed to deforestation and desertification. Forced labour for roads to export groundnuts accompanied this
conversion and prevented local people from growing native African rice, which had cultural and spiritual
connotations for them. After colonialism, the French continued trying to sever the ties between the traditional
ethnic groups of Senegal and their forests and rice fields in order to keep them cultivating groundnuts for French
Historically, Senegal used proceeds from groundnut exports to finance food imports, especially cereals imports
such as rice and wheat. Since the 1970s, however, falling world prices for groundnuts and its related products,
poor weather conditions, domestic and international economic shocks, in addition to the emergence of
substitutes, significantly reduced the earning potential of groundnut exports for Senegal. Groundnut production
also led to the environmental degradation of an already fragile ecosystem (the Sahel). It also impedes the
production of major food crops such as millet, sorghum, rice and maize. Decreasing groundnut proceeds coupled
with rising food imports, estimated at 700,000 tons per year, led to chronic balance of payment crises for the
In spite of that Senegal is still at present among the world's leading exporters of groundnuts. This crop, on which
Senegal’s economy is dependent, uses an increasing share (more than one-half) of the national cultivated area in
an ecological zone subject to recurring drought cycles.
Deforestation, overgrazing, soil erosion, desertification, constitute some of Senegal's major environmental
challenges, caused in part by the rapid expansion of and continued dependence on peanut cultivation. These
signs of environmental degradation are even more visible in the Groundnut Basin area. In the 1960s, the state
encouraged farmers to cut down trees as a way to expand areas for groundnut crops, creating a vicious pattern of
deforestation, soil erosion, flooding, and periodic drought which have devastated regional agriculture. The vast
majority of the peoples of the Sahel and Sahelo-Sudan region depends on agriculture for their livelihoods, but due
to soil degradation and desertification, the ability of these people to support themselves is becoming increasingly
The following example illustrates the general situation in many parts of the country:
"In the department of Bambey, some 100 km from Dakar, there is not much to catch the eye. The landscape runs
on endlessly, broken by nothing more than a few stunted trees buried under the dust. Sandstorms ravage the
area, from January to May. The soil has lost its protective cover and lies exposed to the relentless forces of wind
and sun. Here and there, between the scattered villages, a few flocks struggle for survival, nibbling at the last
dried remnants of grass left from the previous winter. And yet, 'this valley used to grow peanuts that were the
pride of the Baol-Baol and Sérère tribesmen', the chairman of the rural community of Lambaye likes to recall. He
WRM BULLETIN 85 August 2004
still cannot come to terms with the drop in peanut yields, or the damage that this crop has done to the soil. Today,
many of the villages of Senegal are losing their people: the men are deserting them for Touba, Dakar, or lands
abroad. Only the women and children are left behind."
Article based on information from: “Casamance River’s Native Rice Bonds Sacred Traditions”, Mark Millar,
http://www.cmaq.net/es/node.php?id=16588 ; “Senegal’s Trade in Groundnuts: Economic, Social and
Environmental Implications”, Coura Badiane, http://www.american.edu/TED/senegal-groundnut.htm
- Bangladesh: The Modhupur forest converted into banana, papaya and pineapple plantations
I was part of a filming crew of seven members who were on June 4 in the Modhupur forest in order to make a
documentary film on the forest destruction with special attention to the effects of plantations —mostly commercial
and industrial— on public forestland. The Modhupur forest is now thoroughly plundered.
We were in our third and final round of filming in Modhupur, and we focused our last shots on a suddenly
discovered spot where green vegetation was being thoroughly cut. The spot is very near to Lohoria Beat between
Rasulpur and Dokhola Ranges.
We stopped at a location which has a concrete wall meaninglessly cutting through the remnants of sal (Shorea
robusta) forest. The wall formed part of the Forest Department plan to erect 60,000 feet concrete walls to protect
some 3,000 acres of forest within the about 21,000 acre Modhupur National Park.
As our crew concentrated filming the wall and the remnants of the forests still with myriad medicinal plants, I
followed a narrow path in the north from the brick street that cuts through the forest from Rasulpur Range to
Dokhola Range. A huge area (maybe more than a hundred acres) has just been cut. Actually, at every corner of
the area we saw people cutting the green vegetation.
