ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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An Overview of Resistance against Industrial Tree Plantations in the Global South

Industrial tree plantations for wood, palm oil and rubber are generating an increasing number of confl icts between companies and local populations. Relying on a wide-ranging literature review, this article analyses the alleged impacts of such plantations, the protesters involved, and the modalities of the confl icts. It finds that the prominent cause of resistance is related to corporate control over land resulting in displacement and the end of local uses of ecosystem resources. Resistance includes the "weapons of the weak" and ranges from dialogue to direct confrontation. Authorities have responded by repression in half of the cases reported, while popular struggles have been successful in about one-fi fth. These movements can be understood as forms of the "environmentalism of the poor".

The author thanks Joan Martínez-Alier, Giorgos Kallis and Ricardo Carrere for comments on earlier versions.

Capitalism’s expansionist dynamics use more land, raw materials and energy, undermining the conditions of livelihood of peripheral peoples who complain accordingly, increasingly mobilising the language of environmentalism (Martínez-Alier 2002). An ecologically unequal exchange takes place between industrialised centres and extractive regions forced to bear the unpaid s ocioenvironmental costs (Hornborg 1998). As a result, forms of resistance appear in conflicts over mining, cattle-rearing, forests, and ever more over industrial tree plantations (hereafter ITPs) – for i nstance, monocultures of oil palms for agrofuels or of eucalyptus for producing p aper or sinking atmospheric carbon.1 In this article, I investigate the nature of the resistance against ITPs in the global South as related to their alleged impacts, the protesters involved, and the modalities of the conflicts, with a special focus on their outcomes.2

In view of the relative scarcity of social science research on the issue, my broad literature review includes “activist knowledge” mainly coming from environmental justice organisations. Indeed, resistance against ITPs has given rise – as also in the case of mining or oil extraction conflicts – to networks of support, the most active one being the World Rainforest Movement which plays – since the landmark publication by Carrere and Lohmann (1996) – a leading role in relaying information and investigating grass-roots struggles against ITPs, notably through a monthly electronic bulletin. Only welldocumented cases of ITP conflicts are included in my review, i e, with enough data on the locations, dates, companies, tree crops, impacts, protesters, and modalities. Grass-roots conflicts uniquely expressed through a lawsuit were taken in, as also resistance against projects of ITPs not yet established.

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