Thursday, October 12, 2017

Greasing the palms with palm-oil

Palm oil is an international commodity. It’s a key ingredient in a wide range of consumer products—foods, cosmetics, soaps, pharmaceuticals, and biofuel. The demand for palm oil is strong. The World Bank has estimated that an additional 28 million metric tons of vegetable oils will have to be produced annually by 2020. Oil palm will be a major contributor to this tonnage. By 2050 palm oil demand is forecast to be 240 million metric tons per annum, nearly twice the tonnage in 2009.  69% of the global palm oil is used by 5 countries China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan predominantly as a form of energy like we use fossil fuels. The rest of the world consumes the other 31% and America consumes 3% of that.
Most global consumption of crude palm oil is from large-scale monoculture plantations that clear large areas of land and plant a single species as a crop. To meet the steep growth in global and domestic demand, the area of land in producer countries now dedicated to large-scale palm oil production has increased dramatically. This expansion has come by clearing extensive areas of native forest, displacing communities, contributing significant levels of green gas emissions, endangering many species and devastating levels of biodiversity. When properly developed and managed, oil palm plantations can play an important role in improving livelihoods and eradicating poverty in rural areas. Yet, assumptions are often made, by consumers and regulators, that large-scale, monoculture, oil palm should be the focus. In the Journal of Environmental Management, an article argues that large-scale oil palm production erodes, rather than contributes to biodiversity conservation and food security
Monoculture plantations are highly homogenized . They disrupt beneficial functions of biodiversity and create impoverished landscapes that isolate wildlife and natural biodiversity functions. Independent smallholders host a diversity and density of trees and understory native flora. These farmers manage multiple age stands of oil palm, and interplant them with other crops and indigenous fruit trees. Their agricultural practices create complex mosaics of small cultivated areas that are integrated with livestock to increase the sources of protein for local consumption. This is polyculture farming. Wildlife visiting polyculture landscapes move easily and depend, occasionally, on resources and habitats inside the smallholdings. In return, elements of biodiversity flourish.
The backbone of global food security in the developing world is agriculture practiced under smallholder farmer-dominated landscapes, not large-scale farming. They are not specialized and dependent on one species, and can switch to alternative crops easily. By contrast, plantation companies with monoculture systems are vulnerable to increasing operational costs and changes in market prices. When times are difficult, they sell agricultural lands for urban development or shift their upstream plantation to countries with cheaper labor costs.
Corporations hold little regard for the millions of animals that are being eliminated when they burn the forest to clear land or for the indiginous families and people that have farmed and used the land for generations to survive. While they may not be rich in dollars, they were rich with their biodiversity and environment which they are stealing from them, and us. We all share the same air, water, and food. If we don't change our ways soon there won't be anything left in 50 years at this rate.
From here