Hong Kong Customs displays 82.5kg of rhino horns from South Africa and destined for Malaysia. Photo: ISD

Peru Promotes Oil Palm Expansion Despite Devastating Consequences for Indigenous Peoples & Amazon

Despite reports about the devastating impacts of oil palm expansion on forests and indigenous peoples, the Peruvian government continues to promote oil palm development, supposedly as a viable economic alternative in the fight against drug trafficking, migratory agriculture, and poverty.

Recently, the government announced the creation of the Multisectoral Commission on Oil Palm, which will consist of representatives from the palm industry and government officials. No civil society or indigenous groups have been invited to participate in the commission, essentially excluding the voice of the people most affected by oil palm expansion in the Peruvian Amazon.

In response to the Commission’s creation, 29 Peruvian civil society organizations, including EIA and Aidesep (the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon), sent a letter to the government of Peru demanding that the Multisectoral Commission on Oil Palm include the participation of relevant stakeholders, including indigenous groups, NGOs, and academics—all with expertise and a stake in development of the Amazon region and forest protection.*

Amazon forests consumed by oil palm

Oil palm is currently cultivated on 77,537 hectares of land in the regions of San Martin, Ucayali, Loreto and Huánuco, and is slated to expand exponentially, despite the recent statement by the Government Accountability Office of Peru that oil palm is the main driver of deforestation. In Loreto alone, the annual production of palm has increased by 115 percent, causing this region to have the highest rate of forest loss per year in the Peruvian Amazon. This oil palm cultivation is responsible for the destruction of 30,206 hectares of forest, equivalent to 29 percent of total annual deforestation in the country.

A sign of what’s to come: Melka Group illegally deforests 5,000 ha in Ucayali

Alongside the ongoing promotion of oil palm, the National Ombudsman, Eduardo Vega Luna, has requested the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of the Environment suspend all permits authorizing companies to plant oil palm in Ucayali. This request comes in response to a complaint raised by the community of Santa Clara of Uchunya against palm oil company Plantaciones de Ucayali—part of the Melka Group exposed in EIA’s report Deforestation by Definition—for operating illegally on 5,000 hectares of forestland without an approved environmental management plan. Obtaining environmental certification is one of the first legal requirements in the process of obtaining authorization to develop a plantation.

Aidesep Declaration of Regulatory Emergency on Oil Palm

Following these developments, Aidesep, released a Declaration of Regulatory Emergency on Oil Palm (English translation here) with the support of its nine regional federations. The resolution calls on the government of Peru to suspend all land transfers to large oil palm plantations until all conflicting regulations regarding land use are modified, and until it is guaranteed that no more primary forest will be cut down in the Amazon. Aidesep makes this demand, arguing that the ongoing land seizure by agribusiness for agro-industrial palm plantations violates Peruvian national law, the rights of thousands of indigenous people, and international agreements such as Peru’s Letter of Intent for zero net deforestation signed with Norway and Germany in 2014.

One conflict with the ongoing authorization of palm production is the Ministry of Agriculture’s (MINAGRI) failure to yet define parameters for the Best Land Use Capacity for Agriculture (BLUC) in natural forests, which is required to determine land best suitable for planting oil palm. As long as these lands remain unclassified by MINAGRI, palm oil companies will be able to use the land use classification process to gain authorization for the development over forests. According to Aidesep, there are currently 11 requests for the transfer of large oil palm concessions in Loreto, Ucayali, and San Martin that amount to 99,356 hectares. If these transfers are approved, deforestation would increase by 88 percent. Alongside these land transfer requests, 1,200 requests for land title by indigenous people for 20 million hectares remain unresolved by the government.

The directive council of Aidesep also stated in its declaration, “Our forests and territories cannot continue to be destroyed, first without anybody saying anything and second because no clear rule exists that regulates or controls in an effective manner this palm activity.”

Action must be taken by Peru’s government to prevent the destruction of the Amazon, as its forests are rapidly being claimed by palm oil companies under the auspice of development. Further, disregard of indigenous peoples’ voice, and the forests they depend upon, not only violates national and international law (such as ILO Convention No.169), but also discredits commitments made by Peru to protect forests and decrease carbon emissions, such as the Peru-Norway-Germany Letter of Intent for zero net deforestation, the New York Declaration on Forests, Peru’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) before the UNFCCC COP 21, and commitments made before the Forest Investment Fund and UN-REDD, among others.

* The letter notes that while inclusion of multiple stakeholders in the Multisectoral Commission on Oil Palm is critical, participation does not replace free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) with indigenous people regarding oil palm projects, as required by national law and international agreements.