Freedom to Plant
Indonesia and Thailand in a Globalizing Pulp and Paper Industry

by Larry Lohmann

first published 1 June 1996


Over the last decade, some of the most important changes and conflicts involving the use of land and water in rural Southeast Asia have stemmed from the regional and global expansion of the pulp and paper industry. Natural forests have been cut down, vast monocultures of eucalyptus and acacia planted, and giant pulp mills built along major waterways, provoking rural strife throughout the region.

This essay sketches some of the pressures behind -- and some of the dangers of -- the expansion of the pulp and paper industry in Southeast Asia. It describes some of the mechanisms by which the industry has enclosed land and water in two of the countries most affected, Indonesia and Thailand, and outlines the various forms of opposition the industry is meeting. It concludes by indicating some of the strategies the industry is using to manage this resistance.

This essay was first published in Environmental Change in South-East Asia: Rendering the Human Impact Sustainable edited by Michael J. G. Parnwell and Raymond Bryant, and published by Routledge, London.




Over the last decade some of the most important changes and conflicts involving the use of land and water in rural Southeast Asia have stemmed from the regional and global expansion of the pulp and paper industry. Natural forests have been chipped, vast monocultures of eucalyptus and acacia established, and giant pulp mills built along major waterways, provoking rural strife and political debate throughout the region.

This chapter will sketch some of the pressures behind, and some of the dangers of, the expansion of the pulp and paper industry in Southeast Asia. It will then describe some of the mechanisms by which the industry has enclosed land and water in two of the countries most affected, Indonesia and Thailand, and outline the various forms of opposition the industry is meeting. Finally, it will indicate some of the strategies by which the industry is attempting to manage this resistance.


Success is measured by the freedom to plant fibre crops... Our objective should be to create and move inside an ever-increasing friendly circle of public opinion.

O. Fernandez Carro and Robert A. Wilson (1992)

An Expanding Industry

The pulp and paper industry in both Indonesia and Thailand has been strongly influenced by patterns of regionalization and globalization of fibre production, consumption and trade. In the 1950s, most international wood fibre trade was cross-border between Canada and the US and among the European countries, and only a few countries which produced and consumed large quantities of paper were dependent on raw materials from distant continents. Since then, world trade in pulp has increased around five times, while the global wood fibre market has tripled (Dudley 1992, Hagler 1993). Today, high-consuming countries (see Table) pull in raw materials for paper from all over the world. The wood fibres in a sheet of paper in Western Europe or East Asia may well come from trees grown as far away as Brazil, Canada, Chile, Congo, Indonesia, New Zealand and South Africa. Prices for marketed wood pulp, moreover, are everywhere strongly influenced by Southern exporters.

One country which has pioneered the unharnessing of national consumption from national supply is Japan, which began importing large amounts of wood chips in the 1960s in specially-built ships. Between 1965 and 1975, the proportion of Japan's pulpwood supplies which were imported jumped from 3 to 40 per cent. By 1990 Japan led the world in wood fibre imports, with 37.5 per cent of world trade. Historically, most of the country's fibre imports have been Western North American softwood chips. Three recent shocks, however, have accelerated the Japanese industry's longstanding efforts to diversify its overseas supplies. First, in 1980, interest rates increased in the US, reducing housing starts, sawmill production, and mill residue surpluses available for export, and doubling export chip prices overnight. Unable to exploit its own forest resources economically, the Japanese industry turned to other countries such as Chile, taking advantage of dropping oil prices in the mid-1980s for cheap transport. Then, in 1987-88, a projected mill in Tasmania threatened to absorb Australian hardwood (eucalyptus) supplies which had been going to Japan, spurring the industry to turn to Southeast Asia and the US South (in growing competition with other countries such as South Korea). A third shock in the early 1990s stemmed from decreased logging in Western North American forests and an accompanying drastic reduction in waste chip supply, both due to the forest industry's depletion of old-growth forests without sufficient replanting and an accompanying rise of environmentalism affecting use of public lands. By 1988-90, the Japanese industry was working to assure itself of raw material flows not only from longstanding suppliers such as the Soviet Union, Indonesia, South Africa and New Zealand, but also from China, Vietnam, Argentina, Venezuela, the interior of Northern Canada, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and other parts of Oceania (Marchak 1992, Schreuder and Anderson 1988, PPA 11.1993). As one industry figure commented, Japan had taken a "new step to secure resources, that is, planting its own forests in other countries as long-term resource programs" as well as laying plans for the "execution of pulp or paper production there" (Japan Pulp and Paper n.d.). Competition among such a large number of countries for the Japanese market, of course, was seen as reducing prices as well as providing guarantees of steady supplies.

As economically- and politically-available natural forests have been depleted and new hardwood pulp technologies developed, meanwhile, plantation fibre has grown in importance relative to fibre from natural forests. This, too, has sharpened paper industrialists' interest in Southeast Asia. Plantation species such as eucalyptus grow much more quickly in the tropics than in temperate zones, meaning both that their fibre is available earlier and that less land is required (Know-How Wire 1.1989; Shell 1993). Land is also cheaper in the South, particularly in big contiguous parcels a decided advantage for huge chemical pulp mills which are most economically sited in the centre of large raw-material catchment areas. Small wonder, then, that the cost of wood suitable for manufacturing bleached hardwood kraft pulp in Indonesia may be half what it is in, say, Finland (Know-How Wire 1.1993; PPI 8.1993). Inexpensive labour is a secondary attraction.

Table 1: Paper consumption, 1993

Country kilogrammes per capita
USA 313
Japan 225
Hong Kong 220
Singapore 218
Finland 215
Taiwan 205
Germany 190
UK 170
Australia 152
Italy 132
South Korea 128
Malaysia 62
Thailand 30
Russia 30
China 17
Philippines 12
Indonesia 10
Burma 5
India 3
North Korea 3
Viet Nam 1
Lao PDR 0.2

Source: PPI July 1994

One of the most important incentives for global investment in Southeast Asian mills and plantations, however, is the widespread expectation that Pacific Rim consumption growth will be the fastest in the world over the next decade. Stimulated by tighter integration of the whole region into the world economy and lavish subsidies from public to private sectors, this growth will be driven largely by increases in industrial paper demand. Industry consultant Roger Wright calculates that by 1997, total demand in Asia and Africa will have outstripped that in North America, with Japan, the Asian "Tigers", and China playing big roles (Wright 1993).

Such growth projections are a powerful reason for integrating Southeast Asian plantations with pulp mills, and pulp mills with paper mills, as soon as possible. Pulp has more value added and is more efficient to ship than wood chips, which are half water, making it attractive to Southeast Asian exporters, and if there is a huge local demand, paper produced in the region will have an advantage. Adding to pressures to build integrated projects are the blandishments of Northern machinery suppliers and mill engineering consultants seeking new export outlets, together with those of the "aid" agencies with which they have a symbiotic relationship.

Common Dangers

The course of pulp and paper development varies from country to country in Southeast Asia. Several dangers created by the advance of the industry, however, are common to the region as a whole. One danger is associated with the industry's inordinate dependence on large, expensive machines. Except in China and a few other places, the industry has been locked into this dependence at least since the 1930s, when the prestige-obsessed North Atlantic newspaper companies of the day were vying over who could build the biggest mills. This competition resulted in each new machine's being designed as a one-off. Unit costs rose correspondingly: from 1930 to 1975, the cost per annual tonne of a newspaper machine increased at least forty-fold, while the price of newsprint increased less than twenty-fold. Yet once machine manufacturers had got into the rut of building big machines, it became difficult to fill orders for anything else, despite their high price, inferior cost-effectiveness and need for extraordinarily large supplies of fresh water and other resources. As paper expert A. W. Western wryly notes, building new paper machines "became a luxury which could be afforded only by multinational giants or the governments of developing countries, advised by consultants that only scale to this degree could be economic! For the consultants it was economic; they were now essential for large mill design and coordination" (Western 1979).

