November 7, 2013

Are the European taxpayers unintentionally promoting forest fires in Portugal?

Acréscimo is a non-governmental organization created to promote forestry investments in accordance with the concept of sustainable development and social responsibility principles.

As Portuguese Government prepares another Rural Development Program (RDP) for the period 2014-2020, we question the results of those previous 25 years of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in Portuguese forests.

What are we missing?

Acréscimo is could not find any evaluation study about the CAP funds application to forests in Portugal. The main question is: in consequence of these funds application on forests, how much of this investment was reverted effectively in adding economic, environment and social values?

On last June, Acréscimo questioned the Ministry of Agriculture in Portugal, regarding on the statistics related to afforestation in the last 25 years. Acréscimo also asked for the public information about forest investments – co-financed by the CAP – detailed by tree species and areas (hectares). Until November, no feed-back was received. Not even a link to access the data requested, that should be public and available information.

What do we suspect?

In the absence of concrete data, we suppose that the results related to the forestry measures using CAP funds in Portugal had no significant positive impacts to the Society, nor economic neither social nor environmental.

Worse, we suspect of the cyclic application of public funds in local cyclically affected by forest fires in the last 25 years.

What do we know?

On despite of the implementation of hundreds of millions of Euros of public support in Portuguese forests, we know that the weight of the gross value added (GVA) to forestry declined over 66% in 2010 compared to 1990, compared to the national GVA. We also know that the weight of the forestry sector (the set of forestry and forest-based industries) in Portuguese GDP fell down 40% between 2000 and 2010.

Forestry GVA / National GVA
Source: INE, CES 2011. Lisbon, 2012.

We also know that the forest species that has enjoyed more support - the maritime pine - experienced the retreat in its area of about 400 hectares in the last 25 years. This occurred in despite of the nearly 700 million of public funds applied. This amount could have boosted about 350 thousand hectares of new afforestation with this species.

Unfortunately, we know that the application of hundreds of millions of Euros of CAP funds will not minimize the cycle of destruction caused by forest fires in Portugal, which currently has similar impact to what it had in the mid 90s.

Forest Fires - Burned Areas 1980/2012
(red line - wooded areas / yellow - uncultivated areas / black - total burned area)
Source: ICNF. Lisbon, 2013)

Questions that may arise:

What is the real destination of hundreds of millions of Euros of public support that should create value in forests, ensuring employment and welfare to Society and protect Nature?

Are the European taxpayers unintentionally promoting forest fires in Portugal?

What measures of forest policy (beyond the RDP 2014/2020) has the Portuguese Government prepared to counter the progressive decline of forestry in Portugal? 90% of the forest areas in Portugal are owned by hundreds of thousands of families and rural communities, the vast majority undercapitalized and more than 60% of cases with properties up to 5 hectares. The forest product markets are characterized by loose-win relationship, where prices are generally imposed by the forest-based industries.

The attention of:
The Presidency of the Portuguese Republic
The Portuguese Parliament
The European Parliament
The Portuguese Government
The European Commission

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