Peru’s failure to address indigenous peoples’ land struggle and control illegal deforestation exposes empty pledges of its government to tackle deforestation

Peru’s failure to address indigenous peoples’ land struggle and control illegal deforestation exposes empty pledges of its government to tackle deforestation

The failure to resolve the underlying land tenure problems of indigenous peoples is one of the main factors behind the increasing deforestation in Peru as reported in a national deforestation study produced by FPP and AIDESEP and launched at the UN Climate talks held in Peru in 2014.  Peru hands over the Presidency of the climate change talks to France in Paris this year and since 2010 has made ambitious pledges to resolve indigenous peoples’ landrights struggles as part of its commitments to protect forests and mitigate climate change in which it has pledged to reduce net deforestation to zero by 2021.

As the case of Santa Clara shows, indigenous lands continue to be sold off to extractive industries and agribusiness. Meanwhile, recent legal reforms pushed through in Peru’s congress weaken indigenous landrights still further and an $80 million land titling programme financed by the Inter American Development Bank (IADB) threatens to exacerbate, rather than resolve the problem . Peru’s international donors and supporters of their forest protection programmes including Norway, Germany and the World Bank can breathe a temporary sigh of relief as a formal complaint submitted by AIDESEP has managed to stall the project and the IADB has been given 45 days to modify the project by the Bank’s Independent Complaints Mechanism (ICIM).

The deforestation study showed that since 2010, and instead of reducing deforestation, forest clearance has been on the rise in Peru. Principal culprits behind the rise include gold mining and conversion of forest to palm oil plantations. The report showed that in the second half of 2013, oil palm companies deforested over 13,000ha of primary forest in Ucayali and Loreto alone, making oil palm the second biggest cause of deforestation in Peru. While gold mining is an old problem exacerbated by dramatic rises in the price of gold in recent years, palm oil has only begun to expand since 2012. This expansion has been aided by the gaping holes in Peru’s legal framework and willingness and ability to enforce the law that are easily exploited by companies such as Plantaciones de Pucallpa.

One of the main culprits responsible for the recent expansion in palm oil is a laberynthine network of at least 25 companies established in Peru known collectively as ‘the Malaysians’. Exhaustive investigations by the EIA have shown that the companies are effectively controlled by Dennis Melka, a businessman who founded the Malaysian agribusiness company Asian Plantations.

Recent investigations have highlighted the chain of destruction wreaked by many of Melka’s operations in Peru including the illegal deforestation of primary forests in the Tamshiyacu region by United Cacao Ltd, a company owned by Melka and listed on London’s Alternative Investment Market but registered in the Cayman islands . This mirrors a pattern exposed by EIA’s investigation in which shell companies are established in Peru to carry out operations but the identity of the ultimate owners and financiers is obscured in offshore tax havens where information is not disclosed.

This inability to trace the backers of a commodity like palm oil means that the owners and beneficiaries of operations like those being carried out in Santa Clara cannot be held to account for human rights violations and deforestation.

It mirrors the traceability challenge facing buyers and consumers of palm oil who remain unable to trace the origins of their entire supply.

Governments, global policy makers and industry groups meeting in Paris for the UN’s latest round of climate negotiations will need to address both these traceability issues if the ambitious pledges of groups such as the consumer goods forum and global operators like Wilmar and Unilever to eliminate human rights abuses and deforestation from their supply chains are to be taken seriously.