A GLOBAL study conducted by The Munden Project covering 73,000 farming, mining, logging and oil concessions in the Philippines and seven other tropical countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America showed that 93 percent of them are in land inhabited by indigenous peoples and local settlers.
The report titled “Communities as Counterparties: Preliminary Review of Concessions and Conflict in Emerging and Frontier Markets [EFMs]” was released in Lima, Peru, on October 30.
Rights and Resources Initiative also held what it called a “Dialogue on Forests, Governance and Climate Change” under the theme “Investment, Communities and Climate Change: Risks and Opportunities” in Lima.
The analysis was commissioned by the RRI, which seeks to forestall bloody confrontations in EFMs between large multinational farming, mining, gas and oil and timber corporations.
Worse, the research showed, both the government and the private sector have been turning over huge swathes of land to large agribusiness companies, mining, logging and oil-and gas-drilling corporations.
In the case of the Philippines, the dispute over the Tampakan Copper-Gold Project covering 9,400 hectares of land stretching from Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato, Sarangani and Davao del Sur in Mindanao had led to several deaths.
Violence has also attended the oil-palm plantation project in Impasugong, Bukidnon, the biggest town in the province, as indigenous communities opposed the project.
John Hermis P. Patricio, a doctoral student at the University of the Philippines Los Baños, argued against the establishment of more oil-palm (Elaeis guineensis Jacq.) plantations and refineries in forested areas in the wake of the keen interest shown by a private company to exploit 4,000 hectares in Impasugong, Bukidnon, from as early as 2004.
Patricio eventually secured his doctoral degree after his paper, “Discovering New Roads to Development: The Environment Resource Management Connection,” was published by the Southeast Asian Research Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture.
Patricio, who is with the College of Forestry of the Central Mindanao University, University Town, Musuan, Bukidnon, said extreme care must be undertaken in implementing the project, noting that the general area where the plantation is situated is inhabited by the Higaonon, a minority group whose members had opposed another oil-palm venture in Opol, Misamis Oriental.
The company interested in the Bukinon venture is A. Brown Energy and Development Inc., the same firm that was pushing the Opol, Misamis Oriental project.
Searca Director Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit Jr. said the study is significant since it covers the issue of ancestral domain, the need for economic development and the pressure on existing primary forests in the hills of Bukidnon, which is generally categorized as typhoon-free.
Based on the criteria recommended by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization for soil, terrain and climatic suitability of oil palm, Patricio said some questions have been raised.
“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 are considered as not favorable, while areas with 21 percent to 37 percent slopes are marginally suitable and those with more than 37 percent are not at all suitable for growing oil palm,” he added.
“Furthermore, mean minimum temperature of 18.4 degrees Celsius in the project area is below the favorable mean minimum temperature of 22°C. Consequently, the project proponent intends to utilize the Costa Rican oil-palm variety which is cold-tolerant,” Patricio stressed.
Impasugong is Bukidnon’s biggest town with 107,167 hectares, and it is 83 percent forested.
The project site is in idle grasslands with slopes, ranging from 15 percent to 30 percent in an area between 600 m and 800 m above sea level, with dipterocarp forests in the far north and northeast of the plantation site.
Moveover, the soil at the plantation site is mistly acidic, with mean pH at 5.6, with low soil organic matter, ranging from 1.4 percent to 3 percent.Conflict also marred mining projects in Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Romblon, Palawan, Surigao del Sur and Norte, Zambales and even Batangas.
The attempt of Chinese state corporations to secure 2.4 million hectares of land for food production in 2008 was also rejected by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and other groups.
Up to 40 percent of Peruvian territory has been turned over to the effective control of these corporations, while up to 30 percent of land Indonesia is now dedicated to the exploitation by corporate behemoths.
“When governments sell the land, forests and other natural resources out from under the people who live there, local conflict becomes inevitable,” RRI coordinator Andy White said.
“All of these conflicts—and the financial risks that investors confront—are avoidable. The companies and governments implicated need to first fully respect and involve indigenous peoples and forest communities in all aspects of proposed investments, not as bystanders who can be pushed aside,” he added.
“Property rights in many EFMs are dysfunctional to the point that ownership of land can be granted without the consent of the people who live or depend on that land,” said Leonardo Pradela of The Munden Report. “Generally tied to their land for many generations, these people have little interest in moving to urban areas and are practically impossible to relocate. Yet, the conflicts generated by attempts to push them aside generate the worst kinds of financial risks: Hidden and potentially ruinous.”
The Munden Report examined 100 of these conflicts and looked for patterns in how and why they emerged.