“The forest is our children's future. Oil palm plantations only make us poor.”
“The spreading oil palm plantations are a tragedy 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 policy makers, 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. The rivers provide them with clean water. They need their ancestral land to live.
“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 tell today the authorities of the Philippines to urgently stop oil palm expansion and safeguard indigenous peoples’ rights.
Start of campaign: May 6, 2013
The Philippine island province of Palawan is a UNESCO Man & Biosphere Reserve, while the province of Mindanao also has areas of precious rainforest left.
Palm oil booms
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 after land grabbing, 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 a key solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, achieving energy independence and eradicating poverty. The experience with palm oil in the Philippines (as elsewhere) shows 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 larger part because the EU now burns most of its rapeseed oil as biofuels, therefore food, soap and cosmetics companies are buying far more palm instead of rapeseed oil.
In the Philippines, coconut oil has traditionally been used for cooking and coconut palmsprovide 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 keen on exporting 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, too, 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 are being targeted for conversion into oil palms, and another 20,000 hectares have been set aside, for the same purpose, in Palawan (a UNESCO Man & Biosphere Reserve). Additionally, one million hectares of land in Mindanao are being considered for conversion to oil palms 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 being carried out by the Palawan Palm & Vegetable Oil Mills Inc. and its sister company, Agumil Philippines Inc. Both companies have been established through joint ventures between Philippine, Singaporean and Malaysian investors. „We are prisoners on our own land”, complains Artiso Mandawa and is not only speaking about communities’ financial dependence on the oil palm industry: “New pests have spread from neighbouring oil palm plantations to our farmlands, destroying thousands of coconut palms which our parents and grandparents once planted, as well as other food-crops. Working conditions on oil palm plantations are exploitative and child labour (boys below 18) is rampant“. Furthermore, according to the ALDAW spokesperson, oil palm plantations are often surrounded by fences and guarded by local 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 palms has involved human rights violations of the local indigenous Higaonon peoples. Those include illegal arrests and farmers being held at gun point while personnel of the oil palm firm A. Brown Company, Inc destroyed their crops. Indigenous communities have also suffered harassment and death threats and seen their houses burned down. On October 2012, the escalation of violence towards the opponents of oil palm projects has led to the extra-judicial killing of Gilbert Paborada, an indigenous Higaonon activist.
Overall, the self-sufficiency and cultural integrity of entire communities is now being jeopardized.
Rainforest Rescue has been supporting the ALDAW network since 2010, first in their campaign against mining and now also in campaigning 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 organisation in Palawan, is in the process of mapping all palm oil locations in Palawan, through the use of geotagging technologies. Geotagging is the process of associating photos with specific geographic locations using GPS coordinates. The geo-tagged images of palm oil plantations have been loaded into a geo-aware application and displayed on satellite Google map. The actual ‘matching’ of GPS data to photographs has revealed the overlapping between palm oil plantations and land previously used by communities for different livelihood purposes.
Please see detailed information in the following report by ALDAW, with the support of Rainforest Rescue