8M ha eyed for oil palm plantations

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Philippine Daily Inquirer | 26 May 2014
Environment Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje. (Photo: AFP)

8M ha eyed for oil palm plantations

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines—Environment Secretary Ramon Paje on Wednesday proposed the conversion of some 8 million hectares of idle, denuded and unproductive lands across the country into oil palm plantations.

Paje, who attended the launching of the Mindanao Barangay StraTreegic Forest Project (BSFP) here, said the country was losing P800 billion each year in production opportunities because of lands that are left idle.

He said the prospects of generating more cash out of these idle lands could be gleaned from the Indonesian example.

Indonesia, which has only 6 million ha of land planted with palm, makes $50 billion each year from the oil palm industry.

“That is almost the same as our national budget,” Paje said.

Paje said that if the plans pushed through, the country would earn more than Indonesia out of oil palm plantations.

Opposition

But Paje’s proposal was met with opposition here.

For Orlando Ravanera, Cooperative Development Authority regional director and environmentalist, food security and ecological integrity should be the government’s focus.

Ravanera said converting idle and denuded lands into palm plantations was not consistent with programs on food security and ecological integrity that the BSFP is aiming for.

“Land should be used for food security, not for biofuel,” Ravanera said.

Ravanera said the government should make sure that the people have sufficient food and, to achieve this, land use is essential.

Cagayan de Oro Bishop Melmar Labuntog, of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines and chair of the group Panalipdan Mindanao (Defend Mindanao), said that if there were idle lands, these should not be used for palm but for crops that can feed the country.

Labuntog said that instead of planting oil palm on denuded forests, for example, reforestation should be undertaken to ensure ecological balance that would help farmers yield more harvests.

Ravanera said one factor in decreasing food production levels was the failure of logging companies to replant as agreed upon and the continued operation of illegal loggers.

He urged Paje to strictly implement environmental laws and said reforestation is a must.

“The DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) should reforest the land and not plant palm. That is the mandate of the DENR,” Ravanera said.

Investment magnet

Oil palm is considered to have the highest oil content among oil-producing plants, including coconut and olive. Its high yield drives the development of oil palm industries worldwide. Palm oil is used in several food products, such as cookies, crackers and pastries.

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KMP | 26 May 2014

Farmers hit DENR exec’s public auction of 8M ha for oil palm

Widespread land-grab, plunging copra prices feared over DENR execs oil palm project

The militant peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and Coco Levy Funds Ibalik sa Amin (CLAIM) today expressed alarm over Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje’s proposal to convert 8 million hectares of idle lands into oil palm plantations warning that the proposal would lead to “widespread land-grabbing and displacement of farmers.”

The KMP issued the statement after recent reports quoted Paje saying that “the country was losing P800 billion each year in production opportunities because of lands that are left idle and proposed the conversion of some 8 million hectares of idle, denuded and unproductive lands across the country into oil palm plantations.”

“It appears that Paje, with the blessings of President Aquino himself, is auctioning off eight million hectares of land to local and foreign agribusiness for oil palm plantation projects. It’s a public notice to oil palm giants like MVP and Danding that 8 million hectares is for sale,” says KMP chairperson Rafael Mariano.

The KMP leader was referring to Manuel V. Pangilinan’s First Pacific whose Indofood is reportedly eyeing 30,000 hectares for in Davao Oriental for an oil palm plantation. On the other hand, Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco’s San Miguel Corp. and partner Kuok, the largest listed palm oil trader, reportedly signed an agreement to invest $1,000 per hectare to plant coconut, oil palm, rice, and sugar.

“Eight million hectares is nearly a third of the country’s total land area and is almost equal the target of the bogus comprehensive agrarian reform program (CARP) that is 8.1 million hectares. Paje’s public auction also shows that after 26 years, the sham CARP failed in distributing lands to landless farmers,” the peasant leader said.

Mariano warned that Secretary Paje’s proposal “would lead to widespread and chaotic land-grabbing” as this would target not only so-called idle and unproductive but productive agricultural lands occupied by farmers.

“Land-grabbers do not choose between unproductive and productive, occupied or not,” he said.

“Currently, hundreds of thousands of productive agricultural lands occupied by farmers were grabbed and converted to various projects like real estate, tourism, so-called renewable energy projects, and agribusiness plantations,” Mariano said noting “that from 2006-2010, according to the National Irrigation Administration, 165,000 hectares of irrigated rice lands have been converted yearly for other uses.”

“In fact, in just a stroke of his hand, the landlord President can declare big chunks of productive lands into so-called idle and unproductive lands just to attract foreign investments,” the former Anakpawis lawmaker said.

Aside from land-grabbing, small coconut farmers also smell bad news from the impact of large-scale oil palm production proposed by the Aquino administration.
 
“Paje’s proposal will drastically affect the coconut industry, from the plunging of copra prices, massive decline in production, up to the displacement of coconut farmers,” says CLAIM-Quezon Arvin Borromeo.

Borromeo said that “instead of helping coconut farmers in the wake of an anticipated sharp decline in coconut production due to typhoon Yolanda, the Aquino government is pushing small coconut farmers to further landlessness and poverty.”

“The government’s sell-out of lands to foreign agribusinesses clearly shows that the Filipino peasantry cannot expect anything from Aquino’s haciendero government,” Borromeo said. #

Indonesia and Malaysia are considered the world’s top producers of palm oil.—Bobby Lagsa, Inquirer Mindanao, and Rafael Antonio, Inquirer Research
Original source: Inquirer
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