We took many shots of the destruction. Thousands of stumps were shooting up. They are yet to be dug out. At
one corner a fire had been set. That fire (with petrol as some said) was applied to quickly annihilate the forest was
evident from the many charred stumps. In the horizon beyond fresh cut spots we could see columns of banana
We called two young men who were standing at calling distance. They slowly came to us. One had a dao (long
knife similar to a machete) in his hand, which he was hiding. Upon confirmation we were unarmed, he brought the
dao in the open. The two young men told us they were just laborers paid to cut the jungle. Like hundreds of other
places this big area will be brought under banana plantation soon.
In clearing the jungle some Garos (tribal peoples) and Bangalee laborers are seen in the front line. Behind them
there are some foremen who, soon after clearing the jungle convert the forestland to banana and papaya
plantations. Sometimes a few trees are planted in banana, papaya and pineapple plantations to depict them as
This is unbelievable! I have been regularly visiting the Modhupur forest for the last one and half decades. But the
destruction that I have seen in the last two/three years has no match. This phenomenal destruction is caused by
illegal encroachment for banana, papaya and pineapple plantation purposes, which bring benefits to the rich and
influential people in the locality.
During filming we visited numerous spots in Amlitola, Tiler Tal, Gachhabari, Kamarchala, Sadhupara,
Joynagachha, Beduria, Gaira, etc. Everywhere local people have shown us big banana, papaya and pineapple
WRM BULLETIN 85 August 2004
plots that are owned by the local Union Council Chairmen, members, politically influential people and a few
Garos. All these plantations are illegal in the public forestland.
In remote (no more in the real term) Garo villages we have found that many Garos have given their land
particularly to the banana cultivators for a seasonal rent, which they call Medi. Banana plantation is capital
intensive. This gives the outsiders, who come with cash, a comfort. They are guests in the remote villages where
they can easily exploit the hospitality of the Garos and return with high margins of profit in a short period of time.
What struck us since we had started filming last year was that patches after patches of sal coppices have been
cleared and converted to banana, papaya and pineapple plantation. On June 4 we filmed a big (about 15 acre)
banana field in Tiler Tal in the north edge of the Modhupur forest that was covered with sal coppices until a few
months back. This plot is reportedly possessed by a local elected Union Parishad chairman. We also found half
dozen laborers clearing the last bits of small coppices and bushes with spade in another spot close to this banana
field. The hearsay is “This is social forestry and protection of sal coppices”. This has happened everywhere
throughout the approximately 62,000- acre Modhupur sal forest (falling in Tangail and Mymensingh districts).
Unless something changes, the demise of the once unique Modhupur sal forest is imminent.
Excerpted from “Modhupur Forest. Demise Is Imminent”, June 2004, Philip Gain, Society for Environment and
Human Development (SEHD), E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org , http://www.sehd.org , sent by the author.
- China: Genetically modified madness
Two years ago, China's State Forestry Administration approved genetically modified (GM) poplar trees for
commercial planting. Well over one million insect resistant GM poplars have now been planted in China.
Also two years ago, China launched the world's largest tree planting project. By 2012 the government aims to
have covered an area of 44 million hectares with trees.
Decades of deforestation have left China facing serious environmental problems, including droughts and deadly
floods. Sandstorms from the Gobi Desert frequently turn the air in Beijing yellowish brown reducing visibility to a
few metres. The desert is creeping relentlessly towards China's capital city.
Although the government describes its tree planting as reforestation, most of the area planted will be monoculture
tree plantations, including plantations of GM trees.
"The first step is to raise plantations using fast-growing species such as poplar and larch", wrote Wang Lida, Han
Yifan and Hu Jianjun of the Chinese Academy of Forestry in a recently published book ("Molecular Genetics and
Breeding of Forest Trees" edited by Sandeep Kumar and Matthias Fladung).
However, insect damage in plantations in China is a serious problem. Rather than suggesting planting a mixture
of trees which might not be so susceptible to insect damage, the three Chinese forestry scientists suggest a GM
tree technical fix. "Recent research on insect-resistant forest tree breeding shows considerable promise," they
Huoran Wang is a research professor at the Chinese Academy of Forestry in Beijing and is China's representative
on the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources. Last year Wang told
the FAO Panel that one million insect resistant GM Populus nigra trees had been planted in China. A further
400,000 insect resistant GM hybrid poplar trees have also been planted, Wang added.
