News / Africa

Demand for Palm Oil Fuels Land Conflicts in Africa, Southeast Asia

In southwest Cameroon, forests are razed for a palm oil plantation. (Courtesy Center for Environment and Development Cameroon) In southwest Cameroon, forests are razed for a palm oil plantation. (Courtesy Center for Environment and Development Cameroon)
x
In southwest Cameroon, forests are razed for a palm oil plantation. (Courtesy Center for Environment and Development Cameroon)
In southwest Cameroon, forests are razed for a palm oil plantation. (Courtesy Center for Environment and Development Cameroon)

Multimedia

Audio
Kim Lewis
As the world’s demand for palm oil increases, deforestation and the resulting release of carbon dioxide emissions continue to be a concern.  However, The Forest Peoples Programme, a human rights advocacy organization dedicated to securing the rights of people who live in forests, recently released a report that said the growing global demand for palm oil that is fueling the large-scale expansion of palm oil plantations across the forests of Southeast Asia and Africa,  is also a human rights issue. 

Palm oil has become a lucrative business, said Norman Jiwan, executive director of,  Transformation for Justice Indonesia – TuK INDONESIA, and, co-editor of the report that was released at a press conference in Medan, Indonesia.  He explained that the crop produces a higher yield of edible oil compared to other edible crops, including soy and grape seed.

He also explained that the huge demand for palm oil in the world marketplace has fueled expansive land clearances, and most of this is done illegally, without the consent of the local land owners.

“This mass expansions of palm oil industry in Indonesia has created serious land conflict because of the land grabbing, land clearing without consent from local communities and indigenous peoples.  And the likelihood of local communities and indigenous peoples’ right to food is being threatened because of the massive expansions of the palm oil industry,” said Jiwan.

A United Nations mandate created in 2001 called the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, or RSPO, was designed to bring deforestation under control.  In addition it established clear guidelines for the ethical and ecological production of palm oil that member companies, which represent about 40-percent of the global palm trade, would adhere to.

“It’s really good to have standards on paper, but the question from our human rights perspective is, ‘To what extent these standards are implemented—and properly address the issues of rights of local communities and indigenous peoples?’” said  Jiwan. 

Major expansion of the palm oil industry is also taking place in Africa. The countries involved so far are, Liberia and Cameroon.  There are also plans for production in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ivory Coast. 

Dr. Marcus Colchester is senior policy advisor for the Forest Peoples Programme. 

“Unfortunately, what we are seeing is the same kind of problems as we have already identified in Southeast Asia.  That’s to say the governments are handing out permits to these areas without first talking to communities, without firstly making sure their rights are recognized and secured.  And so, the conflicts are brewing up in these different countries as the companies come in and take over the land and forests of these indigenous peoples, and other local communities,”  explained Colchester.

On the bright side, the senior policy advisor highlighted that member companies of the RSPO have responded to two complaints filed in Liberia with the help of the Forest Peoples Programme.  The companies have agreed to slow down production and - in some areas - to stop production until the land disputes are settled.

“That process is underway, and so it does show to us that there is a value to this procedure --that the RSPO have called a new planting procedure, whereby companies planning to plant, should first announce their plans and then there’s an opportunity for communities or NGO’s to raise concerns.  This should allow problems to be solved in advance of the expansion of the frontier,” said Colchester.

He acknowledged the legal process is a slow process, but still a good sign that progress is being made in taking human rights into consideration along with the environmental concerns.

“What we find through our studies is, the national legal framework is also at fault,  because the governments and the law don’t recognize the land rights of the people.  Therefore the companies are coming in;  the conflicts are proliferating.  So, we’re also calling on the government to reform their national laws to recognize rights,” commented Colchester.

The publication, “Conflict or Consent? The Oil Palm Sector at a Crossroads,” not only documents human rights violations, but hopes to bring added attention to the need for world leaders to include human rights violations in their plans of addressing deforestation and land degradation.

You May Like

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in public More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid