It is not that the government of prime minister António Costa has approved more (highly inflammable) eucalyptus plantations than its PSD/ CDS predecessor, but that it still maintains that it means to put a brake on these practices. This is what has inflamed environmental associations Quercus and Acréscimo, say reports, both of which are now warning that there is a veritable ‘stampede’ to plant eucalyptus before new legislation kicks in.
New laws limiting eucalyptus planting will only come into effect in February, 2018.
Until then, there is basically a free-for-all, as agriculture minister Capoulas Santos has already admitted in interview with Diário de Notícias.
He explained that right now, “this government is complying with the law that exists. Just as it promised, it has altered (the law), it is just that this alteration by parliamentary decision will only come into effect in a few months time. Until then, the government must comply with laws in place. We are, against our wishes, obliged to comply with the Cristas’ law that basically liberalised the planting of eucalyptus”.
It is a truth that volunteers driving supplies up to fire-stricken districts have already become all too well aware of.
Laurinda Seabra, ASMAA stalwart from the Algarve, has recently written in her report on the initiative to Arganil last month: “It has taken us a few days to recover from what we saw… but what really got to us was seeing new eucalyptus. The results of the fires have not yet been dealt with and there are already new plantations? How come? How is it possible?
As Capoulas Santos has stressed, the PS government does not mean to increase the area taken up by eucalyptus trees, but it does mean to rationalise.
There are “lots of eucalyptus where they shouldn’t be, and land where double the amount could be produced”.
What the government hopes to achieve, he said, is “produce more on less land”.
This is not what Quercus and Acréscimo (or indeed many local populations) want to hear, but it favours the cellulose industry which has drawn its own lines in the sand.
Reports Sol, one firm has threatened to stop investing in Portugal at a time when ‘attracting investment’ has become the government’s mantra.
“The root of the problem is that the industry consumes 8.5 million cubic metres of eucalyptus wood per year”, says Sol – and two million cubic metres of that wood already comes from abroad “due to the insufficiency of national forests”.
Warned president of the administrative council of The Navigator Company, Pedro Queiroz Pereira, “if companies in this sector lose out and see their external competitivity diminished, the country loses out in the form of foreign exchange and job destruction”.