Regulation of genetically modified organisms in China is covered by the Biosafety Act for GMOs in Agriculture,
adopted by the State Council in May 2001. Before GM trees can be planted an expert panel organised by the
WRM BULLETIN 85 August 2004
State Forestry Administration carries out a technical assessment. The National Committee for Biosafety of GMOs
in Agriculture bases its decision whether to approve the GM trees for release on the panel's report.
However, China has no regulations specifically covering GM trees. "Special regulations are in the pipeline,"
according to Huoran Wang.
Forestry scientists at the Chinese Academy of Forestry started research into GM poplar trees in the late 1980s.
From 1990 to 1995, they were helped by an FAO-run project which provided capacity building, technology
transfer and laboratory support. The $1.8 million project was funded by the United Nations Development Project.
For more than ten years, the Federal Research Centre for Forestry and Forest Products at Waldsieversdorf in
Germany has maintained close contact with Chinese forestry scientists working on GM trees. Hu Jianjun of the
Chinese Academy of Forestry is currently based at the Research Centre in Waldsieversdorf.
In May 2004, Dietrich Ewald, a forestry scientist based at Waldsieversdorf, travelled to China to take a look at
some of the GM tree plantations. One of his visits was to Huairou, a town about 60 kilometres north of Beijing.
Ewald's photographs of the 33 hectare GM poplar plantation at Huairou show row upon row of GM poplar trees.
Ewald labelled two of his photographs "No ground vegetation". He's right. There is absolutely nothing growing
except trees. The soil looks hard, dry and barren. A more extreme example to illustrate the difference between
plantations and forests is hard to imagine.
Another of Ewald's photographs shows a handful of seeds from the GM poplars. "There is no possibility of these
seeds spreading because of the dryness, the grazing (sheep) as well as the adjacent agriculture," reads Ewald's
comment on the photograph.
Huoran Wang appears to disagree. "Poplar trees are so widely planted in northern China that pollen and seed
dispersal can not be prevented," Wang stated in his presentation at the FAO meeting last year. Attempts to
prevent genetic pollution by maintaining "isolation distances" between GM and non-GM poplars is "almost
impossible", Wang added.
China's forestry scientists, with international complicity, are setting up an uncontrolled, irreversible experiment. No
one knows the exact area planted with GM trees in China. "It is very difficult to trace them," Wang commented.
Poplar trees can be very easily propagated and GM trees are moved from one nursery to another. A GM poplar
tree looks much the same as any other poplar tree.
There isn't even a system in place to monitor the GM plantations that have so far been planted. Wang suggests
setting up a system "to monitor the situation of the GM plantations" and their impact on surrounding ecosystems.
A better suggestion would be to stop this unscientific, dangerous experiment now.
By: Chris Lang, e-mail: email@example.com
Sign the petition to ban GM trees: http://www.elonmerkki.net/dyn/appeal
Dietrich Ewald's photographs of GM trees in China are available at
- Indonesia: Palming the forest
Between 1990 and 2002 the global planted oil palm area increased by 43%. Most of this growth occurred in
Indonesia and Malaysia. In Indonesia, between 1990-2000, the total area planted with oil palm almost tripled from
1.1 to 3 Mha (million hectares). In 2002, overcoming the 1997-1999 financial crisis, the total mature oil palm
WRM BULLETIN 85 August 2004
plantation area reached 3.5 Mha. Assuming recent planting rates, the total area of oil palm plantations in
Indonesia is set to increase to 11.2 Mha in 2020.
The total area set aside for oil palm is an expansion target rather than a ceiling to expansion (in the early 1990s, a
similar target of 5.5 Mha was set, which was dropped and replaced by 9.13 Mha). It is highly likely that the
Indonesian government, either at national or local level, will bow to the massive interest of the private sector to
engage in the oil palm business as well as to the ambitions of local governments who, along with decentralisation
policies, were empowered with great land use decision making powers in 2001.
