By Claire Bleakley
I was invited by OLCA (Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Ambientales) as part of an international team working with the Campaign to Stop GE Trees. The delegation was there to highlight the IUFRO Tree biotechnology conference to be held this year in Concepcion, Chile. IUFRO is promoting genetically engineered (GE) trees in Chile, where there are very few laws restricting plantations. The spread of tree plantations is correlated with the horrific devastation that wildfires have had on indigenous communities. With such a large burnt by the wildfires, there is now growing pressure to replant with GE trees.
In Chile, devastating forest fires have burnt 1.5 million acres, killing 20 people and 1,600 homes in the worst fires in Chilean history . The spread of volatile pine and eucalypt plantations are being blamed for the disastrous effect on communities and economies that have been destroyed. The fires have destroyed the homes and ancestral lands of the Mapuche people, who have lived in the area for 2,500 years. Chile’s temporal forests had the highest rate of biodiversity and one of the world’s largest concentrations of biomass, producing between 500 to 2000 tons of organic matter per hectare. The indigenous people of southern Chile rely on these trees for valuable medicinal use.
Native forests were replaced with vast plantations of non-indigenous Pines and Eucalypts. Eucalyptus monocultures have been planted next to homes and in the headwaters of the river systems. The trees have dried up the sacred water flow and dropped the water table by 4 meters. The monoculture trees reduce the soil moisture up to 30% more than the temporal forests causing the water sources to dry up.
The destruction of these temporal forests replaced by pine and eucalypt plantations has led to contamination of the water from pesticides and weed killers leading to serious health problems for the indigenous communities whose livelihoods are dependent on the forest.
We visited two families who lost their orchards and animals in the fires. When they returned there was only a burnt pad where their houses stood. The apples were black still hanging on the trees. They have received no aid and have no insurance; some communities may never be able to survive the loss of their livelihoods. They feel they have been forgotten by the world.
New Zealand is contributing to this destruction by designing GE eucalyptus and pines. Engineering them to be sterile, withstand pesticides as well as redesigning their growth traits. The future vast plantations of silent, dead, poisonous GE eucalypts and pines will stretch through the sacred mountains, endangering ecosystem, animals living in these forests. We must stop GE tree development, not allow communities to suffer and have their livelihoods destroyed.
Donations can be sent to OLCA, which will distribute any monies to the affected communities.
The IUFRO Tree biotechnology conference will be held this year in Concepcion, Chile in June.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IPHSZD5vyQ&feature=youtu.be (Spanish)