Oxfam report into palm oil deforestation
15 February 2016
Palm oil plantations in the Amazon jungle of Peru are fast expanding at the expense of primary rain forest according to a new report produced by Oxfam. Medium-sized and large-scale producers are moving in on regions like Ucayali, taking advantage of the lack of clarity in existing legislation and the institutional weaknesses of the state on the ground.
In previous PSG articles we have drawn attention to the activities of specific companies, such as the UK registered Plantaciones Pucallpa. However, this is not just a question of a few such operations, but a tide of development that puts at risk not just primary forest but endangers the livelihoods of the indigenous peoples living in this part of the country.
The reasons for the boom in palm oil production are not hard to find. World demand for the products derived from palm oil (including biofuels) remains buoyant. Traditional areas of production, like south-east Asia, are constrained in terms of the land available for cultivation. The soils and climate of this part of Amazonia are appropriate, and decentralisation of decision making in Peru has given increased influence to local elites keen to profit from this growing trade. Improvements in road infrastructure in the Amazon region also make it easier for firms to extract and market palm oil.
Peru is still a fairly small player in the league of palm oil producers. At the global level, the two ‘giants’ in the business are Indonesia and Malaysia. Peru also lags behind other major Latin American producers like Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador. However, conditions exist for a rapid increase in what is essentially a mono-cultivation that threatens the rich biodiversity of the Amazon jungle. Some of the new entrants into the market have a past in Malaysia; for this reason they (including Plantaciones Pucallpa whose boss is the Czech-born, US citizen Dennis Melka) are known as the ‘Malayos’.
Oxfam acknowledges improvements in forestry legislation in Peru, but points to recent government moves (designed to attract foreign investment) that undermine moves towards planned land use (ordenamiento territorial) in the Amazon. These also reduce the penalties for non-observance of land-use rules.
As a priority, Oxfam urges the authorities to resume policies to rationalise land-use in agreement with all of those living in the areas concerned. It demands improving, not reducing, compliance with the rules and regulations applicable to agroindustrial development. An immediate task is to map and classify land by the uses to which it can be put.