The original habitat in most areas suitable for oil palm is lowland evergreen tropical rainforest. According to the
latest revisions of permanent forestlands, not officially published, the area of convertible forestland has increased
from 8 Mha in 2000 to 14 million in 2002. Indonesian Palm Oil Research Institute (IOPRI) estimates that 3% of all
oil palm plantations are established in primary forests and 63% in secondary forest and bush. So, according to
industry data, 66% of all currently productive oil palm plantations involved forest conversion.
However, actual planting rates in Indonesia lag well behind allocations by the government. Of the 7.2 Mha
released during the 1990s, only 530,000 ha (7.5%) were actually planted in 2002. This is in part because of the
monetary crisis of 1997-2002, during which time few companies could afford to obtain credit to commence their
planting programs. Another factor is that many "oil palm" companies are interested in the timber stands rather
than in implementing their plantation projects. Around 70-80% of the new oil palm projects are allocated in
production forests with a high forest stocking which provides a pre-start up bonus in the form of sale proceeds
from the timber stands. After taking the timber stand, many companies abandon the project altogether. In the
province of Jambi around 800,000 hectares of forest cleared to set up oil plantations was abandoned. In Landak
district, West Kalimantan some 300,000 hectares have been neglected.
Field observations indicate that many oil palm plantations in Indonesia are planted in areas that were clearly
forested immediately prior to conversion to plantation.
In Sembuluh, Central Kalimantan, PT Kerry Sawit Indonesia (subsidiaries of the Sabah based plantation company
Perlis Palm Oils Berhad) is about to start field operations to plant 17,200 hectares of land. Within the area, there
is still some 7,500 hectares of forest and forest gardens that local community members desperately wish to see
protected against conversion. The forest area is one of the last in the area of Lake Sembuluh that is completely
surrounded by oil palm estates.
In Muara Wahau, East Kalimantan, a PT SMART (Sinar Mas) subsidiary converted some 2,500 hectares of
primary forest into oil palm plantations. The lowland forest in the PT Matrasawit area used to provide habitat for
the orangutan, an endangered and protected species in Indonesia.
In Riau, Sumatra, a subsidiary of the Indonesian Indofood Sukses Makmur group (PT Gunung Mas Raya) is in the
process of clearing peat-swamp forest, part of which may be outside the concession boundaries. If this is the
case, it will be in contravention of the risk policy of one of the group's main investors, ING from the Netherlands,
which has a policy of not financing illegal forest conversion.
Satellite map analysis undertaken by the Indonesian NGOs Sawit Watch and Friends of the Earth Indonesia
(Walhi) found that around Lake Sentarum National Park in West Kalimantan, the oil palm plantation area grew
from 3,000 hectares in 1994 to 94,000 hectares in 2000. Meanwhile, according to newspaper reports, the total
forest area decreased from 528,300 hectares to 323,000 hectares.
Around Mount Meratus in South Kalimantan, some 43,000 hectares of forest have been converted into plantations
since 1994, enlarging the total area of plantation from 86,000 hectares to 129,000 hectares. The forest areas
surrounding Mt. Meratus meanwhile shrunk from 1,337,000 to 987,000 hectares.
WRM BULLETIN 85 August 2004
Map and anecdotal evidence strongly suggests oil palm plantations have been developed within a number of
other national park buffer (low intensity use) zones as well including Tanjung Puting National Park, Bukit Tiga
Puluh National Park and Gunung Leuser National Park.
Apart from rampant deforestation, oil palm plantations have resulted in the death of dozens of people that have
been killed in land tenure and labour related conflicts, while hundreds of deaths can be attributed to the
environmental impacts of oil palm expansion.
This expansion destroys ecosystems and wildlife in one the worlds' most biodiverse regions. It also destroys
indigenous peoples' way of life, self-determination and culture.
