Is the FSC logo really worth a row of beans?

Posted: 22 August 2006 in FSC Plantations Review, South Africa, Swaziland

Great article in The Mercury last week about industrial tree plantations in South Africa and Swaziland. The article focusses on the fact that these plantations are certified as well managed under the Forest Stewardship Council system and the fact that FSC is carrying out a Plantations Review. The article asks whether FSC’s logo on paper products is really worth a row of beans.

The article refers to Wally Menne’s research in Swaziland and Blessing Karumbiza’s research in KwaZulu-Natal. I visited Swaziland with Wally Menne in October 2004. Large areas of the country are covered in monoculture plantations, while the country imports food aid. We saw moonscapes of clearcuts, where the plantations had been “harvested”. We saw Sappi’s stinking Usutu Pulp Mill. Industrial tree plantations were first established more than 50 years ago by the British Commonwealth Development Corporation (now CDC Group). Far from improving the livelihoods of local people, 50 years of industrial forestry has made things worse.

Blessing Karumbiza’s research was carried out as part of a World Rainforest Movement project looking at industrial tree plantations. I visited South Africa in November 2005 to take part in a meeting of communities and NGO representatives in Mtubatuba in KwaZulu-Natal. Villagers said, “we should do away with these plantations”, “where there is a lot of plantations there is a lot less water”, “The more you have plantations the more you’ll have people resettled” and “The streams dried up when there’s a lot of plantations”.

At one stage, the meeting split into four groups. One group was supposed to discuss the benefits from tree plantations. They produced a list summarising their discussion. There were no benefits. They listed the following problems since the plantations arrived in their area:

  1. Diminished water;
  2. Plantation companies provide no support if communities have problems with fire or drought;
  3. Reduction of indigenous trees and fruit trees.
  4. Reduction of grazing land;
  5. Monoculture;
  6. There is no good air from the sea when trees are nearby;
  7. Plantations are a hiding place for criminals;
  8. Reduction of arable land;
  9. Plantations poison soil and destroy soil fertility – fruit trees take a long time to grow since eucalyptus came;
  10. Insecurity of children in the area.

Yet the plantations in Swaziland and in South Africa are certified by FSC. Clearly, as far as communities affected by these plantations are concerned, FSC’s logo is not worth a single bean, let alone a row of beans.

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