Bruno Manser Fonds
Tong Tana, January 1998
Journal of the Bruno Manser Fonds
on the subjects of rain forests, indigenous rights and timber trade
The construction of the 2400 megawatt dam has been stopped for the time being for economic reasons. According to an announcement by Anwar Ibrahim, the Malaysian Vice President, certain large-scale projects in Malaysia, including the Bakun Dam, are being postponed for at least two years. The enormous decline in the value of the Malaysian currency has added substantially to the project's costs. According to press reports, Ekran, the Malaysian contracting agent, has canceled the contract with ABB (the Swiss-Swedish Asean Brown Boveri group) for the construction of the power plant. ABB has denied this, stating that negotiations are still in progress.
The Malaysian Ministry of Economic Affairs has announced an increase in wood plantations throughout Malaysia. At present there are about 692 km² in West Malaysia (peninsula) and 1127 km² and 100 km² in each of the two federal states on Borneo, Sabah and Sarawak. Annualy, Malaysia has produced some 35 million m³ of wood from natural forests. The number will drop to 26 million m³ by 2010. Malaysia's sawmills have a total production capacity of 27 million m³ . Additional wood from plantations is thus needed to satisfy rising demand. In the past, most of the wood plantations were established by the state. More participation from private industry is anticipated in the future. YAB Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Dr. Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud, Sarawak's Chief Minister, has announced that "a part" of the 64,000 km² forest reserve will be declassified so that new plantations of trees can be cultivated.
By the turn of the century, Sarawak will become the world's largest producer of cellulose. That is at least what Taib Mahmud, Sarawak's Chief Minister, announced at the ceremony marking the start of construction of "Borneo Pulp and Paper Sdn Bhd," a new 2.5 billion Ringgit (ca. US$ 600 million) cellulose factory. The factory is in Ulu Tatau, not far from Bintulu. The project is a joint venture between the Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation and the Asia Pulp & Paper Company Ltd. Taib Mahmud has stated that the project will be very influential in the socioeconomic development of Sarawak. He was quoted in "The Star" as saying "Such projects could mean a fortune for the people [meaning the indigenous peoples editorial note] who have lived in poverty for generations. " The government will plant rapidly growing trees over an area of some 2000 km² to supply the paper factory. The trees will supposedly grow five times faster than forest trees. The factory will start production in 1999 and have an initial annual production of 750,000 tons of cellulose.
The only "sustainable"aspect of Malaysian forestry is its destruction. How else
can it be explained that, despite "sustainable development," the forests are
now being replaced by wood plantations?
Photo: Aila Ziegler
Gerawet Megut (nomad in Magoh)
Unequal struggle in the Penan area.
Photo: Nigel Dickinson
Penghulu James, Long Lamai
(official representative of the Penan people in Ulu Baram)
The development of rain forest resources in
Central Africa opens the door to poachers.
The Indonesian Government has attributed previous fires to farmers clearing
their land for crops. This time, because the fires have been burning for months
and satellite data is being made public, the Government has been forced to acknowledge
that the fires coincide mainly with areas of commercial logging on Borneo and
Indigenous farmers use the same environmentally sound farming methods they have for centuries, rotating between plots of family land.
The problem is the logging companies, which often show up unannounced, cut
the trees, burn the stumps and set up plantations of oil palms or eucalyptus
and acacia trees for paper and pulp usually all without compensating
To compound the tragedy, the precious tropical hardwood is then turned into virtual garbage.
Most of it is milled into plywood and particle board, largely used in Japanese construction sites as a disposable mold for concrete.
About 10 percent of Indonesia's plywood comes to North America, where it is used in construction and cheap shelving.
Fighting the smog in Southeast Asia.
Indonesia is not alone. Deforestation is more pronounced on the Malaysian
part of Borneo, and is widespread in Cambodia, Thailand and other countries.
In Indonesia, however, the devastation of commercial logging is compounded by
the Government's policy of subsidizing migration, which until 1986 was supported
by the World Bank.
Farmers from the crowded island of Java are encouraged to move to the forests of Borneo and Sumatra.
Unfortunately, they bring their old techniques, which do not work outside Java's rich volcanic soil and are eating up the forest.
Some good can come of these tragic fires if they persuade Southeast Asia and
the nations that import their products to take forest protection seriously.
