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New investigation reveals impacts on forests and local people of biggest palm oil plantations in Congo Basin

Half a million hectares of industrial oil palm expansion projects are getting underway in the Congo Basin rainforest, which will result in a fivefold increase in the area of active large-scale palm plantations in the region, according to Seeds of Destruction, a new report issued today by The Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK).

Approximately two-thirds of the total forest area of the Congo Basin’s forests – 115 million hectares – is believed to have suitable soil and climate for growing oil palms. Around 1.6 million hectares of new oil palm developments have been announced since 2009 , and palm oil companies are actively searching for larger areas.

We wrote to the three palm oil companies featured in our report - Herakles Farms, Olam and Wah Seong (Atama Plantation majority owners) - before we published this report.  Read their responses below.

Seeds of Destruction - read the report here. 

Click here to read the French version


Seeds of Destruction

Amongst other examples, Seeds of Destruction details the case of Atama Plantations SARL, which will create the largest oil palm plantation in the Congo Basin at 180,000 hectares and catapult its owners, a Malaysian ‘pipe-coating specialist’ firm, into the top ten global palm oil producers. Evidence suggests that the area designated for clearance mostly appears to be virgin rainforest that is a habitat for numerous endangered species including chimpanzees, gorillas and forest elephants.

RFUK’s research has uncovered no evidence of social and environmental assessments for the Atama development, and following our request for information, the owners did not provide us with any evidence to suggest that the free, prior, informed consent of the local people had been obtained. Large-scale clearance of the forest has already started. The identity of some of Atama’s owners is shielded through a web of ‘shell’ companies registered in secretive tax havens. Some of these companies have been used in the past to mask illicit activity.

Singaporean agricultural global commodities trading giant Olam plans to develop 130,000 hectares of palm oil in Gabon, with the potential for significant environmental impacts, and uncertain social consequences, especially for traditional forest communities. According to McKinsey, the plantation will increase the area of commercial agriculture by 85% in Gabon by 2022, a major threat to the lives of the thousands of indigenous people living in the region.

Simon Counsell, Executive Director of the Rainforest Foundation UK, said: “Governments of Congo Basin countries have handed out vast tracts of rainforest for the development of palm oil with apparently little or no attention to the likely impacts on the environment or on people dependent on the forest. There is a need for regional agreement to ensure that best practices are mandatory for any new oil palm development, including avoiding high conservation value forests and ensuring the rights of existing forest dwellers are respected”.

Samuel Nguiffo, Director of the Center for Environment and Development (CED), Cameroon said: “All the recent rash of deals between Congo Basin governments and palm oil companies have been made without any public discussion. There must be an open debate in our countries about the how we want to use our land, not agreements sealed behind closed doors.”

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