Palm oil expansion threatens the environment

14 April 2015

The threat posed to the Amazon and beyond by expansion of the palm oil business in the Amazon region is highlighted in a recently published report from the international campaigning organisation, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) (http://eia-global.org/images/uploads/EIA_Peru_Palm_Report_APRIL_7.pdf). The EIA is an international campaigning organization founded in 1989, with offices in Washington, D.C. and London, UK. The report is 98 pages in length with a bibliography extending to 800 entries.

Using data and techniques developed by the Carnegie Institution for Science, the report presents evidence tracking areas of forest taken over by companies and claims to document the deforestation over time. The report is careful to qualify its conclusions since it was unable to get from the Peruvian government all the necessary data on the boundaries of specific projects, but the evidence is impressive. The main actors highlighted in the report are the Grupo Romero, the largest Peruvian-owned company, and the Melka Group, a network of twenty-five companies based in Peru. The Melka in question is Dennis Melka, whose main company, United Cacao, is quoted on the London Stock Exchange and based in the Cayman Islands.

The Peruvian government claims to be managing the protection of primary forest while facilitating the expansion of the palm oil business. Two Melka projects (in Loreto and Ucayali, were challenged in August 2014 and 'cautionary measures' (medidas cautelares) initiated to suspend operations – but no action has been taken in either case to halt operations. In February 2015, the Judiciary also suspended approval of four Grupo Romero projects (http://ojo-publico.com/44/el-financista-norteamericano-acusado-de-deforestacion-en-el-peru). However, there are difficulties with the legislation. The EIA report explains that land not yet classified as forest or agricultural or protected, can be assessed according to 'best land use capacity'. But this assessment only considers soil and climatic conditions, not standing trees. Primary forest may thus be depleted if an area is defined as suitable for agricultural production, on the basis of a partial assessment. A Guardian report quotes Greg Asner of the Carnegie Institution, in conversation with their reporter. Commenting on one of the Melka projects, he says: 'The carbon stock values in Tamshiyacu prior to the “deforestation event under investigation” averaged 122 metric tons of carbon per hectare. Such high carbon levels are found only in primary tropical forest in this part of the Amazon basin, so the deforestation event must have removed the kind of tall, intact tropical forest canopy that we normally picture when we think of Amazonia.' (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/apr/07/head-of-london-listed-company-linked-to-illegal-clearing-of-peru-rainforest?CMP=share_btn_fb).

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