The United States should begin by banning plywood made of tropical hardwood,
or requiring country-of-origin labeling on wood products so consumers can refuse
to by them. Japan, often the buyer of products created by ruinous environmental
practices, also needs to rethink its import policies. In the end, however, Southeast
Asia's environmental practices will not greatly improve until corruption and
authoritarianism diminish. There is too much money to be made by powerful poeple,
and too little attention paid to those groups trying to bring sanity to reckless
Since our last newsletter of September 1997, we have received reports from the Swiss communities of Feldis/Veulden GR, Gossau ZH, Lugaggia TI and Lutzenberg AR that they are renouncing the use of tropical woods in community buildings. In France, the city of Lille and the northern region of Pas de Calais have said they would no longer use tropical woods. The city of Bordeaux has decided to use pine instead of tropical wood for the construction of a promenade along the Garonne River.
December 17, 1996
The English B & Q Do-it-Yourself chain is already selling 10% of its lumber
range with the new FSC eco label. This certificate is being furthered and co-sponsored
by environmental organizations such as Greenpeace and WWF. Migros is going in
the same direction and, as a founding member of the "WWF Wood Group,"
has promised to deal only in woods from sustainable production. According to
the agreement, the share of FSC woods will reach 100% in the do-it-your-self
sector within five years, and 70% in the Micasa furniture sector. As of 2005,
Migros will procure only FSC woods for the above-mentioned areas. In addition
to Migros, the WWF Wood Group, founded in Zurich-Rüschlikon on September
16, 1997, has been joined by seven other companies from the wood industry including
manufacturers of furniture and musical instruments.
Members have made a commitment not only to FSC certification, but also to declaring the origin of all woods, and in general to the ecological improvement of the range of woods according to a fourtiered list of priorities. It is headed by FSC certified timber from Switzerland and bordering regions. FSC certified timber from Europe has second priority. Third priority is accorded to noncertified lumber from Switzerland and bordering regions, and fourth to noncertified wood from Europe and to FSC timber from other parts of the world. Noncertified wood from Switzerland thus has a better ranking than FSC tropical woods or FSC timber from Canada and Siberia. Although the priority list is unique worldwide, the WWF Wood Groups in other countries generally give preference to FSC timber over noncertified local timber. BMF fully supports the Swiss version and congratulates Migros and the other companies for their exemplary step.
The complaint lodged against the certification of a logging concession in the Lopé Reservation of Gabun has been approved by the FSC. The FSC certificate granted to the Isoroy/Leroy company for okoumé wood was suspended. Four environmental organizations have lodged a complaint at FSC International headquarters against the sloppy certification practice of SGS Forestry (Oxford), a subsidiary of the Geneva-based Société Générale de Surveillances SA. Management plans were lacking, and consultations with local environmental groups and organizations active in social areas, as required for the FSC eco label, were insufficient. SGS Forestry must now obtain the missing papers, provide information on the certification criteria which was used, cover all costs resulting from the appellate procedure, and SGS certifiers may only resume their forthcoming work with the participation of FSC experts. The entire affair is extremely embarrassing for SGS as the company is usually known for its credibility and reliability.
A motion for the mandatory labeling of wood and wood products was submitted by Swiss National Councilor Christoph Eymann in the fall session of Parliament. Eymann was amazed that, in spite of the promises of certain timber groups at the time of the first vote on a declaration in 1994, little has happened [except in the case of Migros editorial note]. Nor does Eymann understand why something which was possible for meat and meat products in the shortest amount of time, is so difficult in the case of wood.
The September newsletter included a description of the iroko benches which are in use at new bus stops of the public transportation system in Lausanne. The Allgemeine Plakatgesellschaft (SGA), which is responsible for them, complained in a letter to BMF about our "lack of fair play." We should have informed the company in advance about our letter campaign! The Director, Bernard Develey, has pushed the blame onto the city administration of Lausanne, and especially on the architects involved. A test was made with oak for a period of a year but "unfortunately" it was not successful. The allegedly poor condition of the oak benches after only one year "regretfully" led to the fact that in the end tropical wood was chosen. As oak is an exceptionally durable wood, and the benches in the bus stops in Lausanne are sheltered by roofs, the arguments of the SGA seem to us to be totally implausible. Kindly write once again, in French, German or even in English, and request the results of the "Lausanne study."
