In the Media
Palm-oil boom raises conservation concerns
July 05, 2012
Palm oil was once touted as a social and environmental panacea — a sustainable food crop, a biofuel that could help to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and a route out of poverty for small-scale farmers. In recent years, however, a growing body of research has questioned those credentials, presenting evidence that palm-oil farming can cause damaging deforestation and reduce biodiversity, and that the oil’s use as a biofuel offers only marginal benefits for mitigating climate change.
But even as the environmental case against it grows stronger, the palm-oil business is booming as never before. “Oil palm is such a lucrative crop that there is almost no way to stop it,” says William Laurance, a forest-conservation scientist at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia. Indonesia, the world’s largest grower of oil palms, is expected to double production by 2030.
Krystof Obidzinski, a forest-governance researcher at the Center for International Forestry Research in Bogor, Indonesia, agrees that there is plenty of non-forested or degraded land that could be used for plantations, but says that nations and companies need incentives to use it. Forested land is more attractive because companies can get extra income from the timber, and it is also less likely to be inhabited by large numbers of locals who can claim land rights and financial compensation, says Obidzinski.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an international non-profit association based in Zurich, Switzerland, that brings together conservation groups and palm-oil firms including FGV, says that it will not certify oil grown on land that was deforested to farm the crop. But many are skeptical that the RSPO, which was established in 2004, can effectively police the industry’s rapid growth.
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Keywords: Asia, Climate Change, deforestation, degradation, oil palm, palm oil, RSPO