The Pulp Invasion

Posted: 9 December 2003

Author: Chris Lang
World Rainforest Movement, Uraguay and England, 2002

This report on the growing pulp and paper industry in the Mekong Region, raises many questions about the wisdom and fairness of promoting plantation forests in the developing world. It is specially relevant to those aid agencies, international institutions and NGO's which have backed the pulp industry in Southeast Asia.

As Chris Lang says, such projects are part of a global process which largely benefits the rich north, often at the expense of poor farmers who loose their village lands and community forests.

Advice on the industry usually comes from northern experts and consultants, as does the international financing and pulp mill machinery and equipment. And a large percentage of the product goes to markets in the north where paper consumption is many times that in the countries of the Mekong region.

Sometimes local people have succeeded in winning concessions in the development of such projects, as in Thailand, where villagers have petitioned government officials, blocked roads, marched on government offices, ripped out eucalyprus seedlings and planted fruit trees on land reclaimed from eucalyptus planations.

Thailand now has the capacity to produce 3.8 million tons of paper and board each year, and there are big plans to extend land and logging concessions there and in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, in many cases with the aid of loans from the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and others.

Chris Lang concedes that "not everything about the pulp and paper industry is 'bad'", but argues that there is a need to think more carefully about the development of industrial tree planting in the Mekong Region and to support rights of communities to make their own decisions over the management of the rivers, farmland and forests they depend upon. This book provides some useful facts for such a debate.

It would now be good to see more first-hand reporting from a local perspective on the impact, and alternatives to, these forms of 'development'.

John Rowley