The struggle of the Shipibo community of Santa Clara de Uchunya against the expansion of oil palm

In the territory of the Shipibo people of the Peruvian Amazon, the community of Santa Clara de Uchunya are facing the devastation of their ancestral forests and rivers. This is due to the expansion of a palm oil plantation operated by Plantaciones de Pucallpa S.A.C, a member of the Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and an international agribusiness group known in Peru as the ‘Melka group'.

By August 2015 over 5000 hectares of their forests had been destroyed to make way for oil palm and those who protest face death threats and intimidation. Despite suspension orders from the Ministry of Agriculture, widespread condemnation from civil society and Peruvian government forest and agricultural ministries and a stop work order from the RSPO, the operations continue.

The case reveals broader issues that expose the weaknesses in Peru’s legal and policy framework that regulate forest governance and indigenous land tenure as well as its capacity to address these issues. For a start, the oil palm company has exploited the long standing failure by the Peruvian government to issue legal title over their customary lands to the community of Santa Clara de Uchunya as it is obliged to do so under its human rights commitments.

The case of Santa Clara de Uchunya is emblematic of ongoing land struggles and insecure tenure facing over 1,200 communities in the Peruvian Amazon whose application for land title remains unrecognised. The case further reveals gaping loopholes and ambiguities in Peru’s regulatory regime governing the conversion of primary forest to agricultural use and the relationship between national and regional government agencies. These lessons should be heeded in particular by those international donors and agencies seeking to support Peru’s national forest protection strategies which commit the country to zero net deforestation by 2020 and recognition and respect of indigenous land rights.

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