Combined with freely-available technology, easy availability of debt finance, and little need for newcomers to buy into brand names, reliance on big machines has fed a chronic industry tendency to overbuild during boom times, resulting in slumping prices, the flattening and extending of supply/cost curves, inadequate returns on machinery investments, attempts to cut costs and stimulate demand, shakedown, closures and yet further concentration. In 1993, after the most recent bout of overinvestment, pulp prices were half what they had been only four years previously in constant dollars, and 39 per cent of what they were in 1975, forcing producers such as Thailand's Phoenix Pulp and Paper to stop exporting and helping to drive Indonesian production down to 65 per cent of capacity (Wright 1993; PPI 2.94). The increasingly international nature of the pulp and paper industry exaggerates uncertainty still further by giving exchange rate fluctuations the power to "swamp all other factors in determining profitability" (Fletcher 1988). Other factors difficult to control or predict, especially for Southern producers, include recessions and changes in European recycling laws and waste paper supply, the need to invest in machines capable of meeting Northern consumer demand for chlorine-free paper, unanticipated falls in yield from eucalyptus or acacia plantations after the second rotation, and unexpected increases in pulp capacity due to the whims of single manufacturers in Brazil, Russia, or anywhere else (ADB 1993).

It is ironic that such a cyclic, volatile industry one which, as leading paper industrialist Hugh Fletcher of Fletcher Challenge has remarked, "does not have a history of being logical" is becoming so dependent on plantations, whose development requires an unusually long planning horizon of 10-15 years (Shell 1993). Nowhere is this more true than Southeast Asia, whose business elites and governments are staking a great deal on paper and pulp despite exorbitant machinery price tags -- up to $1 billion for a world-class, 2000-tonne-per-day export pulp mill -- and early-1990s warnings from experts that the Asian market was "undeveloped", uncertain, and, in many grades and locations, oversupplied. One Western machinery supplier has openly proclaimed that many prospective Indonesian investors "don't know what they plan to do with their pulp", while in Thailand, government targets for plantation acreage regularly overshoot market demand projections by 1000 per cent (Wright 1993; Allen 1992; Sargent 1990). Southeast Asian producers can, of course, undercut competitors in lean times, but this requires squeezing labour and land harder, and removal of the price umbrella provided by firms which charge more may result in a further collapse of prices.

A second set of dangers created by the pulp and paper boom in Southeast Asia as a result of the pulp and paper boom are ecological. In Indonesia, old-growth forests in West Papua and Kalimantan have been chipped for direct export, and plantations are also a direct cause of legal and illegal deforestation, devastating biodiversity, agricultural watersheds, soils and fisheries. In Thailand, although the industry has mainly coveted land which has already been deforested and thus cuts fewer trees as a prelude to plantations, displaced villagers have often been forced to dwindling frontiers, also causing deforestation. In many places in which eucalyptus has been commercially planted in Southeast Asia, moreover, it has been alleged to have lowered water tables, monopolized nutrients needed by other crops, and interfered with their root systems. It has also been accused of exacerbating erosion: not only is its leaf litter believed to release chemicals inhibiting the growth of other plants and their associated insects, reptiles, and birds, but it is also harvested every five or six years, leaving the ground temporarily bare (Lohmann 1991). The need to match raw materials to paper mill machinery is meanwhile creating pressures to make monoculture tree crops ever more uniform and high-yielding through restriction to particular strains, hybridization, clonal propagation and genetic engineering (Fernandez Carro and Wilson 1992). Such pressures for uniformity carry with them a risk of epidemics and the need for heavy chemical applications. Pulp mills such as Thailand's Phoenix and Indonesia's Indorayon, finally, have polluted waterways with oxygen-hungry effluents and toxic chemicals, resulting both in contamination of drinking and bathing water and in large-scale fish kills which in some areas have devastated one of rural villagers' most important protein sources and marketable products.

Many of these ecological effects are linked to the land and water rights conflicts which have made eucalyptus plantations and pulp mills a major source of rural strife in Southeast Asia. For a closer look at these, it will be useful to examine the two contrasting examples of Indonesia and Thailand.


Early in 1994, the countryside around what was formerly the little village of Kerinci, 10 kilometres south of Pakanbaru, Sumatra, was witness to an extraordinary scene. Working to a plan formulated by Helsinki-based consultants Jaakko Poyry, some 4000 Indonesians laboured day and night, often in mud and rain, to finish the biggest single-line pulp mill in the world by October 1994. Under the eye of a Finnish project manager, an immense soda boiler built by Finland's Tampella firm was assembled on the three-square-kilometre site, supplemented by complicated machinery from a score of other companies including Finland's Kone, Valmet, Ahlstrom, Sunds Defibrator, Sunds Rauma and Outukumpu; Sweden's Noss and ABB Flakt; Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Sanso; Canada's Chemetics and Bailey; the US's Cranston and Solarturbines; Germany's Siemens; Britain's ICI; Brazil's Voith; Taiwan's Teco; and India's Ion Exchange (Helsingen Sanomat 23.1.1994; PPI 9.1994).

Built to be capable of converting four million cubic metres of wood into 700,000 tonnes of pulp each year by the time it comes up to full capacity in 1997, the mill, known as Riau Andalan, will cost its owner, the Raja Garuda Mas company, US$750 million, equivalent to 1.25 million times Indonesia's per capita income. Two-thirds of its output is slated for export. To satisfy the mill's appetite for wood, the equivalent of one log truck must pass through its gates every three minutes from 1,600 square kilometres of logged-over timber estates southwest of the mill and sources elsewhere. The mill's needs of approximately 4,750 cubic metres of water per hour will meanwhile be supplied by the nearby Kampar River. According to company executives, the mill, which will require the establishment of a port and 45 kilometres of railway for the transportation of wood and wood products, will employ a mere 1000 people -- $750,000 of capital investment per mill job (Wright 1994; FT 14.12.1992; PPI 7.1994, 9.1994; DTE 4.1994).

Riau Andalan, as one of a number of enormous pulp mills which have been springing up across Indonesia's "hinterland" island of Sumatra, is a fitting symbol of a boom which has seen the country's pulp production rise from 167,000 tonnes in 1983 to 1.3 million tonnes in 1993 and paper production increase from 377,000 to 2.6 million tonnes (PPI 7.1993, 8.1985; Wright 1994). For one thing, the mill exemplifies a trend toward extreme concentration. As average Indonesian pulp plant capacity has leapt from around 5,000 tonnes per year in 1970 to 85,000 in 1991 and 145,000 in 1993, the industry has gravitated ever more clearly into the hands of Indonesia's biggest and most notorious business families, many of whom have built their fortunes through commercial logging or plywood or are business partners with members of President Suharto's family. Riau Andalan's parent conglomerate, for instance, is headed by Harvard-educated Sukanto Tanoto, the "timber king" of Northern Sumatra. Pangestu Prayogo's Barito Pacific Timber Group, currently cooperating with Suharto's daughter Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana (Tutut) and Nippon Paper/Marubeni in the planned 450,000 tonne per year Tanjung Enim Lestari mill in Musi, South Sumatra, is Indonesia's largest wood-based industries group and one of the world's largest plywood manufacturers, holding over 45,000 square kilometres of Indonesia's forest lands and a 10,000 square kilometre concession in Viet Nam. Bob Hasan, Indonesia's top timber businessman, chair of the loggers' and wood-processing trade association, and longtime Suharto crony, has also moved into pulp and paper with the collaboration of Suharto's son Sigit Harjojudanto and US and Korean firms (Soetikno 1993, Paper 4.2.1992, Paper Asia 8.1991; PPI 2.1994).

