The production of palm oil has come under sustained criticism for its destruction of forests, biodiversity and wider environmental values. More lately, the industry has also been targeted to prevent the massive greenhouse gas emissions from its forest clearance and from drainage and planting on peatlands. Under pressure from local and international campaigning groups, the palm oil giant Golden Agri Resources has adopted a new Forest Conservation Policy that promises no clearance of tall forests and no planting on peat. What are the implications of this new policy for forest peoples?
Recognition of the social and environmental impacts of large-scale land conversion to monoculture plantations such as oil palm has led to numerous voluntary sustainability standards, including the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), to adopt the concept of High Conservation Values (HCVs). These are defined as the critical social and environmental values in ecosystems and landscapes that long-term multi-stakeholder processes have collectively identified as the key values to be conserved and enhanced in the management of natural systems.
The Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG) is made up of producers and civil society organisations and includes Agropalma, DAABON, New Britain Palm Oil, as well as WWF, Rainforest Action Network (RAN), Forest Peoples Programme and Greenpeace.
Growing global demand for palm oil is fuelling the large-scale expansion of oil palm plantations across Southeast Asia and Africa. Concerns about the environmental and social impacts of the conversion of vast tracts of land to monocrop plantations led in 2004 to the establishment of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which encourages oil palm expansion in ways that do not destroy high conservation values or cause social conflict. Numerous international agencies have also called for reforms of national frameworks to secure communities’ rights and to develop sound land governance.