Portugal is the country with the largest area of planted eucalyptus in Europe and ranks 5th worldwide. This is the result of an active strategy of promotion of Eucalyptus plantations, made through a combination of forest policies and market instruments, resulting in the largest uninterrupted and monospecific Eucalyptus area in Europe (+800 000 ha, ¼ of the Portuguese forest area and 9% of continental territory).
This process started during the fascist regime of 1933-1974, when 7638 communal land parcels (baldios), that occupied a total area of 408 000 ha and that supported traditional subsistence rights of the commoners, such as grazing, collection of bushes and fuel, were managed by the state Forest Services, which pushed forward the State’s afforestation policies. After the 1974 revolution, the economic destiny of these lands involved, in most cases, joint management by the commoners and the State, even if the commoners assembly and the municipal council did not have a say in the effective regulations for tree planting. This situation took place because most communities were not empowered with the technical skills necessary to manage the forested lands, and suffered a severe erosion of their communitarian structures and social arrangements during the long period of dictatorship.
In 2013, close to 40% of the commoners had delegated local management on the parishes, abdicating from the direct control of the lands. Those who benefitted from this situation were the pulp industry and their eucalyptus suppliers, to the detriment of the public interest.
Since the ‘80s, the Forest Service suffered repeated State reforms that severely hampered its capacity to manage forest lands. At the same time, some of the private companies of pulp and paper were nationalized and consolidated in one group called Portucel (nowadays Portucel Soporcel Group). It was after this period and until 1990, that the area of eucalyptus had it maximum expansion. At that date, 35% of the eucalyptus area was owned by paper pulp companies and 66% by private owners and commoners, mostly through long-term renting contracts. Conflicts between the central state and the rural populations were frequent, widespread and intense. Some of them caused a significant reduction of new eucalyptus plantations on the part of the pulp industry, provoking the resale of some of those lands.
In 1989, hundreds of farmers met in Armada (Ponte de Lima) with the aim of protesting against the parish due to its decision of renting their baldios to Portucel for a period of 29 years.
In the same year, in Valpaços (olive oil production region of Trás-os-Montes, in the inland North of Portugal), farmers rebelled against the eucalyptus plantation (200 ha), which was replacing the olive trees. 2000 people, comprising local population of four parishes of Valpaços, as well as some ecologists, enrolled in an direct action, managing to pull out three thousand eucalyptus. The police reaction was strong, charging over the protesters, which resulted in injuries and the arrest of one farmer.
Later on, in 1995, the "Federação Nacional dos Baldios" (National Federation of common lands) was created to support the associative movement of the commons users. In January 2012 the "Plataforma pela floresta" (Platform for the forest) was created with the purpose of revoking the law which established special criteria for the eucalyptus plantation. This platform is composed by environmental groups, activists, intellectuals and scientists from all around the country.
In September 2014 the Portuguese government announced an alteration to the Decree Law no. 68/93 which regulates the management of communal owned non-cultivated lands. The purpose was to facilitate the entry of external agents and promote a rental economy of the common lands, while penalizing the local communities for its lack of management, by extinguishing the common lands and integrating them in the property of parishes and municipalities (Decree Law No. 72/2014).
This scenario was aggravated by the new legal regime (Decree Law no. 96/2013) that permits unlimited tree plantations of any kind of species in areas of less than 2 ha, which represents more than 80% of the forest area in this country. This proposal gave rise to protests of around 5000 people, mostly farmers, who gathered in front of the parliament in Lisbon, claiming the rights of commoners to remain the legitimate owners of the baldios.