Second, although Indonesia's pulp and paper industry has high hopes of building a huge domestic market among the country's 190 million people, new capacity for both pulp and paper of the type which Riau Andalan represents is focused largely on exports. Paper exports rose from 200,000 tonnes in 1990 to roughly 600,000 tonnes in 1993, and pulp exports, in 1993 around 100,000 tonnes, are expected to multiply ninefold between then and 1996, after which Indonesia will be shipping 60 per cent of its total production abroad (Wright 1994; PPI 2.1994, 7.1994). Part of this market is being created by Indonesia's own Sinar Mas conglomerate, as it invests in paper plants in Bombay and in Ningpo and Cheng Chiang, China which can take Indonesian pulp as raw material (PPI 8.1993, 7.1994, 8.1994, 10.1994).

A third industry characteristic exemplified by Riau Andalan is heavy Northern involvement. Most of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent to build and plan the wood supplies for such new mills winds up in the hands of industrialized-country firms, with the lion's share going again and again to Scandinavian, Japanese, and North American suppliers and consultants and their consortia (Allen 1992; PPI 8.1993, 2.1994, 10.1994; DTE 1991; Paper 4.2.1992). Lubricating this process are bilateral "aid" agencies (unsurprisingly, mainly from Scandinavia, Japan and North America), export-credit organizations, multilateral development banks and, in the case of Japan, the sogo shosha with their attractive finance offers (USDT 1993, ODA 1992, Westoby 1987). Acting as brokers and coordinators are forest industry consultancy companies such as Finland's Jaakko Poyry, who are skilled at using "aid" money and corporate contracts to bring together Northern machinery suppliers and Indonesian elites with power over land, forests, labour and finance in a way which benefits both. Acting through a network of old colleagues, friends and like-minded technocrats in overworked donor agencies who are happy to be relieved of onerous planning and monitoring duties, such consultants are able to use public funds to build up a private forestry industry sector in Indonesia which will ensure them a continuing stream of future contracts at a time of rising unemployment in Europe for professional forestry industry personnel. For example, a 1984 contract with the World Bank and the Indonesian government to do a sector analysis of the country's paper and pulp industry helped Jaakko Poyry land over thirty subsequent contracts to plan or implement public and private sector projects to supply mills with pulpwood from natural forests or plantations. The company has also picked up dozens of contracts -- some of them subsidized by Finnish taxpayers through Finnish Export Credit and the bilateral "aid" agency FINNIDA -- to plan or engineer pulp or paper mills for Indonesian corporate clients or do market surveys for Western machinery manufacturers (Jaakko Poyry n.d.). Benefiting from Canadian government lobbying and handouts, Canadian forestry consulting firms such as H. A. Simons and Sandwell are competing to perform the same role. However important indebtedness, poor terms of trade, declining oil revenues, corruption, and the status ambitions of elites may be in driving Indonesia to rush to cash in its forests through plywood, lumber and pulp manufacture, it is through the concrete activities of such firms and their governmental helpers that Indonesia's forest lands are in practice integrated into the world economy.

Despite the immense wealth of Indonesia's pulp and paper tycoons, foreign investment and finance are often also necessary for the industry's immensely capital-intensive projects to get off the ground. The Taiwanese firms Yuen Foong Yu and Chung Hwa, for example, own a quarter of the shares in Indah Kiat, Sinar Mas's biggest pulp and paper subsidiary, and Barito Pacific and Sinar Mas have recently successfully floated international stock and bond issues (PPI 8.1993, 10.1994; DTE 1991). Backed by the state Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation, meanwhile, the partly state-owned Finnish paper giant Enso Gutzeit is teaming up with state-owned forestry company Inhutani and Gudang Garam in a 10-year plan to develop an approximately 1,390-square-kilometre acacia pulpwood plantation in Sangau, western Kalimantan on a site riven by conflicting land claims (Jakarta Post 22.7.94; PPI 8.1994; Junus 1994).

A fourth characteristic of the new Indonesian pulp mills is that they are almost all fed in their initial stages by natural (though often logged-over) forests. While plantations are often advertised as improving "degraded" or "unused" lands, the most obvious candidates for this treatment -- anthropogenic, homogeneous alang-alang grasslands colonized by Imperata cylindrica -- are prohibitively difficult and expensive to convert, due to low soil fertility, the grass's toughness, and their tendency to be scattered in patches over a large area (WALHI and YLBHI 1992). It is far easier for pulp tycoons with privileged access to the Ministry of Forestry, which has jurisdiction over about two-thirds of the country's surface area, to take out what are essentially large, contiguous logging concessions at a rent of approximately US$0.30 per year, clear-cut them, and then replant them with pulpwood monocultures. Plantation entrepreneurs who do so are entitled to equity capital and no-interest loans from the Ministry of Forestry, together with revenues collected from logging companies and earmarked for rehabilitating logged-out concessions. In fact, so easy has it been for business to gain control over forest land by claiming to be interested in pulp and paper -- by 1992 thirty-seven companies had submitted applications for 70,000 square kilometres of pulp estates, although only eleven bothered even to undertake feasibility studies on estate development -- that the government recently had to stop granting the concessions (PPI 9.94). The government has also assisted corporate land grabs by suppressing attempts to enforce customary adat claims to many of the territories affected. Such claims, although they are recognized in theory, are in practice overridden by the demands of "development". As former Forestry Minister Hasjrul Harahap said in 1989, "In Indonesia, the forest belongs to the state and not the people ... they have no right to compensation."

Thus Riau Andalan will be harvesting fifty species of native tropical hardwood from its concessions over the next decade while waiting for Acacia mangium plantations established on cut-over sites to mature (PPI 9.1994). Elsewhere in Sumatra, Sinar Mas's 790,000-tonne-per-year Perawang installations will consume 200 square kilometres of old-growth forest per year until the year 2000, much of it cut by transmigrant labour, before switching over to acacia; the company's 410,000 tonne-per-year Jambi mill further south will denude its 2,400-square-kilometre concession of logged-over forest at perhaps half that rate (PPI 10.94). Indorayon's 250,000 tonne-per-year pulp mill in North Sumatra, which started off using 860 square kilometres of old stands of indigenous Pinus merkusii planted during the Dutch colonial period, soon began clearcutting mixed hardwood forests from a 1,500 square kilometre selective logging concession and planting eucalyptus there. Some 1,000 square kilometres of pine forests in Central Aceh, meanwhile, will feed the Kertas Kraft Aceh cement sack mill in Northern Sumatra -- in which Bob Hasan holds interests -- through the turn of the century. Legal restrictions on clearcutting or on logging on steep slopes or near watercourses, such as they are, carry little meaning in this context: the Department of Forestry itself admits that 86 per cent of timber concession holders violate government logging rules (Jakarta Post 8.9.93, 27.9.93, 18.2.94; Kompas 27.9.93; Forum Keadilan 6.1.94; DTE 1991; Zerner 1993; World Bank 1994). If plantations do not mature as expected -- which is not unlikely given Indonesia's scant experience with them on the generally poor soil of the Outer Islands -- then pressure on natural forests will increase yet further (PPI 8.93, 10.94; WALHI and YLBHI 1992).

Subsidized land, wood and technology, in sum, have helped make Indonesia into one of the cheapest pulp and paper producers in the world. But the subsidies do not stop there. Wage levels are also among the world's lowest, kept that way partly through state-supplied suppression of labour movements. Near-captive labour, meanwhile, is provided by the transmigration programme for projects such as Barito Pacific's Tanjung Enim Lestari pulp installation. At Sinar Mas's Perawang complex in central Sumatra, inadequately-housed transmigrants required to do illegal logging have had to wait up to three months at a time for their wages, on one occasion being paid only after they took some of the company vehicles hostage (Forum Keadilan 6.1.94).

At a time of tightening controls in the North, lax enforcement of pollution laws (however strict some of them may be on paper) is also an attraction for pulp and paper investors. Sinar Mas's Indah Kiat -- the subject of a lawsuit threat from Indonesian NGOs for its pollution of the Siak River -- uses its wastewater treatment facility when there is an inspection, for example, but otherwise only sporadically (WALHI 1992; Jakarta Post 24.9.92, 8.10.92, 22.9.92; Suara Pembaruan 31.8.91, 4.9.92; Kompas 17.11.93). Little is done, in addition, to regulate dioxins, the pulp industry's most toxic products, whose regulation in the US is pushing the industry toward a likely multi-billion-dollar refit there.

Many ordinary Indonesians, unsurprisingly, experience the integration of local land and forests into the world pulp and paper economy as a disintegration of local livelihoods and relationships, and their government's gifts of low-cost forest land and riverine waste sinks to the industry as something more closely akin to theft. In Northern Sumatra, for example, Indorayon's clearcuts, roads and plantations have displaced thousands of native Batak people in the Lake Toba area through usurping their traditional lands and degrading the environment which sustains them. Logging-related droughts have depressed rice harvests over wide areas, and Indorayon has also provoked local resentment by blocking access to common pastures essential for buffalo-raising and woodlands which villagers rely on for rattan or wood for carving; by planting eucalyptus on an ancestral graveyard; and by demeaning Batak villagers by forcibly overriding traditions of hereditary land transfers important to clan identity. Farmers from one village who agreed to grow eucalyptus for Indorayon now regret becoming involved since they are no longer allowed to pasture their animals on their land and fear Indorayon will set low prices for the wood they produce. The Indorayon pulp plant's pollution of the Asahan river, meanwhile, has resulted in degradation of fisheries and loss of village water supplies.

Protests have been met with a classic blend of threats, beatings, cooptation and delaying tactics. In April 1989, when two plantation employees tried to rape a young girl in the village of Sugapa, village women chased the men away and ripped up eucalyptus seedlings that Indorayon had planted. At a February 1990 trial at which the ten women involved were sentenced to six months' imprisonment (later reduced on appeal to probation), they vehemently defended their rights to the property: "The land is the only source of income that the people have. If it is planted with eucalyptus, how are we going to eat? How are we going to feed and herd our cattle?"

Villagers have also been displaced by Sinar Mas's Perawang operation, where Sakai people were resettled from their ancestral lands on the company's Riau concessions. In South Sumatra, PT Musi Hutan Persand, one of Barito Pacific's timber estate management companies, when it found that a concession it had been awarded overlapped with one given to another timber company in the area, took over fertile land belonging to 200 farmers in Muaraenim without warning, destroying durian trees, rubber plantations and wet-rice fields. Protesting farmers were arrested and their claims dismissed out of hand by the provincial governor, who claimed they were merely seeking financial gain. Minister for Forestry Djamaloeddin Soeryohadikoesoemo, for his part, claimed it was the responsibility of the company to settle the dispute -- despite the fact that the concession was awarded only on the condition that fertile or privately owned land would not be used (Brooks 1994; Tempo 18.12.93).

In Kalimantan, meanwhile, in one of dozens of such examples, logging roads constructed parallel to a river on one plantation concession blocked tributaries, halving the river's flow and creating a malarial swamp. Filled with sediment from erosion from logging and road-building, the river became useless for transport to market or for fishing. No compensation was paid, meanwhile, for the logging of lands which had been owned and managed by the local community for 400 years. The company involved also put up a sign indicating that subsistence swidden farming on community land was now a crime, and ordered local residents and Javanese transmigrants to use hoes instead. Although only the transmigrants obeyed, catastrophic erosion was the result. Another disaster was precipitated when the company tried to "develop" the villagers' traditional rattan cultivation methods by getting them to plant rattan in straight lines without regard for site conditions, with the result that 90 per cent of the crop died (Zerner 1993).

Such cases point up a second way in which plantation projects in Indonesia degrade forests, namely, by displacing people and disrupting community-based forest stewardship systems. Such systems, as a suppressed World Bank report points out, are not only effective in sustaining forests in the Outer Islands, but in some cases have even enhanced biological diversity (Zerner 1993). In resisting the actions of plantation and pulp companies -- whether by pulling up stakes put down by survey teams, tearing down signs criminalizing traditional agricultural practices, cutting bridges built by encroaching companies, pelting company houses with rocks, refusing to cooperate with firms who do not consult with residents according to locally-approved political processes, or taking firms to court -- local villagers are also attempting to defend the only feature in this social landscape that could by any stretch of the imagination be termed "sustainable development".


Incentives for establishing commercial pulpwood plantations are as strong in Thailand as in Indonesia: a booming economy, good geographical location, lavish subsidies, and local and foreign elites eager to invest. But competition for available land and forest, a less repressive political climate, and, most of all, heavy resistance, have so far prevented a plantation boom on the scale of that in Indonesia. Continuing pressure from the paper and pulp industry and its allies, however, has led to a seesaw battle for high stakes across large areas of the country between plantation promoters and local villagers and environmentalists.

Much of the impetus for establishing new plantations stems from the Thai economy's growth rate -- one of the highest in the world over the past decade -- and the associated increase in paper and pulp production, which has more than matched it. Paper manufacture shot up from 294,000 tonnes in 1985 to 889,000 in 1990 and 1.28 million in 1993, with around 3 million tonnes expected in 1997. This boom has been fed largely by the rapidly-expanding manufacturing sector, with its needs for packaging, which absorbs more than two-thirds of production (Apichai 1992, PPA 11.94, PPI 10.93). Pulp production, meanwhile, doubled in the decade to 1993, to about 200,000 tonnes. Among the companies recently making large new investments in pulp and paper have been the Soon Hua Seng Group, one of Thailand's leading rice traders, which is planning to start up a 220,000 to 250,000 tonne-per-year paper-making plant in East Thailand in 1996 to be followed by a large pulp mill; and Siam Pulp and Paper, of which Siam Cement and the Crown Property Bureau hold over half the shares (Nation 14.4. 1994; Bangkok Post 13.7.1994). Overinvestment has already pushed containerboard capacity to 50 per cent over demand, and net paper self-sufficiency is expected to climb to around 125 per cent in 1996, when the country will be producing twice as much short-fibre (eucalyptus) pulp as its papermakers require (Adul 1993, PPA 11.1994, PPI 10.93). Fresh long-fibre (conifer) pulp, however, cannot be produced in large quantities in the country and will continue to be imported.

