Last month, Chilean social movements welcomed the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) Tree Biotechnology 2017 conference with a week of action aimed at strengthening the movement against monoculture tree plantations and genetically engineered (GE) trees in Chile.
Local activists fear that the introduction of GE varieties of pine and eucalyptus would exacerbate the water crisis and risk of uncontrollable wildfires already faced by rural and Indigenous communities, due to the proliferation of monoculture tree plantations over the past 40 years. In the Bío Bío region, where the conference was held, 1.2 million hectares of land are occupied by plantations, surpassing the area of native forests.
The actions were called for by Chilean networks along with the International Campaign to Stop GE Trees, which Biofuelwatch supports as a member of the steering committee. While much of Chile’s plantation harvest is currently exported for timber and pulp, growing global demand for bioenergy could translate into increased pressure for the expansion and intensification of the country’s plantations industry – which is marketed internationally as a model for successful forestry.
The week kicked off with a march and protest outside of the conference. Nicolás Salazar, a spokesperson for the Coordination for the Defense of the Bío Bío Territory, explained that participants were present “to mobilize against the plantations industry, which has left peasant and Mapuche communities without water, destroyed the land with pesticides, and is responsible for the fires in our region.”
Later in the week, the IUFRO conference organizers were forced to cancel a scheduled field trip to the University of Concepción’s Biotechnology Center after students and community members demonstrated outside of the building. Rodrigo Castillo Jofré, president of the Federation of Students of the University of Concepción, denounced the university’s research partnerships with the plantations industry, stating that “we want scientific knowledge to be at the service of our communities, not used to enrich private companies – and especially the forestry sector, which has had such a negative impact on our communities.”
For more information about GE trees and the movement against plantations in Chile, visit: