Today, oil palm is cultivated in 43 countries throughout Africa, Asia, North America, and South America, with 85% of all palm oil globally produced and exported from Indonesia and Malaysia; followed at long distance by Nigeria, Thailand, Colombia, Papua New Guinea, Ivory Coast and Ecuador. World production has increased with 65% since 1995, but Indonesian is even growing much stronger (114%). The largest markets for palm oil are found in the Black Sea region, namely Russia, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine. The U.S. is the sixth largest importer of palm oil, following China, India, Europe, Pakistan and Malaysia (USDA).
Palm oil development is dominated by private corporations in the main producing countries. Recent mergers and acquisitions have resulted in the emergence of several mega plantation companies, such as Sime Darby Berhad and Wilmar International Ltd.
Wilmar International Limited, founded in 1991 and headquartered in Singapore, is Asia’s largest agribusiness group today and is present not only in Indonesia but in more than 50 countries. Wilmar also owns oil palm plantations in Ghana and through joint ventures, owns plantations in Uganda and West Africa. Wilmar runs processing plants in China, the Netherlands, Germany, Holland, France, Belgium, Vietnam, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, the USA, South Africa and Ghana. Through joint ventures, Wilmar also has interests in processing plants in India, Bangladesh, Russia, Ukraine, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
According to Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria (AGRA), Indonesia is hosting 25 oil palm companies led by Wilmar and Sinar Mas that controls 29 million hectares. Giant oil palm companies deliberately burn the forests to expand their territories under their concessions for oil palm, paper and pulp for more revenues. The biggest source of fire is from the concession areas of Sinar Mas Group.
In Malaysia, in 2011, the total area planted with oil palm was 4.917 million hectares and their export of palm oil rose is 17.99 million tonnes. In 2013, Thailand produced 2.0 million tonnes of crude palm oil on roughly 626 thousand hectares. By 2029, oil palm plantation areas will reach 10 million rai (1.6 million hectares). According to the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Peasant Movement of the Philippines-KMP), there are 8 oil palm companies that controls 56,641 hectares. The government is targeting to increase palm oil production areas to 353,000 hectares in 2023 and 1M hectares possibly in 2025.
In India, oil palm is cultivated in more than 15 states covering 50,000 hectares. Major oil palm production is in Andra Pradesh, Kartanaka, Assam, Kerala, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Mahashtra, Tripura, West Bengal and some areas of Andaman. In southern part of Sri Lanka, after more than three decades, oil palm cultivation has spread over 10,000 acres (more than 4 hectares). The Watawala, Namunukula, Agalawatta and Elpitiya are the four companies involved in oil palm plantations, which are distributed mainly in the Galle District. In Pakistan, in 2014 the government started its process of negotiations with Federal Land Development Authority of Malaysia to initiate large-scale oil palm plantation in coastal areas of Sindh and Balochistan targeting more than 16,000 acres (more than 6 hectares) of land.
Unfortunately, governments in Asia allowed the willful plunder of ancestral lands and natural resources for corporate oil palm plantations in collaboration with the local landlords. In mid-1990s in Malaysia, an alternative land development scheme called Konsep Baru (New Concept) was launched by the government for the ‘development’ of oil palm plantations on Native Customary Rights (NCR) land. From 1995, the Indonesian government introduced the KKPA (Koperasi Kredit Primer Angota) scheme which eventually replaced the PIR schemes. Under the KKPA scheme, 193,000 ha of plasma areas and 79,000 ha of nucleus estates were developed between 1995 and 2000 (Rosediana Suharto, 2009). In the Philippines, the government, through the Philippine Palm Oil Development Council (PPDCI), the Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) as well as government banks have practically legalized dispossession and violation of farmers and indigenous people’s land rights through onerous agribusiness venture agreements (AVAs) under the defunct Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and Community Based Forest Management (CBFM) contracts delegated to oil palm production.
The World Bank (WB) and the International Finance Institutions (IFIs) have, since 1965 and 1976 respectively, invested in and supported the so-called development of the palm oil industry in Latin America, Africa and Asia Pacific especially in Cameroon, Nigeria, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. The WB and the IFIs, engagement in the investment ensured that all governments and private investors adjusted their Environmental and Social policies and processes to adhere to serve the WB and IFIs interests. A total of 54 financial institutions from eight other East Asian countries invested US$ 1.2 billion, but the 42 financial institutions from eight European countries took the largest share (36.5%) by contributing US$ 1.4 billion.
Aside from land grabbing, the palm oil industry is also linked to major human rights violations, including child labour in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Sierra Lone. In Asia, especially in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand, the farmers, agricultural workers, mill workers and indigenous peoples bear the impact of the expansion of oil palm plantations. Indonesia and Malaysia employ over 3.5 million documented workers and both countries confirmed to use forced or child labour in palm oil production (Accenture). There are an estimated 60,000 stateless children in the Malaysian state of Sabah alone. Women and child workers are exposed to precarious work especially with the widespread use of banned and hazardous pesticides.
The palm oil industry is really aggressive. The issue is urgent. The good news is there is strong resistance from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines led by peasant movements. There is really no substitute to resistance from the peasant movement.
Through the “Stop Oil Palm Plantations!” campaign, the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) will build on these struggles and victories by launching regionally-coordinated actions and activities to further expose and oppose the palm oil industry. Our struggle is legitimate and just.
Let us advance the struggle not only to halt the expansion of oil palm plantations but more importantly to take back the lands that rightfully belong to the farmers, farm workers and indigenous peoples. Let us resolutely uphold the democratic and fundamental rights of the farmers, workers and indigenous peoples. #