As in Indonesia, foreign machinery suppliers are important beneficiaries of the boom, with Scandinavian, Japanese and North American suppliers again dominating the market. Foreign investment is also significant. Phoenix Pulp and Paper, currently Thailand's largest producer of pulp with 200,000 tonnes per year, is a venture of Ballardur, India's largest pulp and paper producer -- which holds over 13 per cent of the shares -- and the European Investment Development Corporation based in Luxembourg. In good years, Phoenix exports 30 per cent of its bamboo pulp production to India and other destinations, and plans to ship 30-35 per cent of its eucalyptus pulp output to South Korea, the Philippines and Japan. Early Japanese and Taiwanese efforts to set up joint ventures to secure new raw fibre supplies, meanwhile, have recently been supplemented by increased investment in pulp capacity, and Shell and Kimberly-Clark have also launched ventures in Thailand.

Anticipated future growth in both exports and domestic production, together with the need to keep machines running even in times of surplus, has compelled industry to push for more and more of the country's land area to be planted to pulp trees. Eucalyptus camaldulensis, known since the early 1970s to be easily adaptible to Thailand's wide range of habitats, and increasingly attractive to paper manufacturers, has been the tree of choice since the appearance of cheap seed on the market in 1978. By 1992 around 800 square kilometres of eucalyptus had been planted by a wide variety of firms and private owners, mainly in the Northeast and Central regions, and industry has continually lobbied the government for further land, recently claiming it needed another 1,280 square kilometres under fast-growing trees by 2002. With its eye on increasing exports, the industry association has also requested soft loans with grace periods of six years, reductions in corporate income tax, waivers on sales tax, suspension of import duty on pulp- and paper-making chemicals and machinery, more government-underwritten training and infrastructure, and state collaboration in plantation ventures (Apichai 1992, Bangkok Post 1.2.93, PPA 11.1994).

Except when confronted by massive popular resistance, government officials have, by and large, been only too willing to cooperate. In the late 1980s, in fact, the government was calling for 43,000 square kilometres of commercial tree plantations in National Reserve Forests (or over eight per cent of the country's land area), with communities and the government planting an additional 18,500. This eagerness caused some head-scratching even among corporate consultants, who, try as they might, could not locate a prospective national or international market for the products of more than five or ten per cent of such a huge plantation area (Sargent 1990, Prachachart Thurakit 4-6.1.1989).

Such official enthusiasm for commercial eucalyptus plantations, however, is not as mysterious as it may look. The Royal Forest Department (RFD) has been overwhelmingly oriented toward commercial exploitation during its entire 100-year history. When logging was banned in 1989, it was only natural that it should turn its attention to promoting commercial plantations. This bias is no doubt reinforced by the close association many RFD bureaucrats enjoy with eucalyptus nursery owners or brokers and the equally close collaboration the state Forestry Industry Organization enjoys with the private pulp and paper sector (Apichai 1992). Both foreign and domestic eucalyptus-growing firms, in addition, are closely linked with political parties responsible for powerful ministries. Soon Hua Seng, for example, whose board chairman is Narong Mahanond, a former Director General of the Police Department, has helped finance the Democrat Party, which has often held the portfolio of the Ministry of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, which is responsible for the RFD. Members of Parliament from other parties also often have a finger in the plantation or pulp business. Promoting commercial plantations, moreover, allows the Thai government to portray itself as discharging its responsibility to "reforest the country" in the wake of the catastrophic logging of the past 30 to 40 years. Finally, the RFD is eager to regain control over large areas of National Reserve Forest land, which, following decades of commercial logging and official promotion of upland export crops such as kenaf, maize, sugar cane and cassava, are now de facto in the possession of peasant "encroachers" (Usher 1990a). Just as the RFD once granted timber companies cheap logging concessions, it is, many believe, now eager to grant even cheaper concessions to eucalyptus firms in the hope that they will drive out the settlers that the logging concessions helped attract.

As in Indonesia, in addition, planting trees may not be the only thing tycoons have in mind when they demand access to more land for pulpwood plantations. While natural forests are not a leading source of pulp raw material in Thailand, businesses often hire or encourage villagers to clear forest so that it can be categorized as "degraded land" legally eligible for planting with eucalyptus. The timber is then illegally sold for lumber. Many business figures who may not be particularly interested in wood fibre, moreover, by putting on a show of interest in pulp and paper, can amass land which can later be put to even more profitable uses such as golf courses or tourist resorts. RFD officials and political parties who stand to share the benefits are often only too happy to play along.

Influenced by Western models, Thailand's official institutions are structured in a way which cannot help but subsidize the plantation industry. The Royal Forest Department, for example, has legal jurisdiction over approximately 40 per cent of the country's surface area in the form of National Reserve Forests (NRFs), many of which are forested in name only. Until recently, transferrable land documents could not legally be granted in NRFs, even in the 56,000 square kilometres which are estimated to be currently under cultivation, though many NRFs were gazetted in areas already occupied by villagers. This arrangement has enabled the government to label the more than 10 million people who live in the NRFs -- some of whom have been present since before the NRFs were gazetted -- as "illegal encroachers" and to give away land they are occupying to plantation or other businesses at the derisory rate of US$2.50 per hectare per year, little more than five per cent of the (already low) typical going market rate (Apichai 1992). The Director-General of the RFD can now authorize the rental of up to sixteen hectares of NRF per company, the Minister of Agriculture up to 3.2 square kilometres, and the Cabinet, still larger areas. In September 1994, in fact, the Minister of Agriculture was given authority to allow state agencies to use parts of national reserve forests without cabinet approval "if their projects involve national and economic security".

Other apparatuses have been set up for granting special privileges to pulpwood plantations which no other agricultural crop enjoys. In the late 1980s, the RFD set up a separate office devoted specifically to promoting commercial tree farms, complete with a "public relations" budget of over $24 million, and in 1994 asked for approximately US$130 million from the 1995 fiscal budget to subsidize private sector plantations and other "reafforestation" projects, including one in which farmers in National Reserve Forests are given soft loans to plant fast-growing trees. The Board of Investment has meanwhile granted some firms with tax holidays and exemptions from duty on imported machinery and raw materials (Apichai 1992; Usher 1990b; Nation 9.4.1990; Tunya 1990).

Providing additional subsidies are foreign governments. Particularly prominent, unsurprisingly, are those of Japan, Canada, and Finland, three of the countries which are likely to benefit the most either from sales of machinery and consultancies or (in the case of Japan) also from imports of Thai chips and pulp. As long ago as 1981, the Japan International Cooperation Agency set up a trial eucalyptus plantation in Northeast Thailand to support research and training in the field, and the Japanese Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund has supported a venture called Thai-Japanese Reforestation, which was designed to supply raw materials to a consortium of Japanese papermakers (Nectoux and Kuroda 1989; Tunya 1990). CIDA, the Canadian "aid" agency, has helped finance the Canadian consultant H. A. Simons' work with Soon Hua Seng and the tree plantation studies of the Thai Development Research Institute, a prominent think tank. Britain's Commonwealth Development Corporation, which draws money from the British "aid" programme, has also provided loans and debt finance to Soon Hua Seng.