Benches made from tropical wood in Arth-Goldau.
Photo: Bruno Manser
Unfortunately, the Swiss Federal Railways are also not setting a good example. Our backsides are still resting on benches made out of tropical wood, even in the enclosed waiting rooms of one of the Zurich sub-way stations. Beech or ash would have been absolutely adequate in such a case. Kindly write a postcard to the headquarters of the Swiss Federal Railways with a note demanding that this absurdity finally come to an end.
On October 14, 1997, just two days before the founding of the WWF Wood Group (see "In praise"), the Swiss Forestry Association launched its own eco label. The so-called "Q Label Swiss Quality" is supposed to guarantee compliance with Swiss Forestry Regulations. The goal is a universal coverage for all of Switzerland. The "Q Label" is actually nothing more than a voluntary indication of origin and has unmasked itself as a cheap strategy of avertion. The forestry label is meant to prematurely torpedo the efforts of environmental organizations toward a certification of Swiss forests according to the stricter FSC criteria.
According to an article which appeared in the "Neue Zürcher Zeitung" on October 11, 1997, even official data indicate that no less than 80% of the logging and wood trade in the Amazon are illegal. And only 6.5% of the fines levied are actually paid. This is in good part due to rampant corruption.
BMF has been waiting for a quite a while. Now the time has come for a long overdue campaign. We are setting our sights high with the intention of convincing all of the 2942 communities in Switzerland and the 11 communities in Liechtenstein that they should distance themselves from the use of "plundered" timber in public buildings and procurement programs. 40 communities (including the state and city of Basel), representing a population of 1.5 million or 20% of the Swiss population, have already renounced the use of wood from overexploitation. Much of the preparatory work for our campaign was accomplished at the outset. The city of Zurich published exemplary guidelines, the community of Fällanden ZH provided us with the minutes of the city council meeting, and the canton of Appenzell AR printed a small advisory brochure. This informative material, which was already available, was ideally suited for our campaign. We therefore had all three documents translated into the four official languages of Switzerland and then published. BMF has organized a press conference in Bern on November 20, 1997. Ueli Widmer (member of the Appenzell AR cantonal governing council), Remo Gysin (National Councilor from the canton of Basel-Stadt), Maurice Egger (city official from Fribourg), Claude-Alain Vuille (forester) a Penan woman and Bruno Manser talked with the media about our publications and the campaign. On the same day, ads appeared in some of the daily newspapers in all of Switzerland's four language regions to increase awareness of the matter. Those communities in Switzerland and Liechtenstein which are still lacking will receive information from our office and be asked to incorporate the necessary guidelines into community regulations. We are hoping that as many communities as possible will participate, and that Switzerland will renounce the use of plundered woods as soon as possible, at least in government offices and on the community level.
Alex, a typical farming dog from the canton of Bern, is using ecological means
to transport 2910 envelopes to the main post office in Bern.
Photo: Stephan Engler
We are dependent on you, our readers, for an even greater success. On the one hand, because many communities still need a push. Please telephone your own community officials in the coming days. Ask to talk with someone from the city council and ask if the matter is on the agenda or if a decision has already been taken. Please let us know at BMF, or if necessary ask us for further help. Our office is open on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
On the other hand we are still lacking Sfr 14,000. which we have temporarily set aside from the regular BMF budget. We would thus be exceptionally grateful for contributions earmarked for the campaign. Please note "Plundered Timber Campaign" on your checks or payments.
Barbara Nathan-Neher (Zurich), Ernst Beyeler (Basel), Dr. Hans Peter Ming (Zumikon ZH), Dr. Robert Felber (Buttisholz), Marlyse Schuppisser (Basel), Lia Béatrice Leutwyler (Zurich), Victorinox AG (Ibach), Department of Environmental Protection of the canton of Appenzell AR (Herisau), Office of Environmental Protection and Energy of the canton of Basel-Landschaft (Liestal), Office of Environmental Protection of the City of St. Gallen, Office of Environmental Protection of the City of Winterthur, Department of Constructions of the City of Zurich, World Wide Fund for Nature Svizzera (Bellinzona), Lia Rumantscha, Chur, and several anonymous donors and companies.
Association for the peoples of the rain forest
Heuberg 25, CH-4051 Basel, Switzerland
Telephone 41 61/261 94 74
Fax 41 61/261 94 73
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