Plantation labour is generally poorly paid, highly dependent on the employer in all aspects of life and regularly
exposed to danger and unhealthy working practices. Inequities between various types of labour (day labour vs.
permanent workers, men vs. women) are widely reported. Pesticide use poses a real health risk to (predominantly
female) plantation workers all over the region. The plantation sector is the most conflict ridden economic sector in
Indonesia. Most conflicts result from land tenure issues and the weak legal protection afforded to local
In sum, oil palm plantations in Indonesia have extremely high social and ecological costs. These costs, which are
often hard to express in hard currency terms, include tropical forest destruction, biodiversity losses, illegal
practises, land rights conflicts and human rights violations, labour disputes, unfair treatment of smallholders, the
collapse of indigenous cultural practises and exposure of vulnerable local economies to capricious global market
Excerpted from: “Greasy Palms. The social and ecological impacts of large-scale oil palm plantation development
in Southeast Asia”, March 2004, Eric Wakker, AIDEnvironment, in collaboration with Sawit Watch Indonesia and
Joanna de Rozario for FOE, http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/reports/greasy_palms_impacts
- Banana plantations in Latin America
Bananas, in terms of gross value of production, are the world’s fourth most important food crop after rice, wheat
and maize. Latin America dominates the world banana economy, where they are cultivated mostly in large mono-
The sector has been an important pillar of the Latin American economy since the 1950s when rising prices and an
increasing demand in Northern countries (nowadays North America and the European Union capture over 60
percent of world imports), led to a rapid expansion of production. They are a commodity, and as with almost all
commodities produced in the South and consumed in the North, more than 90% of the price paid by the consumer
stays in the North and never reaches the producer. World trade of bananas is almost controlled by three
In Latin America, the main producers for export of this crop are Ecuador, followed by Costa Rica, Colombia,
Guatemala, Honduras and Panama. However, other countries such as Brazil, the Caribbean states of Windward
Islands (St. Lucia, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts-Nevis and St. Vincent), Jamaica, Belize, the Dominican Republic
and Suriname are also important producers.
The bananas from the plantations of Latin America are cheaper than anywhere else –largely because the costs
are ‘externalized’, which means they are paid by someone else; in this case by plantation workers and the
environment. If these costs were ‘internalized’, decent wages paid and environmental damage eliminated, the
difference would disappear.
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Increased production has been achieved both by improving yields (through increasing the amount of inputs such
as fertilisers and pesticides) and the areas under cultivation.
This had had huge negative impacts, both human and environmental.
Banana monoculture plantations have been placed in areas of decimated primary rainforest. A characteristic of
these tropical soils is their dependency on the biomass of the overhanging forest. Once the protective forest cover
is eliminated, the productivity and soil fertility per unit of area declines, diminishing sharply after the first two
years. This is why banana producers require large areas of land -and subsequent expansion- in order to make up
for the fall in production per hectare. Moreover, these low density soils are preferred by the banana companies
because: a) they have a high organic content; and b) they require practically no alteration, disturbance or further
Of over 300 different varieties of bananas, the Dwarf Cavendish is the best known and most profitable. This
seedless variety must be propagated by cutting and rooting a section of the mature plant, making all generations
genetically identical. Thousands of plantations throughout the region grow fruit on genetically homogenous plants
making the plantations particularly vulnerable to disease and pests.
To control pest outbreaks in large-scale banana production -particularly for export where the market demands
flawless appearance- plantations depend on high levels of pesticide use.
Pesticides are applied continuously throughout the ten-month growing season. Plantations are aerially sprayed
with fungicides in up to 40-60 application cycles per season. Workers use backpack sprayers to apply
nematicides two to four times a year, and herbicides such as paraquat and glyphosate -eight to twelve times a
year. Fertilizers are continually applied throughout the growing season. Workers also place and remove plastic
bags impregnated with the organophosphate insecticide chlorpyrifos over the maturing banana bunch. In the
packing plant, workers cut and wash bananas in pesticide-laden water, and apply more pesticides to prevent
"crown rot" during transportation. Finally, workers package the bananas into boxes, frequently without wearing
protective gloves. This intensive use of pesticides is extremely hazardous for workers.
Studies conducted by the National University in Heredia, Costa Rica, reveal that rates of pesticide poisonings are
three times higher in banana regions than in the rest of the country. Increased incidence of sterility and cancers
were also found among banana workers. Other common illnesses likely related to pesticide exposure are allergies
and pulmonary ailments. In a well-documented case, thousands of Latin American banana workers were sterilized
as a result of exposure to the nematicide Nemagon (dibromochloropropane -- DBCP).
Aerial spraying and pesticide runoff contaminate water used by workers, their families and nearby communities.
