Oil palm expansion puts forest, communities at risk

26 January 2019

Communities in Loreto and Ucayali regions stand firm in their opposition to the expansion of large-scale oil palm plantations which, they say, violate their land rights. They have sought international help.

Despite official development efforts to boost home-grown African oil palm over the last two or three decades, Peru still imports most of its needs for vegetable oil. Existing mono-crop plantations in Ucayali and Loreto can be as large as 10,000 hectares or more, and collectively they amount to some 80,000 hectares of clear-felled forest, including more limited extensions of cacao.

According to Oxfam, over the next ten years, industrial producers hope to triple the land under single-crop plantations to 240,000 hectares, mostly oil palm. This is in spite of strong political opposition (malpractice has stigmatised the planting of oil palm) and in stark disregard of Peru’s international commitment to zero deforestation by 2020. 

Oil palm was designed initially as a smallholder activity back in the 1960s, and subsequently it became a central plank of crop substitution efforts to reduce coca acreages in the Huallaga and Ucayali valleys. More recently, it has given way to large-scale plantations, often at the expense of the land rights of both small-scale former migrants and indigenous communities.

The legal and cadastral processes of land concentration have fostered corruption and coercion (with deaths resulting) and have further inflamed opposition. The clear-felling of the ancestral territory of a Shipibo people has triggered an international campaign, involving the industry’s trade body, the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). 

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