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Stop recognising plantations as forests, UN body told

 | March 21, 2017

Malaysian NGOs join worldwide lobby against a definition by the FAO which they say has allowed wanton ecological and social devastation on the world’s forests.

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KUALA LUMPUR: Two Malaysian NGOs have joined about 200 organisations worldwide in lobbying the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations to amend its “misleading” definition of forests which they say has allowed ecologically destructive plantations to burgeon.

The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) said in a statement today they have participated as signees in a letter submitted by the groups to the FAO in conjunction with the UN’s International Day of Forests today.

The letter called on the FAO to cease recognising plantations as forests, as provided for in the definition. It said this has allowed the plantations industry to hide devastating ecological and social impacts of large-scale monoculture tree plantations behind a positive forest image.

It said the industry has gotten away with classifying monoculture plantations of fast-growing species as “forests” because a forest is defined only by the number, height and canopy cover of trees over an area.

Some of the species planted for harvesting include the eucalyptus, pine, rubber and acacia, it said.

The FAO forest definition has been used as a blueprint for over 200 national and international forest definitions since 1948, it added.

“For almost 70 years, the misleading FAO forest definition has served the tree plantations industry well,” said Winfridus Overbeek, international coordinator of the World Rainforest Movement, in a statement to publicise the letter.

“They have hidden the destruction caused when diverse forests, grasslands and peat lands overflowing with life are converted into ‘green deserts’ made up of monoclonal trees in straight rows behind the positive forest image provided by the FAO.”

“Under the guise of this FAO forest definition, the industry has been able to expand fast, especially in the global South, where monoculture tree plantations now cover some several tens of millions of hectares of land.”

Oil palm and deforestation

The Centre for International Forestry Research (Cifor) was reported by Reuters on Dec 20, 2017 as saying Malaysia lost 28% of its original forest cover in Borneo alone – amounting to some 4.2 million hectares – between 1973 and 2015.

It said up to 60% of the cleared land was rapidly converted to plantations. It also cited the oil palm industry as the major driver of deforestation.

Guadalupe Rodríguez of Salva la Salva (Rainforest Rescue), a South American environmental movement, said the revision of the FAO definition had become more pressing following the adoption of the UN Paris Agreement on climate change in late 2015.

“It would be a tragedy if the misleading FAO definition makes expansion of these damaging tree monocultures eligible for climate funds earmarked for ‘reforestation’ and ‘forest restoration’,” he said.

Wally Menne of the Timberwatch Coalition based in South Africa said industrialised countries’ unsustainable energy demand combined with new pursuit for “renewable” energy is converting forests in the global south into industrial “biomass” plantations.

“Yet, the word ‘plantation’ does not appear once on the FAO’s “Key messages” webpage for the International Forests Day 2017″, Menne said.

For example, to fuel all of the UK’s energy requirements through eucalyptus-based biomass would require some 55 million hectares of plantation in Brazil – an area larger than twice the size of the UK, he said.

The 200 groups who signed the letter sent today had joined more than 130,000 groups and individuals who had in 2015 called on the FAO to make the amendment.


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