Pesticide use has been responsible for massive fish kills, destroying an important food source and devastating
surrounding ecosystems. In some areas, soil has become so infused with pesticides that it is now unfit for
As banana plantations have increased production, extensive forests, wildlife habitat and pasturelands have been
razed to make way for bananas. In Costa Rica, the government has assisted this process by changing land use
classifications to allow plantation production. From 1979 to 1992, banana expansion was responsible for
deforestation of over 50,000 hectares of primary and secondary forest in Costa Rica's Limon Province. A similar
situation has happened in most banana producing countries.
Banana companies in the process of expansion pressure peasant farmers living on the plantation periphery to sell
their lands. Farmers that resist are denied production supports such as credit, agricultural extension services and
markets for their products. Farmers are also prohibited from producing traditional creole bananas in an attempt to
avoid spread of the banana fungal disease Micosphaerella fijensis (Black Sigatoka). In these circumstances it is
no surprise that many of these independent farmers become wage labourers on banana plantations. The same
WRM BULLETIN 85 August 2004
situation takes place with indigenous peoples who are displaced from their lands, and generally end up as
A shortage of jobs and weakened or non-existent unions foster a climate of insecurity on banana plantations,
where workers are vulnerable to exploitation and afraid to participate in union organizing. Job insecurity is
exacerbated by industry practices such as subcontracting day labourers, extending the work day, eliminating
collective agreements, unjustified firings (including for suspicion of union sympathy), contracting by piecework to
avoid minimum hourly wages, and laying off workers before the end of the three-month trial period after which
employers must provide benefits. Workers are forced into a transient lifestyle where family stability is difficult to
maintain. Job insecurity and poverty are frequently accompanied by malnutrition and poor health, which are
exacerbated by a higher frequency of neurological and developmental problems among workers' children --
associated with exposures to pesticides in air, food and water. Poor health together with limited access to schools
results in inadequate academic achievement among plantation children compared to their urban counterparts. In
this way, future generations face the same fate as their parents and the cycle persists.
Banana expansion has meant –and still means- problems in Latin America. The well-documented invasions and
US-supported coup d'etats and dictatorships in Central America have been almost invariably linked to US
corporations' banana interests in the region. So-called "Banana Republics" were the end result of those
interventions, involving widespread human rights violations. Biodiverse forests have been destroyed and
substituted with endless rows of genetically identical banana trees growing in a poisoned environment which
poisons people and nature. That is what banana is all about.
Article based on information from: "Support Banana Workers: Bring Justice to the Table", Global Pesticide
Campaigner (Volume 14, Number 1), April 2004, written by Kate Mendenhall and Margaret Reeves. The full
article can be accessed at: http://www.panna.org/resources/gpc/gpc_200404.14.1.06.dv.html ;
http://www.newint.org/issue317/facts.htm ; http://www.theecologist.net/files/docshtm/articulo.asp?cod=100211 ;
Banana Link, http://www.bananalink.org.uk/ ; "The World Banana Economy 1985-2002" ,
http://www.fao.org/es/esc/common/ecg/47147_en_WBE_1985_2002.pdf ; Banana Republic: The United Fruit
- Argentina: Soybean advances on Chaco forests
According to a recent official report, Argentina has lost 70 per cent of its native forests: out of 105 million hectares
of forests, only 33 million are left today. Those most affected are the native forests in the northern and central
regions of Argentina in the Provinces of Santiago del Estero, Salta, Chaco, Formosa, Misiones, Entre Rios and
Santa Fe. It should be stressed that in a sector of the Province of Salta, the annual deforestation rate is three
times higher than the world average.
A major part of this process of forest destruction is attributed to the advance of soybean production that started to
be developed 30 years ago in the centre of the humid Pampa (to the north of the Province of Buenos Aires, south
of Santa Fe and south east of Cordoba). Already in the nineties, over half the lands in this area were planted with
soybean and the drop in international prices increased its expansion towards other areas of the Provinces
involved and to other north-eastern Provinces (Santiago del Estero, Chaco, Formosa and Entre Rios), covering
forest zones that underwent a very high rate of deforestation. Forest burning is the quickest way to clear the land,
with bulldozers following on to remove the stumps.