The Finnish government, meanwhile, has pumped millions of dollars of its taxpayers' money not only into export credits for Finnish forestry and pulp and paper equipment, but also into a political lobbying exercise known as the Thai Forestry Sector Master Plan, which was conducted by the Jaakko Poyry consulting firm between 1990 and 1994. Largely aimed, in the words of its Finnish team leader, at bringing Thailand's "institutional and social frame into shape", the Master Plan included an ambitious attempt to rewrite the country's entire forestry policy in a way which would allow Western techniques of industrial forestry to be applied more fully (Laitalainen 1992). While it was not successful in achieving all of its aims, the Master Plan, like similar exercises in Indonesia, did help weave new personal and business networks among Thai and foreign private sector, academic and bureaucratic plantation proponents, as well as add to the technical base for plantation development in the country. The plan also provided a free education in Thai politics for Finnish industry figures which is already paying rich dividends. Finnish machinery exports to Thailand -- much of it in the forestry industry sector -- rose from FM83 million in 1990 to FM484 million three years later, and a special Thai-Finn pact for economic cooperation was signed in October 1993 (Finland National Board of Customs 1990--3).

Also significant has been the strong support of multilateral agencies. The Asian Development Bank has funded plantation research and project development in both Thailand and Laos. The commercially-oriented Tropical Forest Action Programme, an international coordination mechanism for increasing investment in forestry in the South organized by the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), has meanwhile provided an umbrella for Poyry's Forestry Sector Master Plan.

Arrayed against such pro-plantation forces have been various popular movements, most notably among the more than ten million people living in cleared areas of National Reserve Forests. Since the mid-1980s, small farmers opposing the spread of eucalyptus plantations have petitioned district officials, Members of Parliament, and cabinet members; held rallies; spoken out at national-level seminars; blocked roads; and marched on government offices. Where other means have failed and they are organized well enough, they have ripped out eucalyptus seedlings, chopped down eucalyptus trees, stopped bulldozers, and burned nurseries and equipment.

Such actions are motivated mainly by experience showing that large-scale eucalyptus plantations displace or impoverish farmers, violating a strong felt right to a stable subsistence. Even where villagers are allowed to stay on or near plantations, Eucalyptus camaldulensis allows little intercropping (villagers say it is hen gae tua ("selfish") in that it hogs nutrients), is useless for fodder, damages local soil and water regimes in ways to which villagers are sensitive, and supplies little firewood to the community. In addition, it provides none of the varied natural forest products that rural dwellers on the edge of the market economy need to eke out a subsistence, while usurping the community woodlands that do. Plantation labour requirements, moreover, are neither plentiful nor steady, and plantation work is unattractive to most farmers. The land speculation often associated with plantation expansion also undercuts farmers' security. Using fraud and legal chicanery and their political and bureaucratic connections, speculators hoping to resell land to plantation companies often threaten villagers with violence, murder, or eviction on "encroachment" charges; attempt to co-opt village elders; try to get villagers into debt; or cut off their access to their own land by buying up surrounding plots.

Migrating away from plantation areas, moreover, is not an attractive option. In Thailand the frontier is nearly gone -- forest cover has declined from perhaps 70 per cent of the country's land area earlier in the century to about 15 per cent today, and government bureaucracies are less likely now to acquiesce to illegal forest colonization than they were in the 1970s, when the country's unsettled upland areas served as welcome safety-valves relieving potentially explosive land conflicts elsewhere. Official resettlement programmes, meanwhile, faced with a dearth of suitable unused agricultural land, often try to relocate villagers on already-occupied land, touching off bitter land disputes. Moving permanently to the cities, similarly, is seldom an alluring or even viable alternative, and casual agricultural labourers' jobs are notoriously insecure and ill-paid. Awareness of their limited choices, not surprisingly, only stokes villagers' moral outrage at the abuses of the cosy business-bureaucracy-politics patronage system used to promote plantations.

In their struggle, villagers have made shrewd use of a wide variety of rhetorical, political and cultural tools. In many areas, villagers have wrapped their actions in a religious mantle by tying yellow Buddhist monks' robes around large trees to "ordain" and thus protect them from being cleared to make way for plantations. They have also adapted the pha pa ba ceremony traditionally used to mobilize assistance for Buddhist temple construction to promote the anti-plantation movement instead. Well aware of the need to seize the environmental high ground, village plantation opponents have also planted fruit, rubber and native forest trees to pre-empt or replace eucalyptus, or have explained to sympathetic journalists the methods by which they have preserved diverse local forest patches for generations as sustainable sources of water, mushrooms, vegetables, small game, honey, resins, fruit, firewood, fodder, herbal medicines, frogs and edible insects and insect eggs, or as sacred ancestral woods and funeral grounds. Where such traditions do not exist, villagers have often created community forest conservation organizations to counter the spread of eucalyptus. They have also been careful to stress positive demands for individual land rights, community rights to local forests, and the right to veto commercial plantation schemes slated for their localities. Finally, villagers opposing pulpwood plantations have made cautious use of the support of many Thai environmentalists and other activists among the intelligentsia, who have called for recognition of local land and forest rights, sharp separation of plantation and forest conservation policies, and cancellation of privileges for industrial plantations. Environmentalists in particular have helped drive home the message that huge increases in commercial plantation acreage can only increase the pressure on natural forests, through displacement and disruption of locally-developed forest conservation practices (Lohmann 1991).

In the early 1990s, plantation proponents and opponents alike had to struggle for purchase on a slippery, constantly changing political field. In May 1990, then Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan prohibited all commercial "reforestation" in National Reserve Forests following the arrest of 156 Soon Hua Seng employees for logging a plantation site in Eastern Thailand. (In accord with normal practice, Soon Hua Seng had been allowed unofficially to have access to the forest in order to "degrade" it before negotiations for the concession were concluded, but political intrigue against the company's president led to exposure.) In February 1991, however, a military coup d'etat paved the way for a massive US$2.76 billion programme to evict five million residents of National Reserve Forests in order to free up approximately 14,700 square kilometres for private-sector tree plantations. Within a year, perhaps 40,000 families were forcibly displaced in the Northeast, with repression especially severe in areas targeted by the military as hotbeds of resistance (Sanitsuda 1992, Phuu Jatkaan Raai Sapdaa 16-23.9.91). When a massive popular movement overthrew the military junta in May 1992, resistance to pulpwood plantations emerged again in force. Following major demonstrations by Northeastern villagers, including the blockade of the region's principal highway, and prolonged negotiation with farmer leaders, the government scrapped the military's eviction programme, suspended "reforestation" with eucalyptus, and imposed a ceiling of eight hectares on any type of commercial tree plantation. Yet in September 1993, under pressure from the pulp and paper industry and its allies, Thailand's economic ministers decided once again to reopen National Reserve Forests to commercial reforestation, touching off student protests. By July 1994, private corporations and state enterprises were being invited by the Ministry of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives to participate in a scheme to cover at least 5,400 square kilometres of land with trees between 1994 and 1996, ostensibly to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the King's coronation.

Continuing protests, however, have made the country a watchword in the industry for conflict over raw materials. This has discouraged both foreign and domestic investment, particularly in giant export schemes such as those to be found in Brazil and Indonesia. Shell, for example, was forced to drop plans to plant some 125 square kilometres of eucalyptus in Eastern Thailand after violent conflicts and scandals forced delays in governmental approval for the project in 1990. Soon Hua Seng, India's Birla, and other investors have also been compelled to abandon ambitious plantation or pulp schemes out of fears of local opposition or subsequent rejection by the government. Phoenix's pulp mill, meanwhile, lost 141 production days during 1992-4 due to controversies over pollution releases which have damaged local fishing livelihoods, and other pulp investors, including Panjapol and Siam, have experienced problems with licensing authorities. Such difficulties have added to investors' reluctance to move of the Bangkok area, with its good infrastructure, consumers, and easy access to waste paper for raw material (PPA 11.1994).

