We have heard a lot in the news lately (Aug 2019) about the terrible forest fires burning in the Amazon. The forests are being cleared in order to grow ‘cash crops’, things like palm oil, soy bean, cattle and eucalyptus trees. The mega-diverse rain forests are being destroyed to plant these monocultures, whch have been called ‘green deserts’, and Eucalyptus is one of the most widespread and lucrative of these industrial crops. A lot of the eucalyptus wood is used for making charcoal, as well as for producing pulp and paper.
Brazil is the world’s top exporter and producer of eucalyptus round wood and pulp, with over 7 million hectares planted. About 234 thousand tons of eucalyptus logs were exported from Brazil last year (2018), 89% of it to China. Although eucalyptus is sometimes planted on ‘degraded lands’ – i.e. land which was cleared and used for cattle ranching until it became too poor even for that – once they are planted with eucalyptus, it is almost impossible to restore the original forest cover. Eucalyptus trees prevent other tree species from establishing and is also detrimental to soil organisms and fertility.
But least we get too sanctimonious about this, putting all the blame on the Brazilians, let us remember that we are also totally complicit in this process. The deforestation is largely driven by the increasing values for commodities like soy, beef and wood, and as well as our fueling of the demand by buying products made of, or with, such commodities; there are many companies based in Europe and the USA which are profiting directly from this deforestation. This report by Amazon Watch details those individuals and companies which are complicit in this destructive business. Follow the money, like it says.
The first eucapytus trees were planted in Brazil in 1910, but we in Europe had introduced them much earlier, and they are widely grown in Portugal and Spain. The regime under General Franco accelerated the process of reforestation with eucalyptus in Spain, and over 4 million hectares were planted in the 20th century. That country is only now starting the process of reforestation using native woodlands.
We are now a totally interconnected world, and our actions and lifestyles can have unforeseen consequences and outcomes. Most people are totally unaware of these factors, I suspect. However, if we continue to use and consume these products – palm oil, beef, pulp wood and so on – we must demand that they are grown sustainably. We must also, I think, drastically cut down our consumption of these imported products and switch to local alternatives. Finally, we all need to get more acquainted with what is going on in our globally connected world. If we buy imported wooden furniture, we need to think about where it comes from. Reporters and news reports need to highlight the connections, and if necessary name and shame the corporations profiting from the destruction of the Amazon.
I am an entomologist with a background in quarantine pests and invasive invertebrates. I studied zoology at Imperial College (University of London) and did a PhD on the population dynamics of a cereal aphid (Metopolophium dirhodum) in the UK. I spent 5 years with the British Antarctic Survey studing cold hardiness of Antarctic invertebates and 17 years with the Food and Environment Research Agency. My main interests now are natural history, photography, painting and bird watching.