The effects are there to be seen, and tragically so. According to a report by the Litoral University Technical
Commission, deforestation and scant permeability of soils subject to intensive soybean production have greatly
contributed to the Salado River which has its source in the Chaco, finally overflowing. The results were 24 deaths
in the city of Santa Fe during the 2003 floods.
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Thousands of hectares of the millenary old forest at El Impenetrable (Chaco) were logged for decades by logging
companies and are now being logged by soybean companies. Public lands covered by Chaco forest are involved,
very often the ancestral property of the indigenous peoples. Since last December a new law promoted by the
Chaco government makes logging of the native forest even easier. Social and environmental organizations have
warned that if things go on this way, in ten years time no forest will be left. For this reason they have submitted a
petition to the local Courts of Justice against law 5285 that the Chaco government passed last December,
modifying Forest Law 2386. They agree that the previous law was not a good one, but that the new legislation is
even worse. According to complaints by Endepa, Funam and Incupo, among others, the law is unconstitutional
because the indigenous peoples were never consulted as established in the National Constitution and ILO
Convention 169. They also claim that it will facilitate destruction of the native forest.
The continuous sale of public land “is taking the Chaco forest away from the Wichi, Cuom and Mocovi indigenous
peoples. Although the government might think that this is progress, in fact it is concealed genocide. The
legislators and Provincial government must know that because of this law and the constant sale of public land to
agricultural producers, the indigenous communities are loosing their territories for ever, and that with the
disappearance of forests where they used to obtain their food and natural medicine, the number of sick people
and deaths is increasing” stated Dr. Raul A. Montenegro, from Funam.
For their part, in May this year, the Social Pastoral Body of the Catholic Church in Santiago del Estero, the Land
Board, the Santiago del Estero Peasant Movement (Mocase) the NGO Prodemur (Promotion of Rural Women),
the Rural Reflection Group, the National University of Santiago del Estero and Greenpeace Argentina submitted a
request for a moratorium on logging in the Province of Santiago del Estero.
A paper was submitted in this framework, prepared by technicians from the UNSE (Santiago del Estero National
University) Faculty of Forestry Science, showing evidence of the extremely high rate of deforestation caused by
the advance of the soybean frontier on the Santiago del Estero forest, an important part of which is still standing:
the semi-arid Chaco quebrachal (Prosopis sp.). The Santiago del Estero quebrachal is found within the semi-arid
Chaco and together with the Humid Chaco comprise the American Gran Chaco ecosystem, second largest after
The joint petition includes a request to regularize land tenure -a permanent source of conflict between peasants
who have lived in the forest for several generations and some so-called land-owners who on various occasions
have hired security forces to deal with the peasants as intruders and evict whole families. They are also
demanding abolition of the Law authorizing logging, recently broadened by the Chamber of Deputies.
During a joint demonstration by hundreds of people, and facing an area of over 800 hectares that had been
logged, an enormous placard was deployed with the slogan “not one hectare more.” Emiliano Ezcurra of
Greenpeace Argentina, who was present at the demonstration, stated that “this site is only one case of many
others. At this very moment, hundreds of lumberjacks are logging the last third of what is left of the native
Argentine forest, mainly promoted by the advance of the soybean frontier.” For her part, Margarita Salto, a
peasant leader, affirmed that “the forest is our source of work, it gives us our food, it ensures our future. The
companies come and log everything and leave nothing. They want to take away our land to destroy it, burn it, and
plant the soybean that gives them so much money and us so much misery.”
Article based on information from: “Santiago del Estero. Se acaba el monte: es tiempo de actuar”, joint
communiqué http://reflexionrural.galeon.com/desmonte.htm ; “Agricultura Argentina: El desierto verde”, Marcela
http://www.geocities.com/lospobresdelatierra/ecologia/desiertoverde.html ; “Chaco: Destrucción de bosques y
genocidio indígena”, Funam, ; “Campesinos y Greenpeace ‘delimitan’ la expansión de la frontera sojera”,
WRM BULLETIN 85 August 2004
- Brazil: The “hamburger connection” threatens forests today just as it did yesterday
Between 1950 and 1975, the area of human-established pasture lands in Central America doubled, almost
entirely at the expense of primary rainforests. The numbers of cattle also doubled, although the average beef
consumption by Central American citizens dropped. Beef production was exported to markets in the United States
and in other Northern countries.