Facing clashes with landless farmers or governmental vacillation in its efforts to take over NRF land outright, the industry has turned increasingly to promotion of contract farming (the Thai analogue of Indonesian nucleus estate schemes) as a second-choice strategy. Here the industry, instead of dispossessing peasants directly, contracts with them to grow eucalyptus on their own land, often distributing free seedlings and promising to purchase their harvest in five or six years. Although this approach is unwieldy, requiring pulp or chip firms to deal with thousands of smallholders scattered across a large area, it has several attractions for industry. First, it is unlikely to provoke the organized resistance to eucalyptus which has followed from attempts at outright eviction, and may even encourage farmers to clear new areas in forested uplands to plant the tree. Second, many participating small farmers are likely to have to foreclose sooner or later. Not only are they likely to become dependent on plantation or pulp firms for seedlings, materials and cash, but eucalyptus appears to be economically unviable for small farmers as well (Usher 1990b). In the end, plantation or pulp firms may simply be able to buy up their land at a bargain price.

Another strategy for Thai pulp and paper investors facing resistance within the country is to move abroad. Working with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Jaakko Poyry, and the Finnish government, Phoenix plans to feed its mill with a 96-square-kilometre plantation in neighbouring Laos. Some 70 per cent of the Asian Development Bank loan for the project will go to the private sector -- which the Lao state is ill-equipped to monitor -- with only 30 per cent to small farmers. Finnish government subsidization of planning and political manipulation in Laos -- for example, a US$5.8 million grant for technical assistance as part of the World Bank's so-called Forest Management and Conservation Project, which will lead to tens of millions of dollars in grants and loans being put into a sector where government officials' salaries are around US$30 per month -- is aimed at opening up further such opportunities in the future (Malee 1994). Meanwhile, like Indonesia's Sinar Mas, Soon Hua Seng is moving into China, participating in joint ventures to plant over 2,200 square kilometres of eucalyptus in Canton and also setting up pulp and paper mills in the country. Led by the Ministry of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, the Thai government has also signed a cooperation pact on industrial forestry science and technology with China which is aimed, among other things, at supporting that country's policy of planting 65,000 square kilometres of fast-growing trees such as eucalyptus and poplar by the year 2000 with investment from Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia and Thailand (Bangkok Post 23.6.1993).


Managing Resistance

The enclosure of land and water associated with the expansion of the pulp and paper industry in Southeast Asia is not simply a physical phenomenon, an invasion of space. Nor is it the result of "free market mechanisms" or an inevitable and impersonal "drive for economic development" which must now be made "sustainable". It is, rather, a complex social, cultural and political struggle featuring a highly varied set of actors with diverse motivations, who, working in loose conjunction with each other in a contingent and ad hoc fashion, make paper and pulp machinery sellable, debt finance possible, political interests meshable, and centralization of resource control achievable. In both Indonesia and Thailand, this process of enclosure has both presupposed and facilitated an ability to shift resources within an increasingly regionally- and globally-organized system. In particular, transfers of resources between expanding public and private sectors in Southeast Asia, Japan and the West have been used to break down boundaries between discrete smaller social units in Indonesia and Thailand which are neither public nor private -- namely, highly-localized commons regimes. Attempts are then made to reshuffle and modify the elements of these regimes in order to create an all-encompassing new framework whose parts respond to certain standardized, system-wide signals in ways more advantageous to powerful actors (Hildyard et al. 1993). As in other industries, subsidization and globalization have proved mutually enabling.

Dealing with resistance is crucial to the pulp and paper industry's struggle, and it has a spectrum of ways of doing so. Where opposition does not challenge the industry's most fundamental interests, it will attempt to contain it by internally redistributing its considerable resources in various ways, relieving tensions in one area through slack in another, depending on cost-effectiveness and other factors. It may, for example:

  • Buy off resisters or attempt to demonstrate to them how their concerns can be met within the industrial system. This strategy amounts to inviting opponents to accept "translations" of their objections into the language of the industry itself, in which these objections become more tractable. Contract farming schemes, which appear to meet the common objection that pulpwood plantations are usurping individual landholdings, are one example. Other examples include bribes and promises that the suffering the expansion of plantations brings about will be seen in retrospect as a mere "cost" attached to the far greater "benefits of economic development".
  • Help see to it that resisters are crushed by force. This option is especially useful against local communities whose livelihoods are entirely dependent on commons regimes, and who, because the logic of such regimes runs counter to that of economics, have proved unreceptive to the first strategy (Hildyard et al 1993; Lohmann 1995). To be a candidate for intelligent repression, opposition must also be isolated, small-scale, poorly-coordinated, and out of the public eye. For this option to work, too, government bureaucracies must decide it is in their own interest to foot the bill for military operations. Both Indonesia and Thailand offer recent examples.
  • Insist on discussing the issues only in the idiom of neoclassical economics and "global demand" rather than in the languages of ordinary farmers or of institutional politics. This strategy, an analogue of physical suppression, attempts to deny opponents the opportunity of formulating their objections in the conceptual framework of their choice. It is not always adopted calculatedly, nor is it adopted only by industry figures. Thus some academic economists will not tolerate any analysis of how paper demand is created because it undermines the model -- with which they begin their analysis -- of Homo economicus as a being with in principle infinitely increasing abstract needs. Industry leaders such as Britain's David Clark are less squeamish, telling their peers that "we shall have to fight for our future and create our own growth" and that "total demand has to be stimulated" (Clark 1993).
  • Acquiesce, where necessary, to certain demands made by opponents. This becomes a strategic choice where opponents cannot be bought off or persuaded to modify their demands and where suppression is counter-productive or impossible due to the scale, coordination, intensity, inaccessibility or public visibility of resistance. Japan's paper industry, for example, has had simply to accept environmentalist resistance in Western North America as an "economic" datum beyond a political solution and accordingly shift its search for raw materials elsewhere, including Southeast Asia. By the same token, Western industry is slowly capitulating to strong and widespread opposition to chlorine-using industrial processes, treating it as an "economic" reason for investing in new technology. (Indeed, in doing so, it may be able to outcompete rivals with fewer resources.) Nor does the call for more recycling greatly trouble an industry long accustomed to using waste paper as a raw material. Rather, it is fairly easily fed into overall supply/demand equations, while public relations officers welcome it as a new opportunity to claim "green" status.

Some opposition, however, presents deeper threats. No paper corporation possesses the resources to adjust itself to falling demand for all its products, nor, faced with community-based opposition to plantations across very large areas of the South, to buy it off everywhere it arises, smash it wholesale, or shift its search for raw materials to another planet. Such challenges, impossible either to accommodate or to crush outright, are met most intelligently by the ancient strategy of divide and conquer. Abandoning attempts either to conciliate or to wipe out groups with which it has irreconcilable conflicts at the grassroots in Southeast Asia, industry instead concentrates its attention on keeping those groups divided from potential allies in bureaucracies and in urban and Northern middle classes.

Thus pulp and paper interests in Indonesia have resorted to repression and abuses at home while hiring public relations firms such as the US's Burson Marsteller to present a softer picture to customers and legislators in the West, as well as to infiltrate, undermine and monitor Western environmental groups (PR Watch 1993, 1994). Similarly, Jaakko Poyry consultants largely abandoned public relations efforts with farmers and environmentalists midway through the company's master planning exercise in Thailand, smearing and breaking promises to them, while channeling money to the bureaucracy and taking pains to ensure that the nature and extent of opposition to the master plan within Thailand did not become news in Finland (Lohmann, Witoon and Wallgren forthcoming).

