What, exactly, does the Soil Association stand for these days? With its FSC-certification of Sappi monocultures in Swaziland the Soil Association’s Woodmark appears to have abandoned the reason for which the organisation was established: to promote organic agriculture.
By Chris Lang. Published in WRM Bulletin 116, March 2007.
Sappi’s plantations in Swaziland are the epitome of what is wrong with industrial tree plantations. More than fifty years of living with plantations has done less than nothing to develop the country’s people. Species-rich grasslands were destroyed and people moved to make way for the plantations, when they were established as a British “aid” project in the 1950s. The plantations are monocultures of pine trees, exotic to Swaziland. Every year, Sappi clearcuts a total of 3,000 hectares of its plantations, leaving vast scars on the landscape. When the clearcuts are replanted, the trees suck up water, drying up streams and reducing flow in rivers. Sappi’s plantations and nurseries can only be managed through the use of chemical pesticides.
In July 2006, Sappi’s plantations in Swaziland were given the FSC ‘green’ label following an assesment by the Soil Association’s Woodmark. Founded in 1946, a major part of the Soil Association’s work has been “to promote organic agriculture as a sustainable alternative to intensive farming methods.” But with its certification of Sappi’s plantations in Swaziland, Woodmark is promoting intensive, non-organic monocultures, exactly what the Soil Association was set up to challenge.
During the assessment of Sappi’s plantations in May 2006, Woodmark found that Sappi’s replanting procedures did not comply with national regulations requiring a 30 metre wide strip along streams. In one place trees had been planted too close to a stream. In another, a stream was channelled across a road instead of under it. “Due to the planting of pine trees since 1989 . . . the natural flow of water in the streams was severely depleted,” a farmer neighbouring one of Sappi’s plantations told Woodmark. “Devastating fires” have damaged Sappi’s plantations over the past seven years.
Woodmark’s inspectors visited a logging area, where more than 40 hectares was being clearcut. They found that there was no first aid provision, no designated area for equipment and provisions, no drinking water provided for workers and no fire fighting equipment. There were no records of training for workers and no training schedules for 2006. For a work force of 120, the contractor had only two first aiders. And both of their certificates had expired.
Oil was leaking from a storage area owned by one of the contractors. The construction of the oil separator pit did not comply with Sappi’s requirements. A chemical store operator was not trained in health and safety issues handling toxic chemicals. Not all contractors had written safe work procedures including risks and hazards associated with the various tasks.
To address these breaches of FSC’s standards, Woodmark issued a series of corrective action requests which Sappi has to meet before Woodmark’s next visit to Swaziland in July 2007.
But the most shocking part of Woodmark’s report of the Sappi assessment is the revelation that Sappi uses pesticides which are prohibited in FSC-certified operations.
In November 2005, during a pre-assessment of Sappi’s operations in Swaziland Woodmark found that Sappi was using two pesticides which are banned under FSC’s 2002 Pesticide Policy. Woodmark issued a corrective action request that Sappi ensures that “pesticides with the active ingredient benomyl and imazapyr are not used”. Sappi stopped using imazapyr, but continued to use benomyl.
Benomyl is a fungicide which is selectively toxic to micro-organisams and invertebrates. Sappi acknowledges that it is “very toxic to fish and earthworms”. The company uses benomyl against Fusarium circinatum, a fungus which causes pitch canker in pines. In December 2005, FSC issued a new Pesticide Policy. Benomyl is listed in both the 2002 and 2005 Pesticide Policies as a “highly hazardous” pesticide.
FSC’s 2005 Pesticides Policy states that “The use of any pesticide containing an active ingredient included on the current FSC list of ‘highly hazardous’ pesticides shall constitute a major non-compliance” with FSC’s standards “and shall therefore be prohibited unless a temporary derogation [or partial waiving of the rules] for use in the applicable territory has previously been approved by the FSC Board of Directors.”
Woodmark decided not just to bend the rules but to throw them away. Rather than waiting to see whether or not FSC would approve the use of benomyl in Swaziland, Woodmark issued the certificate to Sappi arguing that “A derogation request for the use of Benomil has been submitted.” By March 2007, FSC had still not approved the derogation request for Benomyl, but Sappi’s Swaziland certificate remains in place.
Woodmark has certified Sappi’s monocultures partly on the basis of hoped for future improvements but also on the basis of hoped for future weakening of FSC’s Pesticides Policy. By issuing the certificate and allowing it to remain in place, Woodmark is undermining the credibility of both FSC and the Soil Association.