Between 1966 and 1978 in Brazil 80,000 km2 of Amazon forests were destroyed to give way to 336 cattle
ranches carrying 6 million head of cattle under the auspices of the Superintendency for Amazon Development
Similar initiatives have been implemented in the Amazon territories of Colombia and Peru, although not on such a
vast scale, promoted in some cases by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the World Bank and the
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
In every case, many ranches became unproductive within less than ten years, because productivity of artificial
grasslands declines. However, very often the ranchers obtained another plot of forest to clear.
During the eighties, two factors led to increased exports of beef from the tropical region of Latin America with the
consequent aftermath of accelerated deforestation of the Amazon. On the one hand, increased consumption of
beef in the countries of the North (particularly for fast food chains in the United States) and on the other, lower
prices of land and labour in the tropical countries of Latin America, making the final product cheaper. As an
example, in 1978 the price of a kilo of beef imported from Latin America averaged US$1.47, compared to US$3.3
a kilo of beef produced in the United States. This direct relationship between the advance of cattle ranching and
deforestation was called the “Hamburger connection.”
At that time, Brazil was not a part of that “connection” because of its low rate of beef exports insofar as its
production was mainly aimed at domestic consumption. However the country increased its heads of cattle from
26 million in 1990 to 57 million in 2002. The production was mainly concentrated in the States of Mato Grosso,
Para and Rondonia –and over the same period, these states showed the highest rate of deforestation in the
country. The new expansion of cattle ranching is not based in small or medium-sized farms but in large scale
For decades the cattle production sector was aimed at domestic consumption, but factors such as devaluation of
the Brazilian currency, the successful efforts to free cattle from foot and mouth disease, the mad cow disease
affecting beef production in the countries of the North, and the chicken disease in Asia leading to a swing towards
the consumption of other meat products, enabled Brazil to have access to new markets in Europe, Russia and the
Middle East. Between 1997 and 2003, the volume of Brazilian exports in this field increased over five-fold.
A report published recently by the Centre for International Forestry Research –CIFOR– has identified this process
of expansion of cattle raising as one of the factors responsible for the recent increase in the destruction of the
Brazilian Amazon forest.
According to this research, with respect to deforestation the accumulated area of the Brazilian Amazon increased
from 41.5 million hectares in 1990 to 58.7 million hectares in 2000, of which most ended up as pasture lands.
The authors of the report state that although in recent years the expansion of soybean crops in the Amazon has
been a cause of deforestation, this is only a part of the process, which to a great degree is due to the growth of
The CIFOR report was made known at the same time as new figures for deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon,
which have shown a second historical record of loss of tropical forest. The new data submitted by the Brazilian
Ministry of the Environment show that the loss of forests over the period of August 2002 to August 2003 reached
23,750 km2. The historical record corresponds to 1995 with a little over 29 thousand km2. The new record
WRM BULLETIN 85 August 2004
represents an increase of 2 per cent vis-à-vis the previous year. Since deforestation started to be monitored in
1988, a total of over 270 thousand km2 of tropical forest have been lost, that is to say, approximately the size of
The importance of consumption should be noted in this process, as one of the pillars of the current model of
commercial agriculture and cattle-raising, and therefore another factor responsible for deforestation processes.
This is not the production of large volumes of food to solve the hunger of many impoverished and underprivileged
sectors. These are cash crops, ranging from coffee to beef, mostly aimed at consumers in the North who in many
cases have been induced to change their food habits.
Historically, the countries of the South, rich in biodiversity, have played the role of export producers. Very often,
the inhabitants of these countries do not consume what they export. After being colonized by bloodshed and fire,
they have later been colonized by dollars, debt and exclusion … in addition to bloodshed and fire.
Article based on information from: “Conexión entre ganadería y deforestación Amazónica”, CLAES,
http://www.agropecuaria.org/sustentabilidad/ConexionHamburgerAz.htm ; “Hamburger Connection Fuels Amazon
Destruction”, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR),
http://www.cifor.cgiar.org/publications/pdf_files/media/Amazon.pdf ; “Role of Cattle Raising in Conversion of
Tropical Moist Forests”, CIESIN, http://www.ciesin.org/docs/002-106/002-106c.html