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Sabtu, 23 Oktober 2010

Palm oil: A path to prosperity for poor Indonesians?

A farmer holds oil palm fruits in his hands.  Area near Gunung Lumut where native forest is being removed and replanted with oil palm.  Oil palm production has surpassed banana production as the number one fruit crop in the world.

A farmer holds oil palm berries in his hands. He lives near Gunung Lumut in Kalimantan, Indonesia, where native forest is being removed and replanted with oil palm. Oil palm has surpassed banana as the number one fruit crop in the world.

Palm oil: A path to prosperity for poor Indonesians?

By Debra Lodoen

The ever expanding palm oil industry in southeast Asia is frequently attacked by conservationists as a major driver of deforestation in the region. It is often portrayed as being of benefit only to big companies, but a new CIFOR study suggests that poor smallholders may also be cashing in on the oil palm boom. The study, published last week in the journal Small-scale Forestry, shows that  a majority of rural Indonesians in Sumatra’s Bungo district welcome further expansion of the palm oil industry.
The study, ‘Why do farmers prefer oil palm? Lessons learnt from Bungo District, Indonesia’, asserts that owners of small-scale oil palm plantations and other local residents have enjoyed substantial gains funded by the palm oil industry – both socio-economic advantages and infrastructure improvements.
‘This positive impact is reflected in local attitudes toward the industry,’ says CIFOR researcher Laurène Feintrenie, who co-authored the study with Patrice Levang, also of CIFOR.  ‘According to one survey we carried out during the study, most farmers in Bungo view oil palm development as a path to a better quality of life.’

Multifaceted approach for maximum benefits

The lessons for those working to conserve the region's forests are clear: avoiding further deforestation and securing the long-term profitability of alternative forest uses will need to exist within this palm oil–friendly environment, Feintrenie says. Conservation initiatives are likely to work only if they are part of a multifaceted, strategic approach that takes into account local conditions. These conditions include land management planning, targeted funding, educational levels, and a range of partnerships with farming cooperatives, local governments, agribusinesses and civil society groups all working toward a sustainable palm oil industry.
‘These efforts can help maximise benefits to local people and smallholders and, at the same time, mitigate further uncontrolled deforestation in the region,’ says Feintrenie.
While implementing a thorough land management programme that is both fair and legitimate is sure to be costly, the benefits would be numerous. By developing a formal cadastre in the region, conflicts arising from land ownership disputes may be pre-empted, and land tenure certification would give smallholders increased access to financing from banks that often require land certificates as collateral. With a land management regime in place, conservation efforts can focus on encouraging a sustainable approach in both existing and proposed palm oil farms plantations. However, Indonesia’s body for regional land use planning, BAPPEDA, lacks sufficient means to carry out this task on its own. External assistance is required if this approach is to be carried out successfully.

Partnerships for sustainable production are crucial

In response to the largely unrestricted growth of the palm oil industry, a number of agribusinesses established the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil in 2003. The Roundtable aims to promote the growth and use of sustainable oil palm products through credible global standards and engaging all stakeholders in the process.
CIFOR researchers have suggested that an ideal arrangement for land management at the plantation level would be a mosaic of smallholder plantations, planted on land that is not peat lands or natural forest, working in partnership with a company that would be responsible only for palm oil processing. Such a scheme would provide smallholders with a greater portion of the overall revenue from palm oil production and would limit the amount of land farmers must turn over to palm oil companies. Through such partnerships, farmers would still benefit from the proximity of the refinery and the technical expertise of the company. This scheme has already proved successful in both the coffee and natural rubber industries.
In light of this study’s findings, it is clear that forest conservation initiatives, such as REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation), will only be successful if they can provide socio-economic benefits of equal or greater value than those provided by existing regional opportunities, such as palm oil production in Sumatra.
‘As global demand for palm oil continues to rise, Indonesia’s plantations will continue to expand to meet this demand,’ says Feintrenie. ‘The international community must be prepared to work within the industry, through funding initiatives and partnerships, to steer future palm oil development in a sustainable direction.’

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