Oil Palm Expansion: A New Threat to Palawan UNESCO Man and Bioshere Reserve

01 December 2010 | News story
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A field update from CEESP members in the the ALDAW Network (Ancestral Land/Domain Watch) In addition to the alarming expansion of nickel mining on Palawan island (already reported on previous CEESP NEWS releases) indigenous peoples are now being confronted with the threats posed by the expansion of oil palm plantations.

The province of Palawan is part of the “Man and Biosphere Reserve” program of UNESCO and hosts 49 animals and 56 botanical species found in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is also the home of isolated and vanishing indigenous communities.

Agrofuels in Palawan, as elsewhere in the Philippines, have been portrayed as a key solution to lower greenhouse gas emission, achieve energy independence, as well as a tool for poverty eradication. With these objects in mind, the Provincial Government of Palawan is strongly promoting agrofuels development, without taking into account the socio-ecological impact of such mono-crop plantations. As a result, thousands of hectares of lands in the province have been set aside for jatropha feedstock and oil palm.

Oil palm plantations, in Palawan, are being established by the Agumil Philippines Inc., a joint venture between Filipino and Malaysian investors, that also engages in the processing of palm oil. The LandBank of the Philippines is backing the project financially.

The local indigenous network ALDAW (Ancestral Land Domain Watch), in collaboration with other local organizations and Palawan NGOs, is making a call for the implementation of more restrictive regulations on oil palm expansion to halt deforestation, habitat destruction, food scarcity, and violation of indigenous peoples' rights. In addition to this, oil palm plantations are also expanding into the indigenous fallow land (benglay), thus reducing the number of rotational areas needed for the swidden cycle. As of now, the Palawan municipality of Española has the highest percentage of oil palms, and plantations are fast expanding also to other municipalities such as Brooke's Point, Bataraza, Rizal, Quezon, etc. In some municipalities, oil palms are already competing and taking over cultivated areas (e.g. rice fields), which are sustaining local self-sufficiency.

“LandBank's contribution to President Aquino's commitment to develop the rural economy and to raise farmers' income should not include oil palms development. It is well known that this crop benefits better-off farmers and entrepreneurs, rather then small-scale farmers and indigenous peoples. We look forward to more sustainable investments for improving agricultural productivity of marginalized farmers. Meanwhile, a moratorium on oil palm expansion should be implemented with haste” said Artiso Mandawa, ALDAW Chairman.

In the community of Iraray II (Municipality of Española) indigenous people complain that a ‘new' pest has spread from the neighboring oil palm plantations to their cultivated fields devouring hundreds of coconut palms by boring large networks of tiny tunnels into the palms' trunks. Local indigenous people showed specimens of this pest to ALDAW mission members, and the insect was later identified as the Red Palm Weevil (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus). The red weevil is reported to be a native of south Asia, however, the Palawan of Iraray II claims that they only began to experience massive pest attacks on their coconut groves, after oil palms were introduced into the area at the expense of the local population of buri palms (Corypha elata). The latter is a popular basketry material for both the local Palawan and farmer communities. The trunk of this palm contains edible starch. The bud (ubud) is also edible raw or cooked, as well as the kernels of the nuts.

ALDAW preliminary findings, obtained in collaboration with the Centre for Biocultural Diversity (CBCD) – University of Kent, indicate there is a scarcity of public records showing the processes and procedures leading to the issuance of land conversion permits and environmental clearances to oil palm companies, as well as to the local cooperatives created in the various barangays. Moreover, ALDAW is also in the process of mapping all oil palm locations in Palawan, through the use of geotagging technologies. Evidence indicates that – in most cases - members of indigenous communities, who have ‘rented' portions of their land to the oil company, have no clear understanding of the nature of such ‘agreements' nor they possess written contracts countersigned by the company. There is a risk that members of local communities who have joined the so-called ‘cooperatives' will soon become indebted with the oil company. In fact they provide very cheap labor and also barrow funds to purchase fertilizer, pesticides and equipment, while the company control every aspect of production.

Overall, it would appear that land conversion into oil palm plantations is happening with little or no monitoring on the part of those government agencies (e.g. Palawan Council for Sustainable Development) that are responsible for the sustainable management of the Province.

The new trend in the Philippine Market: switching from coconut to palm oil

There is a new trend in the Philippines, leading to the acceleration of oil palm expansion. National vegetable oil millers and refiners are now keen on selling the cheaper palm oil for the domestic market, so that all coconut oil would be exported. Coconut oil, in fact, commands a higher premium in the international market. However, contrary to oil palms, coconut cultivation is endemic to the Philippines and this palm provides multiple products to local farmers, thus sustaining household based economy.

Since 2005, cooking oil manufacturers have increased imports of the cheap palm oil by 90 percent. The use of the palm oil has progressively increased in the local market as household consumers and institutional buyers have preferred it because of the price difference compared with edible coconut oil.

Fast-food giants such as Jollibee Foods Corp., have switched to palm oil for their business.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

And address your concerns to:

Honorable Governor of Palawan

Palawan Project Manager

  • Agumil Philippines, Inc
  • Agusan Plantations Group. Fax 0063 323444884
  • Mrs. Gilda E. Pico, President and CEO, Land Bank of the Philippines
  • landbank@mail.landbank.com
  • Fax: 0063 2 528-8580

or contact the ALDAW Network (Ancestral Land/Domain Watch) aldawnetwork@gmail.com


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