Scientific community seeks protection of biodiversity hotspots from palm oil cultivation


The Centre's recently approved Mission on Oil Palm proposing a large scale cultivation in biodiversity rich Andaman & Nicobar Islands and the North East has been flayed by the All India Peoples' Science Network (AIPSN).

The members have described the plan as ill-conceived given its ecologically damaging focus. Madurai-based AIPSN general secretary P. Rajamanickam said such substantial expansion plan requires research and evidence-based locale-specific information before implementing it in ecologically sensitive areas. “The government is pushing a political decision rather than being guided by scientific opinion,” he said.

The mission seeks to reduce edible oil imports and boost domestic production, supposedly benefiting farmers and processing industries, by bringing an additional 6.5 lakh hectares (ha) under oil palm by 2025-26. This is likely to increase the production of crude palm oil to 1.12 million tonnes by 2025-26 and 2.8 million tonnes by 2029-30.

But the scientific community has pointed out that oil palm plantations are the major driver of biodiversity losses and damage to endangered and vulnerable species. It has reminded the government of the earlier Oil Palm plantation in Andamans in the mid 1970s which saw the displacement of many of India’s last remaining isolated, endangered and indigenous tribes such as the Jarawa and Onge.

In the NE, while government spokespersons claim that plantation will take place only in lands identified for agriculture, Mr.Rajamanickam said, past experience shows that given shortage of cultivable land, fresh plantations would inevitably lead to deforestation or conversion of forest fringe areas. It will mean encroachment into forest lands and subsequent deforestation as witnessed earlier.

There are several other impacts of extensive Oil Palm cultivation in tropical forest regions as well. These include greenhouse gas emissions related to deforestation or land use change, negative impact on sub-soil water and water quality, invasive species associated with oil palm and pest spillover effects. It is for these dangers, the AIPSN has called for re-imagining and re-casting of goals of domestic oil production by focussing on other oil seeds such as groundnut, soyabean and mustard.

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Printable version | Oct 19, 2021 11:42:07 AM |

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