Farmers sneer at Aquino plan for palm-oil production

  • 5 November 2015, Thursday

Source: BusinessMirror
4 Nov 2015

FARMERS in Mindanao, Palawan and other areas are aghast at the Aquino administration’s road map for palm-oil production, which would allot 8 million hectares out of 30 million hectares of Philippine territory for the benefit of Singaporean, Indonesian and Malaysian investors.

Leading the opposition to the Aquino plan is the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), which disclosed that the 127,000 forest fires that have ravaging the Indonesian countryside in Sumatra and Kalimantan were deliberately lit to clear the forests for palm-oil cultivation.

Quoting reports from the World Resources Institute  issued on October 29, the KMP said carbon-dioxide emissions owing to these forest fires have already reached 1.62 billion metric tons (MT), pushing Indonesia, originally the sixth-worst global polluter, to become the fourth-worst, bumping off Russia in just six weeks.

KMP also noted the resistance of the Higaonon indigenous people to the palm-oil plantation in Impasug-ong, Bukidnon, the biggest town in the province, which would intrude into the watershed and a protected area.

A study conducted by Jose Hermis Patricio on the viability of palm-oil plantation in the town for the Southeast Asian Region Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture  showed a 4,000-hectare palm oil cultivation would threaten hardwoods in the area.

“The results of soil, topographic and climatic assessments suggest that oil palm is generally suitable in the proposed project area,” Patricio said. “However, plantation sites with more than 26 percent slopes are considered as not favorable, while areas with 21 percent slopes are marginally suitable and those with more than 37 percent are not at all suitable for growing palm oil.”

KMP slammed Environment Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje for promising to expand palm oil plantations all over the country even as millions of landless tenants have yet to own a square inch of the land that they till.

The 8-million hectare figure for palm oil is double the area for rice production, KMP argued as it expressed surprise from what magic hat the land would come from.

Even the legislated 400,000 hectares for organic rice farming has not been produced and developed by both the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the group stressed.

In August Malaysia sponsored a palm oil fair and seminar in Makati City with the participation of A. Brown Energy and Resources Development Inc. (Aberdi), which operates the Impasug-ong plantation and plantations in barangays Bagocboc and Tingalan in Opol, Misamis Oriental, that were originally covered by a reforestation permit in 1998, but were eventually transformed into palm oil plantations by the company.

Aberdi has been accused of murdering Higaonon residents and taking over their properties that are well within in their ancestral domain, prompting Datu Jomorito Goaynon, leader of the tribal group Kalumbay, to seek a congressional investigation into the company alleged illegal takeovers and ownership of land beyond what the 1987 Constitution permits.

However, KMP said, palm-oil backers, apart from the DA, the DENR and former Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization  Francis Pangilinan, have claimed that the plantations are a boost to the economy and provide the country with much-needed inferior quality vegetable oil.

KMP argued that palm oil is not even considered premium vegetable oil since it is but a cheaper substitute to the more healthy vegetable and olive oils, claiming in the process that what is touted palm oil is actually combined with coconut oil to become more acceptable in the world market.

On the other hand, Pablito P. Pamplona of Philippine Palm Oil Development Council Inc. claimed the country imported 500,750 MT of palm oil worth P27.50 billion in 2012 and is projected to import 1 million metric tons valued at P54.50 billion in 2017.

However, data from Global Forest Watch (GFW) show that expansion of plantations is not the best thing that could happen to Palawan, which is now host to 6,240 hectares of palm oil trees.

GFW said Palawan lost 64,000 hectares of tree cover from 2001 through 2012—representing more than 6 percent of its forests—and logging, mining and palm-oil plantations are to blame.

Malaysia and Indonesia have cultivated 15 million hectares of palm oil and they now control 85 percent of world supply and both have been egging to push the Philippines to provide them with more for palm oil.

The Philippine Coconut Authority’s (PCA) 2014 to 2023 road map for palm showed that at least 56,641 hectares of land will be developed for palm oil and 1 million hectares will be added by 2023 until the country meets its 8-million hectare target.

KMP said the problems raised by the people of Opol, Misamis Oriental, and Impasug-ong, Bukidnon, as well as by the people of Palawan, indicate that palm oil is not a silver bullet to solve employment and poverty issues.

On both counts, the local residents claimed they have been cheated, with the Hiagaono losing control of their traditional domain and the people in Palawan ending up losing their land secured under the agrarian reform program through a deal with a Singaporean company that owns 60 percent of a palm oil venture Agumil Philippines Inc. (Agumil), that the Land Bank of the Philippines (LandBank), the DENR and the PCA supported in 2007.

Instead of becoming partners, the complaining Palawan farmers denounced Agumil for transforming them into serfs subjected to onerous contracts that LandBank, the DENR and PCA had supported.