Pollution, food and water scarcity in oil palm feared

Jun. 23, 2014

DAVAO CITY — Declining food and water supply, pollution and worsening poverty are possible effects of converting agricultural land in Paquibato to oil palm expansion, an environment group says.

The Panalipdan (Defend) Southern Mindanao issued a statement urging the local officials especially Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to look “at the perils” of oil palm plantations being eyed by Malaysian and Thailand companies in Paquibato District.

“(We) urge the Local Government of Davao City to look also at the perils of foreign corporate-controlled palm oil plantations based on people’s experiences and not only the companies’ mere promises of economic development,” the group said.

The group said Paquibato hosts an important water resource area for the city.

“Paquibato is supposedly one of the important water resource base areas of the city while palm oil is not grown organically but dependent on chemical inputs which might pollute the local water resources in the uplands and affect the water supplies in the lowlands,” they said.

Panalipdan said there could be a decline in rice and corn production as oil palm plantations expand by thousands of hectares.

“In fact, Davao City is one of the major rice importers in the country due to the continuous decline of 21% of local rice production since the expansion of pesticides-dependent monocrop farms in watershed areas,” they said.

The statement also cited the experience of neighboring Southeast Asian country Malaysia.

“In Sarawak, Malaysia, the people have experienced its negative impacts such as biodiversity loss, degradation of forest and watershed areas, unequal profit-sharing, poor working conditions, water pollution, and soil erosion and nutrient depletion.”

The group also cited the experience in another region Agusan del Sur where the Malaysian government took over a government project  in the 1980 and expanded into a 4,000-hectare oil palm plantation into the towns of Rosario and Bunawan. More than three decades have passed and farmers have suffered by shouldering costs and losing access to their land.

“There is not much evidence to show that local communities benefited from the agribusiness ventures with foreign companies. In fact, poor working conditions, lack of health and other benefits, and low wages are prevalent in existing plantations which led to workers strikes such as in Malaysian-controlled Agusan Plantation, Inc. (API), Filipinas Palm Oil Plantation, Inc. (FPOPI), and AGUMILL in Agusan del Sur in November 2012,” they said.

Panalipdan also cited that oil palm expansion in Opol, Misamis Oriental has led to violence with the killings of indigenous people leaders who resisted the plantation’s expansion, such as Gilbert Paborada in October 2012 and Rolen Langa and December 2013.

These warnings however did not alter Duterte’s stand, as he issued a challenge to environment groups on his Sunday television program to come up with alternatives.

“If you are smarter than I am, or you think you are a smart-alec, then show me a good alternative for this place,” he said.

“There are no other proposals, because fundamentally you must accept the proposition the Philippines’ social base is agricultural endeavor,” he added.

Duterte said the country’s only competitive chance in the globalization era is to compete agriculturally.

Panalipdan said Duterte’s partnership with Asian companies for local development can only work “if the national government policies make sure that benefits accrue equally to the poor and marginalized masses and that the environmental sustainability will not be taken for granted.”
Panalipdan raised doubts on the government’s agriculture program that has somehow failed to implement agrarian reform and support services to millions of farmers, and had relied on corporate-controlled plantations.

“There are obvious environmental, economic and social concerns that need to be addressed in relation to the existing and proposed palm oil plantations. Decades after corporate plantation expansions began, the question remains as to whether these will indeed deliver economic development as promised by the government. However, this is far from becoming a reality under an anti-people and anti-environment Aquino regime,” they said.(davaotoday.com)

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