Industry-retained public relations firms also attempt to marginalize as "radical" or "irresponsible" movements for reduction of paper consumption in the West. By promoting the use of an idiom which identifies economic growth with livelihood, paper consumption with literacy, and large corporations as merely another group of "concerned citizens", such firms strive to create an atmosphere in which the resistance of grassroots groups in the South will appear cranky or, even better, inconceivable. Arjo Wiggins Appleton executives O. Fernandez Carro and Robert A. Wilson sum up such strategies well when they urge their colleagues not to target "apparent opposition" if that means "forgetting the vast mass in between: the public"; not to "respond to the mobile agenda of others" but rather to "write the agenda and diffuse negative issues". Politics, they go on,

provides the packaging and the vehicle to achieve the industrial objectives. Success is measured by the freedom to plant fibre crops, recognizing the sum total of all the political forces (in the broadest sense). There are two elements to the political subsystem [of the total quality system of industrial forestry]: the message and the target. The message needs to be short, nontechnical, and fundamental: for example, "Trees are good. We need more trees not less". Our objective should be to create and move inside an ever-increasing friendly circle of public opinion (1992).

It will already be evident from the examples of Indonesia and Thailand how disingenuous the "message" is that pulpwood plantations can bring "more trees" into being, or can help take pressure off natural forests. Several other such "messages", however, have also proved to be useful to the pulp and paper industry in its divide-and-conquer strategy of recruiting support from consumers, officials and environmentalists, and have been used repeatedly in public debates, newspaper columns, and governmental negotiations both within Southeast Asia and among its trading partners. As attempts to justify to uninformed audiences, particularly Northern ones, the environmental changes induced by the pulp and paper industry as "sustainable development", they too are worth some critical attention:

  • Indefinitely rising paper demand is either inevitable or desirable or both. This message, together with the idea that further exploitation of old growth is undesirable, is intended to lead to the conclusion that plantations must be expanded and that side effects, however regrettable they may be, are unavoidable. The search for "alternatives" to the current paper and pulp production model, instead of being concerned with such social matters as demand creation or the desirability of junk mail or mini-packaging, thus becomes restricted to the search for "alternative technical means of increasing production".
  • Demand for paper comes not from particular groups, classes, or societies, but rather from "the globe" or "the nation" as a whole. This notion helps obscure exactly who paper consumers are and thus helps erode the common sense observation that a huge demand in, say, Japan or the US does not necessarily justify plantation expansion in Southeast Asia. By suggesting there is a type of demand which, being "global", overrides merely "local" claims to land and water, this idea also helps justify siting plantations at any location on the planet that industry deems appropriate and elevates officials and businesspeople who advertise themselves as addressing "global" concerns into a superior moral position. It also licenses cross-regional and cross-class subsidies for the industry, as well as large forced evictions.
  • Pulpwood plantations are an economically productive use of unoccupied, degraded land which would otherwise rest unused. This "message" is effective principally with environmentalists unaware of industry thinking and practice at the grassroots. As the Asian Development Bank and Shell International have both pointed out, industry is not particularly interested in degraded land; what is required for competitiveness, rather, is contiguous chunks of "land suitable for superior biological growth rates for those species the market wants" as well as "year-round water" and easy access to transportation -- one example being Shell's own ill-fated project area on the well-watered, relatively fertile soils of Chanthaburi, Eastern Thailand (Shell 1993). Even more attractive is land already forested. As an Indah Kiat executive has stated forthrightly, "Basically we are looking for forest which can be clear cut and replaced with eucalyptus and acacia" (Marchak 1992). The message also cannot be used with groups who understand that what counts as "degraded" or "unused" depends entirely on who is talking -- for example, that land identified in official Geographic Information Systems as "marginal" or "unoccupied" may in fact be used by local people as woodland commons, pasture, or fallow for rotational agriculture.
  • Plantation expansion helps make underdeveloped countries "self-sufficient" in paper. This "message" can be usefully employed with audiences unaware, for example, that Indonesia's new pulp capacity is aimed largely at export; that Thailand is already self-sufficient in paper in aggregate terms and in those sectors in which it is not, new Thai plantations will not help make it so; and that nominal self-sufficiency counts for little in the face of the liberal trade policies advocated by the industry itself, which will push pulp and paper imports into any country not producing them more cheaply.
  • Plantations are up to ten times more productive than natural forests. This "message" implicitly defines "productivity" as "productivity of trees with market value as pulpwood over two or three growing cycles". It is useful mainly with audiences likely to overlook the value both to local communities and outsiders of other trees and of animals, vegetables, mushrooms, fodder, fertilizers, water retention capacity, medicines, and so forth, and unaware that monoculture tree plantations typically interfere with agricultural production.
  • Fast-growing tree plantations can help curb global warming. This notion has already legitimized plantations in Malaysia and Central America supposedly to "offset" carbon dioxide emissions from Northern industries. It must be used cautiously, however, with audiences aware of the link between plantations and overall deforestation and of the fact that following conversion into paper, most if not all of the carbon dioxide temporarily sequestered in plantations will be released to the atmosphere. It also cannot be used effectively with audiences who question why the South, or poor regions of the North, should provide ever-expanding sinks for infinitely-growing industrial carbon dioxide sources in industrialized regions (Barnett 1992, Sargent and Bass 1992).
  • Promulgating plantation "guidelines" will make plantations "sustainable". This message appeals particularly to Northern academics, technocrats and environmentalists whose history, institutions, and jobs give them incentives for believing that if theory, objectives, or sound legal measures can be formulated "correctly", even by outsiders, good practice, implementation or enforcement will follow fairly straightforwardly through the efforts of existing effective, disinterested, benevolent institutions. One British advertising executive recently accused of making misleading claims for Indonesian forestry in a television advertisement, for example, got considerable mileage out of retorting that what actually happens in practice in Indonesia is irrelevant. Evidence of rampant industry deforestation in Indonesia should not disqualify advertisers from saying that forest use there is sustainable, he maintained, any more than the evidence for the existence of drunk drivers in Britain should prevent anyone from saying that drink driving is not allowed there (Brooks 1994).

Such "messages", used selectively, foster the globalization of the pulp and paper industry by helping block alliances between Southeast Asian grassroots groups fighting monoculture pulpwood plantations and environmental groups elsewhere, particularly in the North. Yet the converse is also true. It is only the global reach of the contemporary pulp and paper industry -- its ability to exploit the spatial and cultural distance between residents of rural areas in Southeast Asia and intelligentsias elsewhere -- that allow it to deploy its mystifications -- "Trees are good. We need more trees not less" -- to drum up support for industrial tree plantations among largely urban and Northern power bases. This support is crucial, since a ballooning "free market" in wood fibre, pulp and paper can be constructed and coordinated only if the subsidies given to consultants, foresters, aid agencies, and non-governmental organizations to promote plantations can be justified before a large and diffuse public.

To use such mystifications, however, is always to gamble that they will not be exposed. Whether that gamble pays off -- whether the pulp and paper industry gains its "freedom to plant" at the expense of affected people in Southeast Asia -- depends largely on the skill in intercultural conversation of plantation opponents. The prospects are far from hopeless. In a world thronged with naked emperors, paper industry figures claiming sustainable environmental benefits for large-scale monoculture pulpwood plantations are more notable than most for their sartorial minimalism.1


1 The support of Heinrich-Boll-Stiftung and the International Development Research Centre is gratefully acknowledged. Many thanks to Raymond Bryant for helpful comments.


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