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Photo by Orin Langelle.  Lucio Cuenca from OLCA gestures to crowd and man disrupting panel.

 

On March 22nd, World Water Day, the international delegation of the Campaign to STOP GE Trees, the Landless Workers Movement (MST), CEPEDES* and OLCA**  presented at the University of Concepción in Concepción, Chile. The all-woman panel reported on the devastating impacts of tree plantations on water, life and communities in Brazil, the danger of GE trees internationally, and the state of GE trees in Chile.

This is a critical moment for Concepción, as forest fires have ripped through much of the region, destroying towns, forests, and tree plantations. Concepción is in the Bio-Bio region where 50% of Chile’s tree plantations are grown. Over the last couple of months, tree plantations aided the spread of the wildfires and for the first time in history, marches against the tree plantation industry occurred throughout the country on March 14th 2017.  People in the march demanded the government stop financing the forestry industry and restore plantations to their original native forest habitat.

Nicolas, a student from the University of Concepción and member of Coordination in Defense of the Territories of Bio-Bio said that “The importance of this (event) is that the main enemy is the extraction industry, and in this region, Bio Bio, that (industry) is forestry. It is very necessary that we understand the steps and evolution of this industry which has us without water, makes the people in the country poorer; and is destroying our territory.”

Event poster.

The University of Concepción in Cooperation with corporations such as Fundación Chile and Forestal y Agricola Monte Aguila is conducting research into GE trees such as Eucalyptus, Radiata Pine, Citrus, poplar and apple. The International Union of Forest Research Organizations will be having their bi-annual Tree Biotech meeting in Concepción, from June 4th-9th.

The Tree Biotech 2017 conference is an event where renowned proponents of GE trees such as professor Steven Strauss, from Oregon State University, Wout Boerjan from Ghent University in Belgium, Sofía Valenzuela and Jaime Rodríguez from the University of Concepción and many others come together and discuss the future of GE trees with a goal of promoting GE trees in the host country they visit.

In the US in 2013, protesters descended upon the conference, disrupting it over its entire five days and forcing the conversation inside to shift from how to promote GE trees to how to address widespread and militant public opposition.

The delegation arrived in Concepción ahead of the Tree Biotech 2017 conference to connect with students and provide a perspective that is not funded by the forest industry. Panelists stressed that resistance in various forms is critical for the threats of industrial tree plantations and GE trees to be quelled.

Presenters included Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project and the Coordinator of the Campaign to STOP GE Trees, Ivonete Gonçalves, member of CEPEDES in Brazil, Eliane Oliveira Kai – Militant of the Landless Workers Movement (MST), and Alejandra Parra Muños of OLCA in Chile. Special thanks to the translators Beatriz Herrera and Carolina Minzando.

All photos by Orin Langelle. 

Quotes captured from the panelists:

Eliane Oliveira Kai –MST

“The movement (MST) promotes community. There are research (projects) on company-owned land which should be given to the communities. Beyond occupations, the movement closes roads, and educates on the many problems eucalyptus causes communities. In Bahía, 40 thousand hectares of multinational corporation land are occupied by the MST.”

 

Alejandra Parra Muñoz – OLCA, Chile

“Use of GE trees for commercial reasons is not allowed (in Chile). The regulations regarding bringing in and the use of plants in Chile is incomplete. They are dependent on SAG (government sector which regulates GE in Chile) and what they tell you. We as Citizens need to pressure the government into ensuring they never allow it.”

 

Anne Petermann – International Coordinator, Campaign to STOP GE Trees; Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project

“Trees live for a very long time- which makes their potential impact more dangerous. They evolved with entire forest ecosystems over millions of years, making them very interconnected to soil micro-organisms, fungi, insects, birds and wildlife.  This makes them very different from and much more dangerous than other transgenic crops.

Tree pollen can travel great distances, making the chances of contamination very high. And while industry insists that faster growing GE trees will take pressure off of forests, this lie has been thoroughly debunked. The UN FAO found out that between 1990 and 2010, the yield of wood per hectare doubled. Despite this, the amount of land covered by tree plantations increased by 60%.”

 

Ivonete Gonçalves – CEPEDES, Brasil

“Right now the forest (in Bahía) is 4%  of what it was…The projects of these eucalyptus companies are impacting communities that are indigenous, rural and black.The difference between the Atlantic forest and the plantations is stark. The water near tree plantations is contaminated by agrotoxins and that is what nearby communities drink. First they destroy, then they transform it into desert, then they put GE eucalyptus.”

 

Biographies from the participants:

Alejandra Parra Muñoz – OLCA, Chile

Works for OLCA and is a specialist in information on genetically engineered trees in Chile.

 

Eliane Oliveira Kai – MST, Brasil
Eliane es militante del MST-Movimiento de Trabajadores Rurales Sin Tierra en el Estado de Bahía, desde el año 2003 ha trabajado en defensa de la educación rural como maestra, como coordinadora educativa y coordinando la jornada de las mujeres del MST en la región. Actualmente contribuye a la coordinación de la política educativa de la Escuela Popular de Agroecología y Agroforestería Egidio Brunetto, la escuela actúa como una herramienta para la formación en campo de agricultores y de pueblos tradicionales de la región en temas de agroecología y agrosilvicultura.

 

Ivonete Gonçalves – CEPEDES, Brasil
Ivonete es miembro de CEPEDES, una organización que ha monitoreado críticamente la expansión del monocultivo de eucaliptos y su impacto en el extremo sur de Bahia, noreste de Brasil. CEPEDES ha apoyado las luchas del MST y del MLT -dos movimientos de trabajadores sin tierra- y a los pueblos indígenas Pataxós en la defensa de la tierra en la región y en contra de la expansión de plantaciones de eucaliptos. Ivonete es militante también de la Red Brasileña de Justicia Ambiental y la Campaña Permanente contra los Agrotóxicos y por la vida.

 

Anne Petermann – International Coordinator, Campaign to STOP GE Trees; Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project.  

Petermann has been involved in movements for forest protection and Indigenous Peoples’ rights since 1991.  She has been a leading activist against GE trees since 2000, presenting all over the world on their social and ecological dangers.  In 2003 she co-founded Global Justice Ecology Project and in 2013 co-founded the Campaign to STOP GE Trees.

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