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The Silent Devastation of Forest Plantations: The Case of Paper Mill Industry in the South-Western part of Colombia
Stephanye Zarama Alvarado / Miércoles 18 de septiembre de 2019

Since Colombia constitutionally validates the legal forest activity for commercial purposes and the most recent National Development Plans have encouraged the expansion of monocultures as a priority, the growing of the forest sector started with particular strength in the last decade. Vast areas of native forest were provided to domestic and foreign private investors, which benefit currently from the monoculture tree plantations with the production of an export product and a service obtained at a very low cost. Especially, the propagation of monocultures of pine and eucalyptus, which has been shown to cause significant negative impacts from the social and environmental point of view. The biodiversity loss, water scarcity and soil erosion in densely forest territories that are inhabited for rural communities have been reported as impacts to the ecosystems. Proponents of these forest activities claim to develop a sustainable management of them, but there is a contradiction about the current rise of the socio-environmental conflicts and how local indigenous, afro-descent and peasant communities are principally being affected.

The presence of Smurfit Kappa-Cartón de Colombia as a paper mill factory has been associated with changes in native ecosystems, concentration of properties and conflicts with the local communities in the south-western of Colombia since the 1940s1. For instance, the local communities from Palmira located at the department of Valle del Cauca have recently alerted that the avalanche of the river Nima on 20th of May in 2017, which affected the townships of Tenjo and Nueva Tienda, occurred as the consequences of the environmental damage produced by this multinational company that Its forest activities work with the plantations of pine and eucalyptus to produce paper in the rural area of Tenjo. Testimonies from the affected communities affirm that there is a water scarcity, because these plantations are consuming more water that native forests, and when they are cut down, their solid residues does not permit the renovation of the vegetation that can absorb the rainwater, thus producing avalanches and damming of the rivers2. In addition, communities have indicated that the highest environmental authority, the Regional Autonomous Corporation of Valle del Cauca (CVC) on that area, has not detected that Smurfit violates the decree 1449 of 1977 issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, which obliges not to plant in a margin less than 30 meters from the channel of rivers and water sources3. This conflict has also taken place before in other rural areas such as Pereira and Dagua, bringing threats and homicide cases of environmentalists -who were against these forestry labors- that

have never been thoroughly investigated. With this kind of dangerous precedent, environmentalists and communities are afraid to denounce this environmental injustice.

This case of conflict poses difficult challenges, because there is an absence of control by Colombian state, powerful economic interests that allow to access to and control over land resources and a lack of wider knowledge that can determine the socio-ecological impact and give a sustainable solution in these affected territories. This growing evidence permits to challenge the current mode of neoliberal forest development and commit to raising awareness of the true character of forest plantations to the general public, and, in particular, to the one that resides in urban environments, due to the fact that plantations of trees have nothing in common with forests as something good and necessary for Humanity.

Thus, the legal forest activity has carried out a silence devastation in the Southwestern Colombia that is recently again coming to the light as a structural problem of regional configuration, in which state, market and society forces converge on ecosystems and communities that have been the epicenter of planned transformations from an intrinsic logic, where the interest of the economic income is only taking place without measuring the social and environmental consequences. Moreover, the peace agreement between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) and Colombian government in 2016 provides options to confront these socio-environmental problems, finding legal support for the protection of the environment on the integral rural reform that may lead to limit the area of logging, re-empowerment of peasants in the territory and replace the pine and eucalyptus plantations with other environmentally friendly crops that are compatible with nature conservation schemes.

Broderick, W. (1998) El imperio de cartón. El impacto de una multinacional papelera en Colombia. Sic Editorial, Bogota. Retrieved from:

Escobar, A. (2017, April 10). Smurfit y la ceguera de la CVC. Red de medios alternitos y populares (Remap). Retrieved from:

Marulanda, J. (2017, April 11). Denuncian deforestación de riberas del río Nima causada por Smurfit Cartón de Colombia. Red de medios alternativos y populares (Remap). Retrieved from: