Our ancestral land is worth more than palm oil

Two indigenous women with their children look worried“The forest is our children's future. Oil palm plantations only make us poor.”

“The spreading oil palm plantations are a disaster for us. They are destroying our ancestral lands and forests and are leaving us destitute,” explained Artiso Mandawa of the ALDAW indigenous network on Palawan.

At present, Philippine oil palm plantations cover an area of 50,000 hectares. Another 40,000 hectares of land have been targeted and are now being cleared in Mindanao and Palawan, allegedly for the purpose of eradicating poverty while reducing edible oil imports. In the eyes of policymakers, the earmarked land is “unused” or “underdeveloped”.

However, the government plans neglect to mention that the “unused” land belongs to small farmers and indigenous peoples who live there, grow rice and vegetables, and gather fruits, medicinal plants and building materials in the neighboring forests.

“When they take our land, leave our families to starve and violate our rights, we have no choice but to fight,” explained Rubenson Batuto, a member of the Higaonon tribe of Mindanao. “As an indigenous people, we have a right to our land, even if we have been denied it to this very day.”

Thanks to their sustainable way of life, the indigenous tribes have preserved the unique biodiversity of their ancestral lands. The rainforests and mangroves are home to 49 animal and 56 plant species threatened with extinction. These include the Philippine crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis), the Palawan peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron Napoleonis) and swallowtail butterfly (Graphium megaera). In 1990, the UNESCO declared the entire island of Palawan to be a Man and Biosphere Reserve.

Please call on the Philippine authorities to stop the expansion of oil palm plantations immediately and safeguard indigenous peoples’ rights.

Start of campaign: May 6, 2013

 

The Philippine island province of Palawan is a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve, while the province of Mindanao also has areas of precious rainforest left.

Palm oil is booming

Palm oil is used for biofuels, food production, soap and chemicals. Palm oil production and the global palm oil trade are booming. Globally, the expansion of oil palm has been possible only through land grabs, land conversion, and rapid deforestation. Displaced farmers and indigenous peoples are forced to become poorly paid agricultural workers on oil palm plantations – if they can find employment at all. Oil palm expansion has brought about increased hunger and poverty while benefitting only a few private corporate interest groups.

Biofuels have been falsely portrayed as the answer to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, achieving energy independence and eradicating poverty. The experience with palm oil in the Philippines and elsewhere has shown that the very opposite is true. European biofuel policies have greatly increased the global demand for palm oil – partly because palm oil is part of the biofuel mix, but to a greater extent because the EU now burns most of its rapeseed oil as biofuel. Food, soap and cosmetics companies are therefore buying far more palm oil to replace the rapeseed oil.

In the Philippines, coconut oil has traditionally been used for cooking, and coconut palms provide many different products and uses for local farmers, thus helping to sustain the rural economy. On the global markets, coconut oil is being sold at a higher price than palm oil. Philippine vegetable oil millers and refiners are therefore eager to export it while selling the cheaper palm oil on the domestic food market. However, in the longer term, the Philippine government is hoping for the country to become a major exporter of palm oil as well, thus taking advantage of the rising global palm oil demand and prices spurred by EU biofuels policy.

Currently, in Northern Mindanao alone, 20,000 hectares of agricultural land have been staked out for conversion into oil palm plantations, and another 20,000 hectares have been set aside, for the same purpose, in Palawan (a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve). Additionally, one million hectares of land in Mindanao are being considered for conversion to oil palm plantations by Malaysian investors, much of it part of one of Asia’s largest wetlands.

Human rights violations, social and environmental problems with oil palm plantations

Most oil palm operations in Palawan are managed by the Palawan Palm & Vegetable Oil Mills Inc. and its sister company, Agumil Philippines Inc. Both companies were established as joint ventures of Philippine, Singaporean and Malaysian investors. "We are prisoners on our own land", complains Artiso Mandawa, by which he not only means the communities’ financial dependence on the palm oil industry: "New pests have spread from neighboring oil palm plantations to our farmlands, destroying thousands of coconut palms that our parents and grandparents once planted, as well as other food crops. Working conditions on oil palm plantations are exploitative and child labor (boys below 18) is rampant." Furthermore, according to the ALDAW spokesperson, oil palm plantations are often surrounded by fences and guarded by local security personnel. As a result, indigenous people have to walk long distances to reach their own upland fields and forests.

At the same time, in Mindanao, land grabbing for oil palm plantations has involved human rights violations of the local indigenous Higaonon peoples. Those include illegal arrests and farmers being held at gunpoint while A. Brown Company, Inc. workers destroyed their crops. Indigenous communities have also suffered harassment and death threats and had their houses burned down. In October 2012, the escalation of violence toward the opponents of oil palm projects culminated in the killing of Gilbert Paborada, an indigenous Higaonon activist.

Overall, the self-sufficiency and cultural integrity of entire communities is now being jeopardized.

Rainforest Rescue

Rainforest Rescue has been supporting the ALDAW network since 2010, first in their campaign against mining and now also against oil palm plantations. Our previous petition to UNESCO led the UNESCO General Secretary, Irina Bukova, to demand an investigation from the responsible Philippine commission.

Mapping palm oil

ALDAW, our partner organization in Palawan, is currently mapping all oil palm locations in Palawan using geotagging, a process of associating photos with specific geographic locations using GPS coordinates. The geotagged images of oil palm plantations have been loaded into a geo-aware application and displayed on a Google Maps satellite view. The matching of GPS data to photographs reveals the overlap of oil palm plantations and land previously used by indigenous communities for their livelihood.

For detailed information, please see the following report produced by ALDAW with the support of Rainforest Rescue.

The
 Palawan 
Oil
 Palm
 Geotagged
 Report
 2013
 Part I - The 
environmental 
and
 social 
impact
 of 
oil
 palm
 expansion on

 Palawan
 UNESCO 
Man 
& 
Biosphere
 Reserve
 (The Philippines)

The
 Palawan 
Oil
 Palm
 Geotagged
 Report
 2013
 Part IISamples 
of 
geocoded 
photos
 of
 oil 
palm 
locations
 and 
impacted
 areas