Turkey’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry aims to plant 11 million trees on 11 November in 2023 locations across the country. Citizens will have the option to participate in the planting or donate money. Entitled “Be a Breath for the Future”, this campaign is in fact an attempt by the Ministry of Forestry to cover up a policy of systematic destruction of forests. It was also that very ministry that allowed a Canadian company to cut destroy forests in Turkey’s Kaz mountains and prevented planes from putting out forest fires last summer.

This objective of this campaign is to cover up scandals.

The Ministry of Forestry routinely opens up forest ecosystems for economic exploitation. It distributes permits to use forests for mineral exploitation, mining, construction and even for oil drilling. In 2012, 2,810 permits were granted for those purposes. Between 2012 and 2018, that number rose to 18,515.

Energy companies are free to use forests in whatever manner they wish. They can build anything from dams to fish farms. The Ministry of Forestry would even allow one to treasure hunt in forests. Between 2012 and 2018, 7,990 permits were issued for areas outside of mining and energy.

No one stops you from building wastewater treatment plants, sports facilities, solid waste disposal plants or even cemeteries. Between 2012 and 2018, 14,617 such projects were granted permits in the same period.

More general figures show that forests are being used for anything but forests. Between 2012 and 2018, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry granted a whopping 41,122 permits for mining, energy and other facility projects to be built inside forests.

Needless to say, the 11-million trees campaign serves to cover up those 41,122 permits granted to the destruction of forests.

While planting 11 million trees is a positive policy, the Ministry of Forestry falls short of people to take care of the trees once they have been planted.

The General Directorate of Forestry had 13,413 employees in 2015 but this number dropped to 10,667 in 2018, that is 2,746 employees were laid off. In other words, one in five employees were laid off. As the remaining number of employees is insufficient, the maintenance of the newly planted trees will most likely be handed to a tender. The state is making citizens partners of project that has no guarantee of sustainability.

And if those saplings were to grow into trees, then what? Will they become forests only to be cut down for financial gain, as was the case with the Kaz mountains? There, a Canadian company cut down 200 thousand trees, in an area of almost 600 hectares (1,482 acres). The total size of the forest area granted to mining, energy and other business permits in 2018 amounted to 25, 192 hectares (62,250 acres). That’s 42 times the forest area that was razed in the Kaz Mountains.

In other words, the 11 million trees citizens will plant will serve to cover up this sweeping deforestation.

Besides, 11 million trees take up about 5-6 thousand hectares (13-15 thousand acres) meaning that if trees are planted on one unit of land on November 11, 5 units of land have already been destroyed in 2018 by the granting of permits to mining, energy and other companies.

So will 11 million trees be enough to cover up almost 5 times the size of deforestation?

Worse, a forest area of 40-50 times that size was destroyed between 2012-18. The size of forest area that was cut down during that period for stone quarries, gold mines, treasure hunts, hydroelectric plants, hotel constructions was exactly 271,449 hectares (537,328 acres). Hence, the 11 million new trees will not help cover the hundreds of thousands of hectares destroyed over the past six years.

The Ministry of Forestry should be called the Ministry of Deforestation.

The forest is more valuable than ever. Economic activities such as mining and energy production in forest should be banned altogether. In Turkey it seems as if forests have become an economic item, they can be cut down or planted. Today all politicians seem to have adopted this view.

Moreover, it has become a routine for the Turkish government to cover up its crimes. This has more to do with democracy than with the environment.

The “Be a Breath for the Future” campaign to plant 11 million trees is little more than a cover-up attempt. Don’t be an instrument of it.