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Eucalyptus Plantations: the Threat to Yunnanese Ethnic Groups

Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) is one of the world’s largest producers of pulp and paper. According to Friends of the Earth’s website, this Indonesian company “is responsible for destroying a large area of Indonesia’s rainforest.” Since August of 2002, with the support of some departments of the provincial government, APP has taken control of 27.5 million mu of land in Wen Shan, Lin Cang, and Si Mao districts of the province and used the land to start eucalyptus plantations for use in the first stage of its integrated pulp and paper operations.
We believe that if this APP project is not stopped, not only will there be clear deterioration in the natural environment, but the richness of southern Yunnan’s minority group ethnic group cultures will remain in name only.
Southern Yunnan is an area of concentration for minority groups. Their way of life and culture are inextricably tied up with the forests and streams of their habitat. When the Dai people describe their villages, they often emphasize “In the front of the village we fish, behind the village we hunt, so we build our villages facing water with hills behind us”. The sacred trees in the distant peaks are their spiritual refuge; their favorite delicacies are plucked from the forests and streams; the mountain streams flow into village ponds in which the villagers bathe and wash their clothes, exchange gossip, and pass on the stories of their forebears. Fast flowing streams surround the villages, the elders exchange courteous greetings, and  the cries of children at play mix with the clip-clop of the oxen hoofs on the stone flagging of the village streets—thus life passes tranquilly and peacefully in the villages of the mountain valleys.
Each village is a culture unto itself. The large and small villages of the minority peoples are scattered about the mountains of southern Yunnan and their lives are in harmony with the primeval forests where waterfalls, connected one to the next by clear streams, are accent to the landscape, forming one of the most gorgeous cultural landscapes in the world.
From the perspective of preserving minority cultures, the APP eucalyptus plantation project is wrong for at least two reasons. First, eucalyptus is a fast growing imported species, with a history of planting in China of less than 120 years. The principal characteristic of eucalyptus is that it has an extraordinary capacity to consume the fertility and moisture content of the soil in which it grows. Experts compare a eucalyptus tree to a water pump; eucalyptus trees do not coexist with streams.
Second, the eucalyptus plantation plan covers a huge area: in Wen Shan Prefecture, 5.5 million mu, in Lin Cang 10 million mu, and in Si Mao Township 12 million mu. APP considers the land that is to be used for the plantations to be hilltop waste land. The mountains that have given rise to one of the world’s loveliest cultural landscapes is waste land in the eyes of APP! This land is to be stripped of its spirit, and its trees are to be consigned to the soulless timber factories. The streams will dry up, the forests will disappear and the villages, now so full of life, will face death while their inhabitants, now rendered poor and without hope, will have no choice but to become environmental refugees.
With the ever increasing speed of urbanization, and the accompanying destruction of forest resources, the number of villages of the minority groups in southern Yunnan has already greatly decreased, and many unique cultural traditions have already vanished. At this time, the Chinese Communist Party and the government of China have clearly recognized that economic development must rest on a foundation of environmental conservation and cultural heritage preservation, and they have clearly put forward a policy of “advance on a sustainable path of development”.
The wealth of flow from APP’s plantation project is ill-gotten gains, acquired at the expense of destruction of the environment and destruction of cultural heritage. A small group of people in Yunnan have conspired with this Indonesian pulp and paper behemoth to seek financial gains at the expense of the common good. We hope that everyone will resist this plantation project, and will exhaust every remedy to exhort those few Chinese in Yunnan to cease abetting this foreign company in carrying out its destructive activities.
We also propose that everyone demonstrate wisdom in assisting minority peoples to build prosperous lives in their villages, so that they do not become environmental refugees adding to the flow of immigrants into China’s already over-packed cities. Each village has its own indigenous handicrafts. If only we would help them to package and market these handicrafts, the protection and promotion of indigenous cultures can be a basis for village economic development.
Note: one mu equals 1/15 hectares
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